Los Angeles, CA—Michael Phillips Keeley, CAS, MPSE, leads a double life, composing and recording production and trailer music while also handling audio post duties, sometimes for the same show. Keeley, who has operated his Sound Striker music company for more than 15 years, has worked for various companies and on a variety of mix stages around Los Angeles during the same period. But in January, he struck out on his own, working out of his home-based Dolby Atmos room, Sound Striker Post.
Keeley’s facility, built in his garage in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, was designed by JHBrandt Acoustic Designs with a room-within-a-room construction offering an STC of 65 dB, he reports. Acoustician John Brandt is American but resides in Indonesia. “He does the CAD drawings, then oversees everything virtually over Skype,” says Keeley. “It turned into a great sounding room.”
Until January of this year, Keeley had worked for Media City Sound, a full-service audio post-production facility in Studio City, CA, that specializes in reality TV, documentary film, promos and other projects. Over his 15 years there, his credits included Pitbulls and Parolees, a TV show on which he worked in various audio post roles, including re-recording mixer, on more than 60 episodes. He also composed music for over 150 episodes of that series.
His experiences as a re-recording mixer on a variety of stages around Los Angeles informed his setup at Sound Striker Post. “You go to different stages and they’re set up differently, so it’s been so nice to have everything optimized for my workflow,” he says of the home facility that he completed in 2015.
Keeley’s main mix tools at Sound Striker Post are an Avid S3 and an Avid Dock. The all-JBL speaker system, configured for 9.1.4 Dolby Atmos work, comprises 708Ps for LCR, 8320 compact cinema speakers for surrounds, SCS8 spatially-cued surround speakers overhead and a pair of 6312 subs soffited in the front wall. “That’s a nice, tight sub, especially for this size room,” he says.
Other facilities that have upgraded with Dolby Atmos technology include Snapsound, Henszey Sound, Rob Burrell’s home studio, The Record House, Valhalla Studios, Signature Post, NYU’s Clive Davis Institute and Waterman Sound.
“I used to have three screens—which I loved; I could see everything—but being able to swipe with virtual screens on this 38-inch widescreen, I can have my nearfields back where they should be. And JBL 705s work really well for nearfields,” says Keeley.
His Pro Tools HDX cards pass via a Focusrite Red 4Pre interface that feeds a BSS unit handling monitor switching and routing. He controls the BSS via an iPad, and additionally has a 32-button and a 15-button Elgato Stream Deck close at hand.
With SoundFlow programming software, his most frequently used tasks are just a button-push away on the Sound Decks. For instance, he says, “I’ve got all my key AudioSuite plug-ins that I use a lot. With composing or sound design, I have one set up for Reverse. I’ll select the audio region and hit one button, it will bring up Reverse, reverse the clip and close the plug-in. It just saves certain steps. And the user interface for programming is very easy to use.”
Trained as a composer and a drummer (“My old nickname was the Canadian jackhammer,” he laughs), Keeley studied music after relocating to L.A. at the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood. He admits he has a problem: “I’m a total synth-aholic. I have tons of hardware synths,” he says. The Roli Seaboard MIDI controller on his desk aids not only in sound design but also music production. “Being able to pitch-bend between notes is huge. Playing a guitar is totally foreign to me,” he says, “so I don’t need a guitar player.”
He may have parted ways with Media City Sound earlier this year, but he’s still working with the company on an immersive show for Griffith Observatory’s Samuel Oschin Planetarium. The coronavirus pandemic not only closed the planetarium, it also brought mixing to a halt. “We were literally going in for our last week of final mixes on the day everything got shut down,” he says. That said, the last mix completed for the presentation, titled Signs of Life, from producer Dawn Fridrick and producer/director Bob Niemack, was plenty good enough for the project to win Best Fulldome Feature Film in March at a festival in Germany that honors 360-degree and immersive presentations.
Performing pans on a film intended for presentation on a planetarium dome above people’s heads has been quite a challenge, says Keeley. But it has also been a lot of fun: “It’s been a dream immersive project because there are 28 speakers in the dome to fool around with.”
He has a projection screen at Sound Striker Post, but the film had to be rendered as a circle and not above him, of course. “I started the setup in Pro Tools utilizing ambisonics in 9.1.4, while I’m mixing on a screen and imagining the pan movements are over my head instead of in front of me,” he says.
Happily, some of the tools he used were designed with such challenges in mind. “The great thing about the Audio Ease 360Pan Suite is that they have an overlay that goes over the Pro Tools video window. That helped me track objects,” such as a fly buzzing around and seagulls passing overhead, he says.
Nugen Audio’s tools also came in handy, especially the developer’s Halo Upmix. “I had to upmix the 9.1.4 into the dome, which is 28.1, so I used Halo to help upmix some stuff into 7.1. Primarily with the mix, I kept the lefts and rights as the focus, like in a concert hall, where the orchestra is coming from the front, then spreading it out and around using Halo and Audio Ease 360’s ambisonic ’verb.”
His Nugen plug-ins also got a workout on another recent project, Journey to the Future, a Discovery documentary that went behind-the-scenes during the lead up to the historic SpaceX Falcon 9 launch. “Even though the documentary aired in stereo, I mixed the entire project immersively in Atmos, so Halo Upmix and Downmix were both essential,” he says. “I used Halo Upmix to turn the stereo tracks into Atmos-caliber audio and later used Downmix for the final deliverables. I feel that I get better mixes with that workflow—mixing it immersively and then downmixing it to stereo.”
Sound Striker Post • www.soundstriker.com
Nugen Audio • www.nugenaudio.com