Ocean Way Nashville Interview

This month we spoke to Pat McMakin (Director of Operations) and Nick Spezia (Scoring Engineer) of Ocean Way Nashville. Ocean Way has worked on a diverse range of AAA game scores  We discussed their background, their studio set up, some recent projects and some common issues in recording sessions.

RS: What is Ocean Way Nashville’s background? When did it open?

PM: Ocean Way Nashville was converted from a church to it’s present form in 1996 by Allen Sides (of Ocean Way fame) and Gary Belz (of house Of Blues fame) and acoustical design firm Studio; Bau:ton (of Atlanta GA). In 2001, the studio was sold to Belmont University who own and operate it presently. The facility has 3 rooms and serves commercial clients as well as providing academic support for Belmont’s Curb College Of Entertainment and Music Business. Ocean Way Nashville has a legacy in providing top level quality and service to many A-List recording artists. For the past 5 years, scoring has been a primary focus and Ocean Way Nashville. In 2016, we scored Call Of Duty, Madden 2016, FIFA 2016, and Ori And the Blind Forrest, all award winning games. We also scored the number 1 and 3 movies in the box office for the weekend of Oct 22, 2016. We have already scored several marque games being released this Holiday Season.

RS: Could you describe the recording set up at Ocean Way?
PM: Studio A is the former sanctuary of a church constructed in 1911, featuring 30 foot ceilings and a 2000 sq ft live room. The acoustics are nicely ambient but controlled and balanced, giving orchestral recordings a unique clarity, noticeable on games, films and TV shows. The control room is 32′ long by 25′ wide allowing for production teams to have plenty of space for large scores, music editors’ computers, and other miscellanea. The console is a vintage 80 input Neve 8078, one of the best sounding consoles ever built. We maintain it immaculately making our sessions run smoothly and providing the uniquely warm yet clear sound of early Neve consoles. we also offer several types of mic preamps for more specialized approaches. Our mic collection features all the great vintage mics such as a Decca Tree full of M50s as well as plenty of C12s, U67s, 251s, and many more. Additionally we have some of the newer preferred mics such as the MKH800. For cue, we have an in-house designed and built analog system that puts mix control in the hands of each section leader. This also helps our sessions move more quickly than other stages. Pro Tools is our choice of recording DAW and we have 48 I/O of A/D and D/A convertors in-house.

RS: I understand you converted a church into the main recording studio. What was the process like converting the space? What were the acoustics like before and after the transition?
PM: I was not here during the conversion but evidence shows that no expense was spared to create a magical space built for intense daily use. Often people mistake an ambient church as having “great acoustics”. My experience is that few churches tune their spaces and the lower frequency reverb times are too long compared to the mid and higher ones. This creates muddiness which many notice as the inability to understand the spoken word. Studio Bau:ton did a great job at treating the acoustics in a way that does not destroy the beauty of the space while balancing the reverb so orchestra blends in the room sound quite natural and balanced.
RS: What are some recent video game highlights?
PM: Call Of Duty Black Ops 3
Call Of Duty Infinite Warfare,
Madden 2016
FIFA 2016
Ori And The Blind Forest
Star Wars; The Old Republic
Mafia III
Rise Of The Tomb Raider .

RS: Could you describe the process of working on one of your recent games? After you record music how much input does the composer usually have on the mix? 

NS: Every project usually begins with a discussion (or many) with the composer or members of the music team.   We talk about the scope and requirements of the project, and address any specific needs for our recording.  With that information, I’ll generate preliminary documentation outlining every detail of the setup.  For Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, we landed on having a very unique stage setup for the ensemble recording.  The composer, Sarah Schachner wanted to focus on good low end energy so we centered the viola, celli and bass at the front of the room and had the violin sections behind them split far apart.  This created an interesting acoustic environment that complimented Sarah’s fantastic synth programming.  

In my experience, a composer’s involvement in the mixing process varies. Occasionally I’ll have attended mix sessions, but it seems that often my clients are already busy writing their next project!  In those cases, they usually prefer to listen in their environment and provide feedback remotely.

RS: Do you find the process for mixing different games varies from project to project? Or does each project tend to follow a similar framework? 

NS: Generally speaking, I do have a “starting point” for a new mix project.  For example, there are certain output and stems routing that I use frequently.  Having much of this work finished before opening a cue allows more time to focus on mixing.  

RS: What helps make a recording session go well? 

NS: I think preparation is paramount in the success of a session.  I’m fortunate to work with many clients who feel the same way.  Among many other things, having accurate tempo/meter maps, click tracks and a flexible recording template tailored to the project are all important.  Also, a cue list with individual run times denoted is invaluable for establishing and adjusting a priority record order.

RS: One technical question, when you work with a composer I assume you often get temp tracks or other stems that are to be included in the mix of your recording. Are there any common mistakes that composers make or things to watch out for?

NS: Yes, we use temp tracks and stems frequently.  Occasionally an audible edit will arise in a stem that may give me cause to examine and ensure it wasn’t a stage noise or microphone problem.  Another minor issue can be the overuse of reverb in a printed stem.