SNAP! blog

Pt 25 – January 2013

UPDATE – JANUARY 2013

It was always my intention to update this blog regularly, but for a variety of reasons this is the first chance I’ve had to review the three busy years since the studio launched.

That SNAP! has been a great success is probably known to most readers (both of you…) but the reasons go beyond the care and thought that went into the build. Certainly, we’ve been more than pleased with the technical outcome and in particular the outstanding sound of the live room and the quality of recordings produced. Of course, much of this is down to the careful selection of equipment and the skill of the technicians responsible for installation. Because of our tradition of supplying and installing professional equipment, it was always paramount to ensure that everything performs as it should, so maintenance was and is a primary imperative. And here, as elsewhere in SNAP!, there is more to the process than meets the eye… For example, we’ve been delighted with the improvements in noise levels resulting from the installation of our balanced mains system, despite the costs and complexity being well beyond what we anticipated. Apart from the balancing transformers, then entire system requires special heavy duty mains cabling throughout, with special sockets to differentiate between the balanced and ‘dirty’ power (for lights, some backline and keyboards, fan heaters, kitchen stuff and the like).

But over and above this, every piece of gear running on the balanced circuit must be checked and in some cases modified to ensure sound earthing to avoid adding noise to the system. But the upshot is a remarkable sonic clarity and detail. Indeed, the lack of even the slightest whisper is initially unsettling. It’s common for first time clients to think that the mics aren’t working in the live room until someone enters the room, so total is the lack of even the slightest background noise.  There’s no doubt whatsoever that balanced mains adds to the musicality of our recordings.

Ultimately, though, the most important element in the studio are the staff, and in particular Marco, our house engineer, and Ben, his longsuffering tape-op. Both put in extra hours to ensure the place is kept spotless, that there are always fresh fruit and flowers to greet clients and anything and everything required is done with a smile and a minimum of fuss. That they’re talented engineers goes without saying, but the ‘can-do’ attitude contributes greatly to the SNAP! experience and has resulted in so many first time clients becoming regulars.

Throughout, my intention with the blog has been to share our experience of building a recording studio from scratch. To that end, I’m aware that any advice I might offer must be general rather than specific; although all studio builds share certain principles, once built, every studio fulfils a different, quite specific, function. SNAP! is unusual in being a commercial facility, perhaps the only commercial facility of its type and scale built in London in the last decade. I’m well aware that most studio builds are private and many are more modest. Nevertheless, I’m sure that many parameters are shared in common. So here are a few pieces of general advice;

  • Ensure that overheads are kept to a minimum. High running costs can be responsible for the failure of many projects.
    Whether planning a self-build or using a professional firm, wherever possible have qualified, experienced architect’s plans prepared at the outset. Whatever these may cost will almost certainly be more than covered in terms of time saved and the avoidance of costly and time consuming mistakes.
  • No matter how careful your planning, the build will cost considerably more and take considerably longer than you anticipate. Make sure you keep a contingency sum in your budget.
    Do not expect to see an instant income from your studio. Make sure you err on the side of caution in terms of any income costed into your business plan and that funds are available to cover losses in the early stages of operation.
  • Do not scrimp on maintenance. All your gear should be properly installed, mains and cabling should be of a high standard and any equipment faults should be rectified as soon as is practically possible.
  • Make sure you have a workshop area with manuals and schematics, basic spares (including fuses, cable adaptors, light bulbs, soldering iron, at least a basic meter or scope etc). This can double as a private office is space is severely limited.
  • Keep the place clean and uncluttered. In particular, ensure fire exits are accessible and that alarms, fire extinguishers and back-up lighting are regularly checked and working properly. Keep a first aid kit to hand and fully stocked. Safety must always been the number one priority.
  • Don’t overwork your engineers.  Lengthy session stretching into the early hours may seem productive at the time but invariably sound like crap the next day and have to be redone. And next day, the engineers will be knackered, arrive late and their ears will be shot.

I’m sure there are dozens of other tips worth sharing. I’ll try to be a little more organised for my next update and prepare a more comprehensive list, together with some financial tips on how to balance the studio books.