Universal Mastering’s Massive Makeover

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA—Universal Mastering Studios (UMS) has made a change to its production and mastering workflows with the adoption of the SADiE Series 6 platform in the facility’s two main mastering rooms, four production suites and one dual-purpose room.
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At Universal Mastering Studios, (l-r) Pete Doell, senior mastering/mixing engineer, Warren Sokol, engineer, and Nick Dofflemyer, senior director of studio operations, show off one of two SADiE Series 6 systems recently added at the facility together with Prism Sound converters and interfaces. UNIVERSAL CITY, CA—Universal Mastering Studios (UMS) has made a change to its production and mastering workflows with the adoption of the SADiE Series 6 platform in the facility’s two main mastering rooms, four production suites and one dual-purpose room. UMS, located in the Cahuenga Pass between Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, has also acquired Prism Sound’s multichannel modular ADA-8XR converter for the three rooms that handle mastering, plus Prism Sound Lyra 2 audio interfaces for the four dedicated production rooms.

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The changeover is a break from tradition at UMS, which had been on its previous platform since the facility’s previous incarnation. “Back in the day, 23 years ago, we were MCA Recording Studios,” explains Nick Dofflemyer, senior director of studio operations at UMS, which is part of Universal Music Logistics – Digital Ops, a division of Universal Music Group (UMG).

Managers at MCA were early adopters of the nascent Apple IIC hardware and the previous DAW software. But when that developer changed ownership, the focus moved away from its mastering product and support deteriorated. Although the UMS engineering team is having to get accustomed to the PC platform after two-and- a-half decades on Macs, says Dofflemyer, happily that meshes nicely with UMG’s transition away from a dedicated IT department to third-party support from Hewlett- Packard.

Of course, everyone has also had to quickly familiarize himself with the new SADiE software. But since the initial SADiE demo was set up at the urging of engineer Warren Sokol, who was working on the platform long before starting at UMS, the facility does have an expert and trainer on staff.

“Graham Boswell and Frank Oglethorpe were very personally involved in giving us hands-on support and a demonstration of what Prism and SADiE could do for us,” adds Dofflemyer, “and they sent another gentleman over to us from England to give us training.”

Dofflemyer is confident that, unlike the previous system, service support will not be an issue. “They told us, ‘Look, the BBC has 700 of these systems.’ That sells itself. A company like that, that’s been around forever, is not going to invest in a system that is unreliable, or doesn’t have a reputable maintenance service available to them.”

There is one problem with having Sokol train the engineers, however: UMS is traditionally incredibly busy leading into the holiday season. “I’m pulling him off of production to train another engineer, so when we’re doing training, it takes two people out of the loop,” he comments. The production engineers have received their training, he adds, and because things typically get quieter after Thanksgiving, “We’re hopeful that by the end of this year, we’ll have the mastering engineers up to speed.”

Adding to the holiday rush was UMG’s acquisition of Capitol/EMI earlier this year. “When we acquired Capitol/EMI and their subsidiaries, man, my production volume went up about 35 to 40 percent. Everybody’s putting in overtime and we’re grateful for it—the holidays are right around the corner—but it is challenging.”

Although UMS is part of the largest record label in the world, and also oversees the vault, most of its business comes from elsewhere. “I would say that 80 to 85 percent is actually third-party,” he reports.

“You’d be surprised how many albums come in here weekly. We probably put out, in what I describe as ‘production alley,’ 30 pieces a day. That’s five rooms cranking at about six, seven projects a day.”

On the mastering side, Dofflemyer reports, UMS senior mastering/ mixing engineer Pete Doell just completed a Toto DVD. “Erick Labsen, our longtime mastering engineer, continues to work for Varese Sarabande doing soundtracks. And we do all the mastering for TuneCore, so we’re getting product from all over the world.”

Capitol Studios in Hollywood also has its own mastering department. “But they’ve built up their own relationships with their client base. We’re not looking to take their business away from them,” says Dofflemyer, who previously worked at Capitol, as did Doell. If a client needs vinyl cut—a service UMS does not offer—Dofflemyer sends them to Ron McMaster at Capitol.

The Prism Sound and SADiE gear is not the only recent equipment to be installed at UMS. In addition to a new Manley Massive Passive EQ in Studio B and a Crane Song Avocett monitor controller in Studio C, “Sony just delivered their DSD system to us,” he says.

“There are companies that will license catalog material from us, for which our vault owns the original flat analog master tapes that we can then transfer into the DSD system, and deliver electronically or on a DVD. There seems to be a market for very high resolution audio masters— there are three or four players in that arena now.”

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Universal Mastering Studios
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