Berwick Street Studios
The Dawning Of A New Era?
The impact of new technology has brought many changes to the recording industry. It has equally brought problems. Why, for instance, are some studios failing to attract enough business to survive, whilst others seem to be flourishing? One West London studio that has foreseen the writing on the wall and implemented changes is Berwick Street Studios. So we checked them out.
The impact of new technology has brought many changes to the recording industry. It has equally brought problems. Why, for instance, are some studios failing to attract enough business to survive, whilst others seem to be flourishing? One West London studio that has foreseen the writing on the wall and implemented changes is Berwick Street Studios.
Berwick Street Studios, situated in the heart of London's West End and surrounded by the wealth of record, film and audio-visual industries, seems to be one studio that is offering something different and exciting to clients. Recently acquired by Rod and Helen Gammons, Berwick Street Studios has over the past months undergone an extensive rebuilding and refurbishment programme, under the watchful eye of Andy Munro of Windmill Munro Designs. His brief, in a nutshell, was to design a studio that would lead the ever-growing market of keyboard production studios and appeal to today's creative producer/engineers.
Within the recording industry, various new trends have begun to emerge which are having an impact on studio bookings: record companies are now anxiously trying to reduce production budgets where possible, and producers are becoming increasingly aware of the limitations of recording purely on SSL mixing consoles. One common approach is to programme, record and overdub in a DDA-equipped production suite and to mix in an SSL suite, taking advantage of the improved clarity, EQ and lower noise floor of the DDA desk and utilising the extensive mix automation facilities of the SSL. The advantage of this approach is that it allows the producer more flexibility and more time to record, since his budget is not being consumed through paying over the odds for the SSL VCA-based mix automation system that is required very little during the initial tracklaying process, only during the mixing.
Most major studio complexes are now realising the economic importance of separating their programming and tracklaying facilities from the mix rooms. PWL Studios, where many of today's hits are recorded, have recently bought a DDA AMR24 mixing desk for Stock, Aitken and Waterman's exclusive use; and Marcus Studios are adding two new DDA rooms to their existing SSL complex.
Where then, in this changing climate of middle market studios, does Berwick Street fit in? We spoke to director Rod Gammons, about the aims and concepts behind the new-look Berwick Street Studios.
"As a producer, I have worked in most of the major studios in London and have found common failings in the general facilities available. Few studios have yet come to grips with the possibilities of using MIDI in the control room or made adequate provision for keyboard tie lines.
In fact, most 'major' keyboard pre-production studios, until recently, consisted of old-fashioned, second-hand Trident consoles with an ageing multitrack (often in dire need of service), a couple of keyboards, and cheap reverbs. I therefore, after years of having to carry round racks of keyboards and sequencers, decided to build the 'ultimate' keyboard studio where there was a large control room; a large, quiet console with adequate inputs to handle multiple keyboard, effects and tape returns; a comprehensive MIDI buss connecting all areas of the studio; all the current keyboards and a massive selection of library sounds and samples; brilliant monitoring and control room acoustics; and a studio area that could cope with recording anything from live drums to vocals."
"I looked around for a long time to find a suitable venue for such a studio, and when Berwick Street came on the market we reacted really quickly. I wanted the best designer to put our new studio together, so I gave Andy Munro the task of completely re-designing the studios to include all these new features."
The opportunity to totally equip a new studio with your own selection of equipment doesn't occur every day, so we asked Rod about his equipment choices and the motivation behind his new studio facility.
"The chance to install a new mixing desk was an exciting one, with such a number of choices to consider. I decided to go for the DDA AMR24, a desk that I found stunning in its excellence and quality and one which offers 86 inputs on mixdown. It virtually eliminates crosstalk, thanks to a balanced buss system throughout, and has wonderful ergonomics. It was supplied by Stirling ITA."
Over the past year Andy Munro has also been working on a design for the 'ultimate' studio monitors. These are built and supplied by Klark Teknik. It therefore made perfect sense to install a pair in the new Berwick Street facility. A decision Rod supported whole-heartedly upon hearing them.
"Discovering the new Jade 2 monitors was an experience I would thoroughly recommend to anyone tired of distorted or affected sound quality; their brilliance left me almost at a loss for words."
The Jade 2's 4-way monitor with 15" subwoofer produces virtually double the output of the standard Jade 2, combining near-field monitoring with full-range monitoring. Using Munro's own custom-built electronic crossover system, the end result is very loud with incredibly low distortion, the domes have very lightweight diaphragms with high power-handling; the bandwidth of the drivers is restricted so that they can handle more power. They reputedly have a flat frequency response throughout the entire audio spectrum. Berwick Street Studios were the first major London client to install the Jade 2 monitoring system, although it is reported that Mike Hedges, producer of Siouxsie and the Banshees, was so knocked out by them that he asked Andy Munro to supply a more portable system for him to record and mix their album on.
Having put up with the grief of carting around his own racks of keyboards and sequencers to studios in the past. Rod has ensured that Berwick Street's keyboard rig is bang up-to-date and always on hand. There's an Akai S900 sampler (an S1000 is on its way) with a 200-disk sample library (!), a Yamaha TX816 rack (the equivalent of eight DX7s), a master DX7 keyboard with a Dr.T Atari ST editor offering over 5000 DX sounds, a Roland D50 with another Dr.T editor offering 1000 sounds, plus the ubiquitous Steinberg Pro24 sequencer and Roland MC500. The C-Lab Notator package is also on its way, and there's a MIDI-equipped Prophet 5 in-house along with an Oberheim Matrix 6R. (A Fairlight Series III is available with programmer at an extra charge.) Tying all this together is a Roland Sync Box, whose virtues Rod was only too willing to point out...
"The Roland SBX80 SMPTE unit is brilliant! Easy to use with such a solid tempo. It is linked directly with track 24 of the Otari tape machine, totally by-passing the desk. It's the most accurate, reliable, and solid SMPTE sync box I've ever used."
Rod plans to have the Turbo memory expansion fitted to his MC500 sequencer to increase the note storage. If clients want to bring their own gear, there are plenty of spare tie lines available to install other synths, a Fairlight, and two other favourite items on Rod's shopping list - a Lexicon 480L and Eventide H3000 harmonizer.
To eliminate the need to hire in all but the most specialised devices, Rod was determined the studio would have a comprehensive selection of in-house effects and processors on call. Indeed, the list of effects at Berwick Street Studios reads rather like that of a hire company! There's a Lexicon 224XL digital reverb and PCM70, Alesis Midiverb II (of which Rod would like half a dozen more for Christmas!), two Bel BDE2400 delays offering 26-second stereo sampling (52 secs in mono) and what Rod describes as "fantastic editing facilities", plus a Yamaha SPX90II and REV7 reverb. Not to be forgotten are the AMS 1580s dual (1.6 second) delay/harmoniser, AMS tape phase simulator ("one of my favourites"), an old Neve valve compressor which apparently works unbelievably wonderfully with vocals, Aphex Type B aural exciter, five Drawmer stereo gates - the list seems to go on forever!!!
Like many studios, Berwick Street has taken the plunge and invested in a DAT recorder, though Rod has some reservations about the decision: "I invested in a Sony DTC1000 DAT machine but find I use it more for archiving than for mastering. I prefer quarter-inch tape running at 30ips with the Dolby SR noise reduction system I had installed. I honestly think that more studios should get SR on their multitracks. In future, I can see tape machine manufacturers moving away from digital multitracks and concentrating on digital storage media for mastering on hard disk, solid state systems or optical disc."
Rod and his wife Helen also run a busy production and publishing company. We asked Helen how she managed to find time to integrate two such different businesses.
"The publishing and production side of our business is becoming increasingly important and we have now established a chain of 53 international licensees. We actively produce a lot of dance music and regularly attend international conventions, like MIDEM, each year to expand our contract base and license our masters. It is a useful extension to our studio business and provides a lot of work for the studio. One benefit of this for our clients is that by careful time management we have less wasted studio down-time, and can therefore keep the hourly rate fixed at a more competitive level. An independent studio has to manage its down-time creatively and effectively to succeed - for example, using it to create product to sell; building a publishing/production company which can book the studio as a commercial client. Those studios that do not or can not appeal to today's needs will find it increasingly difficult to survive in the face of competition. It is also equally important to have a creative team of industry experienced staff running the business."
Berwick Street has been redesigned to accommodate an extremely spacious control room area - in stark contrast to many of its competitors, where a claustrophobic atmosphere tends to prevail. Attention to technical detail, such as the fully isolated, suspended floor, and the all-important acoustics has given Berwick Street Studios a new perspective and a light, airy feel combined with a state-of-the-art Live End Dead End control room.
"The atmosphere and facilities, both technical and leisure-wise, are second to none," Rod enthused. "I wanted a studio that I knew represented the ultimate 'modern' track-laying facility, and combined the traditions of a wonderful sound facility with a most extensive keyboard production environment."
Looks like he got what he wanted!
Contact Berwick Street Studios, (Contact Details).