O'Henry Sound Studios
By Elise Malmberg

Over the past 12 years, O'Henry Sound Studios in Burbank, CA, has become a top destination for scoring and mixing film and TV music, including recent projects such as Anchorman, The Passion of the Christ, Elf, 13 Going on 30, and the second two Matrix movies. But that's only half of the O'Henry story: it has also hosted recording and mixing sessions for artists as diverse as Macy Gray, Lyle Lovett, Charlotte Church, Bill Frisell, Los Lobos, and the Wallflowers.

O'Henry's owners, Hank and Jacqueline Sanicola, originally built the facility as a music studio. "But we started doing scoring quite early on," says Harold Kilianski, the facility's operations manager and chief technical engineer, "because we quickly discovered that our large room was particularly suited to it. These days, our business is about 50% music and 50% film and television."

It's unusual for a facility to balance music and film work so successfully — but the diverse environments of O'Henry's A, B and C studios offer something for every production need. The 50' x 32' live room in Studio A can accommodate large orchestral sessions, while Studio B is ideally set up for complex stereo and 5.1 surround mixes. Then there's Studio C, a roomy, all-digital suite with a private entrance, lounge, and bath.

One thing the three studios have in common: Pro Tools|HD Accel systems. And with the recent addition of an ICON integrated console in Studio C, O'Henry is ready for the next stage in digital audio production.

Enter the ICON
O'Henry's new ICON setup includes an Apple G5, a Pro Tools|HD 3 Accel system with two extra Accel cards, the XMON monitor system, and a 32-fader D-Control worksurface. In many ways, the ICON is an extension of O'Henry's previous investment in Pro Tools. "We've been working with Pro Tools at O'Henry for as long as it's been around," says Kilianski. "And we knew we needed a system that was universal and ubiquitous, the way Pro Tools is. What amazes me is that you can bring a session in from any version of Pro Tools and fire it up, and it will show everything in place. Now, to fully utilize the features of the D-Control, you have to spend some time and go a little deeper — but if you just want to work with faders and pans and automation, you can literally start working immediately. It's really impressive."

The O'Henry staff was also impressed with the speed and ease of the ICON's delivery and setup. "The delivery date was Friday, July 16," Kilianski recalls. "The truck showed up that morning around 10:00, and it was all in boxes. And by 5:00 that afternoon, it was running. Now, there isn't a traditional console in the world you can do that with."

The ICON in Action
Emmy®- and two-time Grammy®-winning engineer, mixer, and producer David Reitzas recently took over O'Henry's Studio C to mix a project for Barry Manilow on the new ICON system. Throughout his 20-year career, Reitzas has worked with such icons as Barbra Streisand, Madonna, Natalie Cole, Celine Dion, Cher, Faith Hill, and Whitney Houston. His work has also contributed to several Oscar® nominations, with an Oscar win for Best Original Song for the movie Evita.

Having the ability to lay out the console with custom configurations that are independent of the Edit window is priceless.

A Pro Tools user since the mid-'90s, Reitzas has always been quick to adopt the latest technology to enhance his projects. He was one of the first to embrace "in the box" mixing for a major commercial CD, using his own Pro Tools|HD 3 Accel system to mix Barbra Streisand's The Movie Album in 2003.

Reitzas found ICON invaluable for the Manilow project, a new CD titled Scores. "Besides O'Henry being one of my favorite studios, I chose to mix on the ICON because I knew Barry wouldn't have time to be at the studio every day to approve mixes," he says. "So the ability to do several mixes without him and then instantly recall them when he was able to be there was absolutely a necessity."

After visiting a local dealer's demo room to learn more about the console's features, he was ready to go. "I spent two and a half weeks mixing this CD, and each day it became a little easier to navigate the surface," says Reitzas. "I really have to commend the brains behind the concept of the ICON. There has been a cry out for a serious surface to match the seriousness of the power of Pro Tools, and this is the answer to that call."

Without the flexibility of "Input Session Data" in Pro Tools, Reitzas says, "I would not have been able to do the Barry Manilow project like I did. I tracked nine of the 14 songs with a 50-piece group of musicians, so the track layout was consistent from song to song. Being able to import settings from one song to the next was paramount to the mixing process."

Favorite ICON Features
There are a few ICON features that the O'Henry staff find especially useful. "Besides the ability to instantly make sense of any Pro Tools session, I like the user interface — it's pretty sophisticated," says Kilianski. "The Custom Faders feature is great, being able to make your own combination of useful faders to put near your left or right hand. I really like the ability to remap all the controls to perform various functions. If you want to work on a plug-in, you can bring the parameters of the plug-in down to the faders and ride them — that's fantastic."

Reitzas agrees. "Anyone who has heard anything about the ICON knows that one of the coolest and most useful features is the Custom Faders. Having the ability to lay out the console with custom configurations that are independent of the Edit window is priceless."

For O'Henry Sound Studios, the ICON's real selling point was its center section. "We felt that the success of the whole console really hinged on it," Kilianski says. "If you want to represent this as a console-style solution, the center section has to sound good — and I have to say it does. And I'm very happy with the trim feature for doing surround sound — that's a big deal. When you set up for surround, the speakers have to be calibrated properly, and the XMON is quite good at that."

The Changing World of Pro Tools
At O'Henry, Pro Tools has become an essential part of the studio environment. "These days, people expect you to have Pro Tools — it's part of the equation," says Kilianski. "It used to be that a two-inch tape machine was expected and included in the room. But tape machines have really disappeared completely."

The change from tape to Pro Tools has been especially dramatic among film sound mixers, he says. "For a long time, film people in particular were still using tape — they were used to it, and they were used to its sound quality and reliability. But in the last two years we've seen virtually every film session at O'Henry go to Pro Tools, which is incredible."

For O'Henry Sound Studios, the bottom line is sound quality. Digi has responded to this issue very well.
The O'Henry staff has seen changes on the music side as well. "Since artists now have access to the technology, they definitely have educated themselves," Kilianski observes. "Some of them are just doing their thing, and they don't want to know about the technology. But most people, even at the base level, will have a Pro Tools LE system at home."

Reitzas sees similar changes, and some new challenges. "The new tools in our profession have brought the power of record-making to just about everyone with a computer. I think it's fantastic that so many more people are able to make music who might not have had the resources to do so just five years ago. But I do hope that this enormous increase in music-makers opens the door to more collaboration within our community, and not more separation."

All About the Music
Has Pro Tools changed the way music is made? "Absolutely," Kilianski says. "Musicians can do things that were previously not possible. And experimentation is so much easier. You can just try things out and see what happens — and you haven't lost anything, because it's nondestructive."

Best of all, he observes, the system's fast. "That's one of the really big things with music mixing, as far as the artists and producers are concerned: The engineer can literally work on anything, anytime. He doesn't have to stop. With the instant recall ability of Pro Tools, the time it takes to load a session is the entire recall time. Not having to reset the console — that's the killer app. And not having to rewind tape, or reset outboard gear."

But for O'Henry Sound Studios, the bottom line is sound quality. "The stuff has to sound good," Kilianski says. "Any successful system has to be able to maintain the sonic character and the integrity of the sound. It's essential that the sound quality does not deteriorate through the system. And that's not just the actual recording — it's all the way through the chain, all the other processes as well. The first hurdle is getting it recorded so it actually sounds good. After that, the issue is maintaining that quality after a number of elements are combined digitally in a mix bus. I personally think these processes are very, very good with HD. Digi has responded to this issue very well, I think. Digidesign has certainly been at the head of the technological breakthroughs. It seems like it happened overnight, but now Digi is celebrating its 20th anniversary. They've been at this a long time."

In the end, it's all about the music. "What's neat about this business is that most of us who work at the studio level got here because we love the music," says Kilianski. "And may it continue!"