Types of Studio
Large prestige studio
Medium and small
The Home Studio
Other types of studio

        Other types of studio      

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Peter Brandt Remote Recording
Peter Brandt Remote Recording

Mobile Recording

Many years ago, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth and most recorded music involved an orchestra, Mohammed had to come to the Mountain. That is to say, the equipment was brought to the orchestra and not the orchestra to the equipment: mobile recording was the rule, rather than the exception.

A cutting lathe or a tape recorder and some microphone pre-amplifiers or perhaps a small mixing desk was brought to the hall where the orchestra or its leader thought it sounded the best.

This method was fraught with difficulties, such as less-than-perfect acoustics and the problems of outside noises. It only required the local authorities to decide to dig up the road or for a car to backfire (as they often did in those days) for a recording to be spoilt. Also the lathes and the vacuum tubes in the equipment did not like being moved and bumped and so were prone to failure. It is for these reasons that EMI decided to build the Abbey Road Studio to record Elgar.

The Abbey Road Studio may be the largest in Britain at 455 sq m, but even that is too small for some things and large projects still have to hire large halls. Watford Town Hall in North London has become fairly popular recently and was where a great deal of film music has been recorded.

So for a long time, mobile recording was nearly all for radio broadcasts. But back in the 70’s a growing demand for live albums that had to be recorded using multitrack equipment lead to the building of control rooms in a truck that came to be known as mobiles. This could be anything from a small desk and some recording equipment in the back of a VW bus, all the way to a 40-ton truck-and-trailer units with expanding sides, so that a 56-channel large format studio desk, large effects racks and a machine room for at least two 24-track reel-to-reel recorders could be installed.

For about ten to fifteen years these trucks did good, if somewhat intermittent, business and every large rock act wanted to have the definitive live LP. Some of these recordings became milestones in the history of rock and no Baby-Boomer LP collection was complete without several live albums from Yes, Genesis, Queen, Isac Hayes, Eagles, Roxy Music, Grateful Dead or Deep Purple.

But there was a limit to the number of supergroups that were prepared to spend vast sums to have huge trucks drag state of the art equipment from city to city, recording their most golden musical moments. The golden age of mobile recording was coming to an end.

A handful of mobiles were able to survive on the sound for televsion shows and the occasional live recording and today they are busier than ever, recording large concerts for release on DVD-video. These are usually streamlined affairs that concentrate on quality and reliability and have dispensed with racks full of effects that will not be used on the final mix anyway.

With the advent of the DVD-video, live concerts are one of the key products that any major musical act must have and lean, keen and efficient mobiles are enjoying something of a boom.



When I started out in this business, there was almost no such thing as a mastering studio. There was such a thing as a mastering laboratory and their job was to check for phase and other gremlins and then cut the lacquer and this was used to make the stamper from which all those black vinyl disks were made. The mastering engineer had to reshape the sound to take the changes made by the process of turning the tape recording into a black vinyl disk into account. Because of the negative effects of adding a generation of tape, any changes to the sound had to be done right there in the cutting lab.

But today’s mastering studio (sometimes known as pre-mastering studio) has a very different role. Its job is to take the mix and turn that into a more pleasant sound.

This begs the rather obvious question, why doesn’t the mix down engineer do that in the first place? There are three answers, tape, tape and tape:

Tape: In the past the saturation effect of tape gave us the sound we wanted.

Tape: The negative effect of adding a copy-generation to the signal often outweighed the benefits of an even better overall sound.

Tape: Digital is easier to get wrong. Every signal is sharp and crystal clear and if it too loud in some parts or you have done something silly, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Digital may be perfect, but it is unforgiving. Every sound may be perfectly reproduced, but then so are the mistakes. The need to load the tape with as much signal as possible to keep away from the noise floor on the final mix, meant that we were forced to balance things out better.

The first CDs sounded OK because they were originally recorded onto tape. Later, when 24-bit multitrack machines came onto the market, making all those digital mistakes became possible and a new type of expert came along to fix the mistakes. He sat in a small room with every type of speaker, or with one set of very high quality speakers and a host of good outboard including compressors and equalizers and basically, just fiddled until he got a better sound.

There is no one system that does it all, when it comes to getting that better sound. True, there are some systems that claim to do it all, but there are some tasks that are best done in analogue and others that must be done on a workstation in digital. So the mastering studio will have a series of analogue eq's, compressors, reverbs and other toys, as well as a DAW armed with a large range of mastering plugins for normalisation and other effects. There may also be a large range of speakers and a speaker management system, so that the engineer can switch between different types of listening environments and sub-woofers. Today, mastering suites have to cope with 5.1 monitoring and encoding, so the investment in monitors will be considerable.

Radio Caroline
Radio Caroline


The obvious omission so far has been broadcasting studios, but this book is geared towards music recording and in all fairness broadcast studios require a book all of their own.

But, for the sake of completeness and just to put you in the broader picture, radio studios roughly divide up into two types, self-operated and those with a control room and an engineer. The self-operated studio came from the States where it lived happily alongside larger studios with a control room from Day One.

Known as the self-op, the one man studio was unknown in Europe until Dutch pirate station Radio Veronica was launched in 1963. But it was with the start of fellow pirate Radio Caroline in 1964 by the energetic young Irishman Ronan O'Rahilly from a boat moored off the South East coast of England that modern pop radio broadcasting using a self-op studio became known in Europe.

Until the advent of pirate stations like Caroline and Veronica, all pop radio came from one station, Radio Luxembourg. The large medium wave transmitter broadcast in German during the day from a studio in Luxembourg and in the evening, using tapes recorded in London with well-know TV personalities like Jimmy Saville and David Jacobs. Almost all other broadcasting throughout Europe was public and paid for by the taxpayer and via the licensing fee.

I can remember walking into the German public broadcaster SWF and seeing a programme being broadcast by five people. That was the moderator (they were not called DJs in those days) and the producer in the live room working from a prepared script. And a main engineer and his two assistants (union rules!) in the control room behind a massive mixing desk specially built to order by Bosch subsidiary ANT. Needless to say, the programme sounded wooden and the presentation poor.

The self-op studio in comparison was ideal for this new and slicker form of radio with three-second stations ‘stings’ ten-second jingles and twenty-second adverts. Where the public stations used large, reel-to-reel tape machines that had to be cued up carefully for additional, pre-recorded material, the pirates used a new beast called a Spot-Master that played large cassettes at 7.5 ips (inches per second) instantly.

When the pirates were put out of business by a mixture of legislation and (probably illegal) raids by the Dutch and British authorities, the star DJs that had been listened to by millions came ashore and were offered jobs on the new BBC radio station Radio One. With them came the self-op studio and when private broadcasting was made legal in Europe, nearly all music and phone-in programming was made in self-op studios.

A large scale radio news programme, such as the marathon ‘Today’ programme (not to be confused with the ‘Today Show’ on NBC television) that lasts from six until nine in the morning and has a listenership of about four million at 8am can only be produced in a large studio with several live rooms and a large control room.

Two other types of radio studios that are particular favourites of mine are drama studios and live entertainment studios.

Drama studios have a control room, but the live rooms are larger than most and have a variety of environments to simulate the insides of cars, living rooms, kitchens and large dead rooms for reverberation- and echo-free outside scenes. There is also an effects corner for making the sound of teacups, doors, footsteps, etc.

When I was a kid, one of my greatest pleasures was to get a free ticket from the BBC to attend the recording of shows like ‘The Goon Show’ and ‘Round the Horne’ at the Paris Theatre on Reagents Street in London. The Paris Theatre could take an audience of not much more than one hundred and had been adapted for recording radio entertainment. In ‘The Goon Show’ three players (Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Seacombe) read their scripts into one or two microphones on stage, whilst the effects man shook boxes of rice, rang doorbells, blew duck-calls and opened doors from his table on the left. On the right was a piano and the orchestra (yes, real orchestras in those days!) sat behind the cast.

This type of studio was pioneered in the US before the War and used for acts like the Marx Brothers. Happy days!


The Byre Recording Studio