Newcastle Media Workshops
This month Studio Focus looks at a rather different type of studio than usual. The Newcastle Media Workshops in the North-East occupy a rare position in the community, providing services covering the full range of media - photography, art, video and sound. It is the latter that is of interest to HSR readers, for the complex houses two sound studios, which operate an 'open access' policy to the general public. Both studios are funded and subsidised by Newcastle City Council qnd the Northern Arts Council which mean that the studio facilities are available to whoever wishes to use them, at the cheapest possible rates, but with the highest quality equipment.
This non-commercial aspect of the studios means that the 8-track studio can be booked for a mere £2.50 per hour, whilst 4-track is available at £1.50 per hour. It comes as no surprise then to discover that there are many people clambering to make use of what the NMW have to offer. So let's take a look.
There are two studios: the main studio being situated on the first floor with easy access, whilst the ground floor houses the 4-track studio. The latter has recently undergone refurbishment with better soundproofing. Recorders are two Teac A3440 machines plus Revox A77s with an Itam 10 into 4 mixer, whilst monitoring is via Acoustic Research AR3 and AR12 monitors or KEF Cantata speakers driven by Amcron power amps. Although fairly basic in appearance and consisting of a combined control room/studio, this room does house the EMS VCS3 synthesisers and other electronic instruments that are always available to users, and in this basic form provides very useful facilities for musicians with no home recording gear of their own or with limited amounts. The relaxed, informal atmosphere is very evident if you visit the studio and makes for an ideal working environment.
The majority of users tend to have an electronic music interest, although folk and rock music has been heard coming from the studio! Space limitations generally determine the recording possibilities, which is why the upstairs studio is more heavily in use for full blown bands.
The upstairs studio is separated into a studio cum performance area 38 feet by 18 feet, acoustically treated, with a hard floor surface for added ambience if required. As it is capable of holding 60 or so people seated, this area is regularly taken over on Friday evenings for concerts by local bands or visiting instrumentalists, but at other times is used for recording. A Bluthner Grand Piano is available free, for use, and several large, absorbant baffles can be moved to construct drum booths when separation is required between instruments.
The control room is separated from the main recording area but this has never yet created problems for users. Measuring about 20 feet by 15 feet, the room is large enough to permit plenty of keyboards to be set up, so that players can monitor over the large Tannoy Ardens that dominate the four corners of the room, rather than use claustrophobic headphones. The four Arden speakers also permit quadrophonic sessions to be undertaken if ever required.
The area itself is ergonomically laid out with bench space along two walls. The Tascam 38 eight track and Revox A700 are the main tape machines, and mixing is done via an Alice 12/4/8 desk. Cassette copying is possible using the two Tascam 122 machines situated in the ancillary rack, which also houses two Klark Teknik DN27 graphics, Amcron D75 power amps, Bel 8-track noise reduction and the latest addition - a Roland SDE3000 digital delay.
Ancillary effects are limited, but a good relationship with local music retailers Rock City means that any equipment can be hired from their extensive home recording department for very reasonable rates. Having said that, many regular users leave their own equipment in the studio and will often allow others to use it or hire it. All equipment is linked to a GPO-type jackbay for maximum interconnection versatility and the fact that all leads and cables are both colour-coded and numbered, reduces the time taken for newcomers to become conversant with the studio operation.
Both studios come under the jurisdiction of the studio organisers, Peter Burne-Jones and Paul Gilby. Paul undertakes the sound engineering requirements for users unable to operate the equipment themselves, but everybody who books time in the studio is initially instructed in its operation, anyhow, and then left to their own ends (unless 'help' is needed). Paul has a wide range of recording experiences under his belt but one of the most successful and enjoyable sessions he has completed involved the recording of over 30 musicians performing a rock musical virtually 'live' in the studio. This included a 14 piece choir, two drummers and brass section and required two mixers to be linked to give enough microphone inputs, which really tested mixing skills to the full.
Under their previous guise as Spectro Sound Studios, they have acted as a launch pad for several successful groups and soloists such as Punching Holes, Punishment Of Luxury and Ian Boddy. Ian is a long-serving user of the studio and has almost become part of the woodwork, so to speak. He actually recorded his very successful first album 'The Climb' at the studio — proof indeed that 8-track recordings can be used to master from.
Most recently a video studio has been opened in an adjoining part of the building which houses all the facilities needed for video production. Equipment includes colour cameras, U-matic recorders, monitors and editing suite. These can be potentially linked to the Sound Studio for the making of rock promo videos, for example, and should help the studio expand into and entice users from the film/video business.
All in all, the Sound Studio is a highly successful operation. Funds, as with all grant-aided establishments, are at a premium, but the majority of equipment manufacturers such as Tannoy, Klark Teknik and Amcron, as well as retailers/distributors such as ITA and Harman UK, have all kindly supplied products at reduced cost to the studio. This has enabled them to keep costs to the public at a minimum, hopefully, ensuring that the facilities are available to as large an audience as possible, with no unnecessary money barriers — a saving grace for the unemployed and young bands alike.
In many ways, the Newcastle Media Workshop Studios are an extension of the home recording ethic, allowing people to record by themselves at little expense and have fun doing it!
For further information and booking details contact: Newcastle Media Workshops, (Contact Details).
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