Trio of veteran engineers open SUM1 audio studio

SUM 1 partners Ben Keller, Shawn Ballman and Robert Marshall

A trio of the city’s top sound designer/engineers opened the doors to their own company last week in the best possible way, with new business under their arms.

SUM 1 Audio Post and Sound Design is the new business of partners Robert Marshall and Ben Keller, 15 and 12-year veterans, respectively, of Cutters’ division, Another Country, and Shawn Ballman, who has operated his own solo audio company, Soundslave, for many years.

Their new venture “is a win-win departure,” says Another Country’s executive producer Tim Konn.  “Robert and Ben get to spread their wings and we can bring up new talent and redefine ourselves, making us stronger than ever.”

SUM1 officially opened Thursday, April 4 in Ballman’s 4,400-sq. ft. space on the second floor at 676 N. LaSalle, a building known for its visual industry tenants.

Their unique main room is Dolby Digital mixing theatre, Chicago’s first and only certified such facility originally designed by theatre architects, with seating for 40 and a 17-foot film screen.  

Equally impressive is SUM1’s spacious 12-person HD surround sound studio, which Marshall calls “one of the highest-quality mix rooms in the city.”  It has high ceilings and acoustically-tuned construction, natural light and all the comforts a client could ask for.

Both rooms have high-powered workstations and sophisticated peripheral hardware. “Projects can move seamlessly from room-to-room throughout SUM1, thanks to a networked and unified workflow able to handle everything from the largest and most complex campaigns to quick ‘we’ll fix it in post’ situations,” Marshall says. 

SUM1 has two on staff: assistant Peter Lapinski, who is just completing his film studies at Full Sail, and Virna Souza,  Soundslave’s client services and scheduler.

Venture happened quickly after “aha moment”

When the three long-time friends got together after work, they inevitably talked about the “what ifs” of owning their own business,” Marshall recalls.  Then, a few month ago the “aha moment” struck. “We looked at each other and said, ‘why wait, we can do it.’”

“There comes a time in your career when it’s exciting to do something on your own, for yourself. It feels good, although leaving Cutters after so many years was a tough decision,” Marshall says.  “We both grew out of Another Country and this is an extension of that foundation.” 

Within a month, the new venture was underway. After looking at available spaces, the partners agreed that Ballman’s established and equipped studio was really the best option. 

“It allows for expansion into more rooms and the theatre is an amazing asset.  We added new space, spruced up and rewired the existing rooms, and over the course of a couple of weeks we were ready to go,” Marshall says.

SUM 1 opened with a project for McGarryBowen and this week started off with work for Cramer-Krasselt.

The audio pros in the past have worked for Disney, Miller Brewing, Kellogg’s, Microsoft, McDonald’s, SeaWorld, Kraft, Wrigley, Anheuser-Busch, P&G, Sears, NASCAR, Sony, United Airlines, among many other major advertisers.

SUM1’s phone is 312/654-4444.   Marshall’s Email: