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Kentucky’s First Atmos Studio: Sound x Rucker

With the music and post-production worlds constantly evolving, it takes a lot to stay on the cutting edge and be the first to try something new. When Louisville engineer Daniel Rucker (Sound x Rucker) and Hatfield Media (a full-service marketing agency) were looking to team up and make the jump to Dolby Atmos, they called the Westlake Pro’s Danny Fasold for help constructing the first Dolby Atmos studio in Kentucky. With the expertise and experience of Westlake Pro’s Danny Fasold, Sound x Rucker and Hatfield Media were able to bring this new technology to a production community where artists are typically flown to another state to create in an immersive environment. We sat down with Daniel Rucker of Sound x Rucker, Paul Stewart, Sr. Technical Sales Manager at Genelec, and our own Danny Fasold to get a firsthand account of how they built and designed a Dolby Atmos studio from the ground up.

Westlake Pro:
Hi Rucker, thanks for taking the time to talk about your studio today! Why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself?

Daniel Rucker:
I’ve been an engineer for 17 years. I spent lots of time in radio, but I always had passion projects I’d be working on at other recording studios. Like most people, I always wanted to have my own spot. When I met up with the guys from Hatfield Media, I was just looking for them to help with my website. They ended up showing me a room in their building where they wanted to build a studio, and the rest is history.

WLP:
How did you get into working in Dolby Atmos?

D. Rucker:
I ended up getting a pair of AirPods for a birthday and stumbled across all of Apple’s immersive material one day. The further I got into learning about Atmos, the more I started noticing it was snowballing. I knew I had to get more information about it, and through googling Dolby Atmos, Westlake Pro was one of the first results that popped up. I ended up calling and getting in touch with Danny Fasold. I could tell he knew Atmos front and back. He was able to take me to “Atmos school,” so to speak.

WLP:
Danny is an incredible resource when it comes to immersive sound. Can you tell us what your new space is like?

D. Rucker:
My studio is a part of the media wing at Hatfield Media which is a marketing agency. We have a full-service recording studio, and we offer everything under one roof. There’s nothing really like this where you can get your website built, your album recorded, and the music video shot and edited in the same place.

WLP:
There certainly isn’t anything like it! What are some of the key pieces of gear (Hardware/Software) that make up the backbone of your new Atmos system?

D. Rucker:
We have a Genelec 7.1.4 system including (3) 8340s, (8) 8330s and a 7380A Sub in our control room, and the Avid MTRX Studio is the brain of the operation. We also have a couple of options for our vocal chain in an Avalon 737, a Neve 1073, a Tube-Tech CL1B, and an 1176 showing up in the next week.

WLP:
How did you start the process of designing your new studio?

D. Rucker:
We relied on Westlake Pro 100%. We started by calling Danny and asking what we needed. He laid it out and gave us a couple of different options for our budget. We didn’t skimp on anything, from the wiring to the studio design.

WLP:
Can you tell us about Genelec’s role in working on this project with you?

D. Rucker:
Danny actually set up a call with the team at Genelec. Paul and his team set aside time to speak with us about the project, and really went into detail about everything. They gave us the answers to questions we had, and it made us that much more comfortable making our purchase. They really made us confident we were making the right decision. It also let us know we’d have their support in the future.

WLP:
Paul, can you talk about how Genelec has worked to make Atmos integration easy for guys like Rucker?

Paul Stewart:
Well for starters, Genelec has a full line of monitors that can fit any size room, and the consistency of our products plays a huge role in putting together a system easily. Another important factor when putting together a Genelec Atmos system is everything we make has the same type of mounting, whether it’s on the wall or ceiling.

WLP:
Certainly makes integration easy. Were there any challenges you faced with this project?

D. Rucker:
The challenges were really in the unknowns. We wanted to make sure that we were doing everything right, and since there’s not really a lot of information out there, we needed Danny’s guidance to gather that information to help us make the right decision. Westlake Pro and Dolby really helped us with that. Getting the speakers in the right place was something we had to approach a little differently. 

P. Stewart:
When you’re tasked with fitting this many speakers into a control room, and you have to keep the listening distance within a certain range, it can make things difficult. Making adjustments to speaker placement depending on where the entrance of the room is or where the console sits can definitely be a challenge. 

Another challenge was finding the right size speakers that gave us the headroom we needed for the Dolby Atmos specs. What made this easier was Danny and the guys at Westlake Pro really getting to know Rucker and his process.  

D. Rucker:
We really enjoyed working with Danny. He was very knowledgeable, and if he didn’t have an answer, he got it for us. It was a very seamless process with Westlake Pro.

WLP:
Danny, how do you approach a new Atmos studio build? What questions do you ask your clients?

Danny Fasold:
The first thing I ask for is room information. Measurements, photos, things like that. Once I have that information, we can plug it into the Dolby DARDT (Dolby Atmos Room Design Tool), and it will help us ensure that the clients have adequate headroom for the Dolby specs. The Math doesn’t lie. Once you get that information, you can determine what will work, not just what won’t work. My suggestions will only go as far as what a client’s room will allow.

WLP:
What excites you guys about taking on new projects with all the work you’ve put into dialing in your new space?

D. Rucker:
Atmos gives me a bigger canvas to work with. I look at engineers as artists, and I feel like Pro Tools is my canvas and all of my gear is my colors. I’m most excited about pushing the boundaries of this technology. In 10 years, I think people are going to be doing crazy things in the immersive world. In the evolution of music, I really feel like it’s here to stay.

I’m also happy I can bring this technology to the artists and a new clientele here in Kentucky. You don’t have to be a major label artist to get Atmos mixes anymore.

P. Stewart:
We’re excited about how the audio community will embrace it. I think there’s something really special about our community and how we share with each other. We get people sending us their Atmos mixes to listen to in our Atmos room just to get our opinion. I love that part of our community. I’m also excited that Atmos is getting more into the music realm, and I think it’s only going to become more available to people listening in headphones.

WLP:
What advice can you give to engineers looking to adopt the Atmos format?

P. Stewart:
It all comes down to room size, budget, and other factors. The real beauty of Atmos is that it’s scalable, so it’s quickly becoming accessible to more engineers and studios. 

WLP:
Where do you see Immersive Audio formats like Dolby Atmos going in the next 5-10 years?

P. Stewart:
Dolby has taken the right steps to make sure the technology is scalable. When Atmos took off, Genelec was ready for it. There’s a lot of software and DSP integrated into our speakers already, so our networked system of speakers was the perfect fit for immersive studios. We can even do room tuning via Zoom and give real-time feedback to our clients.

WLP:
What was your experience working with Westlake Pro on this project?

D. Rucker:
Danny really helped a lot. He connected us with Genelec and Dolby to make sure we did everything right. They have been great to work with. Response time is quick, and helping us figure out what we needed made this whole process seamless. Westlake Pro really helped put this all together.

WLP:
Any comments on Sound x Rucker being the first (!) Atmos room in KY?

D. Rucker:
There aren’t any Atmos rooms in almost all of our neighboring states, so we are really looking forward to bringing this technology to our community.

P. Stewart:
If you build it, they will come, haha. What’s important is that the guys at Sound x Rucker and Hatfield Media took the time to get it right. 

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When Hatfield Media purchased their new 20,000-square-foot facility, they needed help designing the first Dolby Atmos production studio in Kentucky. Genelec monitors provided a precise and customizable monitoring environment that enabled Westlake Pro’s Danny Fasold and team to seamlessly integrate a new production workflow into an already established studio footprint.

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