After attending recording classes and landing an internship at a local studio in his native Boulder, Colorado, Joe Zook moved to Los Angeles via a stint in Austin, Texas, and has since gone on to mix everything from worldbeat and jazz records to ESPN fishing shows and political ads. Today, as a world-class mixing engineer, Zook has worked with artists such as Alessia Cara, AJR, OneRepublic, Modest Mouse, Katy Perry, Smokey Robinson, and hundreds more. When he recently decided to upgrade his LA studio to Dolby Atmos recording, he turned to Focusrite Red 8Pre and RedNet R1 interfaces, and KRK V-Series studio monitors with S12.4 subwoofers.

Joe Zook's revised studio set-up, Atmos enabledZook began his career in music in Boulder, Colorado, playing guitar in bands while he was in elementary school and junior high. He went on to touring, but always returned to engineering. Spending time in the studio cutting demos, he began learning what happened on the other side of the glass. After working in Austin and then enrolling at the University of Miami, where he studied music theory, jazz, music business and digital audio, he decided that if he was really going to have a career in the business, he needed to move to Los Angeles.

In LA, after several gigs where he got his real-world education, including working at Conway Studios, Sunset Sound and Sunset Sound Factory, Zook struck up a relationship with legendary producer/engineer Jack Joseph Puig.

‘I was assistant engineer/Pro Tools engineer, as well as sharing engineering and recording duties for Jack, and over the course of a few years, I got to work with a wide variety of artists including Mick Jagger, Sheryl Crow, John Mayer, Vanessa Carlton, No Doubt and dozens more. I learned so much, and then I started tracking and working as an overdubbing engineer on my own.

I slowly watched my work going from 90 per cent recording and ten per cent mixing, to those percentages completely flipping, and over time I went to mixing 100 per cent.’

Zook with RedNet R1 and KRK monitorsToday, Zook’s clients read like a who’s-who of the music industry, including AJR, Alessia Cara, Daisy The Great, Jacob Collier, Andy Grammer, Weezer, Modest Mouse, The Hives, One Direction, Pink, Katy Perry and U2. To date, Zook has mixed and/or recorded albums representing worldwide sales of more than 80m.

Central to the set-up in the new studio are the Red 8Pre and RedNet R1: ‘A lot of times with Atmos, I find myself needing to mute, end or solo all the speakers,’ he says. ‘The Focusrite gear allows me to do that, and does it so easily. Because of the format, there are different sound sources, so I can switch back and forth between a stereo mix or the Atmos mix or streaming off of Apple music or another service easily and quickly. The whole system operates via Cat5 cable and Thunderbolt. It’s bulletproof. Additionally, the sound quality is really good. I never have noticed any degradation in the signal.’

As busy as Zook is, streamlining his workflow was a definite consideration when putting together the new studio. In addition to the audio quality and ease of use, Zook highlights how the RedNet gear has increased his efficiency regarding his workflow: ‘I don’t have to noodle with anything. Once everything was set up, I didn’t have to go back and try and fix anything or dial anything in or reboot. Every time I turn the Focusrite gear on, I hit play, it works, and I’m done – it’s very simple. I haven’t had to change anything since day one. Again, Focusrite makes their products just very easy to use, they sound great and are super reliable – and that gives me peace of mind.’

For the past few years, Zook has used KRK V4s as an auxiliary pair of mixing monitors. In his 7.1.4 Atmos system, he has V6s surrounding him, V4s mounted on the ceiling, and two S12.4 subwoofers under his desk. ‘I’ve gotten very familiar with the KRK sound and really like the audio consistency across the entire V-Series line,’ he says. ‘I simply trust that a good mix will feel right on the KRK V-Series.’

A key advantage of the V-Series is that they aren’t overly sensitive to placement in his room. ‘Some speakers sound amazing in one room and terrible in another – I haven’t experienced that with the KRK V-Series,’ he explains. ‘I think that’s a really important quality to have for Atmos mixing as you have so many speakers in a room and not a lot of options on placement. I’ve also noticed that I can relate to the sound of the V-Series more than some speakers that are three times the price.’

Joe ZookZook also finds KRK’s S12.4 studio subwoofer a cost-effective solution for mixing bass-heavy tracks. ‘With the KRK sub, you really get a bang for your buck,’ he confirms. ‘They have all the controls and connections that I want and can get the job done for about 300 per cent less than the top-shelf subs.’

Since Zook has begun mixing in Atmos, he has been kept busy: ‘Ninety-nine per cent of everything I have done in Atmos are brand new mixes,’ he says. ‘I do a stereo mix, and then the artist or label wants an Atmos version of that. This has been happening for almost all of my clients since May. The only Atmos mix that I’ve done so far for a legacy artist is from the catalogue album Native by OneRepublic, which I originally mixed in stereo several years ago. Everything else has been new tracks.’

Recent projects that have involved the new KRK studio set-up include mixing Scott Helman’s ‘Pretty,’ Tassia Zappia’s ‘Like Ooh’ and Alessia Cara’s ‘Somebody Else.’

‘Lately, any project that I’ve mixed in stereo has also required an Atmos version so, I’ve been turning to my KRKs more and more to meet this new demand,’ Zook reports. ‘I’ve also started working on older catalogue albums that I originally mixed. With KRK, I’m able to mix both stereo and Dolby Atmos recordings, and the artists have been thrilled with the results.’

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