BBC Maida Vale with The Skints
Yesterday I had the privilege to once again visit one of the most famous recording studios in the western world, BBC Maida Vale Studios in London.
The first time I entered Maida Vale was actually as an artist, playing guitar and singing in my own band Giants, who were recording 3 originals and a special cover of Weezer's "Hash Pipe" for the now defunct (and sorely missed) Radio One Punk Show with Mike Davis. Whilst I was an assistant at a studio back then and loved recording in all forms, I had little idea that I would be pursuing a career in audio production/mixing.
The Skints had been asked to perform a few songs for BBC Radio One Xtra and invited me for the ride, knowing that I would love the chance to get through the doors again.
The building has this kind of "heavy silence" as you enter it's doors, which is probably due to everyone reacting in their minds to the sheer weight of the names that have recorded here in the past (everyone from The Cure, to Led Zeppelin, Alexisonfire, Foo Fighters, The Beatles... the list goes on and on). I last visited it in September 2013, and it hasn't changed at all. In fact I took some photographs of my bands outing there and I swear certain pieces of equipment in the control room hadn't moved an inch in 6 years.
The engineers Guy and Nicholas were extremely welcoming to the band and crew. Guy, having been an engineer there since 1999, gave me a quick history lesson on the place after commenting on the buildings architecture and decor, for which I'm eternally grateful for. He explained, that after being an Ice Rink pre WW2 it was used as a standby centre for BBC Radio News during the war.
Guy then explained that it was also used to intercept and record Nazi propaganda during the war, as the British government knew that there would be war trials after the war had ended. People would be set up in booths next to each other, and would spend the day dialling across radio frequencies to intercept any propaganda messages they could find.
The studio was also home to the London symphony orchestra, who still use the place for rehearsals and recordings now and then.
Some of the microphones in this place are worth more than all of my audio equipment put into one, including this original, rare as you can get AKG C24 Stereo Condenser (which was used for overheads on drums) which Guy told me was "found in a cupboard out the back one day". Can you imagine finding a £15,000 microphone "in a cupboard"?!?!?!?
Although this is a rather out of character "gear slutz" related blog post from me (I'm a strong believer in "it's the ear not the gear"), it was really nice to chat the engineers Guy and Nicholas about their techniques and find that they shared loads of the same minimalist engineering views (lol) as myself.
Guy is a massive advocate of the SM7B and SM58, favouring them for vocals and other mid range dependant elements over most condensers, believing that most modern condenser mics focus too much on the top end and don't pack quite as much mid range punch.
They also barely use room mics, preferring to use the combined vocal mics in the room. Something that I have come to appreciate by recording so many live sessions myself, the idea that once you've gotten a good live vocal sound, you'll have gotten yourself a pretty decent room mic sound too.
The way Guy engineers drums was fantastic to see/hear. He uses a pretty standard set up, but combines the AKG C24 (ORTF) and a stereo pair of Coles 3048 ribbon mics for the overhead sound. He then brings the overheads up first, and adds in the close mics to that, checking that nothing takes away from that picture of the kit as he goes. Whilst I couldn't use this technique on every record that I make, I couldn't deny how simply amazing the drum kit sounded.
The control room boasts a 48 channel SSL board, hand made nearfield monitors, 3 1176 silver face compressors and more. A true gear porn cave of the highest order.
The Skints paved their way through 5 amazing tracks with ease (as usual) and it all sounded absolutely incredible, I'll post a few clips on my Insta story. I cannot wait to hear it live on air!
Big thanks to them for having me along for the day, it was great to be back in the room and gave me a shed load of inspiration for my next recording projects. It's always good to stay inspired in what you do, especially when things start to feel monotonous.
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