Blackbird Studio, established in Nashville in 2002 by sound engineer John McBride and his wife, country music artist Martina McBride, is noted for its production facilities and for its collection of vintage and modern recording equipment, which recently expanded with the addition of one of the first Solid State Logic ORIGIN analog in-line mixing consoles to come off the production line in Begbroke, England.
The Blackbird complex has grown over the years to encompass nine studios plus the Blackbird Academy, a post-secondary audio engineering school established in 2013, that together occupy three buildings in the Berry Hill neighborhood of Nashville. The new SSL ORIGIN desk has been installed in Studio F, which was originally built for engineer, mixer and producer Justin Niebank — whose credits includes projects with Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, Vince Gil, Taylor Swift, Bon Jovi, Brad Paisley and Kenny Chesney, among many others.
McBride describes his first encounter with ORIGIN: “I first became aware of the console at the AES Show in 2019. I’m always excited to have the first console installed, especially when I believe in that particular piece of gear or equipment.”
Studio F, a 750-square-foot mix room designed by studio designer Mike Cronin, was opened in 2006 and is outfitted with ATC SCM300ASL main monitors and custom ATC left and right triple-15-inch subwoofers soffit-mounted in the front wall. Originally equipped with a large-format SSL console, the room most recently offered a workstation with outboard equipment bays, which ORIGIN has now replaced.
Shortly after ORIGIN was installed, Blackbird had to close temporarily due to the coronavirus pandemic, so McBride is looking forward to spending more time with the desk when the studio can reopen. “My initial impression is that it’s a great re-thinking of the SSL method and sonics,” he says. It seems as if SSL has maintained the parts of the legacy that make sense in the modern day in terms of audio and functionality. The layout seems very logical and familiar. The routing is very flexible and intuitive. I can’t wait to get to mix something on it.”
ORIGIN’s in-line analog signal path supports hybrid record production workflows, enabling recording to and summing from the workstation through the console, which offers the E-Series EQ and SSL Bus Compressor. “ORIGIN has a familiar feel and layout to previous SSLs but allows us to easily include other audio pieces through the 500 series racks, and omits automation and recall, which are more commonly done within a DAW these days,” says McBride.
Niebank, who has worked regularly in Studio F since it was opened, notes that as his hybrid workflow develops, ORIGIN enables him to spend more time mixing with a console rather than using a mouse.. “First, in the age of in-the-box mixing, I wanted to get back to performance mixing,” Niebank says. “ORIGIN is the perfect setup for this. I can go for an intuitive mix and then tweak within the computer. Second, depending on the situation, I can do a board mix and then transfer levels to the computer and continue. And third, because ORIGIN allows one to put all faders at zero, we can split out a mix created in the computer and enjoy the best analog summing available. Because high-resolution streaming is now available, this is essential for the future.”
Mark Rubel, co-director of the Blackbird Academy and an instructor at the school, adds that the new ORIGIN will serve as a great learning tool for the students: “It will be useful to the Blackbird Academy in familiarizing our students with the SSL layout, as many of them end up in studios with SSLs of various vintages. I polled some of our guest mentors who have SSLs to see what’s important to them that an assistant should know. They did say signal flow and layout, which this console exemplifies well, and that they weren’t concerned with SSL automation and Total Recall, which the assistants can learn if they need to.”