Interview #4 : Richard Lenz from Real Acoustix

Here is my fourth video interview with an acoustical consultant in the US ! I would like to thank Richard Lenz for having accepted to be interviewed ! This time, you will discover what happened to Jimi Hendrix’s bedroom !

Mr Lenz talks about his company, his work, his projects and he shares some useful tips at the end of the interview. I particularly liked the way he talked about his products : they need to be efficient and good looking as well.

Against all odds and technical problems, I managed to conduct the interview entirely, but unfortunately, you can’t see my face in the second part. Sorry for this, my internet connection broke down.

Here are the main points we spoke about :

General Presentation

Real Acoustix

Real Acoustix is an architectural acoustics company founded in 2008 by Richard Lenz and located in Ogden, UT. They are best known for their work for recording studios (wood-based diffusers or absorbers) and they are also doing work for concert halls, schools, and other commercial applications (green technologies).

Richard’s job in particular

First, he’s the founder of course ! He is also the president and the chief designer of the product line. By the way, he mentions that they have the largest line of diffusers in the world. He is also a member of the ASA and publishes papers, mostly about the physics side (tests and how to improve the products). As the president, there is also a lot of paperwork, but he won’t give up his chief designer hat soon !

Why acoustics ?

Back in the day, Richard used to study music education in college, acoustics wasn’t his major. According to him, it’s a good thing that he didn’t become a teacher ! He instead started as a sound engineer. This 10+ years experience with various music genres taught him how rooms work. Later on, he started designing studios. He was doing the electronic side as well as the acoustics side. But as time went by, he finally chose to focus only on acoustics and started a manufacturing firm.

The more I got into it, the more I enjoyed doing the acoustics side.

His best project so far ?

It was tough for him to choose one, but he finally chose his work for Electric Lady Studios in New York City. The Electric Lady Studios were built in the 1970s and are known for being Jimi Hendrix’s studio. Two years ago, Real Acoustix was asked to do 2 new rooms in this studio. This project was special because they had to design some unique products. As a Jimi Hendrix fan, Richard enjoyed conducting it !

When I mentioned that I like rap music, he told me that he also worked for Quad Studio in NYC, known for recording rap albums (eg Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III).

electric lady studios

Real Acoustix work for Electric Lady Studios

An acoustical consultant in particular

The profile of an acoustical consultant

According to Richard, here are the main qualities you need to have to do his job :

  • You have to have a love for what you do. Whatever it is, you need to love the aspects of what you are doing. Because it’s going to be hard work, but not nearly as hard if you enjoy doing it.
  • Get a set of ears. You really need to develop your hearing. Because hearing tones and frequencies will help you to listen to the behaviour of rooms for example. Then you will be able to understand what happens when you buy some devices.
  • Study sound and music instruments. Having a knowledge about this also helps a lot. Having a musical background is the best. Richard is by the way a bass player.
  • Understand architecture. According to Richard, function comes first so you need to understand architecture to provide systems that will perfectly fit the rooms you are building. The main goal is to make it look better and sound better.

It really becomes an art when both sides are trying to complement each other.

A typical day in the life of an acoustical consultant

Richard’s typical day starts at 5:30AM. He does his design work early in the morning at home during 2 hours. After that, he goes to the office and deals with clients that are calling for various needs. That’s his main role. He also goes to the factory and makes sure that everything is going the way it should be going.

He works on marketing as well and keep in touch with acousticians all over the US. Unlike Mr Aiton who sends emails, Mr Lenz rather sends postcards (half a dozen a year) ! According to him, postcards don’t bother people. To me, it’s an original way to keep people informed !

How do they conduct a project ?

We can divide all the projects into 2 types : those that require standard products and those that require customization. Every project that requires customization always passes by Richard’s desk. His role is to find out how best can they accomplish what they are asked to do. It can be a modification of an existing system or a total new creation.

For instance, Berklee School of Music (Boston, MA) needed a specific product : A Diffraction Slot Absorber (DSA), which is a wood absorber. John Storyk (from WSDG) already worked on it and wanted it to address a particular frequency, which was Richard’s part.

It can be pretty intense.

Once the project leaves his desk, the next step is the factory and then the shop manager. Depending on what is required, a project can last 2 or 3 years. For instance, he has been working on a 5-year project in Canada because it involves a lot of customization and some standard products.

Finally, good news for engineers like me because he told me that they will be adding another engineering person ! Indeed, he is getting to the point that he can’t deal with everything due to his other hats in the industry. Maybe I will stand a chance !

Berklee College of Music

Real Acoustix work for Berklee College of Music

Acoustics for recording studios

Like Richard said earlier, Real Acoustix is speacialized in recording studios. So I asked him to pick up a typical project and talk about it. He chose once again to talk about the Electric Lady Studios.

At Electric Lady Studios, there used to be two “useless” rooms. The first one was Jimi Hendrix’s bedroom and the second one was a storage room. Engineers that were working here thought it was wasted space and about 2 years ago, they called Real Acoustix to work on the first room.

There was a particular challenge because there was too much absorption. In that case, it tends to affect the high frequency performance of the studio. It was really important to pay attention to it because what an engineer will hear in his environment is what the customer will hear when he buys the CD. Apart from this, he also had to pay attention to aesthetics and chose correct woods.

To counter the problem, they used two of their products : the RealQuad Studio (in its biggest size) and the FAST panel (which is a pannel with a series of perforations). It was possible to use these products because the rooms were deep enough to handle lower frequency range.

In the end, people from Electric Lady were very satisfied; they said they love the sound and it also looks great! So they called him once again to work on the second room last year.

I honestly think he [Jimi Hendrix] would have loved that !

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix at Electric Lady Studios

Perspectives

His short-term projects

He is currently working on several projects in New York City. There was a time when he saw more recording studios close than open. Now, record companies are putting money again into improving their recording studios, and it’s good news from him ! Though timelines are always shorter than he wants, he is still passionate about it. And there are other projects like the one in Canada he talked about earlier.

It just keeps looking better all the time.

His long-term projects

He doesn’t think about teaching music anymore and apparently, it’s a good thing ! So far, he will stay because actually, he’s the boss !

He will also stay because he truly loves working in acoustics. He is always searching for new ways to create better acoustics in rooms, but also to create nice-looking systems. According to him, it’s always challenging and it keeps him occupied mentally and physically.

It’s been 6 years and it seems like it’s been 2.

There is a lot of work to be done on the architectural side. For the last 10 years, architects have been thinking “green technologies”. So they want to create spaces with more light, that involves more windows and … bad acoustics. So they will develop new products and that will be a big part of the next 10 years.

quad studios

Real Acoustix work for Quad Studios. Lil Wayne probably laid on this couch.

One more thing : Some tips for people like me

Though he already gave some tips when he talked about qualities people need to have to do his job, he added these two that are also very important :

  • Remain open-minded to new things. Over the last 3 years, he disproved some physics theories. Science is good but empirical experience is far more important than equations.
  • Gain experience and grow in the industry. Studies are good. Graduating with honors is good. But what value will you add in front of your potential boss ?

 What you may believe is true may not always be true.

One more time, thanks again to Richard Lenz from Real Acoustix ! A new interview is coming ! But that will be for the next post !

Thanks for reading and tell me if you spotted any English mistake =)

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