North Hollywood, CA—Scoring mixer, engineer and producer Jason LaRocca has recently been working on A Series of Unfortunate Events for Netflix, but it was a series of fortunate events that led to the relocation of his personal recording and surround mixing facility, La-Rocc-A-Fella Center, in late 2017.
“I was a little bit of a nomad for a while,” says LaRocca, who had decided that he no longer wanted to work from his home studio. Some of his composer clients, such as Mark Isham, have their own studios. “And some of the films or TV shows I work on have the budget to put us in a commercial place; we’ll mix at Capitol or The Bridge,” he says. With composer Nick Urata, for the film Paddington, LaRocca got to work at AIR Studios in London.
But not all his clients have a suitable studio. “Guys would call last-minute and I’d have to find a room, and sometimes there wasn’t one available,” he says.
LaRocca went looking for a new spot and found an available room at Fab Factory, a multi-studio complex in North Hollywood that was established in 2016 by multi-award-winning music mixers Shaun Fabos and Dave Pensado. “I’ve been here since October,” he says, “and I haven’t looked back.”
Related: LaRocca “Doing It All at the Same Time,” by Steve Harvey, Pro Sound News, Dec. 26, 2013
The gear list at La-Rocc-A-Fella Center includes a Pro Tools system controlled by an Avid S3 and Dock control, Meyer Acheron mains, JBL cinema surrounds and a Meyer X-400 sub, together with a custom patchbay and a Dante network linking the system's digital and analog I/O to his Q-Sys Core 500i processor. “I brought in my stuff—my modular and synths and outboard pre’s and compressors,” he adds, as well as his collection of Neumann U47 FET, TLM-170 and KM 184; Lewitt Audio 640, 940, DTP 340 and LCT 340; Flea M50 and 47 tube; and other microphones.
Q-Sys is central to the system’s operation, he explains. “It takes the digital out from Pro Tools, feeds digitally to the Focusrite, which then goes to the Meyers. The Focusrite is my D-to-A; I’m not using Q-Sys for that.”
A QSC touchscreen controller on his desk enables LaRocca to switch between speaker configurations and route external inputs—say, from a client’s network-connected laptop—to the monitors: “It was programmed to the nines by Tom Marks. This was his personal system, so he put a lot of love into it.” Marks’ programming was the foundation of a new Q-Sys preset created for the relocated setup by LaRocca and Dolby’s Andy Potman, who came in to tune the room.
“Q-Sys has onboard EQ, so all of the X-curve stuff is programmed in. It’s eq’ing all the speakers; I can select different speakers and it’s got mute and dim, 85 dB reference level. We can quickly downmix to stereo on the speaker system, or to mono, or upmix to 7.1. Those are things that even consoles can’t do, but I have it all on Q-Sys. Even with the new Pro Tools systems and MTRX, this still does some things that others can’t do.”
The move came at a busy time for LaRocca. “Everybody suddenly called at the same time. Had I not had the studio, I don’t know what I would have done. You wonder, would I have gotten all the calls if I didn’t get the room? But the void got filled, up until the [December] holidays.”
LaRocca enjoys the confidence of knowing that he’s working in a tuned, professional studio with a pedigree—Justin Bieber is among the many former clients—and expects that will help bring more attention to him and his clients’ work. But there’s also a new responsibility: “It’s a constant stress to keep the room busy, and keep yourself busy,” he says.
Not that he needs to be too worried. In this multiplatform digital age, the idea of the season hiatus has gone out the window—which is another good reason to have a studio handy.
“Now, you work in the summer and well into December,” he says. A film producer will take a break in December but expect the music to be mixed when he or she returns. “So you get your holiday the first or second week of January, when nobody calls you. I take it when I get it; I call it mandatory vacation,” he laughs.
On the other hand, he continues, “We do have some shows, like ABC’s Once Upon a Time [now in its seventh season], where it’s always the same thing: It picks back up in September, goes until March, then it’s done. I like that. Then everything else is sprinkled around it.”
Some of those additional projects have included an episode of Black Mirror directed by Jodie Foster for Netflix; two episodes of Phillip K. Dick's Electric Dreams for Amazon; Cloak & Dagger for Marvel/ABC; and feature films such as The Accountant, Life, Snowden, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and Joy.
Related: Royer Ribbons Bring "Joy" to Jason LaRocca, Pro Sound News, March 15, 2016
Some of the room’s gear, such as the guitar amp, LaRocca says, is decorative. But he does still occasionally play. “I mixed Roger Neill’s score for Valley Girl, which is coming out in June. I played some electric guitar on a couple of cues; he did, too. He needed a sort of new wave/punk band, so I ended up playing.”
For years, LaRocca and his brother Joey fronted L.A.-based punk band The Briggs. Joey wrote a song, “This is L.A.,” that was adopted by the L.A. Kings as its theme song, and with the hockey team currently showing some potential, the brothers could be back on stage again soon: “We might play some of the playoff games,” he says.
But these days, says LaRocca, the modular synth is more his thing. “I’ll use it on scores for sound design. On Geostorm, I used it to pitch-bend some of the orchestral elements of the score, to give it that falling-off-the-cliff sound. You can’t really do that with a plug-in; you have to do it manually. I put it through a Clouds module, which has a manual pitch-bend.”
“Everybody suddenly called at the same time. Had I not had the studio, I don’t know what I would have done. You wonder, would I have gotten all the calls if I didn’t get the room?” —Jason LaRocca
Working gear manually is also a nice change from working with plug-ins. “We’ve got some delays, which are also fun to use by hand. We’ll use those for weird sounds to add in texture, maybe in the rear speakers.”
Streamers like Netflix and Amazon have certainly helped upend the old, established processes. “Netflix will work on something, then put it away. They’ll open it back up again when they know they’ve got time. We have to open mixes sometimes two months after we’ve turned [the score] in,” he says.
With Unfortunate Events, the opening theme for every episode always requires a mix recall: “The theme we’re doing has a different insert for every episode. The little bridge has a different character, giving you a preamble to what’s happening in that episode, and we have to mix a version for every single episode for every season, even though the song is done.”
With schedules becoming so dynamic, he says, “We sometimes get caught off-guard. Everything can move around. It’s very malleable in terms of time. We have to be prepared—so I need a professional studio like this.”
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