Last week, NBC made headlines by announcing it was moving to Stamford to join the ranks of Connecticut’s two other big entertainment companies: the Stamford-based WWE and ESPN in Bristol. But while these television giants enjoy most of the press attention, Waterford-based Sonalysts has been quietly making a name for itself in the entertainment industry.
With its three sound stages, recording studio, set construction and post production facilities, Sonalysts is Waterford’s claim to fame. Its state-of-the-art recording and 3D animation facilities and sound stages as large as 27,000 square feet with working heights ranging from 35 to 42 feet, have attracted film and television production companies and brought mega stars to town.
When Director Steven Spielberg was looking for a place to shoot scenes for his film Amistad, he didn’t have to look far. Sonalysts’ 15,000 square foot sound stage was plenty big enough to accommodate a reconstructed version of the Supreme Court circa 1850 to film scenes with Matthew McConaughey and Morgan Freeman. Similarly, when Deal or No Deal was looking for a studio to record the game show, it also found a home at Sonalysts.
For the second year in a row, Tour Guide Magazine has nominated Sonalysts as “Tour Rehearsal Space of the Year.” Some of the biggest names in the recording industry, including Aerosmith, Barbra Streisand, Dave Mathews Band, Rascal Flatts, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra have used the facilities to work out the glitches in their stage shows before touring and to record albums at Sonalysts.
Diversity is Key
Seen from the road, Sonalysts’ building at 215 Parkway North looks like it belongs on a Hollywood set but, like a Hollywood façade, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. The company’s campus is large and sprawling, reflecting the diversity of services it offers.
Founded in 1973 by David and Muriel Hinkle, a husband and wife team, the company started out as a defense contractor. Indeed, the core of the company’s business remains defense contract work, with sonar testing and sonar analysis for Navy submarines. As diverse as the company is, however, everything it does today is an offshoot of Sonalysts’ defense business in some way.
“From that core business, we expanded to include a variety of other skill sets but they all basically stemmed from our defense work, which we are still doing,” says Goldsmith.
Sonalysts first foray into film came when the makers of The Hunt For Red October were looking for a company that could create a realistic soundtrack for the submarines in the 1990 film. Sonalysts did such a good job that the film’s soundtrack took the Oscar that year.
The film was shot at a time when the Cold War was winding down and defense contractors all over the country were looking to diversify. For Sonalysts, the timing seemed right to move toward commercial entertainment sound and stage services.
Sonalysts started small, with two stages of 5,000 and 7,000 square feet in 1993. Today, the company’s campus includes three sound stages, the largest of which is 27,000 square feet, and all have working heights ranging from 35 to 42 feet. Although Sonalysts isn’t shy about advertising its facilities, many of its clients hear about the company through word of mouth.
“We have many who return over and over again because they do find us accommodating,” says Goldsmith. “One of the things we provide our entertainers is privacy and anonymity. Most of us don’t even know they’re here until they’ve completed their work and left. We try to keep things very private.”
The company, which is employee owned, today has a workforce of 400 people, including physicists, engineers, animators, computer programmers, sound engineers, sonar analysts, weather analysts, you name it.
“We have more skill sets than we have areas of work,” says Goldsmith. “We have very talented and bright people who are here and we’ve been able to develop many market areas and keep the company going.”
As employees are also shareholders in the company, they feel invested in Sonalysts in many ways. Indeed, many of the company’s areas of expansion have been directed by the passions and interests of the employees themselves. Sonalysts’ first sound recording studio, for instance, was created because one of the employees was in a band and wanted a place to make music.
“We have people who are highly-motivated, so that makes a big difference,” says Goldsmith.