Category Archives: Recording Studio Business

The Archetypes at OnLine Audio

I don’t have much from my old studio days. We had a few photos, but Robert (Graves, studio owner) and I can’t seem to find them. The equipment, of course, is long gone… I especially miss the Neumann U87 and KM84 that we had. About all I have to prove I was there is a small number of test cassettes and a portfolio of graphic designs. (This includes one OnLine Audio “Don’t Worry, We’ll Fix It In The Mix” T-shirt… my best design.)

Up until the last year or two of the studio’s operation, I held two jobs… I’d work at the studio from about 10AM-2pm, then drive across the bridge to do the news at Channel 2. So for many years, I would do daytime sessions, and Robert would do the nighttime. (though for the last year or two, I had resigned from the station and worked at the studio full time… Robert was getting really tired of being there every night during our busy periods.) Most of the serious musicians wanted to schedule at night. And since he was the owner, Robert got first right of refusal on sessions. That meant I did a LOT of rap music and people who had never been in the studio, so many of the projects I did were… well… not so notable.

But some were. I believe that my very favorite project where I did the majority of the album was the Archetypes. I can’t remember how it came to pass that I got this one and not Robert, but if I remember correctly, I did most of the tracking and mixing on this album. Perhaps not all of it… I think Robert might have done some work on it as well.

The Archetypes, circa 1989

Since nearly all of our artists were self-financed, we did all the basic tracks… guitar, bass, drums, and usually vocals… on the same pass, since setting up and tuning a drum kit could take a couple of hours. We’d cut eight songs in a single day. The bass was recorded direct, drums in the drum room, rest of the group in the main studio. (Though we learned later to put the guitar amp in the drum booth, then record the drums in the main room, which was big and “live…” maybe 18×25 or so, with high  ceilings and hardwood floors…) OnLine Audio was in a business incubator at 701 East Bay St., in the shadow of the old bridge to Mt. Pleasant. The place has gone condo now.

Once the basic tracks were laid, we’d do overdubs and punch-ins. Our Otari MX80 was great at this, and is another machine I wish I could afford.

An Otari MX80, 24 track version… a sweet machine.

While this method keeps the studio time affordable, it also tends to make mixdown a little harder, since you have the same basic sound to work with, and I remember having to struggle a bit in order to get the songs on the album to sound “good but different.”

Two of the songs  from this album have been posted on ReverbNation, and you can listen to them here. If you like the songs, buy the album (and tell them I sent you!)

ArchetypesSample

Hurricane Hugo in 1989 put an end to the studio. While we were mostly able to repair the water damage and held on until 1990, the drop in business volume and rising monthly costs forced us to throw in the towel. I went off to grad school, and Robert went into real estate and renovation, where he was very successful until the market crashed. Unfortunately, tinnitus has severely limited his recording activities, but he made some really good records at OnLine Audio.

The Archetypes in 2010

Read an article about the Archetypes from 2003 in the Charleston Post & Courier here, another from the Charleston City Paper here.

POSTSCRIPT: If you recorded at OnLine Audio, please drop me a line… I’d especially like to get a copy of any photos or music that you might have. Thanks!

Simple Broadband Absorbers

Here’s how I built a pair of simple broadband absorbers to cut down the room sound in my studio. These work as good as specialized acoustic treatments, but cost far less, and their absorption is good down to the 500Hz region, and it’s fairly flat across the spectrum. Note that absorbers don’t stop outside sounds from getting into the studio… they do shorten the reverb time of instruments as they are played in the room.

The absorber starts with a simple 1×3 wooden frame.

It’s really nothing more than a simple wooden frame with fiberglass fill, covered with cloth. Mine measured about 5’6″ by 30″. I used cheap 1×3 lumber (which is really about 5/8″ x 2 1/2″), but a true 1×4 would be better. If you use cheap wood, count on spending more time building them… I had to pre-drill all the nail holes to prevent the weak wood from splitting. I also used construction adhesive on all the joints.

The frame gets filled with plain R13 fiberglass. A few staples helps hold the fiberglass in place.

Once the frame is built and the fiberglass positioned, all you have to do is attach the cloth. I used a staple gun. They are fairly light, so they can hang on the wall with a simple screw. There may be times when I’ll want more room sound… then it’s a simple matter to move these somewhere else. Or stack them around a guitar amp, for example… they’re very handy to have around.

I turned the absorber over and stapled cloth to the backside, and it’s finished.

The finished absorber in place

A Mixer Table and Gear Racks

Here’s a look at my mixer table that I just completed. Since the Soundcraft 800 didn’t come with any kind of stand, I had to build something. This table is built entirely from two sheets of 3/4″ birch plywood and cost about a hundred bucks. It had a pair of slope-front gear racks and a removable “bridge” for the speakers and computer monitors. Thanks to the panel saw at Home Depot, I was able to put this together fairly quickly… less than two days.Image

I still need to order rails to mount the gear. And of course, I need to get the master section of the mixer rebuilt by Creation Audio Labs in Nashville before I’ll be functional. But it’s been a good bit of progress… hopefully we’ll be mixing in a matter of weeks.Image

While you can buy much nicer studio furniture from some of the suppliers listed in Mix Magazine, I firmly believe that it’s imperative to keep overhead costs as low as possible in almost any recording studio, especially considering the current state of the industry. This is what killed us at On Line Audio (my old studio in Charleston). Some months, business would be good, others not so good and income would be down… but the bills kept coming in like clockwork, and Robert (the owner) couldn’t afford to keep covering the losses.

Studio Construction is Finished

I’m happy to report that the heavy construction work on my studio is complete. All the drywall has been hung, sanded and painted (except for a section near the service panel… if I drywall there, then I can’t add other electrical lines, so that part will be left bare for awhile). I laid the last of the flooring a few days ago. The maintenance and engineering dept, aka my workbench, has been built and is ready to work. Now I’ve got to figure out the best place to put all my stuff.

Almost as soon as I got my bench finished, I turned my attention to the mixer. I’ve discovered much more than the “few issues” that I was told about when I bought it. The good news is that nearly all the input channels are functional… one channel wasn’t connected, so that was easily corrected, and number 26 has a bad HPF switch and only works when the filter is active. And the power supply does have new capacitors in it.

The bad news is the master section has got a number of very mysterious problems, with no obvious or easily traceable causes. I think the best course of action here is to send it off to Creation Audio Labs in Nashville to see if they can sort it out. I expect to be sending them a lot of work over the next few months, but I plan to break it up into installments and have them do the work as I can afford it.

The next job on my work list will be to build a cabinet to house the mixer and equipment racks for the outboard gear. I’ve designed a desk that I can build for about $150 or so, it’s just a matter of getting the plywood and slicing it up.

Lots of other finish work remains… installing double glass in the window & trimming that out, treating the door for sound isolation, etc. I expect that to take awhile yet. And I’ll need to buy an air conditioner before the heat of the summer starts up in earnest. But it’s very nearly a useable space right now, which is an enjoyable feeling.

Update: By replacing a voltage regulator in the power supply, I was able to correct a mysterious problem with the LED meters where it would only illuminate in segments of five LEDs… as the signal increased, the lower five LEDs would go dark while the next segment lit up. Very odd. Channel 26 was repaired with a copious squirt of contact cleaner. Next on the list is a rather large order for capacitors from Mouser… there’s room on the boards to increase the voltage and temperature rating.

Building a Studio

Karen and I recently moved to a new house. It’s quite a bit larger overall than our old place… there’s more room for our teenage son, a more-isolated space for Karen’s work (she delivers web-based training, so things have to be quiet). And for me… a freestanding, 2-car garage.

My soon-to-be studio space

This is going to become my all-purpose space… my office, certainly, as well as equipment storage and a bench for electronics fabrication and repairs. But primarily, this space will be my studio, though it won’t have a separate control room. Instead, tracking and mixing will be done in the same area to capitalize on the relatively small footprint (about 300 square feet). We did a lot of work this way at my old studio.

It’s been awhile, but this isn’t the first studio I’ve built. Robert and I built the first OnLine Audio location in Charleston, SC, rebuilding two front rooms of his house into a studio and control room. We started with a 1/2″ 8-track, and then quickly went up to a 1″ 16 track recorder. When we bought the 24 track, we moved to a large space on East Bay St in an old cigar factory that had been converted into a small business development center. The other tenants hated it when we fired up a big stack of Marshalls, but that usually occurred after regular business hours. Robert and I designed and built the control room, iso booth, and large studio room, and we put the 16 track and mixer into a “B” room.

The interior of the studio looked like this when I started.

Construction has been going on for about six weeks now. The old “ceiling” has been removed, exposing the heart pine beams. The underside of the roof was layered with Quiet Brace (tarboard), and drywall has been applied to about 75% of the roof joists. I’m exposing the old beams and installing a vaulted ceiling. It’s a pain in the ass, but it will add a lot of cubic footage to the space… and it should look really classy besides.

Electrical work was finally completed last week… I went through five different electricians before somebody finally showed up to do the work. But I’ve now got a separate 50-amp service line for the audio and lighting, with a dedicated ground. I’ve installed new outlets along all of the walls, and now the insulation and drywall are going up. Garage doors were removed and replaced with an insulated double door and insulated stud wall to reduce sound transmission in both directions. I still have a lot of acoustical leaks to plug, but since it’s a cinderblock building, the space is already relatively quiet.

The studio as of January 4th, 2012… it’s a construction site minus the workers. Things are progressing, despite the mess.

I’ll be posting more photos as work progresses. Right now, everything’s a big mess. Work remaining to do… install blown insulation in the ceiling and seal up the sheetrock, install sheetrock and insulation on 2 more walls, insulate and sheetrock the gable ends. Tape, mud, and sand all the joints. Seal up & insulate the doors, install another window, add trim. Paint, Install the floor, build the workbench and gear storage racks. Then I can start looking at studio furniture and consider the purchase of a larger mixer… ideally, something like a Soundcraft 600… but not as big as the TS12 we had at OnLine Audio. I figure it’ll be a month longer at a bare minimum, but probably 2 more month’s work before I can start moving equipment in.

My studio will have digital capability, but the plan is to use an analog signal path for mixdown as much as possible. Plus I’ve got a design in my head for an old-school plate reverb that I’m dying to try.

Building a studio in today’s economy doesn’t seem like a good idea, but it’s about the only way that one can do studio work anymore. There are very, very few “studio jobs” left as more places close down. Several other studios exist here in Chattanooga, ( one less than a block away) plus Nashville is less than two hour’s drive from here. So I won’t be taking out any loans or installing a Neve. But I feel quite certain that I can bring some rather unique skills to the party, and that I can develop some markets for my little studio. More info will be posted as it develops.