Category Archives for "Studios"

February 28, 2017

Butch Vig’s Smart Studios Story

Smart StudiosProducer Butch Vig set up Smart Studios with bandmate Steve Marker in Madison, Wisconsin, and thanks to big hits from Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana, the studio helped define the grunge sound of the ’90s. Now a documentary has been made about the studio by former studio employee Wendy Schneider. Here’s a clip of the Wendy, Butch and Steve talking about the film, studio and gear and the studio’s legacy.

One of the cool parts about the film is you’ll see just how they used some lower-end studio and music gear and still got some great sounds.

Read more about the documentary and gear behind the studio here:

Studio Air Conditioning On A Budget

mini-split air conditionerOne of the things that frequently happens when building your own studio in your basement or garage is that you construct it to get as much isolation as possible, then realize that the temperature inside always hovers around tropic-level heat, even while the weather is below zero outside. That’s because the last thing that most home builders consider is ventilation and air exchange, or they think they don’t have enough money to get the air conditioning job done properly.

Here’s a quick excerpt from my Studio Builder’s Handbook (written with Dennis Moody) that covers what might be the best way to make those studio temperatures comfortable without spending a lot of cash.

“HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) is a bigger part of any studio than you might realize, so it has to be taken into consideration right in the beginning. Don’t even think of using a window air conditioner since they’re way too noisy and will defeat any isolation you might’ve built. For real studio HVAC you really only have two options; forced-air or a mini-split.

Forced-air is certainly the way to go but gets very expensive very quickly, since the ductwork has to use a lot of right angle bends and diffusors to lower the air speed so it doesn’t make any noise (air noise is a vocal killer). It also requires a concrete slab to mount it on the ground outside. Finally comes the installation labor, which must be done by a pro.

A much more viable solution is known as a “mini-split”. This is a system that’s very popular in Europe and Asia were the compressor is located outside the building and the air handling unit inside. All that’s required is a 1″ hole that’s cut through the wall to allow access for a hose to go from the compressor unit outside to a cooling head mounted on the wall inside the studio, and a small drainage hose. The cooling head is mounted on a wall and is very quite. Depending upon how large your space is, a unit that puts out between 9,000 and 12,000 BTU unit may be enough. A big plus for the mini-split is that not only is it inexpensive, it’s very quiet as well. They are also available with an optional “heat pumps” for those cold winter days that everyone experiences (even in warm climates).

While you can install a mini-split yourself, your might want to get a pro HVAC technician to do the complete job. It should only take a few hours to install, so it won’t be outrageously expensive, but because these units need freon gas to function, you’ll have to have a professional technician do the freon work and they charge a lot for handling this gas. Even with the extra expense of a professional tech, at least you’ll be sure that it’s done right. Make sure that you have the unit serviced every year, and keep the filter clean as that helps to keep the unit from getting noisy.

If you do decide to install a forced-air system, it’s important to know where your feeds and returns are going to be. For instance, you don’t want to place an air conditioning feed directly over the mixing position of your console, or directly over were your drums are going to be set up. As practical as this might sound, you’ll find this kind of direct placement will mean that it will become uncomfortably cold when the air blows directly on you. Make sure you put the feed in a place where it will be defused and quiet.”

You can read more from The Studio Builder’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of

October 25, 2016

The World’s 10 Best Concert Halls

musikverein concert hallMost mixers have at least one convolution reverb in their arsenal that has a variety of concert hall impulses. Ah, but the question is, do you have the right ones? Why not have the best of the best (if you can get them). Here’s a list of the world’s 10 best concert halls (inspired by an article in Business Insider) as judged by the godfather of acousticians, the recently passed Dr. Leo Beranek.

#1: Musikverein, Vienna, Austria (pictured on the left)

This is a relatively small hall at only 1,744 seats. According to Beranek in his Concert Halls and Opera Houses book, “the superior acoustics of the hall are due to its rectangular shape, its relatively small size, its high ceiling with resulting long reverberation time, the irregular interior surfaces, and the plaster interior.”

#2: Symphony Hall, Boston, USA

Another small one at 2,625 seats, famed acoustician and Harvard professor Wallace Clement Sabine helped plan the hall, while introducing his new technique to measure and increase reverberation time.

#3: Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Netherlands

 Yet another small one at 1,974 seats (see a trend here?).

#4: Konzerthaus Berlin, Germany

Just 1,600 seats, this concert hall opened in 1821, but was severely damaged during WW2. It reopened as a concert hall again 1984.

#5: Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, Japan

Another small one at 1,662 seats, but different from the rest in that it’s relatively new, opening in 1997. Who says we can’t make them as good anymore?

#6: Stadtcasino Basel, Switzerland

Just 1,600 seats, again showing that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.

 #7: Symphony Hall, Birmingham, England

Another relatively new hall, opening in 1991. It’s somewhat larger than the others at 2,262 seats.

#8: Culture and Congress Centre (KKL), Lucerne, Switzerland

Another new one, opening in 1998 and having 1,840 seats.

#9: St. David’s Hall, Cardiff, Wales

This hall opened in 1992 and seats 2,000.

#10: Meyerson Center, Dallas, USA

Another relatively new hall, it first opened in 1989 and holds 2,062.

When we think of the finest concert halls, we automatically think of something large with a long decay time. If this top 10 list indicates anything, that supposition is far from the case, as smaller halls are consistently considered to sound better. Maybe that will play into our reverb settings in the future. Goodbye large hall?

October 18, 2016

Frank Zappa Studio And Estate Up For Auction

Frank ZappaEveryone who knew Frank Zappa is shedding a tear at the fact that items from the great composer’s estate, which includes gear from his legendary Utility Muffin Research Kitchen studio, is about to go to auction. The property was on the market for about $5.5 million, and has reportedly been purchased by Lady Gaga.

Among the items available include Harrison and Neve consoles, tape machines and gear from his studio, all his touring and rehearsal gear from Joe’s Garage, and a wide variety of musical instruments. A full list can be found here.

As often happens when the parents die and money has to be split amongst the siblings, Frank and Gail’s children have been particularly divided over the sale and auction, which has led to much acrimony between them. For anyone who has spent any time at the estate, it’s a particularly sad way to see it go. One can only hope that their differences can be resolved so that Frank’s memory can continue unimpeded by anything but peace, love and music. Check out the video below for a look at the estate.

August 18, 2016

10 Nashville Music Row Studios Offer Tour Package

Nashville's Music rowIn the “Why didn’t anyone think of that sooner?” category comes the news that 10 famous Nashville Music Row studios are teaming up to offer tours. After years of getting requests from tourists to see behind the scenes of what goes on in the studios on Music Row, it seems that the idea has finally taken hold.

One of the factors that made this decision easier is the fact that all studios need as many revenue sources as they can get these days, but Music Row is also under siege from developers and the Metro to reclaim what’s become very valuable real estate. More tourists to the area could stop those plans, at least for the time being.

Music Row has been endangered for some time, with much new development, as well as Vanderbilt University taking over more and more as the college expands. There’s now a new movement to preserve it as an historic district, but at this point that’s no sure thing.

The 10 studio group is important because in the past, no one wanted to interrupt a session in progress. Having a number of studios in the group means that at least some of the them would always be available. That said, studios will try to schedule tours on their traditional down time, which is mornings and Sunday afternoons.

It should be noted that the famous RCA Studio B has been set up as a museum and has been operating tours since way back in 1977, but that shows the recording process as it once was, and not how it operates today. It’s now owned by the Country Music Hall of Fame and co-operated by Belmont University, which owns many of the great studios in the area.

Music Row Studios participating in the program include Ocean Way Studios, Omnisound Studios, House of David, Spirit Music, Black River Sound Stage and Ronnie’s Place, Catch This Music Studio, Jay’s Place Recording Studio, Columbia Studio and the Quonset Hut, The Tracking Room, and Sound Emporium Studios.

I’d love to see the same thing available in Hollywood. A tour of United, Cello, Capitol, Record Plant and Henson (to name just a few) would be an awesome attraction to the many tourists that come to town every day.