Recording Studios

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Although I don’t miss spending 12 hour + days in darkened rooms – I do have a fondness and passion for a beautifully designed recording environment. Sadly technology is allowing so much to be recorded in a bedroom or garage these days, but nothing will ever beat the sound and feel of a purpose designed acoustic environment. Having spent half my life in recording studios of varying sizes and technology, I still love to walk into a live/dead room and absorb the silence, hear my own heart beating and soak up the atmosphere of a room that has heard sonic beauty or amazing voices, I even love the smell of a studio, yes those of my ilk will agree that studios have a particular smell to them!

I have been lucky to have experienced tours of some amazing studios both here in Australia and around the world. Each has its own personality and unique sound, Abbey Road Studio 2 is a classic example, whilst it can look like a cavernous space it has produced some of the most iconic sounds of the past 50 years!

Time was that a huge amount of time, resources and design went into the building of a room to record in. I was fortunate to work at the original David+John studios in Sydney which was housed in an old terrace in the back streets of Crows Nest but contained some of the most sought after rooms specifically designed for voice over recording. The sound those rooms produced was unique and much envied by other studios of the time.

I have since assisted in designing specialised rooms for recording and even owned one of my own that I was particularly fond of. My time is mostly spent in the field these days but given the chance to take a great voice into a great room and lay down some tracks and I jump at it! During my time in studios in the 80’s and 90’s I discovered that each city had its own favourite rooms; Melbourne had Flint Webster Studios which utilised a Victorian terrace with various rooms from totally dead booths to totally open rooms complete with marble fireplaces, Brisbane had the Voice Plant, closely modelled on the David+John sound and Adelaide of course had Street Sounds, the home to audio guru Street Remley. I did a tour of iconic studios in the 90’s when the digital revolution began and studios were being redesigned to include the new technology. It was an interesting experience back in an era when trade secrets were very closely guarded and some places were totally off-limits to me!

Mt time in studios taught me a lot about getting the best sound “at the source”. Sure there are a million plugins now to “fix it in post” but nothing beats utilising the right mix of microphone/environment/technique on the day. I was taught to take the time to get it right before you hit record, an approach I still very much try to utilise today in the field, I had a recent experience of recording an iconic entertainer in an outdoor interview situation and the decision was made to record a quick song with him. The instruction I was given was “don’t worry too much about how you capture it” but while lenses were being changed on cameras, I quickly assembled an overhead cardioid mic to capture more of the ambience along with 2 lapels that were in use and listening back to the result I am so glad I made the effort! Sure post could have sweetened the sound from the lapels and maybe added some reverb or effect, but the simple act of utilising my studio experience and quickly putting something extra into the equation made the world of difference.

This little reminiscent post has sent me on a late night internet search of beautiful studio designs and I have a Recording Studios board on Pinterest now that I will add to in my quiet times. Maybe it is my synaesthesia but just looking at these pics triggers the luscious smell of fresh recording studio!

Chris McCallum


About the Author:

Location sound recordist and audio post engineer with 35 years experience who loves to be out in the world recording great stories, wildlife and the sounds of gourmet cooking.
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