July 10th, and we’re approximately three weeks into the project.
Amazingly, we’re currently on schedule and within budget thanks largely to careful preproduction and planning, the hard work of builders Fritz, Brian and Gianni and the dogged, energetic project management of Marco.
Both the schedule and budget were ambitious, allowing for three short months (including installation) and the very modest investment of sixty thousand pounds including 15% contingency. Now, this may sound a lot to some and comparative peanuts to others. In terms of what we’re seeking to achieve, it is in fact a pittance. But part of the purpose of this diary is to show how careful planning, the involvement of experienced professionals and shrewd project management can cut thousands, if not tens of thousands, of squibs from the budget.
For example, throughout my studio career I’ve seen how frequently a lack of forethought can add a fortune to costs. A failure to secure commitments from contractors can lead to interminable delays when a crucial tradesman disappears in the middle of a job or isn’t available when required. And time costs money – oodles of the filthy stuff. All to often, decisions are made on the fly, and this results in costly mistakes that have to be rectified at a later stage.
A good example of this is the methodical approach taken by mains and install supremo, Rob Haggas and his partner in Westwick Installations, Harry Day. From the outset Rob and Harry liased with acoustician and builder Stephen Pickford (Fritz) and my head tech, Steve Culnane, to produce detailed plans showing the precise positioning of everything from mains outlets to lighting to variacs (for dimming the various lighting circuits) to air conditioning ducts to tie line wallboxes and the rest. Moreover, careful thought was given to every small detail to ensure maximum flexibility and future proofing.
The following is a brief synopsis of features incorporated into these plans after general discussions amongst the team;
- A good mains supply lies at the heart of any recording studio.
Having taken the decision to install a balanced mains system for the lowest possible noise floor and greatest sonic clarity and definition, it became clear that the mains supply to the building was going to be inadequate for our needs. So a decision was taken early on to eat into our modest contingency to lay in a heavy duty 24 amp three phase mains inlet into the building from the nearby junction box. Given plenty of juice, Rob planned three separate mains rings; the balanced supply for audio, a dirty (non balanced) supply to feed lighting, kitchen appliances, computers, air con etc and a separate 110v ring main run from a massive ‘Juice Goose’ step-down transformer, making the integration of US outboard and backline simplicity itself.
- Careful consideration was given to lighting, and in particular the creation of several different lighting ‘horseshoes’ in the live room. This enables areas to be lit and/or dimmed separately, for example, allowing the rear of the room to remain in darkness for vocal sessions adjacent to the control room window or the middle of the room to be illuminated to create atmosphere for tracking sessions while leaving walls in darkness or vice versa. Each separate lighting area is to be controlled by its own dimmer, enabling countless different moods to be created depending upon the intensity and amount of lighting chosen.
- Careful thought was applied to lighting the control room, with separate lighting circuits for front and rear, adjustable focus to ensure light is trained where needed – on the console and the outboard racks in particular – and once more to enable different moods to be created depending upon the session.
- Audio tie lines are to be lain into every room in the building to allow for maximum flexibility.
As well as the obvious tie-lines from control to live rooms, audio lines will be laid into corridors, lounges, kitchen – the lot. Who knows whether accident will prove the lounge or kitchen to have a killer drum sound? In any event, with sufficient tie lines, we’ll be able to utilise up to five separate recording areas simultaneously if needs be, including lounges, live room, corridors and kitchen. Tie-lines will also be laid around the building from the smaller studio two. Although this has a decent sized dedicated overdub booth, occasions may well arise where we want to record piano or drums or a complete band in studio two, and if the main live room is vacant, the tie-lines will make this easy.
- In that we intend to utilise a ‘Hearback’ type foldback system, a CAT 5 patchbay will be installed in the machine room with lines to all the rooms in the building, enabling foldback to be fed anywhere and everywhere from either control room one or two, but ensuring no confusion between the two. The same applies to talkback and reverse talkback (mics and speakers will be built into all the rooms to make communication to and from the relevant control room easy).
- Cabling must be laid for doorbells (triggering subtle flashing blue lights rather than noisy bells), ‘in session’ red lights outside the live room, videoentryphone and also 75 ohm video cabling and sockets to allow for closed circuit television or video cameras in the event the complex is used for a television or video shoot.
- We decided to install the highest quality Vovox silver multicore cable for audio tie lines to the live room. However, cost dictated that we restrict this the sixteen audio channels. The other twenty four or thirty tie lines will be standard high quality Van Damme multicore. The reasoning behind this is that sixteen audio channels will cope with ninety five per cent (or maybe even ninety nine percent) of sessions, and in any event, should more be needed there are some signals where the difference in quality won’t be desperately noticeable – ambient drum mics, guitar cabs etc. Having the two type of cables will also allow us to show the dramatic difference the best and standard audio cables by doing an accurate A-B test through the two types of tie lines.
Needless to say, speaker cable runs from power amps to monitors will be kept as short as possible and utilise top quality Vovox cable.
- We decided to prepare the control room for 5.1 mixing.
The main monitors will be stereo (more on my eccentric choice of monitors later…) but a centre speaker will be built in above the control room window and subs built below the main monitors. Power amps will be convection cooled and housed in a ventilated rack below the control room window within a meter and a half of the monitors.
Overall, Rob, Harry and Steve spend days drawing up detailed plans showing where every power and light socket would be positioned, where light switches and wallboxes would go and detailing cable runs. The result has been that as the infrastructure nears completion, a first cabling fix can be installed within the frame of the new control and live rooms, ready to be neatly boxed in when the walls go up in the coming week.
So we’re three weeks in and the building is looking more and more like a studio every day.
Week one saw wholesale demolition of existing walls to enlarge the control room and extend the live room. Week two saw a timber frame constructed, providing the basis and shape for the various studio rooms ready for soundproofing, cabling and cladding. The first cable runs went in. Now we start fitting rockwool and other sound insulation, special acoustic plasterboard, air conditioning ducts, audio tie lines, the lighting circuits and other infrastructure ready for the air conditioning to be fitted and acoustic treatment and cosmetics. Hopefully this will be completed over the next fortnight. By the end of July, I hope that the building will be ready for the install, audio racks, machine room outfit and then…mid August the gear should start to go in.
One area that had not been considered until last week was a floor for the live room.
Snap will be a special place, not merely in terms of the sound and attention to acoustic detail, but also (I hope) the vibe.
We have a good sized live room with easy access for loading, which will be home to the best recording piano in the UK, a classic Hammond C3 and a collection of vintage backline and guitars. It would be an injustice not to lay a special wooden floor in keeping with the overall quality of the place. And so research has commenced into finding the best available reclaimed flooring and the best guy in the business to prepare and lay it. In one fell swoop half my contingency budget will be gobbled up, but I think it’s worth it. And its yet another learning trip.
But that, dear friends, is ultimately what life is all about.