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FibreShare a Mile High, the air is thinner up here.

Denver, CO, home of Rockey Mountain RecordersWhere the rolling prairies of the Great Plains meet the majestic Rocky Mountains lies the mile high city of Denver, Colorado. The state capital is aptly nicknamed as there is a plaque on the steps of the gold domed building that marks the altitude at exactly 5,280 feet above sea level.

The air is bit thinner up here but the greater Denver metropolitan area boasts a population of over 2.5 million people. The city has become one of the benchmarks of urban renewal and even though once known only for the antics of the wild west’s most colorful characters - the unsinkable Molly Brown and Buffalo Bill Cody, it is now a cosmopolitan wonderland that can stimulate even the most crass eastern tenderfoot.

Denver, CO, home of Rockey Mountain RecordersLocated in the heart of the city, just one block from the famous Platte River and a few blocks from the gleaming skyscrapers of downtown, is one of the city’s rare, multifaceted gems. Rocky Mountain Recorders, a place where art marries technology and an environment of audio creativity is created that is unmatched for hundreds of miles in every direction.

CEI had the opportunity to tour the 5 studios and suites (all interconnected to a terabyte+ of fibre channel storage with FibreShare, of course) that make up RMR, and sit down for a chat with a few of the principal players.

RMR StudioStudio A was where we had our discussion, an absolutely magnificent room and the largest studio at RMR. There we found Paul Vastola, RMR owner and engineer, finishing up a jazz session (timing is everything). Also joining us was Michael Pfeifer, engineer and an instrumental influence in Studio E, the newest state of the art recording and editing suite at RMR. Last but certainly not least was Justin Davis, RMR’s IT pro and session engineer and another major contributor to Studio E.

CEI: Thanks for giving me the time today guys, this place is really bustling. Tell me, how did Rocky Mountain get started?

Paul: Well I guess I better answer that one, I spent thirteen years at another studio here in town and at about 12 years in, I met my business partner Gannon Kashiwa. He and I decided to branch off and do our own thing and we started Rocky Mountain Recorders together. We just collected our favorite people from over the years, which was a bit more of my responsibility as Gannon was a young guy, more of a musician and I was more of the studio vet. I had known more people in the business and found a great business manager and great people to work with. These guys (Michael and Justin) were added as time went on.

CEI: So how long ago was this?

Paul: Rocky Mountain Recorders was founded in 1989.

RMR StudioCEI: Who are some of your clients?

Michael: I just got finished working with McClain Finlon, J. Walter Thompson, we have a lot of great clients.

Justin: The Colorado Lottery, the Denver Museum, McDonald's..

Paul: Our bread and butter is really the advertising agencies here in town, when we opened up we built beautiful music studios doing everything we could do to support local music but as it turned out - in order to support the overhead, your studio really needs to move into production. There is really no great music industry around here that can support a large local studio so you really have to go to post production.

CEI: What kind of projects do you guys enjoy the most?

Justin: Well, music of course.

Paul: I like them all.

Michael: I do too, you know your doing the last car commercial you think you can possibly handle and you turn around and do a music gig only to realize that you kind of miss doing a car commercial especially after the stuff I just went through with musicians (laughs) so its nice to be able to move around a lot.

Justin: Every now and  then you get a really creative advertisement that is a lot of fun to work on.

Paul: We just finished up a major music project for Disney, where they are doing this new Baby Einstein Series. They’re geared toward really small children. Their producer, when Disney bought the Baby Einstein concept from a Colorado woman, has hung in there with us. We had worked with them when we did a lot of projects for ABC TV, so he came and found us again. You know, doing projects for Disney is really very demanding, you have to do world class work in order to satisfy their requirements. I really enjoy it all. We have lots of friends in the business and you can have a lot of fun, taking something that someone has written, whether a 3.5% (financing) Ford ad or something really cool for the Zoo and making it better. Our clients really expect more from us – much more than just taking the sound from the talent and transferring it to the medium.

RMR StudioCEI: Do you find it hard to compete for the higher profile gigs, like from a Disney, due to your geography and location here in Denver as opposed to being on one of the coasts?

Justin: Well it’s not really here – the high profile jobs are on the coasts. The geography says that if you are going to do a major film or even a DVD release you go to LA or New York, that’s just where they’re done.

Paul: The fact that these types of projects even show up in the market are an anomaly and once in a while something cool, like the Disney thing comes in. You know we had Ian Anderson came in and helped out with Mary Youngblood’s album and that was really great having him. Eminem came in and did an MTV track and stuff like that. So yeah, once in a while something high profile rolls through but we just stay with our great local clients in regional advertising.

CEI: I’m probably going to get a different answer from all three of you guys but what’s your favorite room here at RMR?

Michael: It all depends on what I’m going to do, when you get used to using a room – especially a room that you had a big hand in designing and configuring, you have a hard time leaving that room and being comfortable and cozy somewhere else. If you are tracking a band for instance, this is the room to be in (Studio A). It’s perfect for setting up thirty microphones and sorting it all out in a heartbeat. If I am doing a 5.1 mix project then I need to be across the hall (Studio B) – that’s the room to be in.

Justin: The best sounding room by far, is Studio E, the last one we built. If you are mastering then it’s always – "let’s take it back to Studio E."

Paul: Or it’s “lets listen back in there and hear what we did” (laughs). This room (Studio A) is not a clinically accurate control room although people love the sound in here, I am into the "living room mentality" for tracking. Studio B is more the laboratory, Studio C is the comfy little space up front and studio E is the newest and most forward thinking physical design.

CEI: You guys did all the design yourselves?

Paul: Pretty much, yeah.

CEI: So all acoustical treatments, reflective and non parallel surfaces all just came out of your brains - and you just built it?

Michael: Yeah - and everybody has had a hand in a studio somewhere before we built this studio, so you pick up stuff. I’m an electrical engineer besides being a recording engineer, so I did a lot of research and study of acoustics. Like anything else, when you do something, the next time you try, you end up doing it differently. I don’t care who you are or how much you know - there is no such thing as a perfect design, there is just an appropriate design. To me, it’s a lot of fun to work on - but it is very expensive to do – you only get so many chances to work on studio design projects.

Justin: We did bring in an acoustician at one point.

Paul: We have always tried to bring in the absolute best people – these guys (Michael and Justin) are a lot more scientific, and I am more intuitive or the “seat of the pants” kind of guy (laughs).

RMR StudioMichael: You know there is always somebody that wants to judge your rooms by a piece of test gear, but ultimately - there are going to be people in that room and they will always be the best judge of what works.

Paul: What Michael said is really important because this is a service business, we provide services in pre-production, library searching, music and sound effects, the preparation we do for sessions is not done anywhere else in this region. There is a more Hollywood type thinking out there where you have people working in stages on stuff, but here in Denver you have to be an engineer, set up the mics, clean up the floor – we don’t have a good division of labor here because everybody is so talented they can do everything necessary to get the project done and make a great product. The service, comfort and the people are what really makes this place tick.

CEI: When did you switch from tape to hard disc recording?

Paul: Oh I think it was around 1993. We had Pro Tools number 14.

CEI: Wasn’t it still Sound Tools in 1993?

Justin: Sound Designer was definitely the software (laughs)

Paul: And we were using the SV3700 DAT Recorders as our I/O because there was no other digital I/O back then.

CEI: When did you see that you were going to have to put in a SAN and start sharing your audio?

Paul: It was the late nineties and I went to Gannon and said, “you know we really need to get into this sharing thing so we can all work together from the different rooms”. He really started to work on it. That’s when we found the Rorke stuff and your software, I think we were very early with the installation.

Justin: It’s been confirmed that we were one of the first digital audio studio facilities that got fibre channel storage hardware - and FibreShare came right in the door at the same time.

Michael: I remember I was working in another studio at the time and I ended up reading about FibreShare. We had just set up a second studio and we were thinking, “wow it would be great to share documents from room to room and be able to transfer back and forth”. Then I pulled up the article and said “man it doesn’t matter what you want to do, those guys at Rocky Mountain always do it first” (laughs).

Paul: It is a great thing to have this system where you can just dive in and grab stuff. You know, we now take it for granted, but what a great move it was for us to actually be the first and help pioneer the technology like that.

CEI: So how has the transition been from OS9 to OSX?

RMR StudioMichael: Still in the middle of it really.

Paul: It’s in process right now.

Justin: Not exactly smooth but it doesn’t have anything to do with FibreShare (laughs).

CEI: How painful has it been as far as the updating of software, the relearning of interfaces, dealing with Unix as opposed to the older Mac system…

Paul: We dragged our feet a little with it honestly. I am steering this thing and I wanted to see everybody else suffer through it. Then finally, instead of us being out front, on the prowof the boat, we let somebody else work through the bugs. Now, that Panther is here, this is the platform that we are introducing into Rocky Mountain. I am still using OS9 here, (in Studio A). Justin is working through it and seeing what some of the problems are – Studio C just came up this week with OSX. The jury is still out a bit.

CEI: What’s next?

Paul: I never have a good answer for that question – I want to spend time with my family, I’m getting older and want to throttle back just a bit. The responsibility of being at the top of this business alone is taking all of the energy that I have got. I’m not really worried about what’s next. We are talking about doing some stuff with Final Cut Pro, iDVD 4 and doing some DVD authoring – offering some enhanced services, it’s an incremental thing.

CEI: So you’re not talking about buying a lot more space and expanding?

Paul: We have expanded as much as we can. When we had three studios running, we were turning business away. We built the fourth studio and then the 9/11 thing happened and the economy took a dump, we have worked very hard to keep our staff full, keep everybody employed and stay in the black. That is what we needed to accomplish over the last couple of years, staying stable while we enhance the place and make it run better.

Justin: Technologically, the next steps for us are three fold, first, DVD and DV then HD. The push toward HD for broadcast is already happening – it’s happening in Denver, 9 News broadcasts in HD. The next thing you know, we’ll have KWGN (another TV station in Denver) call and ask if we can work their commercials in HD so they can broadcast it. Then we can get everything in DV instead of sending off tapes. We could just send the files over the Net. We want to be at that stage that no matter what the client needs when they call – we can always say “Yeah we can do that.”

RMR StudioCEI: Is there huge competition in that space, the DV market in Denver?

Michael: Places are all tooling up. There are a lot of different “systems” that are competing for that re-tool. It’s sort of like the beta versus VHS argument. You’re still trying to settle in on what is going to become what DBeta is today. Currently the demand for that is low, but as Justin says, as time goes on that will become THE delivery medium. With something like FibreShare that allows these files to be transferred around, that’s where we would like to get. You would like to get where the Internet works to deliver these files anywhere like FibreShare works here at Rocky Mountain.

Paul: The huge technological gains in all areas of audio and video have changed the face of business. We are one of the few, what I call “mothership” style facilities in the area, because it is getting so lean and mean. You have a small office with a desktop computer and suddenly you’re in the post production business. The video guys have been hurt by their huge investments in hardware, Avid systems and the like. Now, people can do this kind of stuff right from their desktops using Final Cut Pro. This is hurting those big video houses just like when musicians started to run right out and get a little ProTools rig and compete with major studios for music stuff. It’s all up in the air, like a big “grab”. If you are in the right place at the right time and you are using the right technology you can hold on to the business. The splintering occurs for a large studio. When Ian Andersen was in here he said “wow this is a beautiful studio, how do you guys stay in business? In Germany there aren’t any nice studios anymore, they are all broken down and can’t stay in business.” I think we are rare in that we can keep a large infrastructure and an extremely high level of service going when everybody else is in the basement or on their desktop.

CEI: You have a room here that fosters creativity.

Paul: I think so . This is the joy of recording - instead of sitting in a little room, bringing in one musician at a time and tracking everything individually – because there is not room to do the whole band. They bring in the drums and then the bass, then guitars. The joy of that style of recording is pretty low on my scale.

Justin: It is always exhilarating to see new people walk through the studio. It makes me feel good to show this to someone new. I have taken my family and friends to other studios that I have worked at and they were like; “yeah it’s okay” and then I bring them to Rocky Mountain and their jaws drop. The first time I walked in here my jaw hit the floor, I didn’t know a place like this even existed in Denver. I knew there were places like this in California but this place is even more beautiful than a lot of the facilities I have seen in California and Nashville.

CEI: And right across from the Platte River nobody even knows you’re here.

Paul: From the front you would never guess, but the people that need us know exactly where we are.

Special thanks to Paul, Michael, Justin and the rest of the staff at Rocky Mountain Recorders for giving us a glimpse of their very busy world, right in the middle of the work week.  (C) 2010 Charismac Engineering, all rights reserved. All text and pictures used by permission of Rocky Mountain Recorders - Denver, Colorado. Stay tuned for more stories and inteviews from the field.

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