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The Abbey Road Institute in Johannesburg opened and welcomed its first cohort of students in February 2020. One of seven international locations, the Institute is based at the highly-respected Mastermax Studios in Midrand. Harnessing the years of expertise and innovation that have been the hallmark of Abbey Road Studios, the Institute teaches a professional one-year Advanced Programme in Music Production and Sound Engineering. A high standard of theoretical teaching is allied with well-supported hands-on experience, guided by leading industry professionals.

The Institutes Managing Director, Johan van der Colff is a noteworthy industry professional with an impressive list of credits. An accomplished businessman, as well as running Mastermax Studios he also heads up the international post-production facilities network Post|City, whilst his talents as an engineer have been recognised with a SAMA (South African Music Award) for his work on Saharas album Loliwe. He is also highly regarded for his work with Mumford and Sons, One Republic, Jennifer Hudson and Westlife, as well as on a host of movies. Passionate about education, Johans role in the Institute includes giving regular lectures.

Students at the Abbey Road Institute have access to the latest state-of-the-art equipment, which includes the presence of a number of DiGiGrid products as standard at each DAW across the classroom/lab and production suites. Johan is a fan of the products, as he explains:

I was first introduced to DiGiGrid products by a friend at Waves. At the time, I was doing a lot of large channel-count multitrack recording that required MADI connectivity – I was first introduced to the DiGiGrid MGO and MGB products which I started using as the interface for the events I was recording.

That was seven years ago, and Johan, having further explored the range of products available, was sufficiently impressed to make further investments in DiGiGrid for the benefit of the local and international clients that record at Mastermax. By the time the Abbey Road Institute was brought into the facility, DiGiGrid was very much at the heart of the operation and Johan decided to incorporate it into the classroom.

“We wanted to place the Abbey Road Institute’s educational programme directly alongside our commercial operation, believing that the only real way to learn this craft is with hands-on, on-the-job, apprentice-style training. The system allowed us to be very creative with the way we think about routing and in-class participation – since the whole classroom is on the SoundGrid network, students can easily share what they’re working on with the class by just assigning the classroom D interface to the students’ computer core audio.

It also allows us to demonstrate to the students the future benefits of networked audio. We can sit in the classroom and access any device, in any room in the whole studio complex, be able to listen to whats happening in other suites, do collaborative recording between different rooms, and really just push the system to the maximum of its capabilities. One more very important determinant was that the students have dedicated workstations in the classroom that they use for assignments, so we needed high-quality IO devices for each one – the DiGiGrid units perfectly fit the bill, offering pristine recording and monitoring on a very small footprint.

In the classroom, DiGiGrid M units are used for each student workstation, with a D at the lecturers station connected to the room speakers. In Studio A an IOS and a DLI bridge AVID 192 IO interfaces, whilst a D is situated in the control room for local IO and room monitor outputs. The production suites, set up with a home-studio vibe in mind, are equipped with D interfaces and are used by students in terms one and two to learn how to manage resources and extract the best from smaller setups. Another IOS is deployed in the mix suite, feeding into an SSL SIX – the suite is set up as an analog/digital hybrid to maximise creative flexibility. Because all the rooms are on the facility-wide DiGiGrid network, all rooms and workstations can access each others IO and servers if not utilised. Johan is planning to introduce some IOX and IOC units for portable use anywhere in the facility where more IO capability might be required.

Networkability as Johan puts it, is key, as are the high quality pre-amps and headphone amps for the in-class workstations and production suites:

Students are using the units on a daily basis to expand their knowledge, work on assignments, and to record and mix projects. The DiGiGrid devices and SoundGrid network tick all the boxes for a future-proofed training platform which teaches students the possibility of networked audio bundled with the quality of super analog circuitry.

Abbey Road Institute was launched in the summer of 2019 and opened its doors to its first group of students in February 2020. Within a month the Coronavirus pandemic had resulted in a hard lockdown in South Africa, forcing Johan and his team to adapt very quickly if they were to be able to deliver their apprenticeship-style curriculum. On this occasion Covid-19 did not have the last word. That goes to Johan van der Colff:

“We certainly had to adapt fast. Whilst the theoretical side could be taught over Zoom, the fact that we were using the DiGiGrid M interfaces made it easy for us to give the students their in-class workstations to take home. This meant they had the right tools to properly complete their assignments and continue their learning experience in the best possible way. Interestingly, an immediate consequence of the pandemic was the appetite for content that was generated by people being stuck at home. Consumption of films and TV, music and podcasts all went through the roof, underlining exactly why the skills we are teaching are essential in the creation of a huge range of content, whether for music, film, broadcast or gaming. Like everyone else, we can’t wait to return to some kind of normality – whatever the future holds, we’re excited by the opportunities that will see our students excel throughout the creative industries.”