A look at Deep Studio - set up with the help of the Manpower Services Commission.
This month, Studio Focus changes tack slightly to bring you a report on the unusual development of a small 8-track facility in Yorkshire called Deep Studio. Owner Stuart Wright has turned his recording hobby into a bonafide business courtesy of sheer determination, hard work and the financial backing of the Manpower Services Commission... Unemployed recordists in a similar situation please read on...
For the past seven months I have been running my home recording studio on a commercial basis with a little help from the Manpower Services Commission, who pay me £40 a week in the hope that within a year I will have a permanent business. I can imagine a few home recordists reading this will be wondering how they might be able to do the same. It must be a recurring dream to serious home recordists to run their studio as a job as well as a hobby.
Well, being the original 'portastudio kid' I thought about it for two years while studying Technology at Hull college. After leaving with a Diploma last summer and having been turned down by the BBC for a menial cable shifting job, I finally took the plunge and decided to set up an eight track demo studio. This is where the MSC became involved. I picked up a leaflet at the Job Centre and found that I would be eligible to collect £40 a week from the MSC on their Enterprise Allowance Scheme if I met the basic requirements.
These are as follows: You have to have been unemployed for thirteen weeks, be 18 years old or over, have at least £1000 to invest in the first year, have a business idea and also you must be collecting dole or social security on the date you apply to join.
This all sounds fine but the problem is that the Government are not too interested in financing someone's hobby for a year and so if you intend getting on the scheme it is best to present your case well. If you can't produce a cashflow forecast then it is probably better in the long run to get an accountant to do one for you. Living on a farm as I do, I already had a good idea of book-keeping and cashflow forecasting etc, so I was able to show them how I intended to develop the studio in the first year.
Running a business, and selling a hobby are two contrasting worlds and the MSC want to be sure that you're committed to the former. They are not going to waste places on idiots and they were suspicious of me to begin with because I think they thought it was a strange thing (in their eyes) to want to do. They are probably less cagey with plumbers and mobile hairdressers because their capital costs are lower and the £40 a week will stretch further. To add strength to my case, I also suggested that I was going to write and sell computer programs, which is an ideal sideline. Since the studio works mostly on a weekend I can spend the weekdays cassette copying and selling programs.
Once I had applied to get onto the scheme I was required to attend a half day introductory session at the Hull Skill Centre. You have to attend one of these sessions before they'll accept you onto the scheme. The sessions are given to provide a basic knowledge of the scheme and let you ask anything that might be worrying you.
After attending the session I had to fill in various forms and sign the agreement at the Hull Job Centre. The agreement is that the MSC will pay £80 into my business bank account every two weeks for a full year providing I meet all the other requirements and do not go off sick for more than eight weeks. It is also possible to claim the allowance if you are in a partnership or co-operative with each member getting the full £40 a week. If you are considering applying, it might be worth joining as a partnership. The scheme also runs free counselling sessions and business courses which can be helpful to anyone who is a bit green about running their own business.
Now that the scheme is gaining more publicity on the TV and in newspapers, it is getting harder to get on and you could end up waiting a couple of months before being accepted. I don't want to set myself up as a world authority on the subject so there are probably some exceptions to what I've said above. If you are still interested in the scheme it is best to get down to your local Job Centre and investigate. If you are already trading you will not be eligible to join the scheme.
The studio itself consists of four ground-floor rooms converted into a control room and main studio recording area, a kitchen and a bathroom/toilet. The kitchen is superb for producing a live drum sound, but it means moving tables, chairs and a desk so I usually give it a miss. The rooms are all part of an extension that is on the end of the farmhouse. The house has a large garden and the studio setting creates a very pleasant atmosphere and I think its fair to say that the setting must help with the old creativity a bit. When I started the first thing I did was install a window between the control room and the recording area. I then built a desk out of wood to stand all the equipment in, on, under and around. This desk has two 19" rack sections built into it to save space and money and it puts forward a good tidy finish.
I originally set out with the intention of buying a good secondhand Tascam 38 and a 16/8/2 mixer but wallet restrictions meant that I finally ended up with a Fostex A8 and 350 mixer with a meter bridge. I have now found that the meter bridge is a useless accessory because the A8 has its own meters and so does the Teac 32-2B recorder I use for mastering.
The mixer also has peak overload meters so the meter bridge is not an essential item. I have been pleasantly surprised with the performance of the A8, it certainly is a good value machine. The mixer is very simple to operate and can be a bit limiting when you require a decent EQ'd running mix. A problem that will be solved when I change it for a 16/8/2. Monitoring is via a Quad 303 amp and a pair of Tannoy Mercury speakers. The amp is great but the speakers aren't too flash for monitoring and would be more at home with a Hi-Fi system. I'll probably change them for a pair of JBLs when the money becomes available.
My microphone collection is steadily improving and includes a Sennheiser MD421 which is useful on the bass drum among other things because it can handle the high sound pressure levels. I have an AKG D320 which is good for vocals and the snare drum. Other mics I use are a borrowed Beyer Dynamic M300, an AKG D80, a couple of Shure Unispheres and a couple of well used Unidynes. Headphone monitoring is done using two pairs of Beyer Dynamic 330 Mk II 'cans' which are very good considering the price.
As far as effects and ancillary gear is concerned, I originally bought an Ibanez DM1000 digital delay because it offered a good range of delay times and I couldn't afford a reverb unit on its own. Since then I have purchased a Fostex 3070 stereo compressor which is generally used on the bass and vocals but sometimes I use its noise gates on the tom-toms. I also have an assortment of guitar foot pedals that could be used if necessary.
The actual recording area is 14'x16' and has a five piece Promuco drum kit permanently set up in it. The kit belongs to my cousin Robert Hunt, who plays in my band "The Deep". Most bands prefer to use Rob's kit because it saves time and is usually a better kit anyway. Other instruments available are a Fender Strat and 12 string, and a Hammond organ.
The bassist in our band, Richard Hall, is an electronics and computer engineer with British Aerospace. If anything packs in and I can't repair it Richard can usually sort it out. In this, I'm very fortunate.
The customers that I get in are local bands from Goole, Selby, Howden and York and usually their main reason for coming is that they can't afford to go to the more expensive 16 and 24 track studios in the area. I have found that advertising in the local press is a dead loss and the best way to get trade is to go and meet the bands at gigs and the like. I also advertise in the local music shops. If a band asks if I can get them a sound I know is not possible using my present equipment I'd rather turn them away than gain a bad reputation. I am increasingly finding, though, that the bands prefer my set-up not only because of the cheap rates but also because of the atmosphere of informality and the friendly feel of the place (no sniggering ex-hippy engineer etc). With "The Deep" being part of the local music scene I feel a responsibility that if local bands are sending tapes off to record companies the quality of the recording must be the best possible. The local bands are encountering all the usual gigging and recording problems so I'm always willing to help if I can.
In the future, I intend to extensively soundproof between the studio and the control room. I am not too concerned about external soundproofing because there is very little noise from outside and it doesn't warrant making the studio totally enclosed. I've left three windows untouched and this means that I can look out over the surrounding countryside while recording.
I intend to upgrade most of the equipment at some stage but when is a difficult question. The only machines that have a safe home are the Teac 32-2B and the Quad 303.
If anyone is considering doing something similar to me I am about to reveal some advice, learned through experience.
Firstly, when you start, get some good financial advice from an accountant or similar knowledgeable person. They'll say you're mad, you are. It's not the easy life it's cracked up to be. Don't spend money on whims and gadgets that you don't really need to start with. It's best to get a good delay or reverb unit because that's what the customer wants, "a bit more reverb".
Secondly, try to buy things secondhand so they keep their value, and get voluntarily registered for VAT so you can claim back 15% on your costs. Don't forget to enter the small things like microphone stands and cables into your cashflow because the little things add up very quickly if not budgeted for properly. The same goes for the National Insurance self-employed stamp that is currently £4.40 a week, and over a year adds up roughly to the same amount as a bunch of noise gates. Above all you must be extremely tolerant and patient with young bands who assume every studio is the same and wonder why they don't sound like Pink Floyd when they leave.
As far as The Deep is concerned, we hope to have a forty minute cassette out soon followed by an independent single in about six months time. The cassette will feature totally original material and will act as a test of which tracks should go out on the single. Though we wouldn't mind a record contract, we would rather have a generous music publisher so we could develop independently. Independence has become a byword of The Deep. We have always used our own PA, wrote our own material, organised our own gigs and now we have our own studio. I write all the band's material and it tends towards melodic rock songs as opposed to the current trend of electro-pop dance chants. So what chance have we got of getting a record deal - we don't even come from Liverpool!
For further details on studio time please contact Stuart on (Contact Details).
Feature by Stuart Wright
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