London's SNK Studios Has the Ear of Hollywood's Finest
This article was originally published in the Evening Standard. Written by Alex Lawson.
An ominous wind is hissing, in the distance an unseen animal emits a guttural croak and a winged samara leaf dislodges from a tree, sploshing into a pool before the Dolby logo emerges. This scene, a short promo for the sound giant’s services, plays out in a rich timbre through huge subwoofers, and speakers lodged at carefully skewed angles on the walls.
I’m sitting in the “sweet spot” of SNK’s new studio — a chair placed in the dead centre of the room, in front of a Millennium Falcon-esque control panel. The room is the audio production company’s new toy: it’s certified by Dolby, and founder Seb Juviler describes it as a “game changer” that will allow more of Hollywood’s finest to record their voice for films and TV post-production there. It will also up the already impressive count of A-listers trooping up the winding staircase in Midford Place, a yell from Warren Street station.
The collection of studios over six floors has already hosted Kate Winslet, Sir Ian McKellen and Dizzee Rascal — and a wall of fame on its website shows Juviler with the late Rik Mayall, flicking the Vs. There’s a constant flow of stars recording audiobooks. “We’re always working with the fantastic Brian Blessed — he has a great voice,” says Juviler, adding they have to ask the loud, bushy-bearded thespian to lean away from the microphone for fear of rustling.
Juviler beams as he shows me round the warren of recording studios. Tall, sporting hefty boots and with a hint of US actor Jesse Eisenberg, studios are his thing. The west Londoner comes from suitable stock (his paternal grandfather worked for the BBC, his father for LBC and his mother is a pianist), and has helped build the precise dynamics of every booth.
Long-time business partner Kayvan “Kayv” Moghaddassi and Paul Golliker — who joined through a merger with marketing agency Red Apple Creative — make up the rest of the management, which owns 100%.
Juviler and Moghaddassi, friends from nerdy chats working in a music gear store, set up in an outhouse next to Ealing film studios when they were in their early twenties. Proximity landed them their first big gigs, working on the music and mixing of ads for MasterCard and Paul Smith. A string of homes followed before the pair settled north of Soho; Moghaddassi now focuses on the digital side at its Chancery Lane offices.
Alongside the audiobook and film work, there’s a slew of other disciplines: sound for ads, building websites, scriptwriting for commercials — even casting. “It is very rare for a small agency to be able to do all that,” says Juviler. “But we’ll happily just offer straight recording too.” Paddy Power Betfair, Spotify and Amazon are among those signing the cheques. SNK opened in New York last year, to land clients over there.
Is the firm vulnerable to the rise of home recording, with a mac’n’mike enough to record most audio? “It’s a bigger problem for the music industry,” Juviler replies. “Doing sound design and recording voices will always require a beautifully made space that is acoustically appropriate. You need to be somewhere that people can get to — you can hang as many duvets around windows as you want, but you just won’t get the clients in. Voice recording and mixing soundtracks need proper, acoustic spaces.”
The former drum’n’bass nut admits the past few months have been relentless, investing in their offices, “hiring like it’s going out of fashion” and changing nappies with the birth of his second child. “It has been tough at times. The admin is the hardest. None of us have an MBA, we are all essentially vocationally trained, with radio, audio production and digital backgrounds — we understand those worlds and enjoy it but we’ve had to learn quite a lot — and we have good accountants and lawyers!”
The accountants will be busy if industry trends continue. Audio for virtual reality work is on the up, as is immersive sound — last year, SNK soundtracked a giant igloo with a panoramic screen to mark the anniversary of Ford’s clean sweep at the Le Mans 24-hour motor race. Says Juviler: “Because everyone’s wearing headphones now, there’s some really interesting avenues to explore with sound being all around and being able to control the listener.”
Time to get immersed.
Genre: Music & Sound Design