North Hollywood, CA—Zach Seivers went to school to pursue his dream of telling stories through film but found that sound was his true calling. In 2006, straight out of film school, he started his own audio post company, growing the business from one to four rooms before recently adding to his storytelling tools with an upgrade to Dolby Atmos mixing capabilities.
Seivers set up Snapsound in an office tower in North Hollywood in a deal with a documentary filmmaking client. “I was able to bring equipment into a room that they traded with me. I said, ‘I’ll be an in-house guy for you guys, but I want to be able to pursue my own clients.’ And they were cool with that.”
He still maintains a working relationship with the company but has since leased his own space in the building, initially focusing on non-theatrical content, primarily for broadcast. “We built three 5.1 nearfield rooms and a voiceover/ADR recording space. Eventually I stopped recording dialogue and repurposed that room as a fourth nearfield room. If I was doing any projects with a theatrical destination, I partnered with a facility like Deluxe” in Hollywood, he said.
Working with an acoustical designer, Seivers value-engineered the rooms to get good, basic acoustic treatment and isolation in the studios at minimal expense. “I didn’t know how long I would be in the space,” he explained. “Now it’s been over 10 years, but I knew I would never be able to take those physical investments with me if I had to leave the building.”
Instead, he said, “I decided to put the emphasis on digital tools to account for any acoustical issues. We worked with Trinnov and brought the DMON [monitoring processor] into all of the studios. That was a game-changer.”
The layout and equipment complement, including JBL 4328 speakers, was designed to be identical in every room: “The DMON allowed us to fix the more complex problems and matched the sound of each of the rooms so much more closely than we were able to do without it.”
The monitors have since been upgraded to JBL 708s. All four rooms have also transitioned from Digidesign Control 24 surfaces to C24 desks over the years.
As the momentum behind Dolby Atmos built in recent years and the essential tools became more readily available to independent facilities, Seivers decided it was time to take the plunge. “Netflix embraced and pushed delivery in Atmos. That was the catalyst for me as a business owner,” he said.
He contacted Chris Bolitho, sales director at Vintage King Audio in Los Angeles, about upgrading Snapsound’s Studio A. “I’ve known Chris for a long time,” said Seivers. “He quickly connected me with Miles [Rogers, cinema/studio development manager] at Meyer and introduced me to Jose Castellon [senior studio and cinema design engineer] at Dolby. VK is very hands-on and has a very personalized service. And they have a wonderful guy on their staff, audio consultant and technician Frank Verschuuren. It’s nice to have that level of support.”
Seivers had heard Meyer Sound’s Acheron Designer cinema speakers in sound designer and re-recording mixer Will Files’ room at Sony Pictures in Culver City, CA. “It’s a relatively small room, but they had such a huge, theatrical sound, and resolution, detail and color,” he recalled.
With the Acherons, “You can emulate a theatrical sound, and I’ve increasingly been moving into more theatrical work,” he said—a move that led to installing three Acherons for LCR coverage in Studio A. “The way the sound moves in the room is so much more dynamic that I’m able to make choices that I have found translate better from a small to a big room. If I’m going to another facility and four-walling a large stage, I want to minimize the amount of time I spend translating the work to that room.”
Meyer’s UP-4slim speakers support the Dolby Atmos side and overhead zones. “I like that they have more than enough power, the resolution is fantastic, and they have a really interesting look. I also like that they’re extremely modular and easy to install—and remove. And we didn’t have to deal with cutting holes in the ceiling.”
Studio A’s spec was barely compliant with Dolby’s criteria for Atmos Home Entertainment Studio certification, he said. The room just squeaked through. “Because our room has a sloped ceiling, the rear overheads were right on the edge of what Dolby considers their minimum spec. They’re very careful with when and how they make concessions, since the point of the certification is that it is a standard. But we were so on the edge that they were willing to be flexible. They balanced that with the other aspects of the room.”
Signal transport between the Pro Tools system and the Dolby Atmos RMU—both running on Mac minis—and the Avid MTRX controller is via Dante. To continue taking advantage of Trinnov’s optimization technology, Seivers also upgraded Studio A’s DMON to a Dante-enabled version capable of handling the new 7.1.4 speaker configuration and communicating with the MTRX.
He also swapped out Studio A’s C24 for an Avid S6 desk. “I love the reaction of the faders,” he said. “As simple as that sounds, that was the biggest reason I wanted to invest in it.” The S6 is popular for mix-to-picture rooms, but Seivers initially resisted the upgrade because of the expense. “But there’s a little bit of a future-proofing aspect because the S6 is built with Atmos in mind,” he said.
As it turns out, there’s an active used console market through online portals such as UK-based Resurface, including for the component parts of Avid’s M10 version of the S6, which doesn’t include the display screens. That’s fine by him, said Seivers, who finds the displays distracting. “I’m looking at the image on the screen and not Pro Tools or the board displays. You can get an M10 at a fraction of the price of a new M40 system, so I ended up buying the S6 used.”
Now, like everyone else, Snapsound is facing an unpredictable future in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s super strange, but we’re creative people and we can be creative in ways beyond our craft,” said Seivers. “I’m confident that people are going to find ways to tell stories no matter what.”
Vintage King Audio • www.vintageking.com