Initially, Apple’s biggest challenge was that there was very little Atmos content available. In 2017, R.E.M.’s “Automatic for the People” became the first album mixed for Atmos, and over the next few years, several notable Atmos releases — from Elton John, Queen and the Beatles — showcased the format’s possibilities.
To achieve its broader aims, Apple needed to make Atmos content both viable and plentiful. It began by partnering with Dolby to encourage recording studios to upgrade to the format. There are now some 800 officially recognized Dolby Atmos studios in over 40 countries, a 350 percent increase in just two years. (Dolby estimates there are two or three times that number of other studios capable of delivering music in Atmos.)
Apple Music also drew up wish lists of artists, albums and tracks and presented them to record labels, along with funding and deadlines, to help quickly expand the library of titles available in Atmos. Over the past few years, this effort to refit 50 years of pop music has heralded a rush of work for engineers and mixers, who’ve suddenly found themselves doing volume business in the format.
Wood, initially dismissive of learning to work in Atmos, said he changed his mind once he realized the inevitability of its rise. “It was clear that records I’d made were going to get mixed in Atmos,” he said, “and if I didn’t learn how to do it, somebody else would, and I’d be ceding that control.” Wood’s first Atmos mix was for Liz Phair’s “Soberish,” an album he’d originally produced. “And, also, I realized there would be a good payday in learning,” he added.
While contemporary pop and hip-hop artists were quick to adopt the format for new releases, convincing veteran rock acts to enter the Atmos fray proved more of a challenge. “The first six months, those artists had a lot of questions,” Schusser said.
Some groups, like the Doors, embraced the format, overhauling their entire catalog in Atmos all at once; others, like Fleetwood Mac, have proceeded more cautiously, doing one album at a time. More and more though, top legacy artists have been putting out Atmos mixes with increasing regularity, with recent releases including landmark albums like Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” and the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.”