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Tape Project at Soundpark Studio

Last Week, I got an opportunity to visit the famous Soundpark Studio in Melbourne. The studio has housed a lot of famous ARIA winning records and engineers but you couldn’t tell that by looking at the exterior of the building. The building looks dingy and old and it would be impossible for any first timers like us to realize that a professional studio with thousands of dollars worth of equipment was in there. Its equally difficult to find the entrance of the building which turned out to be a small worn out door at the rear side. Maybe it was all intentional for safety reasons as the gear inside was very expensive; some of which are very rare to find nowadays.

Nevertheless, we were supposed to record a Melbourne-based Rock band called the “White Vans” that day. Out project brief included recording a band to tape, which would be the 24-Track Studer A80 MK IV Tape Machine. This Tape Machine is very hard to find in new recording studios all over the world, let alone in Melbourne.

I was very excited that day, reason being that this was the first time I would be part of a recording session involving a Tape Machine. Before that day, I had only heard about these expensive and beautiful sounding beasts but never actually got a chance to use one myself.

Coming back to the studio, the inside was something I had never seen before. It looked and smelled like it had been there since antiquity. You could tell that the studio has been through a lot and had seen a lot of artists, bands and engineers come and go. There a big wall in the control room which has on display the studio’s most successful records till date. The back catalogue of this studio is amazing and I was so happy to be there; all thanks to SAE, particularly to our chief engineer and mentor, Dave Turner.

The studio housed four recording spaces; a Wood Room, Mid Room, Dead Room and the Main Recording area. Each room had its own characteristic sound and application.

The Wood Room, as the name suggests had polished wooden walls and was small. It was preferred for miking up guitar amps but it wasn’t uncommon to record vocals there as well.

The Mid Room looked octagonal in shape and it’s doors opened out to the Main recording room. This room was popular for recording drums.

The Dead room didn’t have any reflections going on because of heavy acoustic dampening so it was best suited for recording bass amps and even vocals in some instances.

The main recording room was a long open area with a high ceiling and natural light coming in. This room was used if the band wanted to record in the same area. There was a variety of dusty vintage instruments like acoustic and electric pianos, synthesizers, organ etc. All of the microphones were also placed in this room.

What really surprised me about this studio was how they treated their gear. The microphones, instead of being in their designated boxes or bags were all out open and mounted on stands ready to be used. Almost every microphone looked as if it had been through a lot; some had scratches while others had dents in their grills. And I’m not talking about some cheap 300-dollar mics, these babies were top of the line high-end microphones, some of which cost thousands of dollars.

The control room

The control room housed a lot of vintage and modern outboard effects, dynamic processors and EQs.

There was a big plate reverb hiding behind a couch at the back of the room which sounded amazing. There was a huge range of preamps like the Neves and Ross Giles, APIs and Chandler EQs, Dynamic processors like the Distressor, LA-2A and 1176s. I even found an old Roland TR-808 drum machine sitting on a table in the dark.

There was so much gear and options to chose from that it was impossible to check them all out in one day. It was good that we all came with a list of stuff we were going to use.

The session was mixed and managed using an older version of Pro Tools which was a little “laggy” to work with.

The Session

For the first hour of the session, before the band came in; Dave gave us a tour of the studio and helped us familiarize with the gear and their operation. The band came in around 11:30 and by that time we were all feeling quite comfortable with the studio.

I was assigned the role of Console operator. The console was a 32-Channel 1976 MCI JH500, which was used mostly as a pre amp instead a full audio mixing board. This was a bit of a let down as I would’ve loved mixing on that board and this also meant that me and Ryan’s (Pro Tools Operator) role were interchangeable now. But it was all good since we were all jumping in and doing everything together.

We miked the drums, bass and guitars together with Elly and Xander doing most of the heavy work. Me and Ryan worked on setting up the Pro Tools session and helping Dean and Thompson out with patching all the mics in to their designated preamps. We sent all the Toms and Hi Hats to MCI, which was being used as a preamp. We grouped them together before sending them out to the Tape Machine. There were 2 channels on the Tape Machine that weren’t working that day but we still had enough channels to record everything.

After everything was set up, we were ready to hit record and then it was all about sitting back and listening to the band do their own thing. Everything was already sounding good, thanks to Dave who has a very experienced set of ears. He EQd some, phase inverted some and compressed some while we all watched him bring the best out of that studio that day.

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