At Home in the Studio
Band in a Box Studio
'Band In A Box' who have put their home studio to commercial use, voice their opinions on tea and biscuits.
Equipment, expertise and musicians... but no tea and biscuits.
So what's the difference between our Band in a Box's studio and thousands of other mini studios throughout the country? Maybe it's because all the others aren't appearing in this month's H&SR. We have the regular mixture of equipment: noise gates, compressors, headphone monitoring etc. Well there are a few differences such as an MXR harmoniser, a purpose chosen 1" 8-track Leevers Rich, and nothing less than Tannoy HPD Lockwood Major Monitors, as well as other standard items such as GBS reverb and JHS1024 digital delay. Also for those sampling freaks, we can offer an Ensoniq Mirage digital sampling keyboard. All this is in a cosy 9' x 8' control room, and a 12' x 7' studio. We have an excellent selection of microphones; Beyer, Reslo, Ribbon, Shure, the AKG Tube valve microphone, the RE834, EM702...
The 8-track itself was purchased as part of our recording advance. We could have spent less but decided that quality was the prime objective considering that in 1986 we hope to be mastering our own singles from this very studio. So with that in mind, the idea of buying cheap equipment has been shelved to make way for quality rather than quantity. With a publishing deal with Adam Faith already signed, we need to be able to produce master recordings of significant quality to bring us chart success.
As a band, and as individuals, we have all had a great deal of experience of recording. Now for the name dropping. We have recorded in Air Studios, working with Jon Jacobs (Paul McCartney's engineer); in Hank Marvin's own personal studio with Dick Plant; and at Surrey Sounds Studio with Chris Grey (who engineered the early Police albums).
We've also been seen at Abbey Road and Bury St. Studios. The above experiences have given us skill and expertise and the realisation of what it feels like to be on both sides of the glass. We know how difficult it is to produce a feel, or a certain special sound. (God knows we've tried.) One way of achieving it is at home in a fully relaxed atmosphere. It is for this reason that we think nervousness should play the most unimportant part in any recording situation.
We specialise in specialities. What's that supposed to mean? Well, when you have a band like ours with a mega-loud drummer, an acoustic violin, a guitar that sounds like smashed glass, soprano and tenor vocals and a big fat bass sound, you've got to know how to mix them for live performances, and as we mix all our music on stage there is only one chance of getting it right. Every recording consists of a live performance, and if you can't capture the magic of the playing, and the excellence in quality, you've failed as an engineer and a producer. Some people want to produce their own package, and invariably get caught up and bogged down in technicalities. This is why a fresh ear with an imaginative mind can work wonders. Think of George Martin applying his classical skills and expertise to The Beatles. Now more than ever, that sort of production expertise is necessary if you are to stand a dog's chance, and with about 60,000 cassettes going into the likes of EMI each year you need every bit of help possible.
OK we're not saying that every song that comes out of this studio is a no. 1 hit, but we will try to ensure that the best is extracted from each circumstance. We managed to get our deal because we have a different sound with well recorded and produced demos, and these days that's a pretty tall order. Achieving good sounds requires experimentation and the more you do the easier you feel doing it. You can have the world's best gear at your fingertips, but if you ain't used to it, it's useless to you.
So to get technical again, let's take recording drums as a example. At this point half the home studio engineers in the country curl up in a ball and hide, the reason being that to get a big sound on a drum kit you have to have decent equipment, but no matter how many Fostex mixers or parametric equalisers you use, it's still down to the microphones and knowing where to place them. There are loads of ways of getting good drum sounds, but in our experience very few people manage to do it, and you can tell that by the smiles on people's faces as they walk out the door when the session is over.
For vocals you can use two or three mics, and by gating them in sequence, and placing them further away, you can really open up the sound and bring out the full range of the voice. We like to record three complete vocal tracks whenever possible, and then pick out the best bits and bounce them down onto one. The beauty of the 1" is that when you're bouncing you don't get bogged down by noise so you don't have to suffer the terrible side effects of noise reduction. Using a mic like The Tube you really get a rich sound, full bodied and crystal clear, with that special valve characteristic that only that type of mic can produce.
Electronic instruments, such as a drum machine or keyboards, often have a bad signal to noise ratio and rely on their 'compressed' low dynamic, punchy sound to mask the noise. It works well 90% of the time so they're no trouble to record. On the other hand, acoustic instruments, such as a concert drum, have a dynamic range that can vary from 2 or 3dB right up to the 90dB mark, want to capture that kind of crescendo you need thumping good signal to noise ratio in your equipment.
What about sampling with the Mirage? We can sample any sound and reproduce it polyphonically, and sample up to eight times per octave, or eight notes polyphonically for about five octaves, and change the sound to whatever shape is wanted. We don't have a great sound library at the moment. Possibly by the time this review is in print the situation will have improved somewhat. But if you have a sound, bring it with you and we can sample it for you.
Mixing is done on our hotrodded Dynamix 16:8:2 which has all the usual features, plus mute/master mute, solo in place/master solo switches. The desk has other features, such as PFL, 8-track metering, six aux sends and aux master mutes.
If you need him, our drummer has an excellent drum kit and is able to put down both complicated and standard drum patterns, and many other percussive effects. He's available at most times. Sine can provide you with a string sound on either acoustic or electric violin.
You can talk about studios all day, and we can boast about ours all day too, but the proof of the pudding is in the mixing! The only way to find out about a studio is to go round and have a listen. A lot of studios seem to put forward tea and biscuits as their most attractive asset, and if you've been to some of the places we've been to (the ones we haven't mentioned), tea and biscuits is the best they can do!
But what is most important is always to get the best sound on tape possible. Recording is an education in sound. Just as life is a constant battle, so is home recording: be it financial or technical or artistic.
We've got it together, and so can you. Interested? (Contact Details).
Feature by Royston Hollyer
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