At Home in the Studio
From an empty barn to a studio — the story of Barn Studios.
It all started with a small 4-track studio in my garage. 'Stifled' would be a good way to describe both the environment and the recordings. After a couple of years of coating myself in vaseline in order to slide into my makeshift and very confined control room (it lends a different meaning to the word compression), I decided things would have to change. But how? Simple, just find a partner with a spare building. This turned out to be a little more difficult than expected, but eventually I met Philip. At the time he was a rational clear thinking businessman (he's cured now) who had a suitable building and would help convert it.
To say the barn was basic is being rather generous. It was a total wreck! The flint walls were damp, the floor 10" out of level, the ceiling collapsed and it was full of straw, dog kennels and farm implements. All in all it was a daunting prospect. However, determined to make big changes, I started work. The first job was the floor; 8" of concrete were the order of the day so with shovel in hand I got stuck in. Two days later the transformation was complete and the floor was smooth and level as was my previously overhanging stomach. Full of enthusiasm I declared war on the rest of the building. First came a new dividing wall, complete with double glazed window, and then the ceiling. Following that there was damp proofing, sound proofing, careless musician proofing, wiring and decorating. It was a lot of hard work. Have you ever tried putting up 8 x 4ft sheets of gyproc on the ceiling by yourself?
The building had now taken on a new lease of life. The next job was to equip it. This is where we got down to some serious wallet damage. Philip and I started looking around for second hand 16-track gear but despite a few trips round the motorway network and a very heavy fuel bill this proved unsuccessfull; nothing we looked at seemed quite up to our expectations. Then came a revelation. We went to look at the then new Fostex B16; it was great. At first we were concerned about the ½" format but on hearing it... We bought one and with it an AHB System 8 24:16:2 mixer. We now had the basic building blocks for the studio.
Choosing ancillary gear is really difficult as there is so much to choose from, but we had definite priorities. We chose first a good compressor/expander; obviously a must for vocals but damn useful almost anywhere else, and then reverb. We selected the excellent Yamaha R1000 digital reverb. A digital delay line followed and we decided on the JHS version; this has proved to be very useful. It has a really good chorus effect which on a DI'd bass with a touch of compression sounds very tasty. It was back into the wallet again, this time rather deeply, for the mastering machine and we settled for a Tascam 32 ½-track. For monitoring we had our existing Studiocraft and Tannoys.
There remained one department which was not in very healthy condition; microphones. We had a clutch of mics from our 4-track days but they weren't the quality that was needed now, so it was back to London and a lot of help from the London Rock Shop and technical advice from H&SR. We eventually chose a pair of AKG 45s with CK1 heads, a Shure SM57, AKG 2000E and a load of Tandy PZMs. Despite their low cost we've found the PZMs give terrific sound particularly on the kit and certainly live up to the logo Realistic stamped on the baseplate.
Sunday morning 6.30 a.m — Panic. I awake from nightmares of being garrotted with the E string of angry guitarists Strat. The session is to commence at 10. I arrive at the studio at 7.30, a mental list in my mind. Clean heads, sort out track sheets, sort out drums and mics, sort out leads, check everything is working 100%, etc.
All this is done by 8.30 and I find I have 1½ hours to sweat it through. Nerves are screaming as I prowl around the control room in anticipation. As the time draws near I get the coffee ready and then the band arrive...
Why did I worry? Everyone is relaxed and friendly and the session goes really well. As the band leave in the small hours, they re-book the studio for the next session.
Now all the hard work in building the studio seems worthwhile. We are achieving our basic aim of providing a professional 16-track facility to musicians at a very reasonable cost. We charge only £7.50 per hour + VAT and all the studio instruments are included in this price. Instruments include acoustic, bass and lead guitars with a variety of amps and effects, a full acoustic drum kit and assorted keyboards. We have a Roland JX8P, a very versatile and impressive machine.
The studio now undertakes jingle production for Local Radio and we are happy to do a full production job for a client if that's what they want. We aim to give all our clients a relaxing atmosphere in which they can really enjoy their recording time and to make sure they get the finished product they wanted.
Enquiries for the Barn to Steve Freeman (Contact Details) or Phil Smith (Contact Details).
Feature by Steve Freeman
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