How does White Room Studio compare?
My studio in Southampton, The White Room, is a home based studio aimed at solo artists, singer songwriters, instrumentalists and duos as well as bands. While I'm sure you're aware of the commercial studios in and around Southampton, it may interest you to know that a majority of recording takes place in small studios these days as commercial facilities find it difficult to maintain a certain level of income to keep the business afloat. Those studios that do continue to survive do so by diversifying their activities. Did you know that you can book Studio A at Abbey Road for a business conference...? That's the reason why! If they didn't - they'd go out of business.
It may also interest you to know that the Motown Record Label that produced a majority of soul and RnB in the 60s and 70s was started and run in Berry Gordy's house with recording taking place in the basement and attic. The label later expanded into the house next door!
The White Room Studio is set up at home as I have no desire (at this time) to move out to a commercial location and have to deal with rents, rates, security, etc. For the customer - this would mean knocking the price up a little to enable me to maintain the level of income I need to live.
In Southampton, there are a number of small studios and two commercial facilities. One does very well at recording rock, indie and metal bands - and has large, great sounding, rooms and equipment appropriate to record these bands authentically.
The second deals with more commercial music and features small dead rooms to capture raw material.
Obviously both of these facilities have the costs associated with facilities. One has staff and a large square footage to pay for!
So if a smaller studio can offer the same facilities without the overheads - could this make it more appropriate for those clients who don't need live rooms and space?
(Obviously I have friends in both facilities and this is not written to knock these studios in order to 'sell mine'. Both of these studios are excellent and I wish I could work at both but - as is typical with the industry at this level - they rarely employ so I have little choice but to develop my own business. )
This blog will compare the White Room Studio with a local commercial facility to demonstrate that it will be possible to get the same, or better, results for literally half the cost.
A Brief Overview
The local facility is a very glitzy place. It's very eye catching and has some fantastic equipment for customers to benefit from. However, if we take away the wood, leather and lights, what we're left with is quite simple:
A control surface
Industry standard Preamps
Industry standard channel strips (outboard)
Industry recognised DAW
Industry standard outboard compression (1 model)
A large choice of industry standard plugins and software instruments
Choice of guitar amps as well as software amp simulation
A wide choice of industry standard microphones
An educated and experienced producer engineer (1 out of 3)
Access to session musicians
It's likely that this list mirrors the asset list of a majority of studios in the country. Let's make specific comparisons on this facility with the facilities that White Room provides:
The facility is centred around an SSL Matrix control surface. This surface is primarily a DAW controller that allows the engineer to control the in the box mixing functions. The Matrix does provide SSL famed audio paths but they aren't used in everyday workflows at the studio.
White Room provides an SSL Nucleus control surface that gives me tactile connection to my mixes. This particular console was chosen because of the SSL Super Analogue PreAmps built into the unit as well as quick navigation around common Pro Tools functions. The PreAmps are the same that are found is SSL's flagship consoles - however, as I only generally record up to two tracks at a time, the two Super Analogue preamps that the Nucleus provides provides me with what I need.
Engineering Term: PreAmp - This piece of electronic wizardry is used to boost microphone signals up to a useable level for recording. Microphones output a very low signal level that is unusable without boosting. PreAmps are found in analogue mixers as recording interfaces and a largely responsible for the 'sound' and 'colour' of a recording which is why many musicians pay a premium for recording in studios with SSL and Neve consoles. Engineers spend thousands on PreAmp technology of their studios to produce sounds that are more 3-dimensional and 'tangible' than basic PreAmps built into interfaces.
The PreAmps that are provided by the local facility are Focusrite ISA preamps, as well as a Neve channel strip. Focusrite produce fantastic preamps and hopefully now you understand the significance of PreAmps in the recording chain. This facility provides 2 x 8 channel ISA PreAmps to allow 16 track recording from the live rooms. Alongside the ISA and the Neve strip, there is a Drawmer 1960 tube dynamic controller that can also be used as a PreAmp. However, it's the ISAs that are used on a daily basis.
White Room provides a few different flavours of PreAmps. Again, I tend to only record up to 2 channels at a time, unless I'm working on location, for which I have additional clean Focusrite PreAmps.
My PreAmp flavours include:
Great River NV500 PreAmps. These are amazing PreAmps that make sounds jump out of the speakers at you. Wonderful for recording thick lead guitar, vocals and acoustic guitar - these are my go to PreAmps for feature instruments that need their own identity in a mix.
SSL Super Analogue PreAmps. These nice bright and natural sounding pres are great for airy guitar and vocals. They're built into the SSL console and are super clean and accurate, providing a lovely sounding capture.
Focusrite Liquid Channel. Focusrite spent a great number of years modelling the characteristics of the world's favourite compressors, desks and EQs and selling units allowing you to record 'with the sound of' these units in your signal chain. They sold two wonderful units: the Liquid Channel and the Liquid Mix that were hugely popular with engineers. They don't sell these products any more, and I can only surmise that the rise in quality of modelling plugins has made the cost of these units un-viable. However, the Liquid Channel that I have provides two channels that emulate preamps such as an API, Neve, Helios, Manley and others, providing many different great sounding preamp emulations.
Industry Recognised DAW
The other facility runs Logic Pro. White Room Studio runs Pro Tools HD, which is the industry standard recording platform. While Pro Tools isn't used everywhere - many engineers opt for Cubase, Logic, Studio One, etc - Pro Tools is considered to the the industry standard due to it's superior engine and sound quality. I am a certified Pro Tools Expert and I also train Pro Tools users for Avid.
My knowledge of Pro Tools and it's features allows my unparalleled flexibility and command of the production features of the software.
A headphone distribution system enables more than one or two people to monitor the playback of music during multi track recording. The other facility provides 8 channels of headphone distribution to enable the recording of a large scale live band.
At White Room, I tend to record single musicians at a time so I generally need just 2 headphone outputs for the musician and the producer. However, I can provide up to 4 headphone outputs, but they're rarely required.
Plug in and instrument choice (Including Piano controllers)
Plugins are little apps that replace the banks and banks of hardware outboard equipment that studios used to require to compress, EQ and process large numbers of tracks simultaneously. This one of the main reasons that studios can exist in small locations these days - we just don't need walls full of 20 LA-2A compressors, 15 1176s, 10 Distressors, etc. It looks very cool and engineers drool over pictures posted of studios that maintain large stocks of the items. However - clients pay a premium to have their music mixed through them and more a majority of pop music, hardware models are just not required. These days, the software equivalents are just as good and provide wonderful results.
Both studios provide a large number of plugins to allow us to achieve any result we need.
For White Room Studio, I'm a big fan of analogue and have concentrated on providing clients the analogue 'sound' with software models of the units that engineers drool over.
I also use the plugins creatively to mimic the signal flow of music being recorded through a real console to analogue tape, and then from tape back through the console - providing the 'analogue studio sound' without the associated cost.
My range of software instruments includes Native Instruments Komplete and Reaktor for modern electronic sounds, older Korg synths including the M1 and Polysix for the 'retro' sound that is on it's way back in, Toontrack Drum Sampling to provide real drums without the need for time consuming and expensive drum tracking and much more. I also have a Yamaha S90 stage piano containing terrific synth patches to augment the software offering.
The S90 can also be used to record piano and organ as well as for MIDI programming. For those who prefer more of a 'keyboard' feel than 'piano' - I have a Roland JV30 synth and MIDI controller.
The other facility provides a single Piano controller for recording MIDI.
Both facilities also have access to Vocal Tuning plugins including Melodyne, which allows the crafting of vocal and harmony lines for those who aren't professionally trained vocalists.
Guitar amps and Amp Modelling
Being a larger place, the other facility provides a few amp choices including Vox, Fender and Orange along with Amp Modelling from IK Multimedia. However, they do tend to gravitate towards the amp models as they are very accurate (and in some cases more pleasing) and allow the musicians to easily record in the control room.
White Room has a valve Fender Hotrod and IK's Amplitube suite which provides very accurate models of Fender amps, Ampeg bass amps, Marshall Stacks, etc. While a majority of guitarists will prefer to use their own amps, songwriters have access to a number of amp flavours to record with. Amplitude is a fantastic amp model that provides us with gorgeous clean guitars, drivey leads and warm round bass.
Monitoring (And mixing room)
The other facility provides a pair of enormous Genelec monitors which are a big focal point of the studio. They have a great sound quality and allow accurate mixing. The control room is also nicely treated and acoustically designed to allow the engineers to mix with accuracy.
White Room doesn't need monitors that large, but our monitoring is provided by a pair of very well respected Mackie HR824 monitor speakers. They're very accurate and punchy. The room has been nicely treated with acoustic panelling from EQ Acoustics to aid in mixing accuracy, along with a custom build tuned bass trap in the back wall to keep the lower frequencies in check.
Both facilities provide a great choice of industry standard microphones from the main manufacturers in the industry.
White Room's primary mics include a Neumann U87 and an SE Electronic Gemini for capturing vocals and guitar. I have other choices from AKG, Shure, Sontronics, Audix, etc for recording of guitar amps, drum kit, bass guitar, brass, strings, etc.
An educated and experienced engineer and producer
The other facility provides three engineers, of which one is very highly educated, experienced and very good.
I studied audio engineering at SSR School of Sound Recording, graduating second highest in my class (incidentally the guy who scored 2% higher than me never entered the industry). I also possess a 1st class Hons Degree in Music Performance Industries. I am a Certified Pro Tools Expert and I train Pro Tools users on behalf of Avid for their Certification programme. I also teach recording at Degree and BTEC level and I have written BTEC and Degree entire courses for University and College that have been successfully delivered since 2011.
As well as being very educated and experienced, I am very particular about exceeding my customer's expectations and usually work beyond the budget to achieve the sound that I am happy with. This is usually reflected on my invoices as "Endless Tweaking - £Free"!
The facility has access to a couple of session musicians, for which their services require additional payment.
I play all of pop music instruments to a fairly high degree as well as having a very good command of music theory, songwriting and arranging. Therefore, I can provide good guitar, bass and piano with no additional fees and MIDI programming for Drums, strings, etc.
For projects where session musicians would be brought in, I have a close contact with a local music Academy and a select number of fiercely talented students that enjoy the opportunity to gain experience in the studio during their study. While I don't advocate musicians working for free ( you'll see in my other blogs) I do suggest that young musicians take work experience anywhere they can get it while they're studying.
I would only choose to bring in appropriate students with appropriate abilities.
The cost of hiring the other facility is £300 per day. Of course, this has to cover the price of the engineer and the overheads that the business has to pay.
The cost of hiring The White Room is £175 per day (10 hours) and denominations thereof.
The studio is priced to be affordable for musicians wishing to record their music be it for their own use or for commercial sale.
I am also flexible to discuss projects that will fit to a client's budget so there is always room to manoeuvre.
White Room provides mixed music in a number of formats:
1. All client sessions are recorded at 32bit and 96k, as you'd expect in any professional studio in the world. This will mean that you source audio is captured at the highest possible quality, while also fluttering proofing your music for future formats and release. Any format that you wish to distribute your music in that will be derived from this.
2. HD Audio - 24bit / 44.1. As standard, your music will be delivered in the uncompressed format that the music industry is expected to adopt in the near future. Music has been distributed in 16bit / 44.1 since the introduction of CD and hasn't been updated since. 24bit files can be played on all media players and computer apps such as iTunes and the sound quality is much more 3 dimensional and tangible than 16bit. However, 24bit files cannot be written to CD or played on conventional CD players.
3. Standard quality audio - 16bit / 44.1. For the purposes of CD distribution, your music will be provided at the standard uncompressed distribution format.
4. MP3 - The standard distribution format for compressed music has been MP3 for a number of years. We will encode you music into this popular compressed format and include the ID3 tags so that the Artist/Album, etc is included when playing through your media player.
5. 4.0 Quad Surround Sound. While surround sound is unlikely to become a popular format to listen to music - it requires 4 speakers - there are musicians out there who wish to explore the possibilities of music and mixing albums in surround sound is one way of exploring creativity.
Artists have been recording 4.0 and 5.1 versions of their albums for a number of years and released on SACD (Super audio CD - essentially DVD!) that are played on home theatre systems and played back using the surround decoders.
All of these formats are provided as standard in the standard hourly rate and will be discussed at the beginning of the project.
And if that's not enough.... you'll also get to spend some time with our beautiful cat, Sadie!
A quick word about live rooms. Obviously I cannot hope to provide a live room at the same location as White Room. I can record effectively in the studio with vocals, acoustic guitar, bass, electric guitar, piano etc, but obviously I cannot record drums.
I do have a number of solutions to recording live drums, if a client so wishes, so the lack of live room provision with The White Room would not make a band recording project prohibitive. There maybe a slightly higher cost for the use of a very specific room, if we're after a specific sound, or if a studio is needed for the drum tracking sessions. However, the advantage is that the slightly higher cost will only apply to the time spent capturing the drums, which is a small portion of the recording schedule, and not to the entire project.
Thank you for taking the time to read this far - I realise it's a longer than usual blog. In return for reading, if you decide to book me for a day to record your project, I'll give you a £15 voucher upon the first bill being paid. When you email, make sure you reference that you're enquiring as a result of my blog.
Hopefully you'll be able to see that it's possible to achieve similar results at White Room studios compared to it's local competition.
I am a freelance engineer working to build my business so that I can maintain a living income. It's a hard industry to maintain business in so I ask for your help by sharing my blog around to your musical friends who may be looking for a affordable recording option on the south coast of the UK.
See www.davephillipsmusic.co.uk for contact information, or you can tweet my from the Api at the top of the page to @theprotoolsguy