Perhaps the most famous recording studio in the world explored by IM's Eamonn Percival
Deep in the heart of St. John's Wood, past rows and rows of large detached houses, along roads lined with Rolls Royces, Jags and Mercedes, lie EMI's famous Abbey Road Studios. On first glance at the building, it looks like any other four or five-bedroomed house you might find in the area but on stepping inside, you become aware of the sheer enormity of the place. There are three main studios, all of which are equipped for quadrophonic monitoring to varying degrees.
Studio Three is the smallest, measuring 40' x 32', but most groups prefer to use it. Late last year, work began on rebuilding and enlarging the control room, and it re-opened on January 3rd when Pink Floyd came in to record their "Wish You Were Here" album. The rebuilding took only seven weeks from start to finish, and this included demolishing an 18" thick wall and raising the floor. Studio designer Alan Brown: "We decided that the place the artists spend most of their time is in the studio and control room, so this is where we concentrated on. We made scale models of the control room and drew up loads of plans, so we could more or less visualise what it should look like. The work was planned to a strict schedule, but from time to time, jobs would overlap, and you'd suddenly find builders all over the place, so it was quite a job."
In addition to the three in-house studios, EMI also have two sets of mobile equipment and a Mercedes van. At the moment they're 8 track, although they may be upgraded at a later date. Cutting facilities at EMI studios are in the form of six disc-cutting rooms, where no less than six out of the first nine number one records this year, were cut. Cutting engineer Chris Blair told me "We use a diamond cutter rather than sapphire because it gives a lot more top and less overall distortion. We also have cutting amps rated at 550 watts per channel, with literally millions of tone combinations." Their work is mainly singles, and they cut discs for over 50 different labels.
There are also three tape-copy rooms, where all EMI's master tapes are copied, and three 8 track editing rooms. On the top floor of the building is a room where old 78 r.p.m. records are cleaned up and transferred onto a modern tape. In keeping with the type of work carried out here, the decor is mock-regency complete with striped wallpaper, red wall lights and velvet curtains. A nice touch. There is also a quadrophonic re-mix room and a room where mono recordings are reprocessed for stereo. Also housed in the building are two laboratories equipped for testing disc-cutters and tape machines respectively, and a quality control room where initial test pressings come back for comparison tests. Along the corridor is a huge tape-library, where thousands of master tapes are stored. "The tapes we keep at Abbey Road are the most recent and current ones. After about a year, they are transferred to our main vaults at Perivale, where they join all the master tapes we've done in the past." Alan told me.
Studio bookings are arranged by Vera Samwell in the Studio Organisation Room, where all the complicated planning is done. Obviously, with three busy studios to look after, a careful watch has to be kept on who's booked in where and when. So, with the aid of wall-charts, one can see at a glance whether a particular studio is available or not.
Feature by Eamonn Percival
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