• The Professionals: APRS
  • The Professionals: APRS
  • The Professionals: APRS

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The Professionals: APRS

In the third of an occasional series on the professional bodies who look after the interests of musicians and engineers, David Mellor talks to the APRS, the body which represents many of this country's leading recording studios.


In the third of an occasional series on the professional bodies who look after the interests of musicians and engineers, David Mellor talks to the APRS, the body which represents many of this country's leading recording studios.

Suppose you wanted to have double glazing installed, to keep out the noise of those troublesome helicopters perhaps. What's the first thing you would ask the firm you found in Yellow Pages? Well, after you found out the price, you would want to check that the firm was a reputable one, that it would do a workmanlike job and, hopefully, not disappear with your deposit without doing any work!

An easy way to check whether any firm is reputable or not is to see whether it belongs to the trade organisation relevant to its line of business, be it a double glazing company or a firm of undertakers. It's a guarantee of quality and standards. If a company doesn't belong to a trade organisation, the chances are that it has tried to join but couldn't get in because it didn't reach the required standard.

A similar situation exists in the world of recording studios. A producer wanting to use a studio needs to know that it will be up to the job. A pro studio may cost £500 a day or more. Add to that session fees for musicians and there is a lot of money at stake. The session must go smoothly, and the finished master must be up to professional standards.

Before I venture further, I should say that the APRS is a pretty tough organisation to get into, and there are many studios which haven't quite hit the standard yet, but they are doing quality work and will eventually make it. On the other hand, I have had personal experience of two studios within the past year, which had all the gear but didn't have a blind clue what to do with it. When you have to show the engineer how to operate a digital delay then something must be wrong!

Take it as read then that any studio that wants to grow will want to match up to APRS spec and have permission to display their logo on the studio stationery. As we shall see, there are other benefits to membership besides being 'in the club'. I spoke to Philip Vaughan, Secretary General of the APRS, about the organisations and individuals that are already members, and what qualities were necessary to be a member.

MEMBERSHIP



Philip Vaughan: "The membership of the APRS is a cross-section of the professional recording industry. The bulk of our membership consists of recording studios, largely in London but spread across the whole of the United Kingdom. They are recording studios that aim to be professional recording studios - not merely commercial, but really professional.

"Studios become members, not by merely sending in a cheque and having a certificate, but they have to qualify as members. We send them a penetrating questionnaire for them to describe their facilities, and then follow through with a personal visit to the premises to actually see that they have the equipment they say they have, and we satisfy ourselves that they are operating in a businesslike and organised way. We even look at such things as fire certificate and public liability insurance, to ensure that they are not likely to be members that would bring the organisation into disrepute. We have a quality level that we try to maintain."

As well as recording studio members, there are other classes of APRS membership of which the Manufacturing section is the most prominent. Some of these manufacturing members are indeed companies who have a factory and make things and sell them. Others are the distributors who sell UK made or imported products.

A smaller section of the APRS membership takes the form of Associate Membership, which is for individuals connected with the recording industry rather than organisations. This has only been in operation since 1987, but membership is on the increase. Let's look at membership qualifications in more detail.

Philip Vaughan: "The application form for a studio asks about the ownership of the studio so that we know who is behind a studio, which may not always be evident from the studio name. We look at the level of turnover - it's a handy guide to the importance of the establishment. Having said that, if it has a small turnover and only has two people running it, it may still be a very sharp and professional outfit.

It might be as good or better than the studio which is turning over half a million pounds and has thirty employees. Those are criteria to look at but we don't take them in isolation.

"We ask how long the business has been established and how it has developed since it started up. Does it have any musical specialities? What recordings has it made in the last year? These things give us a feeling about its professional and commercial status. We also ask a number of nuts and bolts questions, such as the size of the studio and the size of the control room. Naturally, we enquire about details of the recording console, the monitoring system and the tape machines, also the microphones and outboard equipment that's available. We ask them to list the test equipment that they operate and how often the tape machines are aligned. Is virgin tape always used?

"Whatever the size of the studio, we look beyond what equipment they have. We want to see that it is well cared for, not worn down tape heads, sound insulation that's been efficiently worked out, air conditioning that's not noisy, and that any musical instruments should be in good working order. If fire escape routes have been thought about, this tells us something too. And on maintenance, while the ideal we constantly harp on is having full-time in-house maintenance staff, if the studio has really organised an acceptable alternative we are not unreasonably rigid about it."

Sometimes a studio may be set up by someone with the desire and cash to do so, but who has little experience in the business. In this case he would probably hire an installation contractor to supply and fit out the studio - but the owner might initially have none of the qualities needed to run a good studio, apart from enthusiasm.

"There is a specific question on our form which asks for the titles of four recordings made during the last year. If these are titles that are instantly recognisable to our membership committee then there is no problem. If they are recordings no-one has ever heard of, or if indeed they can't answer the question at all, we'd need to probe a little more deeply. At the end of the day, it's quite possible that the people who made those recordings are no longer with the company and that the only person with the company now is somebody with zero experience.

"It's not an easy problem to solve, except that it's a feature of our personal visit that we would be quite interested in the person who received us. If the manager or the proprietor appeared to know what he was talking about, that would be a good sign. These are things you can never get from a form but only by this personal intervention."

Within the category of recording studio member of the APRS, there are actually two sub-categories: Full Member and Affiliate Member. The Affiliate hasn't, as yet, made the grade to Full Member but is on the way. Their status within the organisation is less and there are no voting rights. The policies of the organisation are controlled by Full Members only.

So far, it might seem that you have to be a high-class set up with Studers and Neves to get that magic APRS tag. But the APRS is not as rigid as some may think. You could very well be running one inch 8-track or two inch 16-track recorders, with a reputable desk, and have a reasonable chance of being offered full membership. Note that you would be expected to have things running dead right. Cables out of sight instead of running around the skirting board and across the floor, for example.

For manufacturers too, it makes sense to be a member simply to show that you have been judged, by other professionals, to be of professional standard. Other benefits will be examined later.

"The application procedure is similar to that for studios. A manufacturer who qualifies would end up with full membership which entitles him to be a voting member, the same as a studio member. One of the ways we evaluate a manufacturer is to look for brochures and other material on the products he is making. We look at its relevance to the recording industry and we ask how long he's been making these products or providing his services.

"We also ask about his arrangements for after-sales service. We go into that rather carefully because if manufacturers are not being useful to the recording industry, by not backing their equipment properly, then they are not the kind of people we would want to have as members.

"We check the turnover per annum within the professional recording industry. It could be a million pound company but if it isn't doing £25,000 in professional audio then it will not qualify. A related question we put to manufacturers is the proportion of their business they do within sound recording studios. Somebody who has audio products which are used 75% in video and 25% in sound studios may not be given approval as a member. There may be other organisations to which he could more properly belong."

BENEFITS



Probably the greatest, but least tangible, benefit of being an APRS member, in the studio, manufacturing or associate categories, is that it provides a forum for discussion. In fact, if there was no APRS then studios probably wouldn't talk to each other at all! It's a cut-throat business these days.

Philip Vaughan: "The benefits are quite wide ranging. In the first instance we encourage studios to send their staff to the technical seminars that we organise. We also provide a facility for studios to get together to talk amongst themselves, about credit problems and other such matters. They can exchange views quite informally on people who are bad payers or people who are non-payers. There are, unfortunately, conmen around who are trying to rip off studios in different, imaginative ways. If necessary, our office will circulate information to our members or take up matters with the police.

"We keep our members informed of things that have developed within the Association and within the industry through a newsletter which comes out three times a year, with an interim news supplement which keeps them up to date. For manufacturers, we organise a joint venture from time to time with the British Overseas Trade Board for overseas shows such as the AES show in Paris.

"We keep an eye on issues of importance which may be matters of taxation, VAT, government restrictions or proposed legislation which might have a serious impact on our members. If necessary we may take some form of action - form a lobby, write to MPs, or give an official response if a view is requested. We give a view even if it isn't requested sometimes!"

Studios are also given business advice and assistance by the APRS: "When a member is appointed, we provide them with a set of contractually valid terms and conditions by which they may make contracts with their customers. We think that studios are well advised to work to those terms, or something very similar, because if they don't they are going to quite soon run into difficulties.

"We have developed, in conjunction with an insurance broker, a form of insurance cover that's special to the typical premises and activities of a recording studio. Because it's specially developed, the rates are very favourable in comparison with what a non-specialised broker would quote for similar cover. Members of the APRS get a discount on the policy. The policy is also available to non-member studios but they don't get the discount."

Returning to the technical seminars, a typical case may be a presentation by a single manufacturer of a piece of equipment - a mixing console for example - that is new and significant because it has some new technology which people are talking about. The APRS would hire a venue and make all the various arrangements.

"These sessions are usually very productive because people are not shy to ask embarrassing questions if they feel it's useful to do so. Another type of technical evening may be a speaker who is comparing two or three approaches from different manufacturers to a particular technology. Or we may have a panel situation, as we did quite recently on the theme of tapeless recording, where we had five manufacturers, each having their own separate system set up in five separate rooms. People attending the seminar were put into groups so that everybody had a short time with each of the presentations, then came together afterwards for the representatives of the five companies to sit as a panel and explain their philosophy and the various advantages of their approach to tapeless recording.

"We usually provide the venue and facilities free to members, but they have to pay for their own drinks at the bar!"

SOUND PRACTICE



One benefit of the APRS which can be enjoyed by all is their book, 'Sound Recording Practice', which can be obtained at any decent bookshop or from your library. It costs a sniff under £40, but to anyone who is seriously interested in sound recording it is well worth having. Members can have it at a discount. 'Sound Recording Practice' is edited by John Borwick, who was until recently Lecturer in Recording Techniques on Surrey University's Tonmeister course for would-be musician/engineers. It contains 28 chapters written by audio professionals on different aspects of the business, from studio planning to compact disc processing. (See review in this issue.) One benefit to be shared by the chosen few, whose studios can afford the fee, is the APRS training course for studio engineers. This is held annually at Surrey University, but is not connected with the Tonmeister course. Philip Vaughan explains:

"It's a week-long course for between 25 and 40 people. It's not targeted for beginners. It's aimed at people who are already operating as engineers within studios, although in fact it's open to people who may be employees of a manufacturer or people outside membership.

"It is organised by our educational committee. They draw up a programme and bring together 20 or 30 different specialists in their particular fields, who each take a section. It's a combination of classroom teaching by day and workshop practice by evening. There are sessions on mixdown, timecode and equipment synchronisation, noise reduction, beginners' guide to digital audio, stereo sound balancing for television, mastering procedures for CD, and video post production etc."

PROMOTION



One thing a professional body is often better placed than its members to do, is to promote the industry in general. In other words, to bring more money in to the benefit of all the members. The APRS does this in two ways, for the studio and for the manufacturer.

Imagine you're a record producer. Perhaps you're an American producer and you would like to record in Britain because of all the Olde Worlde atmosphere. How would you set about choosing a studio? It used to be a problem, but it is now made easier by the publication of the APRS 'Guide To Recording In The UK'. It's a simple matter to look at the colour photo of the studio, check the gear list and hourly rate, then decide. Of course, personal contact will be necessary before a firm booking can be made, but at least you know who to ring.

"This is intended as part of our marketing support to our member studios. How do you sell coffee? There are lots of advertising solutions to selling coffee beans. Selling a studio facility is not as easy as that and nobody, in our view, has found a single satisfactory answer.

"A lot of people rely on the old boy network, the people they know in the music business, the producers, the engineers, or the record companies. They spend a lot of time massaging those relationships on a personal basis. We try to help our member studios become more widely-known and to be associated with that magic ingredient 'quality' - it's one of the benefits of being in the Association. We mailed the book directly to 2,000 people who are producers and A&R executives in the recording and publishing industry in the UK and around the world. We have already had a number of complimentary comments."

TECHNICAL STANDARDS

The APRS is concerned to maintain technical standards and has published a number of information sheets such as 'The procedure to be taken when tapes are submitted for transfer to master lacquers or direct playback disc'. In other words, how to prepare your tape if you want to cut a record from it.

There is also the APRS standard labelling system for recording tapes, aimed at reducing the incidence of such things as producing a CD from a 71/2ips listening copy instead of the 30ips master. Apparently, it has happened. These labels are available from tape manufacturers Agfa, Ampex and BASF, and although they are fairly self-explanatory, further information is available from the APRS.


For the manufacturing member, there is the annual APRS exhibition. Many Sound On Sound readers will have already attended this show, and no doubt many more will this year. APRS 88 takes place at London's Olympia 2 exhibition centre and will have over 150 exhibitors of professional recording equipment and services. If you are at all concerned with pro audio, this is the show to go to, and you need not be an APRS member. Whilst Philip Vaughan is keen to get the maximum attendance, he does stress that it is a show for people who are professionally involved. If you want a ticket in advance, send your business card to the APRS and you will receive one, free of charge. I would also say that it is a show for recording studio equipment rather than synths and MIDI gear. Wait until the British Music Fair for that.

In conclusion, it seems that the APRS is an association worth getting involved with. There are many non-APRS studios who could set their sights on membership. There are also many audio professionals who could benefit from associate membership (I've filled in my form) and take part in the technical seminars. I should not forget the APRS newsletter, 'APRS News', which keeps members in touch with the goings on in the audio industry. If you feel you would like more information, or would like to attend future APRS exhibitions, then contact the APRS at the address given below.

Contact APRS, (Contact Details).

Patron: The Earl Of Harewood
President: George Martin CBE
Chairman: Ken Townsend, Abbey Road Studios
Secretary General: Philip Vaughan

Executive Committee:
Roger Cameron, Neve International
Clive Green, Lansdowne Recording Studios
Dave Harries, Air Studios
Bob Hine, BASF (UK)
Bill Foster, Tape One
Roger Bain, CBS Studios
Tim Cuthbertson, Stirling ITA
Phil Dudderidge, Soundcraft Electronics
Philip Love, Eden Studios
Myrtle Batchelor, Tam Studio

There are three types of APRS membership:

* The British Record Producers' Guild is a division of the APRS, initiated in 1985 to develop communications between recording studios and their users. Membership consists of many top-class British record producers.

FULL MEMBER

Eligible for membership, if qualified, are: studios, record producers (in the British Record Producers' Guild*), manufacturers and distributors, consultancy firms. Full Members have voting rights, receive a membership certificate and membership plaque, and are encouraged to show the APRS logo on their stationery.

AFFILIATE MEMBER

This membership is available to studios which do not meet Full Member status, and to approved educational bodies. Affiliates receive a certificate of membership but do not have voting rights nor the right to use the APRS plaque and logo.

ASSOCIATE MEMBER

In this category the APRS welcomes individuals, whether on the staff of a relevant organisation or self-employed, who wish to show a professional commitment and to enjoy certain membership facilities. Associates receive a membership certificate, but have no voting rights, nor the right to use the Association's plaque or logo.



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Digitech MIDI Pedal

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Wired For Sound


Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - Jul 1988

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