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Studio of the Month

Addis Ababa

Article from International Musician & Recording World, December 1986

You don't have to go to Ethiopia to reach Addis Ababa, as Pete Gleadall discovers

Note restful studio decor

Addis Ababa was opened to the recording public about four years ago "with the idea that there wasn't really a black music studio around," says studio manager Dave Ratcliffe. Dave and his partner Tony Addis saw a gap in the market for a specialised studio, and dealt primarily in Reggae for the first two years. As Tony was well known on the Reggae scene the word spread quickly and business was good; they have had nearly all the big names in Reggae pass through including Dennis Brown, Sly and Robbie and Aswad. However, as Dave notes, "you can get bread and butter money from Reggae, but the pool of resources is not sufficient for you to ever make much profit, so we had to widen our appeal."

When they originally started, the trend was for Reggae studios to have quite a dead sounding room, as most of the dubwise effects were done in the mix. Addis conformed to this in the studio's layout, and promptly attracted a lot of work in the dub field due to the dead room, low rates and that unquantifiable thing known as atmosphere.

"People came here because they heard records that had been done here so they knew that we could get the sound, which is all to do with the bass and the drums," Dave points out.

But due to the lack of money in the field, Addis felt they had to diversify. The studio was completely rebuilt, closing from November in 1985 and re-opening in March of this year. Now the studio offers a live room and a dead room to cater for most recording needs. The live room has hard bright surfaces and gives a big open sound, larger than its 16' by 14' by 8' dimensions would have you believe, the dead room being the same size. The control room measuring 20' by 14' by 8' currently houses a Soundcraft 28 into 24 series 2400 desk that came from Tears for Fears' studio in Bath — the Woolhall — after the duo decided they needed to go to SSL. Tim Mason, one of the three house engineers, dealt with the re-wiring of the room and also the acoustic treatments.

Andy Munro came in to check the monitors for nasty anomalies and spent an afternoon with a pair of graphics. The changes he made to the system were so small that Addis decided to cut the graphics out entirely therefore keeping the signal as clean as possible.

Like Steve Levine, they chose Westlake BBSM10 nearfield monitors with Yamaha NS10s without the currently fashionable bog paper modification' for reference, powered by Yamaha and HH amps. The 24 track is a Lyrec, mastering machines being an Otari ¼" and the Sony PCM 701 digital.

Effects are well catered for with a Lexicon 200 and Yamaha SPX 90 providing reverb, a BEL sampling delay with keyboard interface, Eventide harmonizer, BEL flanger, Drawmer gates and compressors and various parametric and graphic equalizers all add up to a little box that should deal with most needs.

As mentioned, Addis felt a need to branch out into less specialised areas and since the re-fit have been involved in recording most types of music. That said, they are currently doing virtually all Hip Hop acts, a specialised area if ever there was one. This is in some way due to Mute records recently moving just up the road to Addis, and setting up a Hip Hop/dance label, 'Rhythm King', and sending most of their acts to Addis Ababa. Although well stocked with effects, one thing you won't find in most studios and apparently essential for that monstrous bass drum sound in Hip Hop is a device by dbx named the Boom Box. Addis had hired this in and it's a subharmonic synthesizer, generating frequencies that dogs only can normally hear, the dbx 120X.

When played the results I could see why — to say that the bass drum kicked at you from the waist down would only be half the story, it does work. Also being used by the Hip Hop crews is the resident Sony CD player which is ideal for sampling that tricky snare as it has a loop facility, enabling lots of passes for that elusive sample.

Addis see themselves in the occasional demo for the majors and lower budget single and album market, offering the whole lot at a very reasonable £265 per day for a lockout, or a basic hourly rate at £22.50 plus VAT.

So why do people record there? Could it be the excellent range of microphones, or the experienced engineers or the maintenance and backup team or the very low rates? I don't know. Whatever, with a very relaxed but workmanlike atmosphere, the major labels are realising that for albums, it's much cheaper to do the majority of recording at somewhere like Addis Ababa and then do your automated mix at an SSL studio. Personally speaking I've decided it's the Zebra styled decoration that makes people go to Addis....

Addis Ababa (Contact Details)

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Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Dec 1986

Recording World

Feature by Peter Gleadall

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