Studio Reproduction (Part 1)
PART 1: In the first installment of this two-part feature, we take a look behind the scenes at the design, development and construction of a modern day professional recording studio.
In this two-part feature, we take a look behind the scenes at the design, development and construction of a modern day professional recording studio.
Building a recording studio in the climate of today's music business can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. From a £10,000 writing suite to a multi-million pound, multi-media studio complex, the essential requirements are the same: 'somewhere to record'. But before the 'where' of the problem can be addressed, the 'why' has to be an absolute certainty.
Studios are built for a variety of reasons, with the marketplace for their services having changed considerably over the last ten years. The economics and logistics of running a studio, irrespective of size or type, have to be researched and planned to the nth degree prior to laying a single brick, or buying the first reel of tape. Reproduction's reason for building a studio was relatively simple and straightforward - they desperately needed one!
Established in London three years ago as a music production and management company, Reproduction was founded by a team of three writers and producers. Initially formed to work on club remix projects, the organisation soon expanded its scope to include original material for new artists.
Credited on productions as Jolley-Harris-Jolley, the team comprises Anna Jolley, Brian Harris and Mark Jolley, who have now launched their own record label specialising in one-off releases. Current output from Reproduction includes work for artists such as Reid (EMI), Shirley Lewis (A&M), Candy McKenzie (Chrysalis) and new star Jonelle, and a track from the Jolley-Harris-Jolley stable was featured in the Bob Hoskins' film Mona Lisa.
During the summer of 1988, Reproduction took the decision to build a studio of their own, as they were taking so much equipment from session to session that the situation was getting a little out of hand. The final tally involved their own engineer and tape-op, keyboards and associated peripherals, a vast selection of outboard gear and their own mid-level monitoring system.
As Mark Jolley said: "Wherever we worked we ended up using the room, the desk and the tape machines, and taking the rest of the studio in with us. From arrival to getting a tape rolling was anything up to three hours each session. Although we were content to book into one studio for months at a time, it was often difficult to find somewhere that would let us have the run of the place for that long. Quite fairly, studios often feel that if any one client is in for too long, the others will look elsewhere and may be a long time coming back."
The solution was obviously a Reproduction studio solely for their own use, and the search for suitable premises began. Various options were looked at as the months went by, but earlier this year they found what seemed the ideal place in Lonsdale Road, London NW6, close to Queens Park. Lease negotiations were put in motion on the late Victorian industrial unit, leaving advice on studio design and on the structure itself to be sought.
"One or two studio design companies had been recommended to us," explained Mark, "and we settled on KFA Associates quite quickly after the initial discussions. Their track record, common sense approach and realistic costings made us feel very comfortable with our decision. We visited a few of KFA's completed projects and were particularly impressed by Battery Studios, which was very close to the type of facility we wanted to create."
The Lonsdale Road premises had 3,000 sq. ft of space, split over two floors, and the overall design brief called for a large control room with overdub booth, leaving spare capacity for a future studio area and programming suite. Office accommodation for several people, along with leisure facilities including a games room, was also a requirement.
The first studio layout plans were drawn up within two days, following a site survey by Mick Fitzgerald of KFA, the turnaround time being greatly assisted by the extensive CAD (computer-aided design) system installed at KFA's factory. Asked to make the control room as large as possible, Mick suggested spinning the room through 90 degrees from its original proposed position, so as to increase the working width. The plans were redrawn, providing for a very large control room with plenty of space for mixing desk, elaborate outboard racking and keyboard plinth.
Maximising the width of the room brought its own problems, largely aesthetic, in that the available ceiling height was now considered too low for the width of the room. Not wishing to compromise the atmosphere of the room, Reproduction asked the obvious question, "OK, can we move the ceiling up?" "Yes," came the answer from KFA, "but we will have to rip out the whole ceiling and first floor structure and re-build it about one metre higher." This involved the virtual gutting of the interior, but KFA's site construction experience helped solve the ensuing structural problems.
"With the floor timbers removed, not a lot was holding the building together apart from the roof, making the whole structure rather unstable," said Mick Fitzgerald, obviously relishing this kind of problem. "But with the help of a load of steel in all the right places, nothing fell down and the new ceiling went in three feet higher up. The whole area was then sand filled, and you can imagine how much weight the new ceiling had to support."
Widening the control room, however, also produced an acoustic problem. Increasing the width and moving the ceiling meant that the total volume of the room went up substantially. The degree of bass absorption required was proportionally increased, but now with less capacity available for the necessary trapping.
"The solution," said Mick, "was threefold - to use more of the ceiling space for bass absorption than we would have liked; to make a design change to the way in which the absorption was handled; and to make novel use of the void above as a secondary isolator. With valuable isolation space being used for the extra trapping, we treated and tuned the void to provide additional help with the low frequency energy below 80Hz. The sand filling does most of it, and the void does the rest." This latter remedy was felt to be crucial, as at a later date the programming suite is due to be built above the control room, necessitating the maximum achievable separation.
The Reproduction team were delighted with the result and felt that the extra expenditure had been thoroughly worthwhile. "There would be nothing worse," said Anna Jolley, "than spending £300,000 on your own studio and ending up with claustrophobia because the ceiling felt too low. We spend so many hours at a stretch on our projects that comfort and peace of mind are all important."
Another important factor contributing to the general ambience of the control room has been the retention of natural daylight. Existing windows looking onto the street have been preserved, leaving the character of the building unaffected, and they have been integrated with the room acoustics by the balancing of their positions with glazed access doors to the overdub booth and machine room. "We were so impressed by the atmosphere of the building, right from the word go," said Mark, "that we wanted to conserve as much of the original character as possible. And we all place a high value on the availability of natural light in our working environment."
With the basic structure in place, the building work for the control room, overdub booth and machine room could begin. This started with the floor and was followed by the brick and concrete work of the monitor towers, destined to house a Quested speaker system. As much of the construction work as possible was executed off-site in KFA's factory, to keep site time to minimum, and included all door and window frames, ceiling formers, keyboard plinth and the acoustic traps. KFA try to work to a modular format whenever appropriate, especially where repetitive design elements are involved.
"By building as much off-site as possible," explained Mick, "far more efficient use can be made of available construction time. It saves headaches on site and the whole job can be turned around faster. The Reproduction project is also our first studio for which even the wiring looms were prepared off-site. Our CAD system helped us calculate cable runs, the looms were laid out and wired in our factory and then dropped into position on site. And yes, they were the right length when they arrived!"
The time span from commencement of site work to completion of all the cosmetic details is scheduled at around 12 weeks, and at the time of writing is exactly on schedule. Reproduction's facilities will include a large air-conditioned control room, equipped for 48-track working, complete with overdub booth and machine room. Office accommodation for six people, reception area, kitchen and games room will also be included in the first phase, with space left over for the programming suite.
The design for Reproduction's new home makes due allowance for further expansion, the control room having access to a future recording area. "Although our initial needs will be met by one control room," described Mark, "the building gives us potential for two control rooms, with each sharing a recording area. This would provide us with the ability to track-lay and mix or write at the same time, and increase our throughput of projects tremendously. However, this first phase will satisfy us for a long time to come; we cannot wait to get working in there."
Next month, we will pay a return visit to Reproduction to look at the final stages of the project, including the equipment installation, and to hear the first results from the new setup.
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