AMI October 2018 Digital Edition

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October 2018

TOP-GRADE STUDIOS Exploring the world of educational recording facility design


Behind the scenes with Dave Catching at Rancho de la Luna


Rupert Neve Designs, Vertigo Sound and more...




Dan Piggott The Kord Media director wonders if lessons learnt in the music industry can be applied to the post production business





Mike Exeter The engineer talks about working with Black Sabbath and gives his tips for tracking live instruments


Dave Catching The producer, engineer and musician on his career and the history of his legendary Californian recording studio, Rancho de la Luna


13 Abbey Road Red 27 Designing and building educational studio facilities


32 Rupert Neve RMP-D8 41 Cranesong HEDD Quantum

October 2018





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his month’s issue of Audio Media International is a recording studio special, with a stellar line up of interviewees and features. First up, we have a profile on celebrated recording engineer Mike Exeter who has worked with some of the most legendary names in the world of heavy music, including Black Sabbath, Tony Iomi, Cradle of Filth and Judas Priest. If that’s not enough, turn to page 17 and you’ll find an interview with none other than Dave Catching, the engineer, producer and musician known for his work with the likes of Eagles Of Death Metal and his association with desert rock titans Queens of The Stone Age. He is also the owner of Rancho de la Luna, the storied and mythical studio based in the Joshua Tree National Park in California. The house has played host to some of the biggest names

in music, such as Iggy Pop, Arctic Monkeys, Foo Fighters and many others who have headed out to the desert to find inspiration for their projects at Dave’s magical home studio. Heading from west to east of the USA, on pages 23-25 you’ll find a studio profile on The Outlier Inn, a wonderful studio facility/wellness retreat in the Catskill Mountains, about 30 miles from the legendary town of Woodstock and about 90 miles from New York City, where the likes of Parquet Courts and The War On Drugs have recorded. Owner Joshua Druckman tells AMI why he set up the studio, who built it for him and why he chose to have a custom Neve console installed in the world-class control room of his renovated barn. Following that, Stephen Bennett speaks to studio design experts about the growing demand for high-end recording facilities for educational purposes and explores a few purpose-built college recording studios in the UK and in the United States. Elsewhere in the magazine, we speak to Abbey Road’s Karim Fanous and Mirek Stiles about tech start-up incubator Abbey Road Red to find out why it exists and what its plans are for the future. And don’t forget, we also have all the usual reviews in the back pages, so if you’re thinking of buying a digital interface or high-end outboard gear any time soon, be sure to check out our reviews in print and online to help inform your next big purchase. We hope you enjoy the issue!

Murray Stassen Editor Audio Media International

Experts in the issue

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Dave Catching is the producer, engineer and musician who owns Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree California. Future plc is a public company quoted on the London Stock Exchange (symbol: FUTR)

Chief executive Zillah Byng-Thorne Non-executive chairman Peter Allen Chief financial officer Penny Ladkin-Brand Tel +44 (0)1225 442 244


October 2018

Dan Piggott is a dubbing mixer and company director of KORD.Media. He is also a member of The Association Of Motion Picture Sound.

Marco Pasquariello is a freelance recording/mix engineer and studio manager/ engineer at Snap Studios in London.


INDUSTRY INSIGHT Can post-production professionals learn anything from the music recording industry and the changes it went through over the past 20 years? Here, Kord Media director Dan Piggott asks if social and economic changes that began affecting the music industry at the turn of the century compare to those seen in film and television...


ere’s something to think about. Can those of us who work in the postproduction industry learn anything from the music recording industry, and the extraordinary changes it’s been through over the past twenty years? Are the social and economic changes that began affecting the music industry at the turn of the century comparable to those we have now started to whiteness in film and television? From the earliest experiments in sound reproduction and cinematography the development of both disciplines have progressed at a similar rate. When you compare advances in music production with film/TV production, which are ultimately funded by the general public’s love of both, you see that many of the advances are very similar. The thing to notice is that a comparable change within film and TV will occur a few years after its musical counterpart. And advances in technology aid the same two fundamental areas of both industries:

the release of the CMX600, by CMX Systems. It was the first machine capable of performing nondestructive editing of source material by utilising early forms of digital technology. In 1983 Fostex release the B16, signifying another leap forward in music production. This was the first machine capable of recording sixteen tracks on 1⁄2” tape and helped trigger a move towards project studios being set up by musicians and engineers and, in turn, lead to an increase in commercial work being carried out by them. A few years later music producers start incorporating personal computers, and the Atari 1040ST marked the first major step in the democratisation of electronic music production.

1. The production of content in areas such as picture editing, multitrack sound recording and mixing, capture and playback, storage, media processing and manipulation.

In 1989 Avid Technology release their first NLE system, the Avid/1, which was based on a personal computer, the Apple Macintosh II. So successful, it caused many editors to switch systems . Increasing computer power and software capability have now reduced the need for dedicated machines to carry out complex tasks. So now, beyond a powerful computer and the right software, there is little other hardware required. And looking ahead, as internet speeds increase and the word “cloud” is heard more and more, you might not even need that. So as we start to see growing numbers of editors, colourists and dubbing mixers building their own professional systems, production companies contemplating the prospect of handling their own post production and advertising agencies weighing up the idea of producing their own graphics, are we now witnessing an early form of democratisation within post production? Looking at distribution and consumption, before MP3s and streaming, our recorded music was mostly delivered on vinyl then compact disc and theatrical films and TV shows were also made available on VHS, then DVD and BluRay, with all the necessary supply chains in place to deliver both. But by the late 1990s to early 2000s, the internet had made it possible to access music instantly, which we could then store and play back digitally. Apple launched the iPod and iTunes in 2001, popularising the MP3 digital file format. Around this time, online piracy, through P2P sharing

2. The distribution and consumption of content: The supply chains of various formats, and the ways to present these formats i.e cinema, broadcast, streaming, and playback devices for these formats. During the 20th century, music production and film/ TV production saw a myriad of new technologies, new techniques, new ideas, all of which were designed to increase creativity and productivity. In the mid 1950s, big developments in multitrack recording were underway and by the 1960s the artistic potential of this recording technique was being realised. Also at this time, new electronic instruments started to emerge. The Mellotron, made famous by the Beatles, was a polyphonic keyboard that reproduced sound recorded onto magnetic tape and was the forerunner to the modern synthesiser. The 20th century also saw many advances in film editing; the Movila, invented in the 1930s, became the first widely used machine for editing magnetic tape. Early TV had to be broadcast live, but the introduction of video tape created a viable means of editing programs together before they were broadcast, increasing creative freedom. In 1971 the post production industry was introduced to nonlinear editing (NLE) with 6

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of MP3s, had begun to have a devastating impact on the music industry. Websites such as Napster and LimeWire had made it incredibly easy to share music online for free, provided you were comfortable with breaking the law. The major labels response to this digital revolution was an attempt to sue everyone, not to make their music more easily accessible to the paying public. They chose to fight change. In 2004 Apple’s CEO at the time Steve Jobs saw this and after pitching the idea to Warner Music Group, launched the iTunes music store. Over the next eight years Apple went on to sell 300 million iPods and 10 billion tracks via iTunes. They saw change and ran with it.

“As within the music recording industry, changes in film and television are proving to be pretty big” The online music experience has now evolved into a world of subscription music services and for a monthly fee we can listen to whatever we what, wherever we want. So, as internet and mobile data speeds increased, the advent of Video on Demand (VoD) was inevitable. But while we were waiting to conveniently stream our films and TV shows straight from the web, companies such as LoveFilm, in the UK, and Netflix in America, were using subscription services to send us DVD’s in the post. On 16 November 2006 Channel 4 launched 4oD. Not long after Netflix launches its streaming service and the BBC launches its on-demand iPlayer service. Apple launch the iPad in 2010 and a new wave of tablets and smartphones begin to flood the market. This, along with increasing mobile data speeds meant video in all its forms could be accessed as freely as music. The internet also gave recording artists new and improved avenues for promoting and distributing their own material. Whether through MySpace or YouTube, or by releasing music themselves through their own record labels. The resources that now empowered musicians only weakened the position of traditional record labels. And even within the record companies themselves, the internet was changing the way they operated. A&R staff who once scoured the country, searching out the next big act, now could use YouTube to help find them. So, digital technology started a real maelstrom within the music industry around twenty years ago, and triggered


DAN PIGGOTT years of economic decline. It wasn’t until 2017 that modest growth was seen again, evidence that the music industry had finally caught up with this digital revolution. So is a similar thing now happening within film and TV? Subscription video on demand (SVoD) platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu sit alongside YouTube, Facebook, and others as increasingly popular platforms, which have also allowed new forms of entertainment to emerge. YouTubers, for example, are now as influential pop stars and are generating huge revenues through advertising, endorsement, and live performances. Brands are now producing entertaining and engaging content and not just “adverts”. Facebook, the website I joined over ten years ago to stay in touch with people, is now distributing original longform content. Netflix is causing a commotion at the Cannes Film Festival because it believes it has a right to enter films, even though its films have no theatrical release. Amazon, a company that began life selling books, is to show 20 Premier League football matches a season from 2019-2022 on Prime Video and brands such as HBO and WWE are selling direct to consumer through their SVoD

services. Ok, so these do not sound like examples of decline within the industry, but they do demonstrate a similarly unprecedented rate of change. And this change affects the position of the traditional broadcasters and distributors, the organisations that many familiar business models are based on. The music recording industry exists to support the wider music industry, so when large social and economic changes affect it, they in turn, affected the business of recording music. And those working in that field have to adapt. The one thing that remains constant, however, is people’s creative vision, skill, and a drive to what they love doing. Whatever happens to the equipment, the studios, or the supply chains, that creativity and skill of the musicians and producers never diminishes, nor does their ability to demonstrate that skill. So if postproduction exists to support the wider TV and film industry, then the same applies. The editors, the colourists, the dubbing mixers, the graphic artists, the animators, and now the post producers can all continue to demonstrate their skill, but the same technology that causes industry wide disruption can

also be used to create new ways of working. And, if these new methods can alleviate new found pressures on production companies who are also having to evolve, then so much the better. Digital technology has created an opportunity to redefine what we do and how we do it. Change is inevitable, and is something that must be run with, not fought against. As within the recorded music industry, changes in film and television are proving to be pretty big. So, for those of us who work in post production, it’s time to start thinking outside the telly box because we’re not in Kansas anymore. Dan Piggott is a dubbing mixer and company director of KORD. Media. He is also a member of The Association Of Motion Picture Sound. Dan began his career at the once-renowned Manchester post production company, Sumners, where he worked as part of their hugely successful audio team on many of the the region’s highest profile TV shows. For the past six years he’s continued to build on that experience as a mixer while also putting new audio post workflows into practise. He is currently mixing two BBC series for Timeline TV, Kit & Pupand The Dumping Ground. October 2018





Mike Exeter has worked with notable heavy rock acts such as Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Here, he runs through his current studio setup and explains his techniques for recording drums, vocals, guitars, bass and keys...

October 2018




n engineer, producer and musician, Mike Exeter’s audio career started when he attended a short audio course in London, which led him to pursuing a degree at Full Sail in Florida. From there he went to work as a midi specialist in a commercial studio and has since worked with chart topping rock acts from UB40 to Cradle Of Filth, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Here, he tells AMI about his career highlights and offers recording tips for both new and established engineers. What was an early highlight in your career? Working on an album that had Steve Gadd and Tony Levin as the rhythm section - both massive heroes. What is a recent highlight? Helping a young rock band from Lancashire (Massive Wagons) get a UK chart placing (No.16) and No.1 in the Rock Charts. How did you start working with Cradle Of Filth? They were looking to work on a new album in Birmingham for some reason and DEP (UB40’s studio where I was head engineer) was the best studio around. I engineered some and played keyboards on that record, followed by production on the following along with one other EP. How did you start working with Black Sabbath and could you tell us about those various sessions, studios you recorded in, choice of microphones, choice of outboard etc? Black Sabbath came after a relatively long association with Tony Iommi. During the final stretch of that first Cradle Of Filth record (Dusk And Her Embrace), the producer (Kit Woolven) brought Tony in for some mixing which turned into a solo project. Kit was unable to be part of that due to previous commitments so the responsibility fell on me to complete it.


October 2018

ENGINEER PROFILE Obviously Tony is the one constant in Black Sabbath, so when projects came up he asked me to do them. The first Black Sabbath credit was for a retrospective with Ronnie James Dio, which needed some new songs to be produced. This was all done in Tony’s home studio. The Dio album (The Devil You Know - Mk2 Black Sabbath under the name Heaven and Hell) was written in England and Los Angeles at Tony and Ronnie’s respective studios. Recorded at Rockfield Studios and mixed in LA. Rockfield had some pretty nice mics, which I mostly put through the gorgeous MCI console. Ronnie was comfortable on a U87 (he liked seeing it in front of him) therefore we used that - a little 1176 and LA2A to tools. Sabbath’s 13 record was written across an 18-month period at Tony’s home, Ozzy’s home and Angelic Studios (Northampton). When we finally started recording at Shangri La in Malibu (owned by our producer Rick Rubin), I dropped into the “liaison” engineer role as it were - translating what needed to be translated between the various guys and working to make everyone feel comfortable while recording. When you work with an artist long enough, your session shorthand is invaluable for keeping their “flow”. Final guitar and keyboards (played by me) were completed back in the UK where Tony felt extremely comfortable in his own room. What advice would you give to someone looking to become a sound engineer? I would say there are a couple or routes in. College or specialist school can provide a good initial technical grounding, but look for places that have good industry ties. I spend some time in the year doing masterclasses and workshops at these places giving students an idea of the real world experiences I have had, and I think it’s important to temper the technical with psychology, be it dealing with artists, or fellow crew members. If you are interested in the mixing process I would look at local clubs and theatres and try to align yourself with the house staff. Live mixing is mixing at its purest - there really is no “mouse and menu” approach here. It is all about letting the audience hear every aspect of the performance as clearly and musically as possible. Focus on becoming as comfortable as possible around the environment and people in studios, make it the norm to be in a creative environment. Don’t always be in awe of the situation - we have a job to do and need to have our bases covered. After that is all done enjoy being around the most wonderful music and creativity that few people ever get to experience. Above all, realise that it is you that people will want to work with first and foremost. Being the quickest is no substitute for being a people person. I would learn my toolset and make it second nature, then you are prepared for the other 98% of what it takes to eventually succeed.

What are your top tips, or techniques to incorporate when recording a metal or hard rock band, for each of the following instruments: Let me start by saying, across the board: Set up the instruments. Make sure they are tuned and intonated correctly with new consumables (strings and drum heads) before you even choose a position for them or a microphone. Drums: Listen to them in the room and see where they “speak” best. Put the mics on the kit where the drums sound best. Cover as many bases as possible even if you don’t think you’ll need them - with modern DAWs, tracks are free - so use them. Position the mics and check phase against each element of the kit. Top and bottom mics on toms are a no-brainer for me . They just work and the spill rejection is massive due to the phase reversal between the two mics. Cover all the cymbals with spots and don’t worry if it seems overkill. You aren’t being charged per channel. Guitars: Always capture a DI (again it’s free). The track is useful on so many levels. Multiple mics on a cab can get an expansive sound if you spend time finding the best speaker within a cab (or avoiding the worst) and moving the mics to get the best combination. All of this combines to capture full sounds that can take EQ and compression in a mix without causing horrible phase issues.

that pulls everybody down with them. It then just takes immense work to be the positive guy that gets the first smile happening again. My worst mistake was punching in over all 24 tracks on tape for half a second. Nothing to be done but get them to play along and “gang punch” over the mistake. It was one of my early sessions and I never made that mistake again. Pulling the drummer off the producer because he wanted to kill him and slash the tape because the producer hadn’t got a clue what the band needed was quite funny. We ended up having a paper airplane dogfight to settle the argument - needless to say the producer lost! What is your favourite piece of audio equipment and why? Console style automation with real faders - whether in a DAW or on a console - because static mixes suck. I look up massively to Andy Wallace, Bob Clearmountain and the Lord Alge brothers because of the way their mixes work. They move faders. You don’t look at a screen to move a single fader, then another, then back to the previous ad infinitum. You listen and react to what you are hearing, you balance and rebalance the music according to what it sounds like, not what it looks like. What does your current studio set up look like?

Bass: Get a great DI and capture the performance. Give the bass player what he needs in the cans - but generally It’s difficult to know how that will sit in a mix, so the DI allows you to craft the sound around the guitars later using amps or simulators. Vocals: Out of all the performers - make them relaxed and ensure they feel “special“. The entire song can be sold on the lyrics and melody of the story being told. Use whatever mic makes them feel most comfortable and, if you maybe don’t agree, put a separate one up and record that too. Many times it’s a combination of what they are used to seeing in front of them and hearing that puts them in their “zone”. Make sure the headphone mix is as good as possible for them. I work most of the time on headphones when producing vocals so I know exactly what the singer is hearing. It’s most important to get them where they give their best performance, and that can only come from the artist being in the right place emotionally. Keys: Spend a little time discussing parts and don’t always go for L/R panned sounds for every overdub. Panned mono instruments fit in a dense mix much better. What sessions have you been on where things have gone particularly wrong, but you were able to fix it? Things haven’t necessarily gone wrong as much as some people have just been bloody miserable and

For Mixing: Digidesign C24 control surface and a well-chosen set of plugins to emulate a console workflow. Unity Pebbles and Bam Bams, Auratones and Pure Radio for monitoring, plus Focal Clear Pro headphones. For Tracking: SSL Duality or AWS and a good headphone system for the artist with the ability to hear each person’s foldback mix. Studio monitors I can trust. Good basic mic collection, nothing fancy required, although I bring some of my own because I know what they sound like. What is the ideal studio for tracking drums in your opinion? One that does no harm. A room that can sound expansive but not uncontrollable, I don’t want to hear the walls and especially not in my close mics. What do you think are the most common mistakes that are made when engineers are tracking live instruments? Fear of letting instruments breathe in the same room. I have no problem recording everything in the same room if everyone is rehearsed and the arrangements are set in stone. It can take all day to set up an entire band to the point they are happy to perform - it can then take two hours to record four songs. October 2018



RED CARPET TREATMENT Abbey Road is arguably the most recognisable name in recording studios both inside and outside the music industry. Always innovating, the company has expanded into audio hardware and software development and, more recently, it's developed Abbey Road Red, an open innovation department with a mission to act as an incubator for entrepreneurial technology start-ups. Stephen Bennett reports…


arim Fanous, innovation manager at Abbey Road Studios, has been at the company for seven months and runs the incubator. He explains why the Red innovation initiative is important to the company: “Knowledge sharing is important to us," he says. "We want to position Abbey Road and Abbey Road Red as a key part of the debate around trends in the music business, especially in terms of innovation.” Fanous says that an important part of this is putting on events that covering core topics. “The last one was on the science of A&R, while previous Red talks have covered spacial audio, interactive audio, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and generative composition and the roles they play in production.” The incubator was launched in 2015 because the team at Abbey Road noticed there was a lot of talk of the potential for entrepreneurship happening around

the audio business. “We saw that as an opportunity to start an incubator,” says Fanous. “Abbey Road is perfectly placed to nurture this as there’s such a rich history of innovation here, including the original record and engineering development department who created the first Redd console and developed Automatic Double Tracking (ADT) technology. We want to help people create the next set of universally adopted music technology in much the same fashion as our predecessors had done at Abbey Road.” Mirek Stiles, head of audio products Abbey Road Studios says that Abbey Road Red is definitely a throwback to the history of the company. “EMI used to have these huge R&D facilities in factories over in Hayes in west London.” Hayes is somewhat of a veteran at Abbey road, starting as a runner and then becoming involved in recording, video,

audio hardware and software and now, other forms of innovative audio technologies. “Abbey Road was always seen as a bit of a field testing facility. The work we did with the plug-ins, the software and the hardware with (the company) Chandler gave us a sense of this history, as did going through the old archives for the schematics of classic equipment - so we thought, wouldn’t it be great to ‘get Red back together’?” The company discussed how to implement a contemporary version of this kind of low level early research and Initially started getting involved with academic institutions. “We still are doing that,” says Stiles.” There is a lot of great research happening in this country, especially with regards to music technology.” Stiles and his team began to develop relationships with potential start-up companies. “We noticed that there were quite a few incubators October 2018



Karim Fanous

around but nothing specifically targeted at music. I think at the time we were Europe’s first musicfocused incubation programme.” “Some amazing start-ups have come through the program,” says Fanous. “Initially, we’d work with companies on areas such as spatial audio or automated mastering and concentrate on peoplenetworking and finding collaborators and equipment.” Fanous says that AI is becoming more and more important. “Machine intelligence is pervasive and the last few start-ups that have come through the program have machine learning and machine intelligence at the very core of what they do. So, for example, we have Humtap which is a generative composition platform (see box to the right) and Vochlea a ‘machine learning microphone’.” At the time of writing, Abbey Road Red was about to announce their thirteenth start-up incubator, joining a programme that has a collective valuation of over £100 million. “They’re pushing the boundaries,” says Fanous. “It’s amazing to work with these company founders, to feel their passion and to see them literally living 14

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out their life’s work and to be able to help them.” Stiles says that when Abbey Road Red started to exploring how they would engage with start-ups, it was new territory for them, and there was a quite a bit of apprehension. “But that proved completely unfounded,” he says. “We really enjoyed being involved and embracing the tech community and the academic community and, luckily, they’ve embraced us as well. The Abbey Road Red incubator runs over a six-month period. “We feel that this is the right amount of time,” says Fanous. “Three months would have been too little time to make a difference and anything beyond six months you kind of tend to lose your focus on the path that you’re taking together.” Abbey Road Red has an ‘onboarding process’ where they work with start-ups before they actually join the incubator programme. “We’ll have been developing a relationship for a long time with them already, so we tend to know the teams and their platforms and technology quite well,” says Fanous. “Then we have a formal process in which we sit them down with the team here at Abbey Road and look really hard and see what any barriers to

Mirek Stiles

development there might be, how their business case is looking, what their potential is and how we can help them unlock that potential.” Fanous adds that Abbey Road Red has moved away from ‘fixed intake periods’ to a rolling intake that allows for a more natural development of the start-up. Potential collaborators are found either from direct contact via the website or through the networks Fanous and Stiles have built up. “We work very hard to make sure we’re out there talking to people and building relationships and making people aware of what we do,” he says. Fanous adds that a lot of company founders approach the team directly, but they also do a lot of active searching for possible collaborators. “We always make sure that we’re out and about talking to people and going to key conferences and so on,” he says. With the Abbey Road brand involved, the incubator is able to attract some of the most innovative talent to work with - and it’s obviously bearing fruit. Abbey Road Red builds on the studio’s well-respected legacy in the audio industry and brings it slap-bang up to date by helping to nurture the next generation of audio innovators.


TWO START-UPS TELL US WHAT THEY DO AND HOW ABBEY ROAD RED HAS HELPED THEIR BUSINESSES TO PROGRESS… “CloudBounce is a ‘Software as a service’ (SaaS) based music technology start-up from Finland,” says Kristian Haapasalo, co-founder of the company (pictured). Started in the summer of 2015 by a handful of people sharing a great passion for music production and technology, the team has varying backgrounds in business and music. Haapasalo explains that the CloudBounce service is aimed more at the amateur creator segment, but believes that many audio industry professionals could also find creative ways to complement their production workflow and post-production habits with their automated tools. CloudBounce’s first product - an automated on-line audio mastering service - was launched to the global market in January 2016. “Our company exists to help the music making community and content creator segment by offering easy to use and affordable yet high-quality audio mastering tools,” says Haapasalo. He says that the developments in AI and digital signal processing field combined with the online SaaS business model have brought the costs down to a fraction of what a mastering engineer would charge, while providing the customer with fast results and 24/7 availability. “The legacy and the brand support alone from such a big player as Abbey Road / Universal Music is indisputable and of unique benefit for us,” says Haapasalo. “During the incubator period we, of course, got some valuable help and advice on product

placement, marketing and many other things.” After the program was completed, the relationship between the two companies has been ongoing. “We were really excited to get accepted in the first Red batch,” says Haapasalo. “This was also a huge approval for our business idea and technology during our most vulnerable ‘first product’

launch period. While our platform is providing a high quality and affordable automated mastering service, our partnership with Abbey Road has demonstrated to both parties that this is not leading to a substitution of facilities available, but that clients using our service are then using their mastering engineers at a later date.”

Humtap is a product that, according to founder and CEO Tamer Rashad (pictured), “empowers everyone to express themselves through the beauty of music.” Powered by its proprietary artificial intelligence (AI) engine, the Humtap platfom listens to a voice and ‘turns this into songs inspired by the style of your favourite artist in seconds.’ Humtap is designed for the casual social media content creator, but also could find use with the professional artist too, turning those Dictaphone sketches into songs. “The mission of Humtap is to unleash creativity and democratise self-expression through music creation,” says Rashad. His bold statement is that Humtap allows anyone to “produce music quickly and easily through innovative AI-assisted composition.” Currently available free for Apple iOS, Rashad says that Humtap empowers mobile devices users to create “beautiful original music” from their voices. “Anyone can hum a melody and tap a beat with his or her voice, choose a music style, and create a song with a few clicks using our app.” He adds that that “Humtap is on a mission to bring music creativity to the masses.” Rashad was introduced to the Abbey

Road Red incubator programme through Universal Music when Humtap was formed, the company going on to recruit several engineers and music producers from the Abbey Road Institute from both London and Berlin. Rashad says that working with Abbey Road Red brings benefits to Humtap’s current work and

future potential development. “We get an exposure to business development and strategy steer, exposure to all parties in the music industry and more, via their in-house expertise, board members, colleagues at Universal Music and their mentor network and industry contacts.”

October 2018



IN THE STUDIO WITH: DAVE CATCHING AT RANCHO DE LA LUNA Producer, engineer and musician Dave Catching is a founding member of his band earthlings?, a touring member of Eagles Of Death Metal, as well as the owner of, and resident at, Rancho de la Luna in the Joshua Tree National Park in California. Murray Stassen caught up with him to find out more about the legendary studio...

October 2018




t’s 1:30pm Pacific time when we speak to musician and producer Dave Catching. He’s at home at Rancho de la Luna, in Joshua Tree California, about two hours drive from Los Angeles. “It’s pretty warm and I’m staying really busy with a lot of different sessions,” he tells us, when we ask him how it’s going and what he’s up to. “There’s a lot going on right now,” Catching continues, adding that the studio’s “pretty much booked most of the time” - and not it’s not hard to see why. The place has become something of a myth and a legend in the rock community and the wider music industry, having hosted the likes of the Foo Fighters, Arctic Monkeys and Iggy Pop in recent years, as well as being the famed location of Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal recordings among many other notable rock and roll acts. “I mean, it’s not [booked] like every day but you know, I’d say at least 20 or so days a month,” he says. Part of the studio’s appeal, explains Catching, is that “Joshua tree is a very special place”. “It’s changed quite a bit. I mean, when we first moved out here, there were a hundred thousand visitors to the park and this year, they’re expecting three and a half million. So that kind of tells you that there’s definitely something here that’s pulling people this way.” Here, Dave Catching explains how the studio 18

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started, tells us about some of his favourite projects to have been recorded there and runs through the studio’s extensive gear list…

cool family of bands that always played together and supported each other and it was just a really exciting time to be playing in Los Angeles in the ‘80s.

Let’s start at the beginning. How did the studio come to exist? Well, my friend Fred Drake, who was a really great musician, engineer and artist moved out to Joshua Tree at the end of 1992 and then early 1993 I was living in New Orleans, running a restaurant. I got a call from Fred asking me if I would like to be partners in a recording studio at his house in Joshua Tree and I said, Yes and we bought some gear and we started our studio.

It must have been a pretty big adjustment moving from New Orleans to Joshua Tree... It was pretty big, but at the same time unfortunately, we had a fire in our restaurant and the owners of the building weren’t insured. So as soon as we were out of that I was invited to go on tour with Kyus as their guitar tech. They were going to Europe and I’d never been. This is before Daniel had come in and when I got back, luckily, I had a friend that I was living with in New Orleans after the place burned and she also had her house in LA so I started going between LA and New Orleans and Joshua Tree until 1998, when I decided to move out to Joshua Tree next door to the studio. It was a it was a slow transition, but it was it was pretty smooth.

How did you end up in New Orleans and what kind of restaurant was it? We basically served everything and we were open from Wednesday noon through Sunday noon. I ended up there because a friend of mine took me to the bar and introduced me to people and then that place was offered to me for so cheap that I had to do it. So I moved from Los Angeles to New Orleans and opened the restaurant. What was it like playing music in LA at that time? It was awesome. There were so many great bands and so many people were going out to see bands a lot. So all the shows were pretty successful. There was a

How did you get into engineering? When I was 15 I took a recording engineering class at a place that had a studio in it, and I learned the basics of recording there. I really didn’t do much other than that. When we got the studio here I started experimenting with Fred and learning a little bit more about how things work. So it was mostly just once we got the studio. I kind of reverted back to what I had learned when I was a kid and then Fred taught me pretty much everything that I know now.


What equipment did you have in the studio to start off with? We had a 16-track half-inch reel-to-reel and we had a Soundcraft board. We also had a few SM57s and 58s. We had a Yamaha SPX 90 (reverb effects processor) and Yamaha NS10 speakers. We were approached by Daniel Lanois to record some stuff here and he brought in his Neve console and Studer tape decks and a lot of his gear. He had phenomenal microphones and outboard gear and his thing was that he wouldn’t pay us to record here, but he would leave his gear here for roughly a year and probably be in for a total of maybe two weeks in a year and we could use his gear. So we actually started doing a lot of cool albums with that gear which helped us buy more gear as we went along. What were some of the first paid-for sessions? We did a Victoria Williams album called Musings Of A Creek Dipper, which is a great album. Trina Shoemaker produced and engineered it and she ended up doing Rated-R, the Queens of the Stone Age record with me. Daniels Lanois recording here definitely put us on the map with people wanting to come and see where it is. The studio has a sort of mythical, or legendary status in the rock world. Would you agree with that? I honestly agree with that and, not to sound like that like a braggart or anything, but there is something very special about the house, which is what drew Fred here

in the first place. And then, when we became partners in the studio, that’s what made me commit my life to doing it. 99.9% of the sessions have been so easy and fun and things work really easily here. It’s not the studio to work for four days on a snare sound. This is this is more of, you put a mic in front of a good amp with a good guitar and it sounds great and you just go with it. So a lot of people have been inspired daily working here and things work very easy, and that’s why people like Arctic Monkeys come out here and have written a couple of their most successful records here. Same with Queens of the Stone Age and you know, that’s why the Foo Fighters came out here. To try to tap into that. So I really do think there is magic in the area, but especially in this house. It’s very small, but it’s very forgiving to the people working here. How much has the studio changed over the last few years in terms of the layout and equipment that you’re using? The layout hasn’t changed at all. We kind of got it down to what works best, you know? I mean, it does change where we are able to move things around and people can try different things, but for the most part we found what really works in which rooms. We have the drums miked up to what we feel is the best place for them, but you’re welcome to move them anywhere in the house. As far as gear goes it’s really cool because I’ve been

very fortunate that a lot of great gear makers are into a lot of the bands that have played here and they’ve donated tons of gear to make this place better. So I really can’t thank them enough. What console do you have? A Neotek Elan and I’ve had that for about 10 years. Where did you get it from and why did you choose it? Someone gave it to me, which is very strange and it turned into a bit of a strange thing. I won’t get into it, but eventually we did restore it and I love it. We’ve been recording a lot of stuff without anything, just drums directly into the Neotek and they sound phenomenal, really cool. Do any of the bands take their own gear there or will they usually just use everything that’s in there? Well, I’ve had some bands bring stuff in that they definitely did not need to bring and then other people will look at the gear list and go like, Yeah, I don’t really need it. When Arctic Monkeys recorded here once, they brought their own acrylic drums. I have two kits here. Both are amazing. One is an early 70s Gretsch kit and one is a newer Sonor kit and they both sound fantastic. I think some people, you know, they haven’t had a lot of experience in studios, so they think they have to bring their own stuff and then they get here and see that there are so many cool vintage guitars and some people are very excited about it, but some just stick to what they have. October 2018


PRODUCER PROFILE What are some of your favourite albums that have been recorded at the studio over the years? Arctic Monkeys’ Humbug for sure. Masters Of Reality have done some really cool stuff. Every album that comes out I love though, really. I mean, I’ve only had a couple of sessions by bands that were, I wouldn’t say difficult, but not easy. The rest, 99% of all sessions here go really well and are easy and then people are happy with the result, including me. My band Mojave Lords put out a great record, my band Earthlings? put out a great rectord. There’s been so many great things happening. The Afghan Whigs have also worked on a lot of newer stuff here. So it’s been very very fortunate that I have such great, talented friends that make such cool music and decide to come here to record it. Could tell us your advice or equipment tips for recording instruments? Well, first and foremost, have a great song. This is very, very helpful. Second of all, have fun. You shouldn’t get too caught up in perfection, you know? I don’t. For drums, we typically just start going into it and make it better as we go along if we can. Right now I’m looking at the drum kit and I’ve got a Sennheiser MD421 on the snare with an SM57 on top, Sennheiser MD409 on the bottom. I’ve got a Royer mic on the high hat and a couple of Sennheiser MD421s on the toms. Mojave Audio stereo pair for overhead. I’ve been having a lot of luck with my sE Gemini tube, placing it about six feet from the kick drum. I’ve got an AKG D112 in the kick and outside a Shure Beta 52. Then I have a couple of secret weapon mics here and one is the original prototype for the Royer tube mic. David Royer’s a good friend of ours and we have the first tube mic he ever made and that’s what I consider my secret weapon. I’ve put it up against every mic that anyone’s ever brought here and I still like it better. It just has an amazing tone. So that’s what we’ve got going on in the drum room. We typically over mic and then bring it back to where it needs to be, but we always overdo it. It’s better to overdo it, because you can always strip back. Yeah, so that’s kind of our thing mostly: over doing things and then pulling back. For vocals we’ve been using the Royer mic a lot and that one’s been really good. I’ve also got a beyerdynamic like I that.

RANCHO DE LA LUNA GEAR LIST General: Neotek Elan Console Event Opal Monitors Event XL Monitors SE Electronics Egg Speakers Yamaha NS]-10 Monitors Pro Tools 10 & 11 HD Logic Powerplay 16 Headphone Monitors Microphones: Royer Prototype Tube Mic 2x Royer Dynamic R 121 Stereo Pair Royer Mod Marshall Mics Sony C 48

(This is only a sample of the vast list of gear offered by the studio. For full list, visit:

Mojave Audio Pair Ma 100 Mojave Audio Ma 300 Aston Microphones Starlight Stereo Pair 2x Aston Microphones Origin Aston Microphones Spirit Slate Digital Modeling Microphone 2x Milab Lsr-3000 Condenser Mics 2x Milab Dc-196 Condenser Mics Se RNR 1 Mic Se Z5600 Mic Se Gemini Mic 2 x Se Titan Mics Se 3 Condenser Mics Pair Rode NTR

Direct Boxes: Neve RNDI Radial JDI Radial Pro RMP Studio Re-Amper Custom Made Jensen DI Box 2x Demeter Stereo Tube Direct Dod 265 Stagehand Direct Box Whirlwind IMP 2 Tech 21 Bass Driver DI Outboard: Neve Portico 5042 Streo Compressor Neve Portico 517 Compressor Neve 5012 Duo Mic Pre Aroura Audio GTQ2 Mic Mark III

Urei La-4 Compressor Limiter 2 x Empirical Labs El8 Distressors Maestro Echoplex EP2 T.C. ElectronicsTc 2290 Digital Delay and Effects Control Processor T.C. Electronics Reverb 4000 Eventide Model H3000 Ulta-Harmonizer Effectron Adm 1024 DBX 163 Stereo Compressor Limiter DBX166a Compressor Limiter DBX 166 Xl Compressor Yamaha Compressor Limiter Gc2020 Drawmer Dual Gate Ds201 Roland Sde-1000 Digital Delay

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Here, The Outlier Inn's founder and owner Josh Druckman explains how the studio was designed and built and tells us more about his custom Neve console...


he Outlier Inn is not your average recording studio. Set over 12-acres and located in the Southern Catskill Mountains 90 miles outside of New York, the Outlier Inn property doubles up as a wellness retreat, with a farm, lake and various types of accommodation. The studio was founded and is run by Josh Druckman, whose background is in computer music, having studied algorithmic synthesis at Columbia University in New York city. He moved out to the Catskills after running his own studio in New York. “I operated the studio for a little over a year before I closed it because the costs of operating it were just so high,” he says. “It forced me to just say yes to everybody that

walked in the door and after a year of recording music that I was not into, I moved out of the city and up to the country, which is where my family was originally from, but I had never lived up here. I was 26 at the time. “I kind of impulsively bought a little house and a property not knowing anyone and I set up a little electronic music studio in my house. And then over the years that little studio kind of grew into what it is today.” The facility now features two studios, A, with its large, wood-paneled live room and Studio B, which offers a control room and isolation booth, having attracted a wide range of clients, from the likes of Parquet Courts to The War On Drugs and Delicate Steve to Solange Knowles. At the heart of Studio A is a 72 channel Neve VR

with flying faders. Monitoring comes in the form of ATC SCM110ASLs, Yamaha NS10Ms and an eightchannel Hear Back system. The studio also boasts floating FX such as EMT 140 Plate Stereo Tube, Lexicon 480L, Roland Space Echo 501, Fulltone Tube Tape Echo and a Morley Electrostatic Delay.

Who designed and built Studio A? It was designed by Wesley Lachot. His firm, Wes Lachot Design Group, is based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I had worked in a studio that he designed. As I walked into the control room and heard the sound coming out of the speakers, I knew that that was what I wanted. So it took me a couple of years to save up and get all my ducks in a row, but there was really no doubt October 2018



who I was going to hire when it came to designing the studio. Then the building was done partially by local contractors who have helped me build all of the things here over the last 15 years on the property and then the acoustic finish work was done by a firm that works pretty much exclusively for Wes. They're called Brett Acoustics and they're based in Durham, North Carolina, so I'm really happy that I decided [to go with them]. You can just hire Wes and kind of do everything yourself or you can hire him and his team. I'm really happy that I not only hired his acoustic contractors, but I also hired his wiring guy, Thom Canova. Canova Audio is also based in North Carolina and so I hired kind of the whole team. The process is so meticulous and every little detail, every quarter of an inch is critical and you're only as good as the weakest link. That really proved to be true and so having multiple layers of redundancy to kind of double check and triple check the whole build process along the way was really, really helpful. And so yeah, I hired Wes, he came up and I told him what I wanted. Obviously it wasn't a new structure. It was an existing structure, so we were limited by the dimensions that we had, but fortunately, I had the dimensions that afforded me the ability to get 24

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everything that I wanted. So I was able to not only get the control room, I was able to get two more ISO booths which made four ISO booths in total and a nice-size machine room, which was able to accommodate all of the power and guts of the studio. And then I was able to get a really nice utility room and a locker. So I was I was very confident because I had experienced Wes’ room at Strange Weather. I was very confident that, acoustically, I was going to get the results that I desired. My main concern was that, aesthetically and vibe-wise, the room was going to seamlessly integrate with everything else that I already had going on here because studios can be very clinical or Star Trek-like, or kind of like a dentist office. That was not the vibe that I was looking for and I talked to Wes about this before he came up and he said, "Well, you know, my main concern is acoustics first and foremost and I will try to give you the vibe that you want. But you know, it's got to sound right". I had never met him in person and he was a little stern about it. He came up here and he’s kind of a rock star in his own right and he deserves to be, because he's a badass studio designer. I showed him around the property and he was kind of stone-faced and I was talking about the vibe and everything and then I showed him the live room which is all barn wood and

rustic and he looked around and I've got a black sepia tone photograph of The Band on the wall and as soon as he saw the photo he took his glasses off and his face lit up and said, "Okay, I get it now". “They're my favorite band. I almost recorded a record of theirs in 1982, but then Richard Manuel killed himself and the project fell through.” He said, "Okay, I know what you want. Instead of using of one type of acoustic fabric for your studio, we're going to go with an open weave kind of burlap look and we're going to use rough cut barn wood on the acoustic treatments and that's going to get you the vibe that you want. I expressed the desire to have as much natural light as possible in the studio so that when you're sitting at the console, you've got light streaming in from both sides and also from the back. You can sit at the console and you've got light coming through to the ISO boost on the side and then you look straight through the live room and you've got big windows at the back and you can see the animals grazing, so we also went with like sepia tones in the control room. So the whole studio and the control room has like a '70s, warm, naturally-lit vibe. Of course it's going to be like a spaceship because of the gear, but it's like a spaceship from the 1970s.


Could you tell us about the console you chose for the studio? To get a console or not to get a console, that was the question. There's plenty of reasons not to get a console or plenty of reasons why having a console in 2018 is not necessary, but being a child of the ‘70s and having grown up using consoles, I knew that I wanted one just as a workflow choice. When it came to which console to get I set my budget for what I could afford and I thought that the world was going to be my oyster because I had budgeted about $60,000 for a console installed. Having come from more of a DIY recording background, I really thought that I was going to have a lot of options in that price range. It turned out that the options were actually very few. And for that money, I was looking either at some kind of hybrid workstation like an SSL Matrix, or a 16 channel API or a smaller boutique kind of desk. I was like, OK, I can get a 72-channel, fully-automated Neve console. Which for running a commercial Studio, it's kind of the only name that people know people that are not studio heads. I didn't understand how it could be so cheap. I really didn't understand why this desk, which was half a million dollars when it was new was all of a sudden $25,000. I now understand why these desks are on the cheaper side. The maintenance on these consoles is very

intense. What happens with them is that they were not vented properly from the factory. There was a design flaw where the engineers thought that the heat would just kind of dissipate through the top through the console but there's so much heat generated that it’s not able to escape from the modules. So whereas electronics components like to operate at like 70 to 74 degrees Fahrenheit, this console runs at about a 118 or a 120 degrees Fahrenheit. So the modules just cook and the capacitors leak and the plastic components for the switches and the rotary pots all just basically get fried. So people that own these consoles are faced with having to recap these consoles every five to seven to 10 years at the most and a full recap of one of these consoles costs about $20,000. So you're faced with a tremendous amount of downtime and stress as the hours tick away. So really the heat is the issue with these consoles. And so before I bought the console I discovered that there's one guy in LA who created a cooling modification for this console, where you have a dedicated exhaust system, which sucks the heat out of the console. You go in and you physically cut the ends of the modules to allow the cool air to be drawn in from the front and the hot air to be sucked out the back. So once I discovered that I decided to go for the VR

and I incorporated that modification into my studio. So now, instead of running at a 118 degrees, my modules are running at 80 degrees. And of course I had to do a full recap of the console. I got the console a year before I installed it and that year was filled with technicians coming from LA, from Nashville and from New York City to work on this console. My decision to get a console was proven correct on the very first session that I had up here because when you don't have a console and when you've got a workstation with a computer and you've got the engineer, there's only one person that can run it, so you've got the engineer working the mouse and then the band on the couch with their cell phones, reading books, reading magazines and are basically half checked out of the process. The first session that I did here with the console, the entire band was up at the console for the whole session playing around with faders and playing around with mixes. There's plenty of room for the band and it really engages the bands so much more in the process. So rather than just being checked out on the couch, they're all up at the console, playing around with the faders. So the first session I was like, OK, I made the right decision to get a console. October 2018



NYU Steinhardt Dolan Center 3D Audio Experimentation Suite. Pic credit: Cheryl Fleming /courtesy of WSDG

SECTOR FOCUS: EDUCATIONAL STUDIOS The companies that design commercial facilities are often the same ones that work with educational facilities, so how do some of the major players in the field feel about the current state of the facilities available in educational environments? Stephen Bennett reports.


lthough the inexorable march of technology has rendered many commercial studios redundant, the requirement for high quality facilities for recording, dubbing and mixing is, if anything, more prescient du e to the current explosion of the requirements for content. At the same time, the burden of training has mostly moved from the studios themselves to bespoke educational facilities that are required to train and develop the next generation of audio professionals.

David C. Bell is managing director and principal acoustic designer at White Mark Limited, a UK-based company who design pre- and post- production studios for the audio, video and broadcast industries, including educational facilities at Nottingham and Nottingham Trent Universities and the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. He says that while signal processing algorithms and digital audio processing have been developed to help design studios, the fundamentals of acoustics have not changed over time. “Measurement equipment and its ability to help

visualise the acoustics of a space have improved enormously, but the basic acoustic theory that underpins room design has not altered,” he adds. Bell believes that there has been far too great an emphasis on equipment as the main constituent of a studio: “One of the principal problems with public sector purchasing is that this focus on equipment purchase can push out the requirements for good room design.” John Storyk founded WSDG (the Walters-Storyk Design Group) after a successful career working in the field, including the design of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric October 2018



The James L. Dolan Music Recording Studio at NYU Steinhardt. Photo credit: Cheryl Fleming

Lady studio in 1969. WSDG now field a global team of over fifty expert acousticians, designers and project managers and boast a client list approaching fourthousand projects, ranging from Jazz At the Lincoln Centre, educational facilities for universities and studios for Bruce Springsteen and many other leading artists. Storyk believes that the main innovations in studio design has been the introduction of computer predictive acoustic design and measurement tools. “We have also entered an era of very affordable and extremely accurate pre-fabricated acoustic treatments,” he says. “This is particularly exciting for low frequency control, which is critical for small rooms and the higher first order eigentone fundamental frequencies –aka ‘standing waves.’” Justin Spier, managing director at Studio Creations and Chris Walls, founder of Level Acoustic Design specialise in the design and installation of high end music, film and broadcast studios for clients including Abbey Road Studios, Coldplay, Warner Music Group and ITV. “We have investigated most things which look like they could be of use to us as designers, such as Boundary Element Modelling (BEM), room acoustic prediction programs and active absorption, but nothing has truly revolutionised our process,” says Spier. ”We primarily rely on acoustic theory and a huge 28

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database of test results - fortunately the laws of physics and the human auditory system have been reassuringly consistent for the last decade.” Spier says that most technical innovations have been equipment-based which doesn’t fundamentally change studio design—with the possible exception of facilities for immersive audio formats such as Dolby Atmos and Auro. Andrew Muro has a long career in studio and loudspeaker design and is and is currently owner of Munro Acoustics and Form and Funktion. “Studio design has evolved in line with the developments in both technology and economic reality,” he says. “In the sixties studios broke away from the model that relied on major labels for funding and centres of excellence developed, often with a distinctive style and sound, often more by accident than design. For whatever reason places such as Nashville, Memphis, Chicago, Los Angeles and London all became synonymous with a certain quality of both music and sound.” Munro says that even though the business of recording sound has been changed out of all recognition, at the heart of the process there is still the same need for places to record in such a way as to produce content that translates to the real world and that can be appreciated at every level.

“Now big studios are closing and the economic model is completely different,” he says. “In my world, fundamentals still apply though and nobody can change the laws of physics. Everywhere sound is getting better at the point of delivery and yet there is a propensity to downgrade the very places where the audio is produced. I have heard the words such as ‘bedroom’ and ‘garden shed’ in the context of acoustic environments, with the conviction that anything can be produced anywhere thanks to the miracle of plug-ins and laptops.” Peter Keeling, MD and founder of the Studio People, began his move into acoustics and construction twentyfive years ago and now handles high-end projects, many of which are new-build Educational facilities. “I am often asked how educational studio design differs from commercial applications. The short answer is - not at all,” he says. “Our approach has always been to service the educational industry with exactly the same performance and design effort as we do with our commercial and private clients.” Bell says that the ability to make recordings and perform mixing, editing and arranging on computer equipment has led to an explosion of output but a significant reduction of recording budgets which has hit the recording studio market hard. “The limited quality at which most audio is now monitored has also served

FEATURE: STUDIO DESIGN Nottingham University

Confetti Media Group (Nottingham Trent) Photo credit: Greg Marshall

to reduce the perceived value of good quality sound recording at the outset.” Storyk says that the WSDG team collaborates at the nexus of architecture and acoustics. “We consider these two design elements as fundamentals of a process, which fully integrates both disciplines. Our design axioms and our passion for innovation has not changed,” he explains. What does change, he adds, is technology and how studio design reacts to these developments. “Studios have been particularly accepting of digital technology solutions, a movement which has resulted in smaller equipment footprints and a more democratic and unified equipment canvas.” Storyk says that what continues to differentiate one studio from another is the architectural and acoustic design. “I always opt for educational studio environments that, as closely as possible, replicate what students will experience when they leave school.” Keeling says that his company works hard to put the message across that you generally only build a room once but equipment is constantly under review for upgrade or workflow change. ”The challenge is to put across the technical and acoustic differences to the people that control the budgets. In commercial and private builds these are often the same people that use or manage the facilities—though this is rarely the case with education.”

Studio Creations-built Elwick Road Studios at Ashford College

Spier says that the technical design process hasn’t really changed at Studio Creations. “Our work is grounded in science and engineering principles,” he says. “We appraise each project’s technical requirements and design a solution to satisfy them. The main changes in our process have been about the look and feel - we try to make our studios look as good as they sound and to move away from panels-on-walls or swathes of bland fabric. There are a few US designers who do this very well, but not so many in the UK.” In a commercial environment, where studio design costs are met by the fees charged to clients, the funding for educational facilities is often more complex and challenging, as is creating an environment that ‘looks and feels’ like a commercial facility but is also suited to the specific requirements of teaching. “The fundamental issue is the need to offer higher numbers of seats within the teaching spaces,” says Bell. “This adds further complication when the representative audio field has to be extended as far as possible whilst still offering accuracy in a given room.” He says that there is no point in trying to discuss equalisation or dynamic range control in a space where these are masked by anomalies inherent in the design. “Similarly, how can microphone technique, musician placement and recording, particularly of the voice, be

taught in a room that strongly resembles a bathroom?” He says that the fundamental challenge in the educational field is that reputable studio designers are often not consulted and the whole process is undertaken against a specification drawn up by those without knowledge of the needs of the users. “Often, the only specification of performance is set out in building regulations documents that set ridiculously low targets for isolation and poorly defined figures for reverberation time, monitor quality and so on. We have campaigned on these matters, issuing a letter co-signed by some significant industry figures decrying this state of affairs and have also made comment on the specification problem in a review of the issued standards.” Spier believes that educational facilities should not differ at all from commercial facilities—. the technical requirements are exactly the same. “As for any studio, you need good sound insulation to ensure the studio can function without disruptive noise, the aircon systems need to work at low noise levels and the room acoustics need to enable accurate monitoring and provide a great recording environment,” he says. “The notion that any one of these elements is less important because the studio is ‘only for education’ is completely wrong.” Spier says that this appears to be a common view though and his company has recently October 2018


FEATURE: STUDIO DESIGN declined work because of it - “the biggest challenge is, ironically, educating the client,” he adds. “I think that there are a number of very dedicated professionals working in the educational environment that are saddled with very expensive poorly-designed facilities that must give them continuous challenges,” says Bell. “I also worry that there is no really effective way for students entering this field to assess the quality of the facilities that they are being offered, particularly

when the choosing their university.“ Keeling says that the educational studio industry, is very buoyant though. “I am seeing a continued improvement to this new build sector and I feel very confident about the future of media in terms of improved and expanded facilities for Schools, Colleges and Universities, along with some good projects coming from commercial media training organisations.” Munro believes that truly great sound can only be created by inspirational musicians in an environment

that is conducive to the production of balanced and fault-free media. “Education in sound requires more than a grounding in ProTools or Logic and technique is still at the core of any skilled work in the studio,” he says. “A well-designed studio allows faults to be heard and great sounds to be honed. There is no basic reason why a studio today should really be any different than one designed in 1969 - only with less hessian.”

Studio Creations and Level Acoustic Design were engaged by Ashford College to design and build their new facility at their Elwick Road Campus in Kent (pictured, left). The studio comprises a control and live room and recording booth, with the capability for full band tracking, mixing and production. Mark Rowden, studio manager and lecturer at Ashford says that the studios are a fantastic facility. “These are such a versatile resource - for the students to study audio production as part of their Music Technology diplomas, to allow us to run adult parttime evening courses as well as operating as a fullyfledged commercial recording facility. This gives the students the best possible start to their careers both academically and vocationally.” Situated on the third floor of the building with staff offices next door and classrooms directly below, the sound insulation performance was key to ensuring that the studio can operate without disturbing staff or lessons. “On completion, our testing found there was no audible noise transfer to the adjoining spaces under normal operation,” says Studio Creations MD Spier.

Jon Thornton (pictured, left) is the head of sound technology at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), a specialist higher education institution co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney. “As well as offering degree courses in music, dance and acting, LIPA has an equal number of students studying subjects such as audio engineering and production . “We were convinced from the outset that we needed professional level studios – not just rooms with equipment,” says Thornton. “The idea being that is all of these disciplines only make sense when working as a collaborative whole.” The facilities were developed by Harris Grant Associates (HGA) where David Bell (now of White Mark) was then employed. “When I joined the project in early 1995, a variety of consultants had already been involved to greater or lesser degrees, but the studio spaces had been incorporated into the main building contract,” he adds. “It was clear that, although well-intentioned, the approach taken by the main contractors and architect wasn’t really going to deliver the facility we needed or wanted.” Thornton says that HGA were appointed because of their track record, and their willingness to work on complex multi-room facilities. “Although the technical installation in every studio has been through at least three major upgrades since it was built, the bones of the studios are still going strong,” says Thornton. “HGA, encouraged us to get things right in the first place, even though this meant spending money on things you can’t actually see”.”

Greg Marshall is the director of operations for the Confetti Media Group, a unique collaboration with, among others, Nottingham Trent University (NTU). A new contemporary music hub called Metronome is being designed by White Mark who say that its “scale and quality… should set a new level for educational facilities.” The hub is part of a £12m investment for students studying audio and music technology, music performance and live and technical events. Alongside six studios, four edit studios and fourteen rehearsal rooms, there will also be a 350-capacity venue with a programme of publicly facing events. “We are aware that in order to attract the best students we wouldXxxxxxxxx clearly need the best facilities. We would only get one opportunity to build a new facility and as such we knew that we could never compromise on the quality,” says Marshall.


October 2018


AUDIENT ID44 Alistair McGhee tests out Audient’s iD44 USB interface, which features four David Dearden-designed class A mic pres…


Key Features


here aren’t many top-flight analogue music console manufacturers - and even less who also make gear you can afford when starting out on your audio adventure. And when it comes to getting the quality of the former for the price of the latter - you might well be down to only one name, Audient. Audient supply high quality analogue mixing desks to studios who want high quality analogue mixing desks and then Audient take that same mic amp design and implement it in more affordable products. The iD44 sits at the top of Audient’s already well-established line and its raison d’être is more and better. So you get four mic amps, you get two 32

October 2018

DI’s, inputs one and two have fully balanced inserts, there are 16 ADAT inputs and outputs, you get monitor control functions, two separate outputs for speakers and two independent headphone outputs. Under the hood Audient have upped the ante in regards to the converters matching an AKM ADC on the input to a Cirrus Logic DAC for the outputs. Workflow hasn’t been forgotten either with the new iD44 offering a parameter scroll function on the main encoder and some programmable function keys. The case is all business with a meaty metal construction, there’s a quality feel to the knobs and switchgear and a funky retro look about the silver toggle switches on the analogue inputs. You could certainly take this out to play and not worry about

n 20-in, 24-out desktop interface n 4 x Class-A Audient console mic preamplifiers n Low Latency DSP Mixer n 24bit/96khz RRP: £499.00 the odd bump and grind. Backing up a bit then to the mic preamps - these offer 60dB of gain, switchable phantom, high pass filter and 10dB pad all in hardware and phase reverse in the software application. I fished out the dynamics to see how useable the 60dB of gain is - the usual suspects SM58, Beyer TG88 and M201 and I’m happy to report it’s good to the last dB, in an ideal world I’d like five dB more but hey! These


“The iD44 covers a lot of ground - good build, great mic amps, high performance digital hardware and easy to use flexible software ”

are quality preamps - sweet sounding and very quiet. Not what you always find in your average USB audio interface. I used the balanced insert return on one of the first two channels to plug in my MindPrint DTC channel strip - also jolly handy if you want to add some external processing or boutique mic amps bypassing the line input of the iD44. I also fired up my Marenius DAC to do some serious comparative listening. And the good news is the iD44 acquitted itself very well, I felt the iD44 offered a bit more at the top end of the mic input but then the valves in my MindPrint are probably due for replacement! On the DAC front the time and care Audient have spent on the new digital side of the interface has obviously paid off, it sounds really good. The iD44 maxes out at 96KHz and your 16 digital inputs and outputs will be reduced to eight at the higher sample rates. And those ADAT inputs offer a huge amount of expandability - maybe not surprising as Audient sell eight channels of their mic amps in convenient 1U rack mount format. The digital hardware makeover is accompanied

by new and improved drivers and there have been real improvements to the latency performance of the iD44 check out the website for figures. On top of that the software has had a rewrite and is very easy to navigate and having the ability to hide inputs - the analogue ins, the digital ins or the DAW returns - means you can have very clean visuals. On the system panel you have four cue mixes A to D plus the main stereo out plus an Alt. speaker output with level matching trim to a second pair of speakers. Each mix has a scrolling Chronometer, which is very entertaining, and any mix can be routed to any output. It looks like Audient has brought their monitor expertise from mixing desks over to the iD44. Take one little detail the mono function, assigned to F1 out of the box (there are three function buttons) in software you can then choose to mono to left speaker, the right speaker or both. As an ageing broadcaster I have missed Mono A for many a long year, thanks Audient and having phase reverse on monitoring is also a boon. The iD44 covers a lot of ground - good build, great

mic amps, high performance digital hardware and easy to use and flexible software. It feels like what it is, a mature product from a company who has added digital expertise to their analogue heritage. At the price point you are getting a lot for your money, and the option to expand via the ADAT inputs makes this interface with a bit of future proofing. The monitoring and mixing both offer really attractive workflows there’s even a bit of customisation thrown in. This is the first Audient interface I have tried and it certainly feels like a winner.

The Reviewer Alistair McGhee began audio life in Hi-Fi before joining the BBC as an audio engineer. After 10 years in radio and TV, he moved to production. When BBC Choice started, he pioneered personal digital production in television. October 2018



VERTIGO SOUND VSC-3 QUAD DISCRETE VCA COMPRESSOR Since German manufacturer Vertigo Sound introduced its VSC-2 Quad Discrete VCA compressor, the unit has become a global staple of studios and mastering rooms and is acknowledged as something of a modern classic. Recently updated as the VSC-3, the new model does everything its forerunner did, and also has some useful new features, writes Nigel Palmer…


Key Features n True Stereo SC /Mono summed SC/ Dual Mono switchable n Dynamic Range: 115 db n 10 Hz … 70 kHz at -3dB gain reduction n Max. Output Level: + 27 dBu / 600 Ohm balanced floating RRP: £4,208


n a robust and fairly deep (400mm/16”) 2U enclosure, the VSC-3 retains the good looks of the earlier unit, including a blue front panel with an almost jewel-like appearance. As with the VSC-2, the ‘Quad’ in the name refers to the use of four discrete proprietary 1979 VCAs (voltage controlled amplifiers) as its main control elements, one in the audio path, and one in the sidechain of each of the compressor’s two channels. At first glance, the main controls are little changed with, at left, a row of knobs per channel comprising Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release and (gain) Make Up. Threshold and Make Up were continuous pots in the review sample - the others are switched - but an all-switched option for easier recall is available. Closer inspection reveals that Vertigo have tweaked the time constants in the new unit as the number of Attack and Release settings have increased from six to ten each, Release including a new fastest .05 mode and two autorelease positions, ‘fast’ and ‘slow’. To the right are dual switches for channel bypass followed by another new addition, a Peak/RMS toggle to act either on signal peaks or with averaged detection. Peak (the VSC-2’s only mode) works well for rhythmic music, whereas RMS is effective with ambient and other styles where a more ‘glued’ action may be appropriate. Below Peak/RMS is another addition, a threeposition Sidechain switch labelled Stereo, Mono and Dual: Stereo runs the VSC-3 as a true stereo

compressor where peaks from either channel compress both; Mono sums the two sidechains and is aimed at compression for effect (both Stereo and Mono disable the bottom row of knobs for simpler linked operation); and Dual separates both channels and metering: with impressive >-100dB crosstalk, this should be useful for the track or mix engineer compressing two different mono sources, such as bass guitar and lead vocal. Next up on the front panel is a pair of sensitive but wide-ranging (0.25-20dB) bargraph gain reduction meters, developed in-house, and which I personally prefer over the original SIFAM mechanical meters - the SIFAMs’ unavailability was a catalyst for the VSC-2’s makeover, as the additional panel space left room for new features. Apart from a power switch (always nice to see one at the front), the last control feature is a pair of sidechain filter switches, which when engaged roll off the compressor’s sensitivity to low frequencies from either 60 or 90Hz.

IN USE Once the VSC-3 was set up at Lowland Masters, I ran a selection of mastering projects old and new through the unit including a fine recent album, Turn To Fray, for UK folk duo Hickory Signals ( Their song Who Put The Blood is mostly acoustic guitar and voice until about a third of the way through, when a dramatic low drum part makes an appearance.

The challenge was to maintain light compression of the upper instrumentation while avoiding drum hits dipping the whole track, plus preserving the overall ‘wallop’: the Vertigo managed this with aplomb, helped by the wider attack and release settings and the 90Hz sidechain filter. I really like the core nature of the VSC-3’s compressor action: any given input may have a number of potentially usable compressor settings, empowering the operator to make a suitable choice in context, and driving it harder increases second harmonic distortion which can add useful colour. From a personal point of view, I also found that ten years’ additional experience with compressors of all types made me appreciate the Vertigo’s response more - for me there was an immediate feeling of comfortable familiarity once I started listening. The VSC-2 added a slight sheen or polish to the sound: this is still the case in the VSC-3 (presumably a sideeffect of the VCAs, or possibly the Cinemag input transformers), and I found it to usually work to advantage.

The Reviewer Nigel Palmer has been a freelance sound engineer and producer for over 20 years. He runs his CD mastering business Lowland Masters from rural Essex. October 2018



RUPERT NEVE RMP-D8 Rupert Neve Designs needs no introductions, with it’s founder having been at the forefront of high quality audio design for well over half a century. The RMP-D8 is an eight-channel microphone preamplifier, featuring the company’s custom-transformer-based 1dB stepped modular class-A microphone preamplifiers coupled with 24-bit 192kHz digital converters and Audinate’s Dante networking technology. By Stephen Bennett.



he RMP-D8 converters have been designed to provide low jitter and highprecision internal clocking to make sure the digital side produces no appreciable reduction in sonic quality. The decision to use Audinate’s technology makes sense for a device designed primarily for live use, as it means the RMP-D8 should work nicely with any device running Dante or the latest AES67 audio-over-IP protocol. The interface is an extremely well made 19” 2 Unithigh rack-able unit with an uncluttered front panel.

The individual inputs have a dedicated 8-segment ‘quasi-PPM’ LED meter, while selected channels also display further information on a nice clear OLED display. There is a network lock indicator, a display of the status of the two redundant Power Supply Units, 48V phantom powering, phase polarity, High Pass Filter, -10dB pad and Line/Microphone level buttons. There’s a nice friendly press-able red channel gain/parameter control which doubles as a ‘page change’ for the OLED display. The front panel can be locked to prevent accidental fiddling and there is a

Key Features n 8 mic / line inputs with 48V phantom power, polarity reverse, input pad & high-pass filter controls n 1dB-stepped class-A mic preamplifiers with 60dB gain and remote control capability RRP: £4,677 October 2018



reset button that disengages all front panel settings to their defaults. In a nice touch, the Line setting disables the phantom power, the pad is engaged and a volume limiter of +30dB set to prevent overload. The Config button displays various system statuses including network information—which is very useful if you have any connectivity issues. All in all, the RMP-D8 makes easily accessible all the controls and information you’d expect from an interface that is designed to be used in a potentially stressful environment. The rear panel sports the two RJ45 network ports (one redundant), four dual-channel AES digital outputs, eight Neutrik microphone/ line inputs, a USB connection for firmware updates and two latching IEC power sockets. The interface’s construction seems determined not to let you down in use and this proved to be so over the review period. The RMP-D8 can selectively mirror the input channels (1 to 8) through Dante channels 9 to 16. These mirrored outputs are set at-6dB lower than the mirrored channel to avoid clipping—this is set in Gain compensation mode. This system allows, for example, a monitor engineer to receive consistent levels while the Front of House Engineer adjusts the gain of the RMP-D8 input channels. The Audinate Dante controller software is used to set up the sample rate, bit depth and audio routing of the interface, along with displaying many of the network

details that should help clear up any connectivity issues. This software runs via the network and provides an overview of, and control of, any connected RMP-D8 units. You don’t need to run the software to use the RMP-D8, but a synoptic view is often very useful if you have a computer handy—and who doesn’t these days? The RMP-D8 is compatible (and controllable) from Yamaha’s CL and QL digital desks and you can set the Yamaha ID either on the unit itself or via the software. The RMP-D8 is also perfectly useable with Audinate’s Dante ‘Virtual Soundcard’ (DVS) software–and this is how it was evaluated for the review. The DVS appears in a DAW in the same way as any other type of interface and I used the RMP-D8 on a drum recording session and with the lowest buffer size available on Logic Pro X, there was no issues at all with latency. As expected, there was plenty of headroom even for a musician who really hits his drums hard and the results were precisely what I’ve come to expect from Rupert Neve Designs–full, solid and with a touch of colour that never gets in the way of clarity. If you’re using this device and getting poor recordings or live sound, the problems definitely lie elsewhere. The beauty of audio-over-IP is that interfaces can be slipped in anywhere in the network and used as if directly connected to the computer or mixing

console, so utilising ad-hoc spaces in the studio proved to be very simple indeed. Never a company to rest on their vintage laurels, Rupert Neve Designs have incorporated their signature electronics in a variety of products that reflect the changes in the working practices of industry professional. The RMP-D8 is a case in point, marrying the company’s Class-A analog transformer-based circuitry with modern networking technology to produce a multi-use device capable of slotting in to many applications. Rupert Neve says that the RMP-D8 “offers the live sound world something that studios have always coveted.” But, as more and more studios install network connectivity, the interface should find applications both inside and outside of the building.

The Reviewer Stephen Bennett has been involved in music production for over 30 years. Based in Norwich, he splits his time between writing books and articles on music technology, recording and touring, and lecturing at the University of East Anglia. October 2018




Wes Maebe tests out this new David Hill-designed AD/DA converter from Crane Song...


avid Hill is based in the Superior, Wisconsin area and has been designing high-end audio hardware and software for quite some time. Some of you may know him from his work with Summit or you may have bumped into him during an AES convention, Music Messe or NAMM show. Most of us know Dave from his amazing sounding EQs, compressors, mic pres and most importantly the A/D and D/A convertors. So let’s have a closer look at the new and updated Crane Song HEDD Quantum. HEDD stands for Harmonically Enhanced Digital Device and has been engineered to provide musically pleasing sound with the capability of generating tube/ analogue sounds within the digital domain. The key ingredient in HEDD Quantum is a new clocking crystal. It’s Crane Song’s fifth generation design just like the ones used in the Avocet IIA and Solaris and has less then 1pS jitter (1 trillionth of a second). The result is extremely accurate imaging, a very open 3D sound and detailed transient response. I mentioned jitter and it’s one of those “black art”, hard to explain phenomena. The artefacts caused by jitter are blurred, harsh and unfocussed sound. It also results in a loss of image stability, depth and space. Jitter, basically a time deviation in the clock timing, is caused by many factors. The main culprit being the frequency of the clock changing during the conversion process. The newly developed crystal clock within the HEDD Quantum has reduced this jitter to the ,currently, lowest possible value, resulting in a well defined low end and clear top end. This will provide you with a much stabler image. In addition to the new AD, DA, Clocking, I/O (Toslink Optical has been added) and extra WC outputs, HEDD Quantum still comes equipped with the same great DSP emulation of Triode, Pentode tubes and Tape emulation from the original model. The operational

modes now allow the DAC and the ADC to be used simultaneously and at different sample rates. The HEDD can operate as an effects device or as separate A/D and D/A convertor with the harmonic generation process applied to either convertor respectively. The signal processor performs up to 24 Bit Processing on digital or analogue sources. HEDD Quantum has transformerless balanced analogue inputs and outputs, transformer isolated digital inputs and outputs and uses separate power transformers and supplies for the analogue and digital sections. The HEDD Quantum output now has a higher maximum output level +24.5 dBu and the maximum input range is adjustable from +16 dBu to +26 dBu for digital zero. The HEDD Quantum operates at sample rates from 44.1kHz to 192kHz. The HEDD Quantum can be used for many different tasks. My first test was strapping it across the recording rig at the studio for a recording session. I bypassed the in-house clock and fed the convertors the Word Clock from the HEDD. The change in clarity and definition was instantly apparent.The low end in the bass and the kick drums was so much more detailed and punchy. Stereo imaging got a lot clearer as well, making panning and EQing much easier and faster. This led to me installing the HEDD in my personal mix and mastering set up. The unit is the master clock, clocking all digital devices and also serves as my A/D converter and processor. The Triode, Pentode and Tape processes are as amazing as in the prior generation HEDD. In the MKI of the unit there used to be a little zipper noise when you cranked the Triode control and that is now no longer there. Ever since running the HEDD as my master clock, the workflow has sped up considerably. Because of the extreme low jitter, mixing and mastering do not only sound better, it’s made working more fun. I performed listening tests with a client, where I

Key Features n High-quality 24-bit A/D and D/A Convertors n 24-bit Processing n Adjustable Triode, Pentode and Tape sounds n Digital I/O, AES and S/PDIF RRP: £3,800 had the same mix output feed my interface and the HEDD simultaneously. I had the client in the sweet spot and I kept switching between the interface and the HEDD. I started out by running both units separate from each other, so the HEDD’s crystal was not clocking the interface. Once flipped to the HEDD the low-end information cleared up and the low mid mush you get from jitter vanished. The panning positions got a lot more precise and in general everything sounded a lot more robust. Once we started clocking the interface from the HEDD’s word clock out, the interface’s performance improved dramatically as well. I was very pleased to see that the client, who doesn’t spend all his time geeking out of things like this, spotted the difference and was as impressed as I was. Needless to say, this unit is staying in the rack and is now the centrepiece of the studio. Not only is it a wonderful sounding unit in its own right, it also improves the performance of everything that’s clocking from it.

The Reviewer Wes Maebe is a UK-based recording, mixing, mastering and live sound engineer.

October 2018




PRO SPOTLIGHT In each issue of AMI we feature an audio professional from a range of disciplines to find out how they got started in the industry and what they’ve worked on. This month we speak to Snap Studios’ Marco Pasquariello

What do you do? I’m a freelance recording/mix engineer and studio manager/engineer at Snap Studios in London How did you get into the industry? I got into the industry just by working with artists at home because I was really into it. I built a little setup in my bedroom and started approaching musicians and began to record and attempt to produce them from my home in Bradford. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I just started experimenting and recording. I must have done something right or got lucky, but this eventually led me to producing an album for an artist that got picked up by XL Records and things just kept going from there. During that time, I also met the guys at Funky Junk whilst buying bits for the record, which led to me working/sleeping on the floor of Mark Thompson’s little private studio, The London Sound Laboratory, which was full of weird and wonderful gear all cobbled together in a tiny room. I spent a lot of time in that room just recording everything I could, learning, making loads of mistakes and experimenting with every piece of gear I could get my hands on. A year or so later, Mark decided he wanted to open a proper facility and asked me if I wanted to be the project manager, and then studio manager and engineer. I’d obviously never project managed the build of a recording studio before, but I jumped at the chance. 42

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After the studio opened, I spent a few years working alongside some of the best engineers and producers imaginable, learning everything I could. Nine years on, Snap and I are still going strong. What are some of your credits? FKA Twigs, Craig David and Bill Fay. What is your favourite item of audio gear and why? A Urei 1176, because they sound great on pretty much anything. I love them on guitars, vocals, drums, the lot What are some of the challenges that you face in your job? There’s always going to be challenges as an engineer and finding ways around them is a big part of what being an engineer is all about. We’re often the problem solvers, and the facilitators for producers and artists. From a studio manager’s perspective, I would say that some of the biggest challenges come from the financial and budget constraints of projects a lot of the time. What was your favourite project and why? I’ve been really fortunate to work with some of the best musicians around - especially through engineering at Snap. I’d say one of my favourite projects was quite recently co-producing and mixing an album for a band called Club Kuru. It was very old school, with lots of tape delays and ADT’s, plus loads of weird

and wonderful FX, loads of character and interesting references. It was a lot of fun to do. What industry professional inspired you the most to do what you do? I definitely learnt a lot about engineering from people like John Wood and Jerry Boys. The way they approached the recording of acoustic instruments taught me loads. People like John Leckie and Haydn Bendall have tought me a lot too. What’s the best bit of advice that you can give anyone trying to break into the industry? The best advice I can give is to just jump in and start recording people at home, and get experimenting. If it’s your passion just do it whenever you can. You can build a great recording setup on really modest budgets these days. You don’t need fancy preamps, or loads of expensive mics. Just get a computer with a DAW and an interface plus a pair of speakers and you’re good to go. If you want to work in a studio then understanding signal flow and problem solving is bare minimum, plus knowing the basics of Pro Tools also helps, but ultimately it’s your personality and attitude towards the work that will carry you further than anything. It’s worth remembering that studio work isn’t for everyone, and it’s not as glamorous as it might seem. It’s definitely more of a lifestyle than a job most of the time, so you have to really love it.


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