When the team at Aftermaster restored the 40-year-old recording studio originally built by Graham Nash at the vintage Crossroads of the World plaza on Sunset Boulevard, each construction decision came to back an ultimate question.
How does it sound?
“If the room doesn’t sound right, no one is going to want to use it,” said Larry Ryckman, the CEO of Aftermaster.
The renovated space features a new bamboo floor and stone accent walls to complement the original, thin wooden beams lining most of the live room, which has had Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt and Warren Zevon.
In a side space, Ryckman gestures toward a textured, lilac ceiling overhead. “We put some other stuff up, but it just didn’t sound right.”
At the heart of the control room is the 80-channel SSL 4000 G+ recording console that used to be used by the crew of Saturday Night Live. It’s massive, dial-laden piece of equipment that’s about ten times the size of the board in the sleek and modern ProTools studios on the other side of the complex — plus, Ryckman believes it might be the only 80-channel board in Los Angeles.
The studio, which opened in April, is the cherry on top of the AfterMaster brand, which Ryckman aims to make the standard for audio worldwide. The company, which features Justin Timberlake as a team member, records, mixes and masters music at its five studios and offers an array of consumer products.
As gorgeous as the new space is, AfterMaster’s secret sauce isn’t in just between these walls — it’s in a specially formulated audio enhancement technology that aims to polish recordings to their best selves without distorting the sounds in the process. While such enhancements have been around for decades, AfterMaster’s technology seeks to provide an end result that adds clarity and depth without losing any of the recording’s intended sound — as older processes can often diminish frequencies or boost the top or bottom range of the sound at the expense of the other end.
Ryckman puts it simply: “AfterMaster makes everything louder, fuller, deeper & clearer.”
Tony Shepperd, a producer and engineer who has worked with the likes of Quincy Jones, Lionel Ritchie and others said in an emailed statement he’s impressed with the technology as a way to keep his style updated.
“It’s important to always keep your mixing style fresh,” he said. “I’m blown away with the new and unique sound that AfterMaster brings to my mix.”
The AfterMaster audio technology is available in a chip developed as part of a multi-million partnership with ON Semiconductor that can be used in smartphones, headphones and other devices, essentially packing a studio’s worth of quality into a chip smaller than a fingernail. It’s also used in AfterMaster Pro, a first-of-its-kind personal audio remastering device available for $169 that can be plugged into TVs to improve the sound quality in real time.
The technology is also used in ProMaster, an online audio processing system that lets independent artists upload their files and receive mastered versions .The service is fronted by Timberlake and costs $9.99 per track — a steal compared to the costly mastering services that might otherwise be out of reach for the growing masses of independent artists.
The company is bullish — SEC filings from the early July say AfterMaster expects to see revenue to more than $1 million at the end of the third quarter from expectedly strong retail performance.
As innovative as the technology can be, the company is rooted in traditional aspects of the music industry — it’s part of the reason why the company stays in the studio game. Though studios shuttered their doors in recent years due to the rise in DIY recording combined with overall revenue struggles in the industry, the stabilization of streaming services and digital audio offerings is making it possible for the real-deal, traditional studios to come back, Ryckman said.
And with the diversified business, AfterMaster isn’t dependent on its recording studios to survive.
“We’re audio purists,” Ryckman said. “We want to continue to make sure the best music in the world gets made in these kind of studios.”
The company is run by longtime engineers and producers who’ve worked with superstars and major label artists across all genres. Ryckman says the team at AfterMaster has collectively produced, engineered and mastered more hit records than any other company in the world — and that expertise is what gives their products an extra oomph.
Tunecore, the Brooklyn-based digital music distribution company, uses AfterMaster’s mixing and mastering services to make their artists music radio-ready. CEO Scott Ackerman said in an emailed statement that the team provides the “gold standard” of professional technologies.
“We’re dedicated to giving our artists the tools and resources they need to grow their careers, and our partnership with AfterMaster does just that, by offering independent artists access to world-class mastering quality paired with the industry’s most decorated and talented engineers,” he said.
Team members include Grammy Award-winning producer and songwriter Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, senior engineer and director of product development Paul Wolff, senior mastering engineer Pete Doell, vice president and senior engineer Ari Blitz, and engineer and mixer Andrew Wuepper.
And then there’s co-founder and chief engineer Shelly Yakus, a longtime engineer whose worked with the likes of John Lennon, U2, Stevie Nicks, Alice Cooper, Van Morrison, Tom Petty and countless others. Ryckman says Yakus has worked on more platinum records than anyone in history, an achievement “Golden Ears” Yakus credits to the fine artists and songs he’s been fortunate enough to work with.
His career began at age 10, when his studio-owning father first allowed him to cut a lacquer used to send to the plant where they make vinyl.
“I said ‘Dad, when can I cut a record?’ He said ‘When you can see over the table,’” Yakus said.
His analog roots give him a keen understanding of the pros and cons of digital technology for music recordings. If you’re not careful with digital, the result can sound too much like everything else and lose its original musicality, Yakus said.
“It was much easier, in the analog world actually to capture the essence of who a band was, who an artist is, the song, the intent of the creators,” Yakus said. “Even though analog is not a perfect medium at least, as a medium, it was predictable, and when you got the mix you could hear what to do to make it more of what you wanted it to be.”
Yakus and the AfterMaster team applied their professionally-trained ears to the process of developing their audio enhancement technology that’s in the chip and in AfterMaster Pro. After engineers and technologists at ON Semiconductor to create what they wanted to hear, the AfterMaster team could point out when it didn’t sound quite right — even if the engineers’ end appeared to show exactly the same frequencies that they had requested.
That je-ne-sai-quoi of recorded sound is at the forefront of what AfterMaster attempts to capture — whether it’s in its technology, or in its live room. For Yakus, it’s that added difference that can make a record a hit.
“That’s the difference of what we’re talking about here. It’s not an intellectual thing,” he said. “It’s more like, ‘Do you love the way it sounds, do you love the way it feels?’ It’s emotional. It’s vague stuff … but it makes it really big difference.”