Professional Sound Magazine has dedicated 4 pages with pictures to Studio 451 in its April 2011 edition! Read the full article and the interview with Alain Avon (co-owner) and JP Alepins (communications). Go to page 4 (table of contents) of the magazine's electronic version and click on Studio 451 (page 30): http://www.professional-sound.com/online/index.htm
Here's a text copy of the article:
Bring It To The Bank
By Andrew King
“We're recording musicians ourselves, so we understand what a session feels like from both sides of the glass.”
Operated and partly-owned by a team of seasoned musicians, Montreal's Studio 451 – The Bank has been catering to both top-tier and up-and-coming artists for just shy of a decade. Co-owned and directed by brothers Martin and Alain Avon, the studio aims to facilitate the creative process for music makers and producers by focusing on team work and offering a professional environment to a vast pool of potential clients.
Studio 451 – The Bank boasts three individual studios, a live room with 26 ft. ceilings, eight soundproofed isolation booths with a network of flatscreen monitors for visual contact, and a slew of new and vintage high-end mics and outboard pieces. Over the last several years, the space has welcomed a diverse range of artists, including Daniel Lanois, Shakira, and Roch Voisine, though the studio maintains a strong focus on working with young talent and growing the local music scene of which the Avon brothers, along with band mate and studio Marketing and Communications Manager Jean-Phillipe Alepins, are a part.
Exit 451 To…
“It's a big studio, but with the way the industry's been lately, we've been operating at full-speed with a minimal amount of people,” explains the studio's Marketing and Communications Manager. As part of his position, Alepins focuses on Studio 451's outreach, working to keep its online presence current and attracting attention through direct networking at local industry functions or album release parties.
Martin Avon, a Co-Owner and Director of Studio 451, is predominantly responsible for the studio's technology, deciding which pieces are purchased and overseeing maintenance and repair. “He's very hands-on in his approach,” says Alepins about his colleague and band mate. Martin's brother Alain handles the studio's administration and logistics, including finances. He also manages the hiring of freelance engineers when needed. The two brothers work out of the studio full-time, and both are engineers in their own right.
The three colleagues are members of Montreal-based alternative rock outfit Exit 451. A couple of years go, the group had a career-changing experience by meeting Marc Rousseau, the owner of the place, who gave them a chance to record at 451 rue d'Eglise in the city's south end. That studio, however, had already ceased its operations in the early part of the new millennium. After hearing the news and making a major decision, the Avon brothers, with Alepins in-tow, decided to approach the owner of the space with a business plan in hopes of re-opening the studio themselves and pushing forward.
“We just fell in love with the facility,” explains Alain Avon about the group's first experience in the studio a number of years back. While there, the three grew quite fond of the physical infrastructure, not to mention the stellar sound of Studio A's control room. “We were listening to everything on those monitors – from Miles Davis to U2 – and were hearing such a full and rich sound.”
“It's one of the few large-scale recording studios left in the city,” explains Alepins. “It would've been a shame to lose that space.” Marc Rousseau, the longtime and current Owner of the facility, granted the three their request and gave control of the studio to the Avon brothers. In 2004, the space officially became Studio 451.
…Studio 451 – The Bank
The studio occupies a building that was at one time a fully-functional bank, hence the recent addition to its moniker. Its facilities are spread among four floors. The live room spans both the basement and ground floor, hence its 26 ft. height. Looking out onto the floor of the live room is Studio B (The Mozart) in the basement, while above it on the street level sits Studio A (The SSL Suite) along with other amenities. The second floor of the studio houses office space for the full-time and visiting staff. Finally, the third floor, along with some empty offices, houses Studio C (The Nostradamus), a smaller tracking and voiceover suite.
The three studios boast different pricing models relative to their capabilities to appeal to a wide spread of potential clients. While Studio 451's services do include corporate ad work and post-production for TV and film, the facility and its staff maintain a heavy focus towards musical projects – from jazz trios and rock bands to classical ensembles and choirs. “We also have a number of producers that come in with their recordings to work on arrangements and mixes,” shares Alepins. He cites a recent visit from a well-known producer who came into Studio B to remix a project done elsewhere with which he wasn't totally pleased.
Continues Alepins: “Because we have such a well-outfitted and great-sounding control room with good reference tools, we often have people come and assess their mixes or masters here.” Another example he offers was a visit from Shakira and her professional posse prior to a concert at the Bell Centre to evaluate the mastering work on her most recent release, Sale El Sol, after a recommendation from Sony New York.
The studio's focus on musical projects was elevated to a new level after the studio took ownership of a Solid State Logic 9000 J with 96 channels and total automated recall, currently occupying Studio A. “We've been aiming to elevate the studio's performance and capabilities while making sure all of the infrastructure is as solid and straightforward as possible,” explains Avon. Studio A previously housed an AMEK Mozart 56-channel desk which now occupies Studio B, “and it's a great-sounding console,” continues the engineer, “but to attract more of the top producers and engineers, we needed a more serious piece of equipment.”
The SSL which once occupied Sony New York's Studio D was acquired at the beginning of 2009 and installed in the spring. “It was very challenging bringing it up to Montreal,” shares Alepins. “It's just a monster.” The desk was transported in four pieces by the Studio 451 team and some hired help. Once it arrived, the struggle continued as the Studio A control room had to be entirely reconfigured to accommodate the new addition.
Jean-Luc Louradour of Reasonance TJL, who originally helped build the studio back in 1992 and had acted as a consultant with complicated technical issues over the years, helped reassemble and rewire the desk upon its arrival in Montreal – one of his last jobs before officially retiring. With the desk in place, Studio 451 now boasted two fully-outfitted studios to cater to the full spectrum of potential clients from Montreal and beyond.
To load each of its spaces with complementing pieces – from mics to compressors to converters – the studio relies on Martin Avon and his keen eye for technology. “Martin is a real gear head,” his brother shares, “so he keeps a close eye on the various trade shows and publications to see what's coming out.” Though the studio will often take to the internet – eBay, recording forums, and the lot – to scout pieces, its physical location boasts some benefits. Montreal's Studio Economik is a frequently-visited toy store for the 451-ers, and “a great resource,” adds Avon. “They always have new boutique products that we love trying out.”
Prior to bringing in the SSL in 2009, explains Alepins, the studio had a comfortably-sized clientele. “It worked well for us,” he shares, “but since bringing in the SSL and raising our game, we've seen that reflected in the projects that have come through since.” With the installation, the studio also adopted The Bank-oriented branding, running with the concept as something that made the studio distinguishable.
“Our studio is very clean and functional,” attests Alepins. “We take great care of our gear and pride ourselves in the overall upkeep of the studio.” Even though only a handful of large-format recording spaces remain in the Montreal area, Studio 451 still focuses a lot of energy on distinguishing itself. That task is made slightly easier by the existing reputation of the studio's live and primary control rooms. “It was very well designed, and that's why it would've been tragic for it to close,” adds Alepins before tossing out a nice play on its name: “There's a lot of money in these walls.”
The majority of the studio's clientele – about 80 per cent, the trio estimates – comes from within the province, though the remaining percentage travelling in is a vital piece to the puzzle. “They usually book larger blocks of time for more significant projects,” shares Alepins before noting: “That balance has been working quite well for us lately.”
The studio has always and continues to put a strong emphasis on promoting its facility and services. To build Studio 451's profile in the local music community and, subsequently, its clientele after opening in 2004, Alepins' first order of business was to directly call Disques Star's previous clients and re-introduce the facility and its new management. A lot of effort was subsequently put into promotional e-mail campaigns, developing an online presence, and of course, going out into the industry and networking.
“Lately, I've slowed down a bit because we've built up such a good reputation,” shares Alepins, which means the studio has not only attracted new clients, but made repeat customers out of some. “Now, we're simply building on what's been established.” Of course, despite it being outside of his direct reach, Alepins knows that referrals are the best form of advertising, and so delivering a top-quality experience and product is still the top means of promotion.
Ensuring that product is properly delivered, Studio 451 will often farm out work to local freelance engineers that best suit a given project, even though the Avon brothers are more than capable behind the console. Says Avon: “We know who to call that will best represent us on any project.” Pulling from a wide pool of engineers, the studio can focus on the individual talents of each one and match them to corresponding projects to ensure success for all parties.
As members and supporters of the local music community, Studio 451's staff will often make special accommodations to help out up-and-coming artists if they truly believe in the band and project at hand. “If it's a serious band that may not have a lot of money available but have a great project, know what they want, and are ready to do it properly, we try our best to accommodate,” shares Alepins, noting the studio has traded work hours for studio time with either recording bands or developing engineers looking to fine-tune their chops on top-quality equipment in a top-quality environment. Adds Alepins about the arrangement: “We've made some great friends and contacts that way.”
Down the line, the studio is also hoping to host informative sessions or open-houses where audio enthusiasts can familiarize themselves with the space and perhaps bring in some of their own mics or outboard pieces to try out in a professional setting. Similarly, for potential clients, Studio 451 is always willing to open its doors and have people explore the space and meet the people behind it. It has also teamed up with local artists and music companies to host VIP listening sessions in its control room, further extending its reach into the local community and earning a bit of coin on the side.
Once someone's entered the studio, the aim is to make them feel completely comfortable, whether it's an artist, visiting engineer, or curious spectator. Shares Avon: “We felt immediately comfortable our first time here with Exit 451, and we try to bring that same attention to detail and overall experience to our clients. We understand this process inside and out.”
Looking ahead, the team is hoping to incorporate 5.1 mixing capabilities into its operations, as well as expand its digital offerings to stay current with the industry. “We try to stay out of the box as often as possible, always looking for tube compressors and other vintage pieces. We love analog,” explains Avon. “But we want to upgrade to ensure our digital hardware and software is all current so we have more to offer our clients.”
On another front, the team recently launched 451 Recording House, a new label and music company of which Exit 451 is the first client, though plans are underway to add other Anglophone and Francophone acts to the roster in the near future. By streamlining the company's operations with those of the studio sharing its nomenclature, the team is hoping to create a three-dimensional entity greater than the sum of its parts.
“We're trying to evolve and bring everything together, elevating the overall quality of what we do. We want to create a strong vibe between the studio, label, and the artists,” shares Avon before referencing the Motown model as a loose example.
“It's really all about the music,” concludes the Co-Owner and Director. “At Studio 451 – The Bank, we're very passionate about making records.”