One of the top film mixing facilities on the East Coast, Sound One, has been closed by its new parent company. Virtually all of the employees of the massive audio post operation, located in the Brill Building, have been laid off, while projects already underway at Sound One have been forced to find new homes.
Simultaneously, employees are in an active search for new investors that will allow the company to reopen.
All of this follows the facility’s September sale by Discovery Communications to Empire Investment Holdings. A Miami-based company, Empire’s CSS Studios division also owns post facilities Todd-AO, Soundelux, and POP Sound in Los Angeles, as well as music support company Modern Music, and sound effects provider The Hollywood Edge.
In the statement released to media outlets such as Deadline, Sound One said:
“Sound One, LLC has announced that in response to the current market conditions in New York, the company is investigating strategic alternatives for its New York operations. As a first step, the company implemented a short-term temporary lay-off program, while the management team considers a variety of strategic options. This development pertains solely to Sound One, LLC in New York and does not impact CSS Studios’ operations in Los Angeles.”
The midtown facility built up a world-class reputation for audio post, primarily in the film world with clients including Woody Allen, Ang Lee, Martin Scorcese, and Spike Lee, via talent like Academy Award-winning mixer Tom Fleischman. Some sound work on the Academy Award-nominated 2010 film Black Swan was done at Sound One, and Soundelux’s Lon Bender and Victor Ennis received Academy Award sound editing nominations in 2011 for work performed at Sound One for Drive.
Sprawl in a Shrinking Market
Since opening over 40 years ago, Sound One’s capacity grew along with its Grade A credit list. At present, the facility houses five re-recording studios, two ADR studios, a Foley studio, and nearly 100 editing suites, and employed nearly 40 people.
But as many large-scale NYC audio post houses have learned lately, size no longer matters – whether your clientele is cinema, commercials or TV shows. The enormous scale of these 1970’s and ‘80’s era facilities is completely out of whack with the realities of today’s media model, where top-heavy institutions (major film studios, broadcast networks) aren’t spending like they used to.
Consider stats like these, and it clarifies why Sound One – with what must have been huge overhead — looked easily expendable to its new corporate parent: 2012’s summer films grossed $4.27 billion, down 2.84 percent from $4.4 billion in 2011. And admissions were at 526 million, compared to 545 million tickets sold in 2011, a 3.56 percent drop. But worst of all is the overall negative trend playing out: summer movie ticket sales are down 100 million from this time ten years ago.
In an in-depth article appearing on Hollywood media site The Wrap, a source told the outlet that if Sound One had been operating at full capacity, CSS Studios would not have chosen to shut it down. Apparently, the talented staff at Sound One – many of them long-standing veterans with deep roots in the company – could not boost business levels to the point needed to ensure its survival, at least for the time being.
Also, according to a person familiar with the situation that SonicScoop spoke with, there was dissapointment among some employees that the recently-tripled New York state post-production tax credit did not have more of an immediate impact on the bottom line.
As employees attempt a rescue plan, and presumably other outside investors consider whether or not they can return the fallen audio post facility to profitability, NYC is left to wonder how it will survive the loss of Sound One.
An immediate reaction is concern for the employees and their families – who could be deeply affected if the facility does not re-open its doors. Yet another is respect for the cinematic history that unfolded there over the decades, and the congenial, creative beehive that was engendered there by so many top professionals working, learning and socializing together.
A NYC sound mixing institution is in limbo, and it very well might not be coming back. Although an immediate vacuum will undoubtedly result as the city’s audio post capacity takes a dip, it’s reasonable to think that many remaining players will grow even busier. Facilities such as c5 Sound, Soundtrack F/T, Digit It Audio, and DuArt are all examples of Manhattan entities long on rooms and/or experience dedicated to the specific needs of filmmakers. Myriad other Manhattan audio post facilities have been grooming themselves for all levels of media mix work, as their core clientele grapples with their own downward pricing pressures. Everyone should pick up sessions while things shake out.
And more help is on the way. Brooklyn is steadily equipping itself to become a bigger audio post provider, as seen in Brooklyn Sound Society’s newly announced buildout in Bedford-Stuyvesant, or the growth for one-at-a-time Surround mixing rooms such as Williamsburg’s Fall On Your Sword. Meanwhile, other production and post production centers are in various stages of development across that borough, with opportunity in the ether long before Sound One’s collapse.
One set of doors is closing, but many more could quite possibly open throughout NYC in the months and years to come. And as has happened in other facets of the media production industry, these facilities — being borne out of an updated economic landscape — will expectantly be leaner and more nimble then their larger and costlier counterparts.
Despite the current pain, the ultimate result could very well be that the region retains the work that has been here all along, brings in even more, and expands on what it can offer to clients — all while state incentives keep NY post offerings economically attractive.
SonicScoop will continue to monitor and report on developments at Sound One.
— David Weiss