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Readerzone By Matt Bell
Published June 2000


Studio Premises: Purpose‑built studio in a unit in the Carlisle Business Centre, Bradford.
Main Equipment: 72‑input Soundcraft Ghost mixer. Tascam MSR24 analogue 24‑track reel‑to‑reel. Tannoy Super Gold monitors. PC running Steinberg Cubase VST.

"I had wanted a studio for ages — my equipment was always in my bedroom. I was playing in Norway with this really successful band, and I was offered the chance to play with Randy Crawford. But that meant staying in Norway, and I couldn't stand it there any longer. The last gig I played there was in front of 22 thousand people. Two days later, I was busking in Bradford. That was my new job — to earn the money to get my studio going, and keep it going."

This gritty resolve is typical of talented guitarist, engineer, arranger and multi‑instrumentalist producer Carl Stipetic (pronounced 'Sti‑pet‑itch'), who gave up a promising live career in the early '80s to realise his dream studio. From draughty beginnings in unheated premises in Bradford in the mid‑'80s, Stipetic's In A City studio has grown into one of the smartest commercially available project studios in the North of England, especially since moving to its current location in a modern business centre two and a half years ago (see pictures).

Despite this success, the equipment at In A City remains the kind of stuff of which many an SOS reader's home studio is made (see gear list). This reflects the reason why the studio was put together — so that Carl could record his own material at leisure, and refine his engineering and production skills. This role is unchanged today, as Carl engineers and frequently plays on most of the songs he records for others at the studio, and still works on his own material and music for documentaries around his commercial bookings.

"Drummer Seeks Work, Also Plays Ukelele & Monosynth..."


Gifted musicians are relatively common, but they're usually content to leave the fiddly details of making recordings of themselves to someone else. Carl, though, became interested in both playing and recording music at an early age. He picked up his Dad's ukelele at five, and as family legend has it, was able to play almost immediately. Encouraged by his parents, the young Carl Stipetic graduated rapidly to guitar. He also learned to play the drums, and aspired to the keyboard, held back only by the lack of a family piano.

Carl's introduction to recording came in the shape of a portable Philips cassette recorder with a built‑in mic and VU meter, but the real breakthrough occurred when a friend of his, who had the same recorder, modified it so that they could record internally from one machine to the other. As Carl could play guitar, bass, and drums, he could crudely overdub and build up complete tracks by himself. He was hooked. "From that point on it developed, and I got a two‑track Revox B77 and a 10‑channel mixer set up in my bedroom. I had all my stuff in there, even my drums." Inspired particularly by Stevie Wonder, Chick Corea, and Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, Carl spent hours listening to records, breaking them down in his head into their constituent parts, and learning the art of arrangement. At the same time, having made his live debut at the age of seven, Carl's guitar skills began to earn him some money on the live circuit. and he was able at last able to buy himself a keyboard. At first, he was unable to stretch to anything more exotic than a Roland SH1000 monosynth. Determined nevertheless to use it to play chords, he resorted to multiple overdubbing. "You can imagine what it was like with only a two‑track Revox — every time I overdubbed another note I got loads more hiss, and it took ages! I found that the only way to get my tracks to sparkle was to put the drums on last — if I put them on first they lost all their top end by the time everything else was overdubbed. So I would put rhythm guitar down first or something that I could keep time to. I'd also put the bass down quite early, as that never had a lot of top frequencies anyway. And then the drums went on last! It was fun, but a bit of a nightmare."

At 18, Carl sought a permanent musical day job — and found one playing bass in the house band at a holiday camp near Scarborough, which he remembers as "a useful experience. It was good training for commercial live performance, and good money. It got me set up — the thing that had pissed me off most was that I didn't have a keyboard I could play chords on. So I got a Rhodes, and once I had that, I had to have a Hohner Clavinet, and a string machine... that was really the start of it!"

In A City

The recording room. Both isolation booths can be seen, as well as Carl's Premier drum kit.The recording room. Both isolation booths can be seen, as well as Carl's Premier drum kit.

Until this point in his life, Carl had taken his recording gear everywhere, even filling his caravan in Scarborough with it. Following considerable success with a succession of European touring bands in the early '80s, he began to desire a more permanent base for his kit.

"I started to get really fed up of being on the road — what I wanted was a proper studio. So during one of the tours I did with this big Norwegian band, I took it easy, and saved my money to buy an 8‑track. I found an old building in Bradford when I got back and fitted the place out with cheap misprinted carpet off‑cuts on the wall. I got an A8 quarter‑inch Fostex 8‑track reel‑to‑reel, a 10:4:2 RAM mixer, a Vesta Fire spring reverb, and a few old mics. Then I just built it up when I could. I got a Fostex B16 16‑track and eventually moved up to 24‑track. It was really busking which kept the studio alive for the first few years...

"It was a couple of years before I really saw the power of MIDI. Until then, I'd been thinking I'd have to get loads of MIDI synths and a computer to make it worthwhile'. But then I read about the Roland MT32, which was six‑part multitimbral, and I realised I could effectively have six synths in the one box and actually save money. I wanted one of them and an Atari ST, and at that stage, that still meant going to the bank manager cap in hand. It was a bit of a risk, but I knew that I had to progress into this new area to keep the studio on top."

Remake Remodel

As befits a former bedroom studio owner, Carl has made the most of his space and created the sort of studio that those of us still crammed into our bedrooms can only dream about. Divided into three roughly equal rooms, In A City consists of a kitchen/relaxation area, the control room, and the recording/live room, which features two isolation booths, for recording vocal and loud guitar overdubs. Large windows between all three rooms help to facilitate communication.As befits a former bedroom studio owner, Carl has made the most of his space and created the sort of studio that those of us still crammed into our bedrooms can only dream about. Divided into three roughly equal rooms, In A City consists of a kitchen/relaxation area, the control room, and the recording/live room, which features two isolation booths, for recording vocal and loud guitar overdubs. Large windows between all three rooms help to facilitate communication.

With this idea in mind, when Carl moved In A City to its new premises in the late '90s, he decided the time had come for a refit. With the assistance of hi‑tech retailers KGM of Wakefield, In A City was completely rebuilt around a Tascam MSR24 multitrack and a new 72‑channel Soundcraft Ghost mixer (the standard 48‑channel version with a 24‑channel expander panel). To put an end to patching problems, KGM also specified a P&R patchbay, to which all the Ghost's I/O is now routed. "Even the insert points are available on the patchbay, so if bands want to patch in their own gear, they can."

Carl has also ensured that each of his sound sources or mic inputs always comes in to the desk on the same channel. In fact, he doesn't even use the Ghost's scribble strip, he knows his channel assignments so well. "Sixteen mic inputs come in from the recording room here... this one is always used for my vocal mic... that one is the bass drum from the Alesis D4... It all works great, and I can do things really fast!"

Carl isn't just showing off; this standard way of working enables him to get results fast, which is particularly important when he has paying clients in the studio. Also helping him in this regard is the fact that he hasn't filled the studio with endless racks of the latest cutting‑edge gear, but stuck with a basic complement of good‑quality, modern equipment which he knows thoroughly. "Sometimes I do wonder whether I could do with some more compressors, as people seem to demand them a lot here — but then personally, I'm not a big fan of compressors. Obviously, when you're recording vocals, you need something to help even everything out — but music can sound so flat when you've squeezed the dynamics out of everything. A lot of engineers assume that you've got to get maximum level all the time, but music doesn't breathe if all the VUs are constantly pinned. I record a lot of jazz here, with some really good musicians, and dynamics are so important in that. Some bands insist that you can put them in at the mix, but I'd rather have dynamics come from a guitar or keyboard than a mixer!"

The Feel's The Deal

This offers insight into Carl's approach to recording; he never lets his technical side overwhelm the musical. For the same reason, he's always careful when using Cubase VST as his sequencer: "I prefer to play in long sections in one go, instead of playing in loads of little sections of four bars and cutting and pasting. You can get more feeling and movement in the sounds that way. You have to work harder to get realistic feel into a song if you're just multi‑tracking yourself, though. Sounding like a real group of musicians playing together is tough when in fact you're playing to something you've already recorded. I get around that by building the track up carefully. Say I'm doing a jazz track with bass, drums and piano. First, I'll put down a basic piano track, fairly wooden, so there's something to keep time to that also conveys the tune. Just like I used to with the Revox! Then I'll go back and do the drums on top of that, and put some feel into those. After that, it's easy to put the bass down and weave around the drums, with quite a lot of swing if you want to. Finally, you can go back and redo the piano to the bass and drums with the feel you want."

Variety Is...

Given the care Carl's prepared to take over getting the issue of 'feel' right, it's perhaps not surprising that he's not a fan of loop‑based dance music or modern R&B, which he finds too mechanical and over‑programmed. However, he can reproduce either genre if required by a client, as his engineering 'calling‑card' CDs attest. These showcase the wide variety of work Carl produces, programs and engineers at In A City, ranging from Bhangra‑flavoured dance tracks for Asian groups and country and western ballads to full‑on heavy metal. Much of this work comes from notices Carl puts up in music shops around Bradford or thanks to word‑of‑mouth recommendations from previous satisfied customers, meaning he's never sure quite what he'll be dealing with next. But as a multi‑instrumentalist at ease with many musical genres, he thrives on this: "All music is interesting in some way. And the variety keeps me going, too. I like the challenge of recording, say heavy metal — but I'd go nuts doing that all the time, so it's good to know that in another couple of days there'll be something different coming through the door."

Carl Stipetic can be contacted via SOS or at the web site

The Future Is Freelance?

As well as continuing to run In A City, Carl is looking to develop as a freelance engineer and producer. At the time of writing, he is planning a trip to America to help record the second CD by a former In A City customer, country and western singer Phil Gilbert.

Gee, You Shouldn't Have...

"I've always kept up with what's happening in the equipment world through other musicians I know, and people in shops. I've been an SOS subscriber for years, too, and the reviews really help. I keep all of my copies — often I'll see a second‑hand bit of kit I don't recognise in a shop and go back to my SOS collection to find out more about it. I try to buy things that are not going to lose their value really fast, and I detest equipment with difficult user interfaces. A lot of SOS readers lose the plot a bit; I try not to do that."

In A City Studio Gear List


  • Fatar Studio Logic weighted master keyboard.
  • Korg M1 keyboard synth.
    "The M1 will be going soon, because I don't really use it that much. I'll play in Hammond parts or delicate string parts from it, because the Fatar's weighted action feels wrong for those sounds."
  • Roland JV1080.
    "They brought out the 2080, and now there are other new ones coming, but I was always happy with the 1080, so I stuck with it. I don't have any sound expansion cards, I just use the basic sound set."


  • AKG 360 mic.
  • AKG D12 bass drum mic.
  • Alesis Midiverb III +Midiverb IV (x2) reverbs.
    "The original Alesis Microverb was a big move up for me, from an old spring reverb to digital. At last I could put reverb on the drums without them going 'ping'! Alesis units have always sounded nice to me. I tend to use these for chorus and other effects."
  • Alesis Quadraverb multi‑effects.
    "I use this for delays, because it's quick to set up."
  • Audio Technica AT4033 mic.
  • Beyerdynamic mics.
  • Denon cassette deck (x2).
  • Denon headphone amp.
  • Digitech Studio Vocalist vocal processor.
    "The gospel choir preset in that is good — you get a whole choir sound from one note. I've used it a fair bit on female country and western singers."
  • Drawmer DL241 compressor.
  • Drawmer DS201 gate.
  • Drawmer DF320 noise filter.
  • Francinstein stereo enhancer.
  • Kenwood CD player.
  • Lexicon LXP15 reverb.
    "I use that as my main reverb. It's not their best one, obviously, but it is nice; you get that lovely top‑end sizzle on vocals."
  • Marantz 630 CD‑R.
    "This just does what you want it to and doesn't mess you about. When you've spent hours with the band, and hours more mixing down to DAT, you don't want to be pratting about any more. DAT in, copy it to CD, have a cup of coffee. That's what you want."
  • Tascam DA20 DAT.
  • P&R patchbay.
  • Quad 520F Power Amp.
  • Sennheiser PZM mic.
  • 72‑channel Soundcraft Ghost mixer.
  • Tannoy Super Gold monitors.
  • Tascam MSR24 24‑track reel‑to‑reel.
  • Zoom Player guitar effects.


  • PC running Steinberg Cubase VST and Rebirth, and Sonic Foundry Sound Forge and Acid.
    "I've got all the other software because you have to have an editor somewhere, and Acid and Rebirth can be fun. But Cubase is really my thing. I started off on Pro 12 and I've stuck with Steinberg since."


  • Emu ESI32.
    "I picked this because I wanted a sampler somewhere, and this is a good basic one that's easy to use."


  • Alesis D4.
    "This is good for getting natural‑sounding drums."


  • Bass guitar.
  • Fender Stratocaster.
  • MOTU Pocket Express MIDI interface/synchroniser.
  • Washburn electro‑acoustic guitar.
  • XRI Systems XR300 MIDI‑SMPTE Synchroniser.