On Building A Recording Studio

Like many teens in the 90s, I picked up the guitar and began jamming in my parent’s basement, and when I procured a Fostex 4-track at a garage sale I started to experiment with recording – manual tape delay, reverse, multitracking.

Once it was possible to work with “CD quality” (16/44.1) audio on a home PC, I became interested in soft-sythesis, because it bypassed what was still a major hurdle for producing high-quality recordings: the D/A signal path.

In this time, my friends and I started throwing warehouse parties (“raves”) and electronic music took over in my mind. My software weapon of choice was ReBirth and then later Reason, as it allowed me to design a song internally and then mix it down at 44.1 without ever crossing that D/A barrier.

As the years wore on I had children and got out of throwing parties, but my home studio grew and grew as I kept on working on music. I amassed a huge collection of synths and processors and branched out into other software. Cubase. Sonar. Protools. I owned them all, but around the same time Reason had merged with Record to develop from a software synthesizer into a full-fledged DAW.

Meanwhile I’ve been watching my friends and colleagues in the industry and what kind of setup they chose to use as the technology has changed.

I remember sitting in a friend’s studio while he was working on a track, with $100k worth of outboard equipment sitting there and when a reverb was called for, he pulled a VST.

I remember sitting in front of a 48 channel mixer which was the centerpiece of the control room (as is the custom) and watching my engineer friend lean forward, across the mixer, for hours, straining to see a monitor five feet away.

I remember seeing that same engineer using software sliders, despite the console which cost tens of thousands of dollars between him and the screen.

Here’s the thing: in any trade, you keep the tools that you use the most the closest to you. Makes sense doesn’t it?

We all have this image in our mind of what a “recording studio” is supposed to look like. Huge mixing console, glass window between the engineer and the control room… when I looked at the types of studios my associates were putting together around the world, I had to shake my head. Although they looked great and they put great work together, much of what they were doing was redundant, besides being ergonomically uncomfortable.

If 95% of the time spent working on a track is done on a computer monitor, why not put that monitor close, so you’re not leaning forward? If 98% of the time you set a level on an input and then leave it there, why do you need all those hardware sliders? If 90% of the time you’re really only recording 1-3 tracks at a time, why do you need a 48 channel input?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of blinky lights. But at the heart of what a recording studio is, there are a few things you absolutely must have:

  1. Acoustic treatment. The room needs to be acoustically clean to get a good recording in the first place.
  2. Quality microphones. The difference between a $50 microphone and a $1500 microphone is unbelievable. The difference between a $1500 microphone and a $10,000 microphone is totally debatable.
  3. ¬†Powerful computer. Mac or PC, it does not matter, as long as it’s powerful enough to flawlessly run your DAW.
  4. DAW software. Protools or Reason, it does not matter, as long as the engineer and producer really know how to use it.
  5. Quality monitors (speakers). Hearing the music you’re working on, accurately, is absolutely paramount.

When it came time to build my own studio – real studio, not bedroom studio – I looked at the ergonomics and practicalities of it and came up with the Shadybrook studio design, a comfortable space to hang out in whether by myself or with a full band.

It needed to employ the best practices outlined above, while at the same time pragmatically questioning all the rest of the assumed design guidelines of a recording studio.

Rather than putting the traditional console right in front of me and then leaning across it to see the screens for my DAW, I downsized to a much smaller mixer which is really just an interface with volume knobs and some routing capability and put it just off to the side, within reach but not between myself and the production screen. 12 channels more than enough for 98% of all the recording I’ve ever done – I’m not recording orchestras. Typically when a band comes through, we’ll track the drums, and then the guitars and bass and everything else separately, one at a time… typically no more than 1-3 channels at once.

And rather than spending a million dollars on a Protools rig and all the necessary plugins, I chose to build a powerful PC and then ditch Cubase, Sonar and Protools (all of which I owned and had used) for Reason 9.5. Having been a Reason user since the beginning, I know it very intimately, and the last couple of versions have really fleshed it out into a professional recording DAW. There’s really nothing you can’t do with it, if you know how to do it… rather like Protools actually. The main reason that Protools is “industry standard” is because that’s what they teach in the schools so it’s what new engineers know how to use.¬†

I’m not new.

It’s not a traditional approach but then again, I’m not very traditional. I’ve never been attracted to the sterile recording studios and found the control rooms ergonomically uncomfortable for my bad back to work in for extended periods.

Shadybrook is designed from the ground up to be a great place to hang out in. It’s relaxing. When artists are relaxed, magic happens.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *