Legendary composer Geo Hohn on the perfect audio studio

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Geo Hohn at Abbey Road Studios (Photo credit: Ben Ludik)

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Audio composition and production guru Geo Hohn shares his insights on what makes the perfect audio studio...

With a proven track record in post-production supervision, film-scorer Geo Hohn is very precise about the studios he executes his tasks in.

“I came from a classical music background and my natural talent leans toward film scoring, which involves composition, arranging, orchestration and sound engineering,” says Hohn.

“It is very important to differentiate between a recording/mixing facility or a music production room/studio and a music mastering room/facility. They all have different specifications.”

Exploring Various Production Set-Ups

According to Hohn, audio production studios vary according to the intention of the project and what it requires. They vary from recording and mixing facilities, to music production rooms, to music mastering facilities, as well as sound studios or dub stages (which are used by film scorers when producing for film).

He points out that although they may tend to look the same, technology plays a major role in separating one facility from the next.

“These studios are usually designed according to specifications set out by technology leaders like Dolby or Auro3D. They include formats from stereo through the standard surround formats like 5.1 and 7.2, on to immersive surround formats which are gaining ground,” enthuses Hohn.

“The most common type of studio is for music production and recording. If the budget is not an issue, the ideal average-sized studio would include a facility built from the ground up specifically for this reason.”

The building in which the recording facility is set up has a direct impact on the quality of the sound generated on the premises. Hohn believes that all facilities should be set up in rooms with independent foundations: “To get the best sound balance for referencing or recording in the room, the room should be sound insulated so that sound from adjacent rooms does not ‘bleed’ sound into other rooms.”

Technical Set Up

Hohn says that for fully textured sound it is advisable to employ a studio mixing console, “preferably a SSL or Neve for analogue, and an Avid S6 for DAW control. Add a monitoring system, ideally a Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus Far/Mid field monitors and Sonodyne Nearfields.

“AD/Converters are important: Prism Sound Orpheus and also an SSL alpha link via MADI should do the trick. For an external clock, the engineer can add an Antilope Audio Atomic Clock or Aardvark TimeSync II and Sync DALocks to LTC, VITC, MTC, video, word clock 256x and AES/EBU.”

For great-quality cabling, Hohn prefers anything made by Mogami. For consistently-performing pre amps, he prefers Universal Audio 610 or the Neve 1073, and when it comes to recording software, Hohn relies on Pro-Tools Ultimate and Nuendo 10 for composing.

“For great-quality vocals, I prefer condenser mics – such as a Neumann U87 & TL-102, or Sterling Audio ST55. For ribbon microphones, go with Royer R121 or Coles Electroacoustics 4038,” says Hohn.

In the terms of what would constitute the ultimate recording room, “that totally depends on the size and type of recordings. This can vary for a recording booth for simple voice-overs or ADR to a massive stage/hall for recording a full 140-piece orchestra.”

Innovations in Music Production

Music often only constitutes five percent of a film, but it has an undeniable ability to mould the feel of the entire picture even at different points of the narrative.

Hohn points out that a lot of music that is produced in this current era is produced ‘in a box’: “You can feel a distinct difference. Most people cannot tell you why, but I get comments like warmer, fuller, richer when talking about music recorded in days gone by.”

“In earlier days, especially the 90’s, it was very difficult and expensive to build a recording studio. Most of the music that was created electronically was made on analogue synthesisers interlinked with studio hardware and drum machines like the Roland TR 808,” he adds.

Hohn goes on to explain that in those days, recording was mostly done on a multi-track tape machine and the need to do the editing on a computer was very minimal. It was not surprising for writers who wrote for an orchestra to use the traditional paper and pen method – with an added boost from a piano.

Although there are mixed reviews about the introduction of technologies such as artificial intelligence in music production, Hohn remains optimistic about this development.

“The technology is not quite there yet. We also believe that artificial intelligence will assist us in the future to do better work. So we view it as something positive, not as a threat.”

Top 10 tools in Geo Hohn’s Audio Toolbox:

  • Avid Pro Tools
  • Arturia V Collection
  • Celemony Melodyne
  • Sonodyne SRP500 – Active Speakers
  • Roland A-88 – 88 keys fully weighted MIDI keyboard controller
  • Roland Electronic Drum Kit
  • Neve Genysis Console – 64 Channel
  • AVID 192 I/O – AD/DA Converter 
  • UAD Satellite OCTO – DSP Accelerator
  • Tanoy Gold – Passive Speakers (Powered by 2x Mono Blocks)