Recording music albums or background scores for movies and games can take weeks or months with a wide host of people. Composers, sound engineers, musicians, technicians, producers, mixers may all use a studio’s space for the duration of a project. It is essential that a good studio accommodates all the needs of all these professionals technically, but a great studio makes them feel at home by understanding the relationship between great design and creativity.
Take a look at the Nuage studio set up by Seamedu School of Pro-Expressionism (refer to the picture above), a one-of-its-kind masterpiece that works on networking protocol (Dante). It is suitable for academic as well as commercial usage for music production and film post-production.
Not every studio has to have been built with a massive budget to back it, although that certainly helps.
We’ve stripped recording studios down to the bare essentials to see what the framework of a great studio is composed of.
1. Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
The Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) typically comprises of a computer, a sound card, software and an input device. Software like Pro Tools, Apple Logic, Ableton Live and Steinberg Cubase are some of the popular ones used in recording studios across the world. Avid Pro Tools is considered the industry standard for professional music and film post-production. DAWs allow you to mix multiple sound sources (tracks) on a time-based grid.
2. Analogue Vs. Digital Mixers
There is vast array of mixers to choose from. Some studios have audio processing components and units that are analogue. These are comparatively more expensive than when it is all digital gear. High end studios will often offer a choice of both digital and analogue mixers.
There is a long lasting debate about which is better amongst the two, however both are widely accepted and each has its genre-specific preferences.
3. Headphones and Monitors
Good studios will offer a couple of different types of headphones. Closed-back headphones are essential while tracking. They ensure that sound does not leak out and feed back into the artist’s microphone. Open-back headphones give you optimal sound quality and are great for mixing.
Listening to music for hours on headphones (however good they may be) can cause fatigue. Most studios have monitors set up for this very reason. Studio monitors are different from your regular speakers. Studio monitors allow you hear your mix accurately unlike regular speakers, which may enhance certain aspects of the sound. Genelec is one of the top names in making studio monitors today.
The placement of the monitors in a studio is also optimised for the room shape, space and size. High end studios will normally have monitors that are set into the wall. They will be placed so you can get the optimal performance from your high end speakers.
Some studios will have a 5.1 surround sound mixing facility for movies as well.
4. Microphones and Amplifiers
Great recording studios are equipped with great gear for tracking. Studios will have a variety of different condenser microphones to record a variety of different instruments and vocals. Large diaphragm (condenser) microphones (LDMs) are generally the choice for studio vocals, and any instrument recording where a more “deep” sound is desired. A large diaphragm microphone generally warms up the sound of what it is being recorded. Small diaphragm microphones (SDMs) are generally the best choice where you want a solid, wide frequency response. Neumann and AKG make some of the best condenser microphones out there! Similarly studios will offer a variety of guitar/bass/keyboard amplifiers to record various genres of music. Fender, Marshall, MESA/Boogie and Markbass are some of the top names to look out for. Often musicians might want to bring their own as well.
5. Recording Rooms
There is a whole science that has evolved around recording rooms. Larger rooms allow for more musicians to play together live. Multiple rooms enable various instruments to record together without the microphones bleeding into one another. The dimensions and shape of the rooms matter too as cubical rooms can make tracks sound boxy. Large studios often spend a fortune to make sure that the rooms have irregular shapes to avoid this. The rooms also need to be well insulated to prevent external noise from filtering in.
Some artists can be extremely picky even about the slight hum from an air conditioner. A great studio ensures that this is noiseless as well. Similarly, the electrical equipment needs to be treated properly to avoid hums and buzzes. The circuitry needs to be well stabilised to avoid any spikes and surges which can damage sound quality or expensive equipment.
Although it is great to have state of the art equipment and design, what makes a studio really awesome is the people that work there. Studio managers with a great attitude can make all the difference. Every artist wants to feel special, even if they aren’t famous (yet)!
A sound engineer who is au fait with his stuff can really make musicians feel at home and trust that their work is in safe hands. Sound engineers can really make or break the reputation of a studio. After all, the final result of all that tracking is in their hands.
If that appeals to you, there are some really good sound engineering courses in India that will make sure you graduate at the top of your game. You never know, someday it might be you that really sets the standard to make a studio ‘great’!