SNAP! blog

Pt 9 – August 8th

Funky is busy at the moment, very busy, meaning I’m tied to my desk until eight or nine most days.

Visits to Snap have therefore been relegated to weekends, but Marco’s daily briefings have been invaluable in keeping me up to date on progress.

The place is taking shape nicely, or at least the infrastructure is almost complete. Within two weeks, all major areas will be soundproofed and plasterboarded, mains cables laid, ready for the balanced mains transformers to be fitted, and alarm and fire safety backup cables laid. In short, the infrastructure will be completed, ready for Fritz to start the acoustic treatment and cosmetic finishing touches. Hopefully we’re on course to install the gear in mid September, arrange some dry-run test sessions in mid October and launch our grand opening on November 1st.

On the downside, my contingency budget has already been eaten up and we’re only half way through the build.

So where has it gone?

Two areas have gobbled up a load of unanticipated dosh. The first is down to a gross underestimate on my part – electrics.

We hit an immediate problem with the mains, in that the main feed to the building was underpowered for our purposes, necessitating the running of an armoured heavy duty feed from the central supply point a hundred metres distant at a cost of fifteen hundred pounds. This couldn’t have been foreseen and in any event, was something that we could have insisted that the landlord rectify. That would have taken weeks or even a month or more, though, delaying the build at far greater cost. However, far and away the largest overshoot on electrics has been down to bad budgeting on my part.

Although my costings have been pretty much on the button with regard to the main electrical install – balanced mains circuit, lighting rings etc – I had grossly underestimated the additional mains and associated networking and other wiring we’d need, including heavy duty cable trays to carry the plethora of audio, network, mains and other cables around the building. Indeed, even after negotiating a keen credit-crunch price with Ivor, the electrical supremo (fully qualified, of course; don’t try to cut corners by using a mate or handy builder to install electrics. Apart from quality of install and safety, these will have to be signed off and certificated for approval by the electricity board and insurance company) the additional work has gobbled up four grand of my ten grand contingency fund. Add to this a further two thousand to satisfy my insistence on using traditional variacs for dimming live and control room lights, and not a lot is left.

Lights will take the form of spots around the wall augmented by ‘clouds’ – clusters of spots on suspended platforms – placed above carefully selected areas in the live room, enabling different moods and degrees of lighting for sessions. For example, if we’re cutting vocals, we can choose to illuminate only the area above the singer. If a full band or orchestra is recorded, the entire live room can be brightly lit or dimmed for effect. And so on.
Variacs are large transformers with groovy knobs that are sunk into the wall and control the amount of voltage fed to the spots, thereby providing accurate control over the brightness of various lighting clusters. Although many studios use more modern electronic dimmers, these can occasionally cause high pitched audio interference and so, in my book, should be avoided. The problem is that variacs are bulky, generate heat and require special mounting frames to dissipate the heat. And all this costs – at least another two thousand. I hadn’t anticipated this, hoping we could recycle variacs from one of the many classic studios that have closed in recent years. Sadly, all my efforts to locate drew a blank.

More dosh gone…

And now the contingency kitty is about to be cleaned out by a personal indulgence, albeit one that I believe will be justified several times over.

As the build has progressed, I’ve become ever more aware of the need for a solid floor capable of doing the live room justice. After all, this will be a creative space and house a splendid collection of instruments and (hopefully) an equally splendid variety of creative musicians. I can hardly invite them to pour out their collective souls bouncing around on an imitation stripped pine floor from B+Q. I therefore examined options and decided that we had to have a solid, traditional oak floor, ideally reclaimed.

A little research confirmed that there was more to laying a real oak floor than met the eye. Apart from finding and affording the right oak, specialist skills are needed to prepare and lay.
An hour of googling turned up Tom at Floorsmiths Limited, who has proved a fount of valuable advice. After several meetings, we determined what we were looking for and Marco set to work tracking down the raw material. He eventually found what we need in a timber yard in Yorkshire, priced in square yards rather than metres. Tom agreed to rejig his heavy schedule meaning that with luck the floorboards would be suitably prepared and treated, ready for our resident builder, Fred, to lay in early September. But in addition to the electrical overshoot, my precious floor will eat my entire contingency fund.
The reality is that a budget overshoot is now inevitable.

I built in 15% contingency into my budget. I’m now going to rejig and up this to 25%. I suspect that this is a far more realistic amount to include in a build budget. At least, I hope it’s going to suffice.

So, to recap progress…

We’re now around half way through the projected build.

The main infrastructure has been demolished, rebuilt and largely soundproofed.

An extensive first electrical fix is almost complete, with new mains laid to the building, balanced and dirty mains circuits in place and lighting circuits ready for lighting clouds and variacs.

Decisions have been made on variacs and these are being built by Harry Day of Westwick Installations. A reclaimed American oak floor has been located and Tom of Floorsmiths contracted to prepare ready for fitting.
Suspended cable trays are being installed by Ivor to house networking cables, entry videophone cables and a host of other cables that need to feed the building. The various tie lines for foldback and talkback will also run in these.
In the coming two weeks, doors will be fitted, soundproofing completed, sliding glass patio doors fitted to the machine room and the balanced mains transformers fitted, leaving the studio ready for Fritz to start on the acoustics and the Funky boffins to start the cable install for the gear.

Excitement mounts. It’s going to be great.

Bloody great…