Walters-Storyk Design Group
The State of World-Class Studio Design
By Randy AlbertsLike his first room did 32 years ago, the 1,200 studios John Storyk and Beth Walters have designed together include at least a control room and one busy coffee machine--but that's where the similarities between Electric Lady Studios in 1969 and any one of their latest creations end. One of the world's most gifted, quoted, and prolific studio architects, Storyk has seen more than a few trends in technology affect the way he draws up an award-winning floor plan.
"Every studio today has a digital audio workstation," says Storyk, co-founder and principal designer at the Walters-Storyk Design Group in Highland, New York. "And let's not use the phrases 'project' or 'marketplace' studios any more; today it's more what I call 'desktop production' where everything in the studio is done with a computer. Carter Burwell is doing the biggest scores in Hollywood with one of the most advanced Pro Tools facilities around at marketplace-level quality, but his studio isn't for hire. I'd say digital workstations are here to stay."
Storyk co-founded WSDG with studio interior designer and wife Beth Walters in 1989, and the two have attended countless studio openings ever since. Currently working on no less than 50 projects, WSDG's past client list includes Margarita Mix in Los Angeles, Howard Schwartz Recording in New York, and Electronic Arts/Canada in Vancouver. Storyk has also designed studios for Whitney Houston, Clive Davis, Todd Rundgren, Shaquille O'Neal, and Bob Marley.
Digidesign asked this five-time winner of Mix magazine's prestigious TEC Award for excellence in studio design about the changing face of today's world-class studios and how Pro Tools and the DAW revolution it's leading is driving that change.
What changes in design have you noticed the past three years?
We're in construction now for Mach 2, which is the major player in advertising for video music in Milan, Italy. A beautiful install of three brand new rooms and each is all Pro Tools without traditional consoles. Basically you walk in a room and all you see is a screen, a mouse, and a keyboard.
When did you first notice desktop production as a trend?
Two or three years ago I started seeing studios without mixing consoles and now I'm seeing it more and more. At first it was in smaller desktop-style studios, but now we see it at the commercial marketplace level.
Do you design a Pro Tools-based facility any differently than another?
From an ergonomic, physical acoustic point of view there's really not much difference between a Pro Tools system, Avid system, or any other digital audio workstation. I realize they are different objects and they do different things and I have to keep their unique functions in mind when designing a room. I'm always interested to know what everybody's using, of course, and we definitely see Pro Tools being used to a significant extent.
Do you think Pro Tools and DAW technology's place in the studio is still growing?
Absolutely. We're going to see a growing number of workstations and a decrease in the number of studios with big consoles. I think you'll see more virtual consoles, as well, digital consoles that are small in physical size but can still handle 48 and 96 tracks because they handle everything in layers.
Beyond the evolution of technology itself, why do you think things have changed so much?
The average age of a recording engineer today is 30 years old, and they've grown up with computers. The older analog engineers like to see all the faders, they need the hardware and that's a part of their way of working. It's not right or wrong, but a 27-year-old engineer has been pushing a mouse for 20 years and it doesn't bother them that much of the equipment is virtual.
What's been your involvement with the Ex'pression Center for New Media in Emeryville, California?
I'm their Director of Acoustics, I teach and lecture there, and I designed the facility. Today, Ex'pression is one of the most advanced audio educational facilities in the States and has the most complete studio acoustics and design course. We had to build it so that any one of the live teaching rooms was capable of accommodating a workstation. I haven't seen a single project we've done for a few years now that doesn't have a digital audio workstation in it, and quite often it's Pro Tools.
Things have certainly changed since 1969, but can't resist asking you about Electric Lady and what it was like to be there with Jimi Hendrix.
In everybody's career there has to be a first, and that was the first project for me. I was only 22 at the time and it was an interesting way to start my career. I worked with Jimi on the design but I actually spent more time with Eddie Kramer on that project. He was the client and the producer so he really was the one that drove that design, and he's been a life-long friend all these years ever since. I won't lie, though, Electric Lady was a heck of an experience.