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The Ultimate Garage Studio

Solo Sound | David Yorath

David Etheridge pays a visit to this expanding 8-track London facility which has carved out a successful niche for itself as a well-equipped modern day songwriter's studio.

David Etheridge visits this model 8-track London studio which has successfully carved out a niche for itself by offering a comprehensive package of electronic equipment geared to the needs of the modern day songwriter.

David Yorath, owner of Solo Sound.

It's a widely held belief nowadays that the garage is possibly the best place to install your home studio. Why? Well there's usually ample space (typically 16 feet by 8 feet), it's straightforward to soundproof, and the car (always assuming that the musician can actually afford one) can always sit outside on the driveway. So, with a helpful bank manager (and a surprising number are sympathetic to personal loans for recording gear), the garage studio is a viable proposition.

Arguably one of the best examples of a garage-installed studio in the country can be found in North West London - Solo Sound. The casual passer-by would never imagine a fully professional studio behind the doors of David Yorath's garage, but once inside the studio itself, all the facilities that you would expect from much larger establishments - and even some that you wouldn't - are all readily to hand. Though 8-track, Solo Sound has been so successful since opening last October, that the studio now has only a limited life left, as plans are in hand to move to a completely new studio complex, installing 24-track facilities. Nevertheless, at this juncture, it's appropriate to look at the studio and view it as a model of what can be achieved in a domestic environment.


Speaking to the owner and engineer, David Yorath, I asked him how he started the studio:

"I'd been buying equipment ever since I was a musician, really. I started off with old monophonic tape recorders, and as long as I've had an interest in songwriting, I've had an interest in studios - I think the two go hand in hand. Being a writer, I always formed my own bands and, as a result, we always had to go into other studios to record. Now although the results have usually been quite good, I've always been plagued by lack of time. I thought the only way to get the most out of my song ideas was by investing in some gear myself. So I bought one of the very first Portastudios to come into this country, the M144. I also had a Hohner Pianet T, a little 5 watt practice amp, and one AKG mic - and it just grew from there."

And now you have all the gear that we can see in the studio - but how did you arrange the finance for such an operation?

"Well, I used to have a very good day job as an office equipment salesman, selling contract equipment, and it paid extremely well. So, bit by bit, I bought my recording equipment out of it."

"I was originally going to start things off in a very small way - getting a few friends in to use the facilities at a nominal charge, just to help pay for itself. I viewed every extra session as another piece of equipment! At some point, I wanted to branch out on my own and obviously try to make it as an artist, and I thought the best way to do that would be to set up a studio which could keep me employed in a sense and cover my living costs while I went looking for a record deal. But, unfortunately, the minute that I started advertising the studio, things went so over-the-top that I've hardly had time to make the most of my own ideas, because I've been engineering sessions for other people!"


So when did the studio open?

"In October 1985. I was expecting maybe one call a week, or something like that. I put quite a large advert in Melody Maker and it just went from there. All of a sudden, we had people phoning up and wanting to come down because we were offering all the electronic facilities that we do. It's quite unusual in our class of studio to have as much equipment as we've got. Obviously, there aren't many songwriter studios about, although more and more people seem to be trying. I think that we found a reasonably good corner of the market to go on from, and we haven't looked back since."

Are the recording facilities you offer basically catering for solo artists and duos?

"That's right - solo artists, duos, basically anyone who wants to get their ideas down on tape. We do quite a bit of mastering here as well. It's funny really, because when we first started I thought that most of our business would come from people using other 8-track studios and saying: 'Well, I must see what's going on in other studios'. But, funnily enough, most of our business comes from 16-track users and, occasionally, I've had a few people who've been happy with 24-track recordings they've made elsewhere."

"We do most of our work with timecodes, so we're essentially putting down as many as thirty-four tracks into stereo and mastering them digitally. And that, most of the time, is better quality than twenty-four analogue tracks, because you're not even losing a generation by going down to tape in the first place with the synths and drum machines. And we get a very high quality end result - in fact, there probably isn't another small studio in London that can match our quality of recording! Quality has been the main concern all along the line, and hence we are getting customers that come from all over the country, rather than just the local area. Of course, word of mouth plays a big part. All of our tapes go out with our name on, because we're proud of what we do, and we get a lot of personal recommendations. People ring up and say, 'I've just heard one of your tapes and I'd like to come down and have a look'."

The electronic 'heart' of the Solo Sound system: the Sequential/Commodore sequencing package used to control the Microvox sampler and assorted synths.


Can you run through the equipment in the studio and explain how you might utilise everything?

"Okay - we'll start off with the electronic side, which is, after all, the most important. We have a Sequential Circuits MIDI computer sequencer, which is EPROM-based. It has a capacity of about 4000 notes and will accept information on all sixteen MIDI channels. That's the heart of our system, really. All the information to that is input via the Roland MKB1000 MIDI mother keyboard, which is 88 wooden keys, fully touch-sensitive, and probably the best keyboard you can buy under £5000."

"Various modules are triggered from the MKB1000 - synths and samplers etc. We have a Yamaha DX21 synth, which for a studio I consider to be more valuable than a DX7 because it has far more presets. We also have an SCI Six-Trak, a Siel DK600, a Bit 01 rack expander, a Roland MKS10 piano module, and a Microvox sampler. That's computer-based too, so we have full graphics and can edit the sample waveforms etc. The Microvox is a very, very good sampler; being monophonic makes it very good for bass lines and such, and again, that's all triggered by the Sequential Circuits sequencing software. We are also shortly getting the new S900 sampler from Akai, which is 8-note fully polyphonic and stereo. It has a lot of benefits for studios; having eight individual outputs means we'll be able to trigger drums from tape tracks."

"Going on from there, we have the Sequential Drum Traks digital drums, which everyone coming into the studio thinks is great - I think it's one of the best purchases I ever made. I had the choice a few years ago, having just got rid of my Roland TR808, and I wanted to go for sampled drums. I wondered whether to go for a budget machine or a good one. At the time I paid about a thousand pounds for the Drum Traks, as it had just come out, and I've certainly never regretted it. We're going to buy another one for the new studio to have in the pre-production suite."

"Now on to the recording equipment: we have a Soundtracs 16/8/16 desk, which may seem a strange configuration for what is essentially an 8-track studio, but it gives you a total of thirty-four channels into stereo for the mixdown, which is why I chose it. The monitor section and the input section combine to give you thirty-four channels on remix."

"The multitrack recorder is a Tascam 80-8, which is excellent and has been well maintained. I bought it secondhand, and I have a maintenance engineer come in and check it out every month. It's in such good condition that he's made an offer to buy it when I finally get rid of it!"

"Mastering is done digitally on a Sony PCM-501 which is almost the same quality as compact disc. We also have a Tascam open-reel 2-track as well, for people who prefer to have analogue mixes, or when there's a lot of splicing involved."

"We then go down to the rack equipment. We have a Symetrix single-ended noise reduction unit, which I find essential. I tend not to like Dolby or DBX very much, because once they pass through the system they have to pass back through it in order to function. Whereas with the Symetrix, being single-ended, once you've put it down on tape you have the benefit of variable reduction."

"We then have an Aural Exciter, which I like to put across a stereo mix to give it a bit of punch, and obviously also use on individual things as they're going down to tape. The Yamaha REV-7 and Alesis XT take care of our digital reverb needs; the REV-7 I tend to use on drum sounds and very short samples to obtain that classic 'big' sound, and the Alesis I tend to use on vocals and instruments because it's got a very nice long decay sound to it. Next is a Korg SDD1000 digital delay, and an Ibanez DM 1000 - again, I find that one delay isn't enough for most applications. We also have a Sonic Scintillator, which is rather unique - it's basically an aural exciter but it's true stereo, unlike the Aphex; each channel is independent in itself. You can either use it as two separate exciter units or together as one. It's excellent. It didn't cost very much money and yet it's probably one of the most used bits of equipment that we have."

"We've also got some Yamaha stereo compressors, Drawmer gates, an MXR flanger/doubler - which is a particular favourite analogue unit of mine. I find analogue doubling is much better than digital. You get warmth with the analogue units due to the low bandwidth which I find quite attractive, and the same goes for flanging. Analogue flanging sounds a lot better, a lot deeper."

"We've got a DNR effects rack which is a range that not many studios have, at least not the ones that I've seen. Basically it's a modular rack like a Rebis, but we have fixed filters and parametric equalisers in there. And there's space to add more units as and when we need them."

Solo Sound - fulfilling the songwriter's needs.

"There's a stereo ten-band graphic also which was lined up for equalising the studio monitors by Dave Simpson of Thatched Cottage Audio. The monitors themselves are Gale 4100s which have split bass units; they're a four-way speaker system because, being an electronic music studio, we have a lot of bottom-end sometimes, and the Gales can take about 300 watts (RMS) each. They're powered by Quad 405 amps, so we just about manage to drive them, and they've got a great sound - I won't be changing them when we move to the new studio complex! Also, we have the ubiquitous small Auratone speakers for reference monitoring."

"We use a Baird VHS video recorder for storing our PCM-501 recordings on. Some people might say that might be funny as it should be Betamax, and it hasn't got the drop-out switch or whatever that you need, but in practice VHS is just as good. The Baird machine gives you a few problems when you're trying to locate a track, because when it pulls tape from the video cassette, it tends to jump forward two or three notches on the tape counter, and you can have a bit of a problem lining it up sometimes. I'm hoping to update to Betamax in the future when I can find one secondhand, but one other advantage of it being a VHS recorder on a hire contract is that I can get an engineer out within twenty-four hours if there are any problems. The ease of maintenance and back-up servicing is a plus."


How long has the studio in its present form got to run before you move to your new place and expand to 24-track?

"Within the next three months we'll move to our new facility, but this studio will remain open right up until the time that we move. When all the contractors have finished and the new equipment has been installed, we'll move this equipment over there. Hopefully, we're not going to lose our existing custom, because we're going to have a pre-production suite, which means that, at a lower price than most 24-track studios, our present customers will be able to come in and do all their programming. Then they can transfer that to 24-track when they are ready to overdub on tape, and then mix."

Wouldn't it be a good idea to keep the 8-track facility specifically for customers to transfer their original 8-track tapes to 24-track?

"I've thought about that, but we haven't had that many customers who have actually purchased their multitrack tape in the past, for the simple reason that by using timecodes, the synths and drum machine are kept live and only recorded on the stereo master tape at mixdown, not on the multitrack. So, we don't really have that situation."

Are you going to buy a whole load of new things for the new studio, or keep much of your existing equipment?

"Oh yes, there's an awful lot of stuff that we're going to buy. We're going to duplicate everything we have in the pre-production suite, so that people will be able to take the disk from the new Roland MC500 MicroComposer, say, which will store the rhythm track of a drum machine as well as all the synth sequences, and literally take it straight into the main studio and be in and away! Add to that the fact that we want to buy a lot more outboard gear - we already own a lot more outboard gear than some 24-track studios - and by the time we've finished, we should have a really impressive array of effects."

"We don't want to run two studios, but rather to provide the means for somebody to start a project in the programming suite, while somebody else is finishing one, at the same time, in the studio. Therefore, the two are linked. And, of course, a lot of people who can only afford budget studios will still be able to come along and mix in a 24-track studio - just paying the full 24-track rate for a few hours mixing instead of the full session. All the hard work is done, if they're programming, at the cheap rate." Will you be offering the services of an in-house programmer then?

"Oh yes, if required, for the small studio. But if people know what they're doing we're more than happy to let them get on with it themselves, provided we feel confident that they do know what they're doing!"


So, moving up from a humble Portastudio and little gear to comprehensive 24-track electronic facilities can be more than a dream it appears. Although everyone might not aspire to such a high level, even a well-stocked home 8-track set-up needn't be beyond most musicians' reach. Solo Sound and David Yorath have shown what is possible - now who was it that said "Go thou and do likewise"?

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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 - Aug 1986

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Feature by David Etheridge

Previous article in this issue:

> Roland MC500 MicroComposer

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> Alesis MIDIFEX

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