If any type of studio has taken a hammering in the past few years, it is the mid-sized commercial facility. Whereas the
larger facilities are often owned by shareholders or a large lable, the medium sized affair is usually an owner-operator business. If it is a rural studio, he (it nearly always is a ‘he’) lives with his family
above or near the shop.
The owner is usually the main engineer and the studio will reflect his wishes, background, strengths
and weaknesses. If he comes from the industry and has previously worked in other studios, the setup is likely to be more or
less standard. This is also true if he was able to commission the studio installation from a professional studio installation
company. If he is a pianist, the studio might sport a good concert grand. If he is a rock guitarist, there will probably be
a good collection of vintage Fenders and Gibsons - but then the concert grand might be missing.
Some of these studios are absolute dogs and some are real beauties. If the studio is small and
built by a keen owner-operator, all too often the layout and choice of equipment will be so idiosyncratic that no visiting
engineers can work there.
As nearly all have been built into an existing building, the acoustics will have been a matter
of pot luck. Converted small schools make good studios, living rooms in ordinary houses seldom do.
Those in the city centres will have fairly good equipment and represent a sizable investment.
In many respects, such a studio will be on par with the top line competition, the major difference being size.
These studios are often built by producers and successful musicians for their own use and maybe
a little rental work on the side.
Small Demo Room
The small demo room (so called because it is used to make recordings that demonstrate an act’s
talent) is laid out just like its bigger brethren with live room, possibly a booth and a control room. The desk is usually
either a budget recording mixer or a somewhat better live desk such as a Soundcraft or Allen and Heath. The microphones are
seldom top of the range, a respectable collection of dynamic mics and some better Far-Eastern models is the usual choice.
These studios are often built by bands as better rehearsal rooms with a view to renting them
out to other bands. Sometimes the local council, a school, or a youth group builds a small studio and of course many amateurs
build small studios as a good space to record their own music.
Some small studios are based around ProTools or a similar DAW (digital audio workstation) and others find
old analogue reel-to-reel recorders on eBay or with one of the used equipment dealers. The desk will be either something cheap
and cheerful, or an old, used desk. The demo room benefits from good, used equipment more than any other studio and it is
a great way to kit one out for the least amount of money.
Although demo rooms are sometimes called project rooms, strictly speaking, a project room is,
as its name implies, designed to be used for just one project or a series of similar projects. Although most personal studios
are project rooms and reflect the needs of their owners, do not be mislead into thinking that these are only amateur hobby
operations. Many large studios equip project rooms for key clients and equipment budgets can rival those of the mid-sized
Most project rooms do not have any dedicated recording space such as a live room or a booth,
but many have access to live space nearby.
There is definitely a grey area between the project room and an all-in-the-box set-up. I suppose
if you keep your box in just one room, it becomes a project room. Most professional freelance audio engineers have some form
of all-in-the-box recording system and many have more than one. The most popular is (at the time of writing) ProTools, though
Logic, Nuendo, Soundscape and others are hot on its heels. By having a system like this, the professional engineer can prepare
the whole project, setting up click tracks and perhaps even laying some guide tracks and click tracks at home. Once in the
studio, all he has to do is plug his box into their desk or patchbay and press record.
Not all boxes are equal and many musicians and engineers carry some form of laptop with a basic
multitrack software package, so that they can edit projects when in the hotel room or on the plane. The ProTools M-Box linked
to an iBook has proven a very popular tool and is ideal for basic editing tasks over 24 or 32 tracks.
ProTools is the usual box of choice, though there are plenty of others for every section of
the market and ProTools has lost ground recently to PC-based systems like Pyramix, Sadie and Soundscape.
Audio post production usually refers to the adding of music and effects to film and video. Post
production suites can be just a basic Apple or PC with some video monitoring built in, all the way to a full sized movie theatre
with space for a full orchestra and large control room with 96-track recording.
If the studio is just used for post production for feature films and all music is recorded elsewhere, there
will often be no glass or other separation between the mixing position and the rest of the movie theatre. The engineers quite
literally sit at the back of the theatre and hear the film exactly as an audience would.
Films are released on a variety of formats (DVD-Video, 16:9 HDTV, DigiBeta for televsion, 35mm
- and in some cases 70mm - for movie houses) and each format has to have its own sound design. This means that the sound will
be mastered and possibly even mixed in a different type of studio for each format. The movie house release is mixed in a large,
open studio as described above. The sound system is the same as the movie houses use and the final sound can have as much
bass and dynamic range as a large system in a well-insulated theatre can allow. The televsion and DVD versions are done in
small studios that have similar acoustics to a living room. The monitors are smaller near-fields and the 5.1 surround mix
will have to be checked against budget-priced domestic systems. The small post production facility has proven in many cases
to be highly profitable, but only when it has been able to locate in one of the World’s key centres of production and
post production such as London, New York, Los Angeles or Düsseldorf.
This type of facility is often a micro facility, in that the whole suite only covers 60 sq m
or even less, with at least half that given over to a control room especially designed for television work, usually in 5.1
surround. The rest of the space is given over to a tiny lavatory, a machine cupboard and a voice over booth that doubles as
a foleys room. Somewhere there will have to be room for a coffee machine, a small refrigerator and a microwave.