We’re off to see the Wizard…

He got legs. He knows how to use them.

He got legs. He knows how to use them.

Phase IV. The Studio Wizard is here. Howard is spending a couple of days living with us, doing the wiring and kit install. He has caught conjunctivitis from his pony (now there’s a sentence you don’t hear every day) so he’s in a lot of eye-drop-related discomfort, but is struggling manfully through. He’s also on a deadline (to retrieve the pony from the animal hospital) so is running on 4 hours’ sleep to get the job done in time. Hero!

Here’s the full list of hardware. This is added to the Mac & Digi002 setup I already use, plus the mics I already own (SE Z5600, AKGC3000, Rode NT4).

  • BEHRINGER ADA8000 – AD converter to provide 8 extra inputs (combines with Digi002 – so studio total is 16 simultaneous input channels)
  • TLA M1F – valve desk
  • PROKEYS88 MIDI controller keyboard
  • DBX 266 stereo compressor
  • FOCUSRITE ISA220 preamp
  • JOEMEEK MC2 stereo compressor
  • EXT DVD SUPERDRIVE (DVD burner so I can keep the Mac in the cupboard)
  • BELKIN 2X FW / 6X USB COMBINED HUB (remote hub on the desktop so the Mac can stay in the cupboard)
  • BEHRINGER HP AMP HA4700 – 4-way headphone amp
  • SE 2200A x 2 (cheap but excellent large-diaphragm condenser mics)
  • SE1A (pair of small condensers)
  • BEYER M201 (2 mics)
  • SHURE SM57 (2 mics)
  • AUDIO TECHNICA ATM250 (large-diaphragm condenser)
  • POPSTOPPER
  • FOAM WINDSHIELD FOR LARGE DIA VOCAL MICS 2
  • BOOM STAND TALL (8)
  • BOOM STAND SHORT (2)
  • XLR-XLR – 6M (2)
  • J-J FABRIC COVERED GUITAR CABLE 6M (4)
  • HEADPHONE EXTN CABLE (2)
  • SAMSON SDIRECT DI BOX  3
  • SMALL SHELL DRUM SET:
  • SONOR 507 SERIES COMBO DRUM KIT – 8″ x6″ bass drum, 0″ x 8″ &2″ x 9″ toms, 4″ x4″ floor tom, 14″ x 5.5″ snare drum (steel), 2x TA 503 tom holders, 9-ply covered basswood shells, tunesafe tension rods. 00-series 4-piece hardware set containing HH-174 hi-hat stand, SS-177 snare drum stand, CS-171 straight cymbal stand & sp-273. Single bass drum pedal. Cymbal set: paiste01 series brass set 3 -14″ hi-hat, 6″ crash and 20″ ride. Extra cymbal boom stand. Set Remo pinstripe skins
  • PATCHBAYS AND DISTRIBUTION BOARDS

There was quite a bit of ‘cost engineering’ when we realised how far over budget we were originally. For the drums, I bought some decent Sonor shells (drummers, correct me if I’m wrong!), but decided to save on cymbals and get a budget set of Paistes. Drummers reading this – I do realise the importance of good quality hammered cymbals in terms of harmonic balance etc, but don’t actually play drums (although will now start to learn), and figure that if I hire a kit player for projects s/he will bring their own cymbals to a session. So cymbals will be upgraded to pro quality one day when I become a good enough drummer to justify it.

This principle, BTW, I reckon applies to lots of music kit purchases – there’s no point in having gear that’s substantially better than you are. It’s why our MusicLab at the University is usually only used by third year students – it takes time for them to develop the quality songwriting and performance skills that mean the subtleties of room design make a difference to the quality of the track. A piece of music is as good as its weakest link, so there comes a cost point where you get diminishing musical returns if the kit outstrips your skill at using it. In my case, the weakest tool I have is my singing voice, which is why I prefer to work with proper singers.

We’ve worked out how the rack will work ergonomically, with the things I’ll use the most (ISA220 and patchbays) in the top rack, and the things I use less often (DVD burner, headphone amp) in the lower one. Howard’s pre-made all the looms, and has added a cable tray under the desktop, to which they are attached. The only thing we didn’t account for is that the M1F (being a project studio desk) doesn’t have stereo insert sockets, so Howard has rewired the insert points to two jacks so we can get all the channel inserts coming up on the patchbay.

This is Howard's full patchbay layout plan.

This is Howard's full patchbay layout plan.

The only thing we won’t get done in this phase (before Howard’s next visit) is the tie lines through to the live room. This is not a problem because I can physically throw XLRs through the the hole in the wall for now. I’m also proud to say that after a quick refresher session with Howard on soldering skills, I’ve made up my first stereo lead – the first soldering I’ve done, in fact, since about 1987 (a difficult teenage phase where, for reasons now unclear, I decided to resolder my Strat so all the pickups were wired in series. I blame Adrian Legg).

So everything pretty much works OK. We have 8 simultaneous input channels instead of 16 (the ADA8000, which supplies channels 9-16 to Logic via the Digi CoreAudio driver, still needs configuring so it acts correctly as a digital clock ‘slave’ over optical to the Digi002 – BTW if you’re reading this and have any tips on optical-syncing these items, get in touch!). But given that I’m only one person, I’m unable to generate more than 16 simultaneous musical sounds, so this can wait until I get bands or drummers in.

I’m also going to need to adapt my working methods to encompass more handshake between the analogue and digital worlds. After years of doing all the dynamic processing with Waves plugins, I’m going to make an active effort to use the outboard gear, so that when both methods (on-screen and analogue) become equally transparent ergonomically, so I can then make musical decisions between digital and outboard. Today I mixed the first track (a Techno remix of James Taylor’s ‘Shower The People’) and took stereo output pairs from Logic into the M1F so I could EQ and mix using the analogue input channels of the mixing desk. There’s something pleasingly perverse about mixing Techno using 1930s valve technology…

Cable trays carrying the looms under the desktop between M1F and patchbay.

Cable trays carrying the looms under the desktop between M1F and patchbay.

Wot, no cabling?

Wot, no cabling?

The looms go into the top patchbay.

The looms go into the top patchbay.

Headphone amp, ADA8000 and Joe Meek MC2 – gaffer taped for the moment.

Headphone amp, ADA8000 and Joe Meek MC2 – gaffer taped for the moment.

Top rack in progress – DBX compressor and ISA220.

Top rack in progress – DBX compressor and ISA220.

And that’s the end of phase IV. Howard will be back sometime in September to ‘sort out the room’ (spectrum analysis and speaker configuration etc), wire in the tie lines and XLR plates to the live room, and fix any wiring faults I find in the next few weeks. He’s now off to pick up a pony from a geezer in Norfolk.

PlansHe’s done an amazing job (he also did the overall design of the whole building) and I’m really pleased with the intelligent decisions he’s made on my behalf about the patchbay layout – and studio usage in general.

Coming soon – rugs, sofas and drums!

Heart of Glass

This is the door to the Mac area - note the grooves in the bottom for cables.

The Mac void has a miniature door now (double-thickness MDF), meaning the computer can be isolated behind the control room wall, so no fan noise can escape into the room. This means I’ll be able to use the control room as well as the live room for tracking. Today we agreed to add another hole, between the lobby and live room, so we could at a pinch use the lobby for tracking too, giving us three fully isolated recording spaces – not bad for a garage!

Artis has added a slab of MDF to the inner doors for extra density to improve isolation, meaning each door now weights 50KG or so. And today, for the first time, we sealed the building – the exterior glass went in. It’s currently double-glazed (albeit with 10mm thick panes) but each interior floating room will also be double-glazed. It’s almost completely silent in each room with the doors closed – even with HGVs going past on the main road outside.

The exterior glazing is now fitted; looks like Jeff's off to practise his gondola technique.

Today’s Latvian import is Linda Leen – Beyoncé-style pop/R&B. Which is nice, but unremarkable.

But I know what you want – you want more ‘cellists playing hits of the 80s, don’t you? Here’s Melo-M with guest artist Intars Busulis performing ‘Ghostbusters’. What’s the best adjective for this cover version? I’m favouring ‘unnecessary’. Great video effects though…

Mr Blue Sky

Thanks to everyone who voted in the polls. I’ve also collated some views from the ‘analogue’ world – studio users and muso mates etc (plus a few Facebook comments) – and the verdicts are as follows.

  • Sofa – second-hand leather. It will age gracefully and be, er, wipe-clean. Many a studio sofa smells of old ganja and stale sweat after a year or two. Or maybe I’m too used to working with students.
  • Colours – light green walls (restful), light blue ceiling (sky-like) and deep red ‘claret’ for the monitor/baffle wall area. As some have pointed out, this will make the control area look worryingly like I’m an Aston Villa fan. I’m still not sure about the claret at the monitor end – this, after all, is the wall I’ll be staring at for hours at a time. On the other hand, it’s a beautiful colour. Grey is also an option. Comments welcome…
This is the Mac hidey-hole, which will be sound-insulated and allow Mac fan heat to escape into the void.

This is the Mac hidey-hole, which will be sound-insulated and allow Mac fan heat to escape into the void.

The newest addition to the structure is a hole for a soon-to-constructed Mac box, made to measure, which will serve two functions – extracting hot air from the Mac into the void behind the baffle, and isolating the control room from the Mac’s fan noise (the Mac Pro fans are pretty quiet anyway, but it will be great to have the option of perfect silence in the control room for vocal/guitar takes etc). The guys are going to build a mini-door at the front of the Mac box ‘cupboard door’ so visiting musos can plug hard drives straight into the Firewire socket on the front of the Mac. So now that we’ve got a custom-designed computer area built into the architecture, I’m hoping Apple don’t change the design of the Mac Pro any time soon!

The studio features as a specially-constructed coleslaw cooling area.

This studio preserves coleslaw.

Jeff’s away for a couple of days, checking on other jobs and doing some family stuff. Artis is pushing on with more rockwool, the power sockets and the green hessian wall coverings. It’s a blistering hot day in Bath, but the wall/ceiling insulation is so extensive that the studio interior is a good 10 degrees colder than the summer’s day outside. The Mac hole is currently working as an improvised fridge – it has preserved a tub of Co-op coleslaw for two days now…

True colours

Don't mess with the Sandworms - they can bite your arm off.

Don't mess with the Sandworms - they can bite your arm off.

Firstly, a quick thank you to everyone who’s made suggestions about bringing the studio and phone box projects together (see ‘categories’ on the right hand side). The best suggested studio-related uses for the phone box include shower for sweaty musicians, vocal booth for agrophobic session singers, and banjo booth (need not contain an XLR socket).

The aircon tubes have gone in (the silver snakes that look to a man of my vintage like David Lynch’s sandworms from Dune). These will carry cooled air in from the refrigerated lobby area along the side walls, inside the baffles, and into the live and control rooms respectively. Today also (day 2 of phase 2) Jeff and Artis have constructed the front wall that will eventually have the fake garage doors stuck to them. The original plan was for this exterior wall to be made of concrete, but we learned that the asphalt driveway outside the original garage doors has no foundations under it – so eventually a concrete wall would, er, sink!

Jeff told me a story about a client to whom this had happened a few years back – the guy had assured him that the foundations were sound, so Jeff dutifully constructed a heavy exterior wall. After a few weeks, it sank ever so slightly during one of the client’s studio sessions, preventing the heavy acoustic door from opening and locking the client and his musicians inside. Jeff was called from another site to come and let them out – he had to cut through the door to get in; they were stuck in there for around 7 hours, and apparently got really bored (lightweights – I can spend that long editing a vocal!).

So, if I’m to be potentially imprisoned, what colour should my cell walls be? Now that we’re well on the way to choosing a sofa, here’s another chance for you, dear reader, to influence the design of the studio. Essentially, we have two colour decisions to make (walls and ceiling) and four colours of hessian to choose from (these are rough photos of the fabric rolls, and the colours don’t come up great, but you get the idea – for info the green is slightly deeper than this). The walls and ceiling have to be different colours – a single block of colour will look ‘orrible. Scroll down, and vote now!

Light grey

Light grey

Red

Red

p_1600_1200_50C4F522-8CEE-45AF-A543-F76B2D29F13B.jpeg

Light blue

Light green

Light green

Aircon pipe feed on the left-hand wall of the live room, seen here from the lobby.

Aircon pipe feed on the left-hand wall of the live room, seen here from the lobby.