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Creature Comforts

When we first came up with the idea for Studio SOS, we didn't quite know what to expect. To our knowledge, no other recording magazine had attempted to solve readers' problems actually in their own studios with practical, hands-on engineering solutions — but throwing caution to the wind, we decided to give it a shot. Judging by your encouraging responses to the first article in the series, where we visited Steve Graham's studio, it was worth the risk. It also illustrated to us that practical problems can be very different to theoretical ones, and sometimes you have to improvise a little to find a workable solution, perhaps repositioning the soft furnishings, or temporarily hanging mattresses and duvets. Nevertheless, these lo-tech details often make a huge difference to the quality of a recording — often far more than buying a more expensive piece of equipment, which brings me to the main thrust of this column.

Paul White c.2003If you ask a painter about their studio, they'll probably talk about the creative vibe they get from the room, the quality of the daylight and so on — but they probably won't start talking about their paints and brushes. By contrast, ask a project studio owner about their studio and the first thing you're likely to get is a gear list. Having gear that can do the job is undeniably important, but so is the environment in which you work. In fact, the studio space influences your work on two levels, the most obvious being its acoustic character. Room acoustics affect both the way your microphone recordings turn out and how your monitors sound, and though most people would agree with this observation, it's amazing how many studios have expensive equipment set up in totally inappropriate spaces. Providing your room isn't a concrete cube or hopelessly small, there's probably a compromise solution that will let you record and mix without too many problems. But the other aspect of any recording space is how it makes you (or your clients) feel as a creative artist.

My own studio is a modest affair residing in a converted single garage, but on the whole, people seem to like to work there. Obviously I'd like to put this down to my creative talents, charm, warmth and musically supportive character, but in reality, I suspect that what they like is the way the room looks. For a start, it has daylight, which I find really makes a difference to the way I feel when I'm working — but it's also set out to leave as much free floor space as possible, which adds to the open, easy-going feel. As to decor, living in Malvern (which many claim is the last bastion of hippydom this side of Glastonbury), I have a huge number of ethnic knick-knacks hanging from the ceiling and sitting on shelves behind the monitors. I try to kid myself that they help provide some early acoustic scattering (and perhaps they do), but in addition to helping with the vibe, they also provide excellent material for bad jokes. One client noticed a rather large, colourful cloth fish hanging from the ceiling and asked me if it had any effect on the acoustics. I told him "Yes, it's a bass trap!" Another client asked about the sand-filled iguana sitting on top of one of my Mackie speakers, and I was able to tell him with all honesty that it was a monitor lizard.

Seriously though, creating a comfortable environment is extremely important because making music is an artistic process. So, next time you get the urge to update something, perhaps you should spend more time thinking about the light and the general vibe, and less time wondering whether that new mixer or software upgrade would give you better results.

Paul White Editor-In-Chief