Venice, CA—When Alex Kemp and Jimmy Haun decided to build a TV commercial music production studio close to the ocean in Venice, CA, they wanted to make the facility stand out from the competition. So instead of a reception area, they built a surf shop.
Kemp and Haun founded Wolf at the Door as an outlet for their commercial music, music supervision, sound design and other projects several years ago, initially operating out of their respective studios. Kemp was previously creative director at Hum Music and Haun, known for his guitar work with Yes, various Yes spin-off bands and Air Supply, was formerly head composer at Elias Arts.
When the pair decided to pool their resources and open the new facility, Kemp pitched the idea of replacing reception with retail to surfing buddy Scott Brown, then a creative director at agency Chiat\Day and a Wolf at the Door client. Brown loved the idea and has partnered with Kemp to create Lone Wolf ’s Object d’Surf, design and manufacture a line of surf boards and clothes and produce a surf-talk web series, Everything’s Not Working.
“Primarily it came out of the idea that we wanted the studio to be a more social, creative place,” explains Kemp, a self-professed engineering nerd. “For a lot of the rest of the world, music is this magical, emotional stuff that floats through their lives. It’s important, but they don’t know where it comes from. As a result, it’s hard to sell music companies or make them stand out. Having some visual workaround, something that is a very common language with everybody—What does a retail store feel like? What does a brand feel like?—really made it super easy to relate to our clients on a visual level first.”
Studio A is built over the pool of the former dive shop on Lincoln Boulevard and features a composer’s room downstairs in the pool area. The centerpiece of both studios is a custom mixing console built by Steve Firlotte and Ian Gardiner’s Tree Audio.
“I’ve been a fan of Steve’s since I first found his work,” says Kemp. “I have a couple of [Firlotte’s Inward Connections] 820 preamps and EQ, as well as some 500 series stuff. The 820s are unbelievable. I’ve always loved Steve’s amp blocks, which are awesome.”
Gardiner had called to say Tree Audio was planning a smaller format mixer just as the studio plans were coming together, says Kemp. “We had some really specific ideas, so we said, why don’t you make us a couple?”
The desk features 12 stereo and two mono input faders. “At unity, we have total recall for our sessions in the box,” explains Kemp who, like Haun, is a longtime Digital Performer DAW user. “If we’re getting into songs where we’re not worried about recall, there are inserts and we can do fader rides on groups.”
He continues, “We did an interesting thing on two of the stem faders. They have buttons that pull them out of the stereo bus before the insert. So all your music tracks are on, say, 10 stems, going through your analog compressor. These final two faders jump in on top of that at the very end, for your voiceover and SFX stems. You can listen at relative volumes with your client in the room and not have them be getting crushed [by the compressor].”
“My big contribution was the meter bridge,” says Haun. “Originally there weren’t going to be any meters. I love meters; I like to see the sound. And I love that console; it sounds amazing.”
Studio A’s monitoring set-up—Bryston 4B-powered ProAc Studio 10 nearfields—is duplicated in the B room. “I’ve added a little sub, just to make the room more exciting for everybody,” says Kemp. “It’s by an interesting hi-fi company in Seattle called Blumenstein Audio. All I want to know is that I’m not doing anything stupid down at 40 Hz.”
The A room is well-stocked with outboard gear. “Our mastering chain is really slutty,” laughs Kemp. “We go through two Pultec-style EQs from the [Inward Connections] 820 series, then into a Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor and then into the stereo multiband Tube-Tech SMC 2B. It just sounds better. There’s also an Avalon AD2044, the opto-compressor.”
Wolf at the Door clients include major brands such as Nike, Coca-Cola, Sprint, Audi, Intel, Lexus, Cadillac, Yahoo and Expedia. The pair recently wrapped a package of spots shot by Superprime’s Malloy brothers for agency Arnold.
Another recent project, for Arnold client CenturyLink, features a U.K. singer-songwriter performing a duet with a young American singer. “The idea was that they were in different locations but Skyping,” says Kemp. “I recorded the track with them, doing the :60 and :30 arrangements, working around the voiceover, at a studio in Denver. Then I was on set with the team when they were shooting the parts with them singing.”
The studio’s next gear purchase might be a tape machine, reveals Kemp. “I used to have two Scully 280 half-inch four-tracks and would do sound-on-sound. In my mind, those were beautiful times and an amazing way to record. But it might just be my memory,” he laughs.
Wolf at the Door