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More audio docks at MediaCityUK

Now two years old, the much maligned MediaCityUK at Salford Quays appears to be turning into the production centre it promised to be - and audio is playing a part in that.

New facilities open on a wave of enthusiasm and expectation, not all of which is fulfilled. Despite the cynicism and pessimism that greeted its opening two years ago, MediaCityUK (MCUK) has gone from a desolate collection of concrete tower blocks in the middle of the old Salford Quays in Greater Manchester to what its developers said it would be, a self-contained town based on TV and radio production, with shops, bars, restaurants, hotels and apartments.

The heart of MCUK is The Studios block, built to house seven HD/5.1 television studios, video and audio post-production suites, orchestral and radio sound studios and a master control room, with supporting technical areas.

MCUK was built by property development company Peel Holdings and already had a solid tenant prepared to move in. The BBC was committed to transfer five of its production departments, including Sport and Children’s, from London to new buildings at Salford Quays, as well as relocate its local TV and radio operations from central Manchester.

This decision continues to be contentious but in 2011 the BBC took possession of its three buildings at MCUK and began using The Studios. The University of Salford (UoS) also moved its media courses into purpose-built facilities in a nearby building.

Two years on and commercial broadcaster ITV has transferred its local Granada TV operations into floors above the UoS. More impressively, just over a canal from central MCUK “campus”, ITV is building a new outside location, with back lot and technical facilities – including audio post-production suites – for production of long-running soap opera Coronation Street.

The Studios block has evolved from being a 60-70s style broadcast complex to being a more modern production environment, with other media companies working alongside the main in-house operation.

Part of this image change came last year when The Studios, run jointly by Peel Media and Satellite Information Services (SIS), was re-branded as dock10 (recently discovered historical plans show the MCUK site was earmarked as the tenth dock at Salford Quays). The new name is being used for a concerted marketing campaign to bring productions to the northwest, not just for studio work but post-production and ancillary technical services, such as ingest, as well.

The original audio post room at dock10, Dub 1, is a big suite based on a 48-channel Avid ICON desk with Pro Tools. In 2011 the then director of engineering for MCUK Studios said there were definite plans to expand the sound dubbing department. That happened earlier this year with the opening of Dub 2, a smaller space housing a 24-channel Avid C24 controller.

Head of post-production and content, Paul Austin, joined dock10 in 2012 after working for both BBC Studios and Post Production and Clear Cut Pictures in London. He explains that Dub 2 was built to cope with growing demand for audio mixing within the facility, which had been farmed out to other facilities in Manchester as Dub 1 was already busy. “Dub 2 has a smaller desk but it does exactly what we need it to do,” Austin comments.

The new suite was designed in collaboration with Mike Stewart (pictured), a dubbing mixer well-known in the region for his work on drama series, including Shameless, who had been running his own one studio audio company, The Sound House, in central Manchester. Stewart explains that while he is still an independent and uses The Sound House name for his clients, Dub 2 is marketed as a dock10 facility.

“A 48-channel desk like the one in Dub 1 takes up a lot of real estate,” Stewart comments, “but you need to fit the producer and director into the suite as well, which is why we built Dub 2 with a 24-channel desk. 24-faders are bankable enough because much of what you’re working with has been pre-mixed already.”

Since opening, the room has been used for CBBC children’s drama 4 O’Clock Club; Stewart says there is enough room in Dub 2 to build additional ADR and voice-over facilities in the future. It has also been used for entrepreneurial reality show Dragon’s Den, with 5.1 deliverable mixed on Genelec 8050s.

In addition to its in-house facilities dock10 has a three year contract to run The Landing, described as a “post-production hub” within the building. Among the operations taking space there will be Tamborine, which currently has audio mixing, voice recording and ADR facilities in London. Paul Austin explains that the company will be opening suites in The Landing for track laying, dubbing and voice-overs.

With audio dubbing facilities at Timeline Television in a nearby MCUK tower, with more companies set to move in, plus other sound specialists only a tram ride away, the media production explosion in Salford and Manchester is not all about pictures.

Story: Kevin Hilton