Not for the faint hearted, nurturing a successful recording studio business in 2016 demands certain intuitions while a bottomless supply of work ethic doesn’t hurt, either. The upgrade examples shared here are rich in wisdom and foresight.

From Anthony Gravino’s The Drake studio in Chicago to Joe Trohman of Fall Out Boy and his Rat Cave studio in Los Angeles, private production spaces are increasingly upgrading to serve their respective niche markets, becoming further evolved hybrid analog/digital recording rooms in the process. Small, high-quality analog mixers—such as Gravino’s API The Box and Trohman’s  API Model 1608—are frequently the discriminating choices of pros with signature production styles, especially those that continue to require the tonalities of the traditional large recording studio even if working in residential spaces.

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Deciding not to worry about vintage console maintenance, Gravino attests, “I didn’t want a huge console in my control room, and sonically, it would be on par with what I had [used] before…it’s perfect for what I do: a lot of overdub tracking and not as many live band ’16 inputs at once’ kind of things. I cut to tape at other studios and then finish it here.”

At New York City’s Conclave Studios, founder Mitch Cox and engineer Jon Kita uniquely cater to heavy metal artists, thus carefully choose the kind of products they feel work best in capturing the tonalities of extreme music. The studio is anchored by a new 24/48-channel AMS Neve Genesys featuring 1073 preamps and 1084 EQs and DAW control tied to a 48-channel Pro Tools HD rig. “[Some] metal can sound sterile because you’re playing many notes with staccato precision very quickly, potentially giving it a cold feel,” explains Cox. “[The 1073] brings out the harmonic character of those notes, adding to it. From that perspective, the 1073 was absolutely the way to go.”

In Berry Hill, TN, Playground Recording’s Tim Coyle—like other mid-sized pro rooms serving major label clients—recently opted to upgrade from an older analog console to an “emerging classic,” the massive Solid State Logic 4000 Series analog mixer—specifically, a 4056 E/G with G+ computer and VCA automation. Purchased from DARP Studios in Atlanta, this vintage upgrade is right up the alley of many engineers in Coyle’s generation. “We do a lot of tracking, so would it have been a better fit to put in an API, a ‘true vintage’ Neve, or something like that?” asks Coyle rhetorically. “Maybe, but the owners would’ve never made their money back…. There are a lot of folks that love to track on these consoles; our generation kind of gravitates toward it.”

In Royal Oak, MI, Roger Goodman’s new $3M Royal House Recording went showroom-new in his console choice—a 48-channel Solid State Logic Duality—while working with retailer Vintage King to flesh out his racks with flavorful new and vintage API 500 Series gear, tube processing and high-end microphones. “Most importantly,” confirms Goodman, “I went with Duality because it’s a real energy saver compared to the SSLs of old. I don’t have to have extra air conditioning just to run a large analog console.”

Meanwhile, an encouraging number of recording schools and baccalaureate university programs are investing in the latest flagship analog consoles—for example, Boone, NC’s Appalachian State University’s and Cleveland, MS’s Delta State University’s 2016 installations of the SSL Duality ∂elta with built-in DAW console automation. “Not only is the Duality a great professional console, but a great console to teach on because of its analog and digital features,” explains Delta State’s Tricia Walker.

Elsewhere in academia, others are breaking new ground in bleeding-edge audio production techniques. At Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication, Kyle P. Snyder explains his department’s investment in a 32-fader Yamaha Nuage control surface paired with Steinberg Nuendo. “There is absolutely no better software for creating audio for [VR] than Nuendo. [Our] students will know how to produce audio for all this and beyond, leaving the school well-prepared for the future.”