It’s the third and final part of our colossal studio tips guide, taking the best of the studio wisdom we’ve accumulated by interviewing our readers about their studio setups over the last few years. As a whole we feel there’s enough advice here and in the previous two instalments (part 1 – part 2) to set you on the right track with setting up your studio…
1: The Darkroom Studios
• Favourite Gear – Honestly, I’m torn between the 88D and the Dynaudio M4s. The 88D is a fantastic console, and there’s nothing I’d rather mix on – I know I’m in danger of annoying a lot of analogue snobs if I don’t tread carefully, but so many people write off digital consoles based on poor experiences with primitive digital consoles in the 90s.
There’s a reason why pretty much every major film and post facility is working digital, and why Neve DFCs are so prevalent. The 88D shares a huge amount with the DFC in terms of summing and signal processing, and the results have to be heard to be believed.
Plus, having almost every single attribute being automated, 500 audio paths, individual-channel topography changes on the fly, and no noise floor to fight… With that being said, the sound (and accuracy) of the M4s is staggering – the room really is a true testament to the quality of Munro Acoustics’ work.
• Top Tip – Really, listen. Just fucking listen! Rule Number One of this job is, if it sounds right, it is right. No fancy vectorscope or spectrum analyser or intersampling meter is going to tell you what you need to know as well as your ears will.
Learn your monitors, learn your room. Listen to your mix with your screen turned off. Calibrate your monitoring, so you know how loud you’re listening. Listen in mono. Listen quietly. Listen loudly – but only in little bursts if you’re doing above 85dB(SPL), of course. Trust your ears above anything else, that’s what really matters.
2: Secretsundaze Studios
Interviewee – Luke Hopper Contact: 0208 525 2838 (London, UK)
Contact – www.secretsundaze.net
• Favourite Gear – Probably the Akai Valve Tape Machine – a perfect bit of kit to make things sound full and old, which we love to do. Just a little touch is enough to make a difference. It features valve in and valve out, to provide a warming distortion that sounds amazing.
• Top Tip – Take your time and make sure that you choose the right setup for you – and shop around!
3: Bass Lab
• Favourite Gear – My Event Opals. It’s a joy to listen to music through them.
• Top Tip – Buy the best you can, and save and put off purchases if you have to. In the long run, you’ll save bags of cash from not having to upgrade or fix good-quality gear. Spend this saved money on procuring an attractive and charming partner who will help lure you outside of your studio and experience this thing people are always talking about called ‘life’ – your work will improve dramatically from this!
4: John Seput
• Favourite Gear – I have two special pieces of gear:
the WashBurn Boogie Street Southern Cross replica, that I got as a birthday present from my wife, and a tube mono power amp that my father built many years ago.
• Top Tip – Get the best monitors and headphones you can afford, and make sure your room is set up correctly. Gear Acquisition Syndrome is real – make sure you have a balance of being a tech versus a composer or player. A lot of time can be spent with software updates.
5: Steve Cain
Contact – email@example.com
• Favourite Gear – My favourite gear would have to be the Roland SH-5 (with a very close second being the Maxi-Korg). The SH-5 offers more functionality and pure sound-generating power than anything else in my studio kit.
Also, with its variety of inputs for audio as well as its sequencing abilities, it’s almost a studio all by itself.
• Top Tip – Make the mixing board a priority; don’t wait until you are overrun with gear to plan for one. Don’t be intimidated by cost – it can be overcome. This entire spread, the gear, cables, racks and tables… even including the bed (as well as a fair amount of gear not pictured), cost less than $1,500. If I, as strapped as I am, can do it, anyone can – it just takes determination, hard work, and patience.
6: Albion Sound/Kevin Tye
• Favourite Gear – My UAD Apollo Twin Duo. It has allowed me to go back and use identical tools and effects I grew up envying when reading production magazines.
The plug-ins sound so good and it’s integral to my studio workflow now.
• Top Tip – Research the difference between soundproofing and absorption. Read the book Home Recording Studio: Build It Like The Pros, by Rod Gervais. It’s required reading for anyone planning to build even a small studio – I can tell you the number of layers of drywall and green glue with ISO clips for any sound-isolation application! And don’t worry about the paint colour now… you’ll probably repaint it again in three month’s time.
7: Pistol Reklambyrå
Interviewee – Patrik Pistol
Contact – firstname.lastname@example.org
• Favourite Gear – It’s my Moog Voyager RME. It delivers that high-quality, fat and warm sound that I really love. I use it for all my productions and to make my own instruments (pistolinstruments.com).
• Top Tip – Get your listening right. Use absorbers and diffusers to minimise the ‘room sound’. Make sure there are no parallel walls that make standing waves. And my best advice is, of course, to make it look cool. Because it will help your creativity no end.
8: La Fariniere
• Favourite Gear – I’m a big fan of Native Instruments products for production and sound design – I find them very inspiring and flexible.
• Top Tip – My main piece of advice would be… “Don’t do it!” Just kidding! You need to treat the acoustics of your room as best you can and anticipate your monitoring placement and listening point if you build the room yourself.
9: Christophe Bourgouin
Contact – email@example.com
• Favourite Gear – A Cadac J-Type console. It was mainly used on West End shows and its fantastically warm analogue sound makes up for the lack of features. It’s the closest to a Neve for a quarter of the price! I’m lucky to have its designer, Anthony Waldron, maintaining it for me.
• Top Tip – It’s better to spend money on acoustic treatment than on fancy speakers, as you won’t hear the benefit of them in a bad room. You need to be able to fully trust your room to make accurate decisions.
10: Bertram Ernst
Interviewee – Bertram Ernst
Contact – via www.roman-artist.com
• Favourite Gear – Logic, as well as my analogue gear – all their mistakes, irregularities and character. Each Moog, each Rhodes sounds different. As long as you know all these things, you’ll be inspired by each step. I don’t worry about the difference between plug-ins and their originals – I use each for specific qualities. They just have to fit my workflow.
• Top Tip – Always do what you love and what you feel. Don’t be inspired by money. Be keen on new innovations. Play with real musicians. Find out what you can – and don’t concentrate on your weaknesses.
11: Omniscient Records/Josh Tonnissen
Contact – firstname.lastname@example.org
• Favourite Gear – My modular system. Since the rebirth of modular (Eurorack), synth designers started building their gear around the way electronic musicians work. Most of the keyboard synth companies build great gear, but the Eurorack guys really focus on innovative designs and push the boundaries of synthesis.
I use the modular for everything, not just synth voicing. I will run all my various other gear through the modular for filter and effect processing. Think of it as the ultimate time-synced FX unit ever made. There are also several complete-voice drum modules in the system, making for a standalone techno tool.
• Top Tip – Build a powerful desktop PC with a killer soundcard first. Then research your favourite artists and see what sort of gear they are using in their studios. Every synth has a different sweet spot, so see what your favourite artists are doing with gear and take their results as recommendations. Buy one piece at a time and learn it front and back.
Everyone says this, but it’s totally true. Ditch Facebook and start reading technical documentation for your gear; you’ll thank me later.
12: Raymond Obouvie
Interviewee – Raymond Obouvie
Contact – email@example.com
• Favourite Gear – The Prophet ’08 module by Dave Smith. I guess there’s no need to describe this item of gear too much?
• Top Tip – If you manage to make yourself a comfortable place with as few reflections of the sound as possible, then you will be able to hear how your music actually sounds.
13: Philippe Beaubrun’s Studio
Interviewee – Philippe Beaubrun (owner/engineer/producer)
Contact – firstname.lastname@example.org
• Favourite Gear – My modular system! You build your own system as you want with anything you want in it, and you do it when and if you have the money.
• Top Tip – Don’t try to work on the acoustics of the room. Leave it as it is, natural, unless you really know what you’re doing. It is very often better to do nothing than end up with an unbalanced room. Also check the quality of the electricity supply. You need a good earthing. On older places, this can really be a big problem.
Interviewee – Sotiris Gougousis
Contact – www.facebook.com/pages/sotiris-synthscape/220871154592750/Web www.cdbaby.com/Artist/SotirisGougousis
• Favourite Gear – For me, it’s a tie between the Yamaha EX5 and the Novation SuperNova.
• Top Tip – Buy one machine at a time, learn everything about it and then buy the next piece. Otherwise, you won’t take full advantage of their potential.
15: Big Swede
• Favourite Gear – Mackie Controllers. It’s great to be able to go between the mouse and the faders/knobs for automation/settings and the transport. It works very well with Logic and integrates with the mixer and plug-ins.
• Top Tip – You don’t need a lot of gear to get going and you don’t need to know everything, either. Just start doing it and learn by doing. Gear is great, but it is also about what you do with it! Write a song and record it! And then on to the next one!
16: Sunshine Studio
Contact via MusicTech
• Favourite Gear – TC Electronics Finaliser 96K. Great for mastering as well as multi-band compression and limiting for any application. AES is essential as well, to limit the noise created with multiple A-D and D-As.
• Top Tip – Balance your control room for isolation and listening. If your setup is unbalanced, your mixes will never be balanced.
17: BlackBox Sound/Alexander Tschiggerl
• Favourite Gear – The Focusrite ISA 428 with the Avantone CV-12 microphone. Why? It’s the sound handling – it’s my dream team.
• Top Tip – Sort your rooms and acoustic out first (along with your monitor system), then work out the ergonomics, and finally then sort your gear.
18: neoprenBOX-Studios/Philippe Alioth and Steve Cole
Contact – www.neopren-records.com
• Favourite Gear – Difficult to say. A Korg 770 for its incredibly sweet sound; a MemoryMoog for its fat, strong sound; a Buchla for big surprises; and Roland SH-5, because it often sounds like the music we were listening to 30 years ago.
• Top Tip – Start with the speakers and amps – what you hear is what you get. Acoustics are extremely important, too, naturally. Maybe for someone with less experience, it’s better to use less gear and really know it than have stuff that is difficult to use when you want to do something quickly.
And be sure that the ambience of your studio (light, windows, colours, carpets) really makes you feel at home and feel comfortable.
19: Bioslave/Jan Osch
Contact – www.facebook.com/thebioslave
• Favourite Gear – At the moment, my favourite synth is Logic’s Alchemy, as it comes with tons of great sounds that really inspire me.
• Top Tip – The best thing is to do everything step by step, as a good music studio needs time. So first, you should sort a computer, then a good DAW and headphones. Then get more plug-ins or synths, then get the monitors.
20: Stylex Studio
• Top Tip – Get a good pair of speakers. They are the most important items when you start a new studio.
21: Arclite Productions
Interviewee Alan Bleay
• Favourite Gear – Our Trident Series 75 console – so warm with so much character.
• Top Tip – Buy a high-end mic (like a U87) and a high-end preamp (Neve 1073). All your audio, especially vocals, will sound great. So don’t compromise on the audio path.
22: Orb Recording Studios
• Favourite Gear – The Ocean Way monitors, 100 per cent, because it’s always fun to sit back and enjoy the work that was just put in on such a monstrous set of speakers. Not only do they help you enjoy super-clean, high-quality music, but they are also designed to provide a true stereo listening experience, regardless of where you’re located in the room.
• Top Tip – Really, the best advice to anyone, we think, is to learn how to use what you have to the best ability you can. The amount and price of the gear you have doesn’t really matter. What it comes down to is… innovation, and the most important question: ‘Does it sound good?’. So with that, build on what you have – but knowledge and creativity trumps technical skills.
23: Ironworks Studios
• Favourite Gear – I have to say the Toft Audio EQ, because they are some of the nicest EQs ever made. Over the years, they’ve really been a lifesaver.
• Top Tip – Don’t skimp on the build. Better to get it right first time than to have to go back and re-do. But saying that, don’t get bogged down in too much of the detail. Understand the basics of acoustics and soundproofing and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
We’re music makers, not scientists. Some of the best records were made in less-than-ideal environments. The way you present the studio, its vibe and its character, is way more important than acoustics.
24: Rain City Recorders
Interviewee Stuart Mckillop
• Favourite Gear – I’m really into the Empirical Labs Fatso. I love slaughtering the top end of my room mics with the warmth function.
• Top Tip – Avoid studio costs by building a small spot for overdubs and mixing. But go to a proper studio for tracking live beds or drums.
25: Buffalo Recording Studio
• Favourite Gear – I’m a big fan of the Trident Series 65 mixing desk. There is a certain mojo and boldness to it.
• Top Tip – Leave some headroom when you make your budget!
BONUS TIP : Driftmoon
• Favourite Gear – A Dave Smith Prophet-6 and, oh my, it’s absolutely phenomenal! I’ve spent days playing with the sounds and writing them down in an Excel sheet to categorise them and then I immediately started reworking my album tracks, because the sound of the Prophet is amazing. It just stands out.
• Top Tip – To try and remember that we all started with something little. Whether or not you will make something great out of it depends only on you. Listen to as much music (in different genres) as possible and also to be kind and respectful to other musicians.