Interview: DJ White Shadow on W Hotels’ private sound suites

A new private sound suite at the W Seattle hotel promises artists and guests the ultimate on-the-move recording experience. Colby Ramsey chats to one of the chief curators behind the unique concept about what it takes to put a studio in a hotel room, and where the idea came from.

Paul Blair, who usually goes by his alias DJ White Shadow, is a Chicago-based music producer and DJ best known for producing Lady Gaga’s Born This Way and Artpop albums, as well as being responsible for a number of successful pop remixes.

Since being appointed W Hotels’ North American music director, Blair has worked closely with the brand to create W Sound Suites, the first of which opened at W Bali last year. These private music studios, complete with writer’s room and lounge, offer a retreat for musicians and producers to write and record tracks while on the road, with availability for Hotel guests who wish to “live out their rockstar dreams.”

Most recently, the first W Sound Suite in North America was unveiled at W Seattle, with additional sound suites opening up at W Hollywood and W Barcelona. In anticipation of the Seattle launch, W Hotels and Coca-Cola partnered with Native Instruments to outfit the sound suite with a plethora of musical instruments and production tools, while Shure were able to provide new SHR440 headphones, X2u microphones, KSM32/SL condensers and a BETA181 mic for a complete recording experience.

With the sound suites being – in part – the brainchild of Blair, he was responsible for collaborating with W Seattle to optimise the sound suite’s layout and select equipment for professional use and sound quality.

What were the motivations for creating the sound suite at W Seattle and what did you originally set out to achieve?

We decided on W Seattle for the first W Sound Suite in the US because Seattle is an iconic city for music – they have everything from rock to pop, rap and metal – it’s a great city to get a taste of it all. W Seattle already hosts local music acts each week in their Living Room, so we wanted to continue to welcome and grow with local talent and offer something new, bold and innovative.

After launching the first W Sound Suite in the world at W Bali – Seminyak, we knew the W Sound Suite would be a successful model anywhere, but especially back in the States. That was always part of the vision – to offer this kind of comfort, convenience and equipment around the world. W Seattle is also super close to some of the city’s most well-known venues, so it’s a great place to see performances and ideal for hosting performers. We wanted to give aspiring and established musicians a creative space for them to practice, record and be inspired while they’re travelling. I definitely think we’ve done that in Seattle.

Which other companies were involved in the design and build of the studio? Was it a smooth collaboration between the parties involved?

Definitely – we had awesome partners. First, we work with Coca-Cola on all of our W Sound Suite projects. They’re a brand that, like W, embraces musicians and supports creative spaces like these. We also worked with Native Instruments and Shure for the equipment, which is all professional-grade. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I hand-selected the equipment, layout and overall concept for the space which includes a cosy lounge and vocal booth at W Seattle.

The entire space is sound-proofed so you don’t disturb other guests when you’re practicing or recording at all hours. It was a smooth collaboration, because we all have the same goal; to make a creative space accessible, inspiring and cool. We want talented people to feel comfortable and free to let loose when they’re creating. That’s an amazing thing to have at a hotel.

Could you explain why certain decisions were made with regards to design and gear?

Probably the most important part of the design of the space was the sound- proofing, which meant we sacrificed some of the overall space to really get the kind of insulation that you need in a studio. We gave up about two feet or so off of each wall so we could make sure the sound wouldn’t bleed out. It’s kind of amazing to walk into this space in the hotel and have a completely different, isolated sound. As for the gear, Native Instruments and Shure have top quality products that I’ve used many times. I like working with their equipment, and for anyone to have a shot at making something really professional, you really need to have the mics, boards, software and general set up to match.

What particular advantages does a studio like this bring to users?

I think for most people who need to be creative for a living, it’s hard to find the time and the space to do it without causing a stir – have you ever been in a hotel with a drummer? It’s easy to imagine there’s an issue if the only time they have to practice is 4am and you’re in the next room. We’re giving musicians studio and practice time while they’re on the go in a way that’s never been done before.

What makes W Seattle such an ideal location for the first sound suite in the US?

Seattle is a great location for our US debut because it already has a huge music scene with tons of music fans and musicians travelling to and from the city all the time. We wanted to tap in to that scene and add our own W spin to contribute to the creative space.

What kind of response has there been to the new suite? And what plans do you have to open more suites like this in the future?

So far, we have four W Sound Suites around the world at W Bali – Seminyak, W Seattle, W Hollywood and now the first W Sound Suite in Europe at W Barcelona. My artist friends that I’ve worked with in the W Sound Suites love the setup – they see the potential here like we do at W.

There is so much that can be done in spaces like this and we certainly have plans to continue to grow, though I can’t tell you too much more for now. You’ll have to stay tuned to find out!