By Janice Brown
Fort Worth, TX (July 9, 2007)–When composer/producer John Evans decided to create a music production environment inside his home, he avoided typical home studio limitations by heeding the advice of studio designer Russ Berger, who’s happy to spread this message: “There’s no electronic magic that will overcome bad acoustics or noise.” Determined to get beyond the space limitations of the existing house he shared with his wife and writer/lyricist Sandy, Evans contracted Berger to work with the home-builder to design a duplicate house on a larger property, adding a recording studio wing on one end.
Evans’ objective with the studio was to be able to track a small to medium-sized ensemble–with room for drums and acoustic piano–and his willingness to go with a totally new ground-up build bought him Berger-approved dimensions in the studio spaces, and room for extensive isolation between the studio and residence. “Russ suggested we go with 15-foot ceilings for the studio,” noted Evans. “Since we have a one-level home, the architect for the house had an interesting moment regarding the roof design but that was worked out in short order. In the end, there’s no indication to a passer-by that one end of the house is a 1,700-square foot recording facility.”
The studio complex, named Studio Records for Evans’ newly formed record label, consists of one large control room, a live room, two isolation booths, and a machine room. Berger described how close they kept to the original house design: “We modified one of the bedrooms and bathrooms from the existing plan, and changed one of the hallway corridors into the break between the back of the house and the studio, so the studio can be totally locked off from the house.”
Additionally, a guest bedroom and studio bathroom and kitchen can be locked off with the studio from the house. Sessions can load in from the garage into the live room, so that the residence can be virtually undisturbed while an entire album is recorded and mixed in the studio.
Berger points out that once future-proofing for the sake of real estate value is considered, there are certain irrefutable conditions on a potential home studio build to which he believes more and more owners–including Evans–are subscribing. “People are realizing that the acoustic character of the room can either make or break a recording,” Berger assured. “Your smallest dimension is what sets the low frequency response in your control room, and to a great degree, the quality of sound that you get out of a studio–not only isolation from instrument to instrument playing open in the room–but also how the instruments sound as they speak into the room, unfold, and then what returns back to the microphones. So, as the room starts getting smaller, and the volumes, therefore, lower, you have less accuracy in your monitoring environment and less flexibility in your recording environment.”
Congas miked up in Studio Records live room Over the two years Studio Records was being built, Evans selected and purchased all new equipment, and technical components. “Most of the equipment was purchased at Sweetwater,” Evans shared, adding that he also “enlisted the services of Joe Ogburn of Ground Zero Services in Austin for the mapping out and final installation.” Evans chose a Digidesign Pro Tools HD3 Accel system as his main recording platform, adding control with a Pro Control set up in an Argosy desk. He also invested in several outside-the-box processing options, including Avalon and API mic pres, Manley SLAM, Variable-MU and Vox Box, Universal Audio LA-2As and 1176LNs, Eventide DSP7000, Lexicon PCM-91, Focusrite Red 7 and dbx preamps. He’s got plenty of miking options with a cabinet of Neumann, Royer, AKG, Audio-Technica, Sennheiser and Shure mics and custom mixes via the Furman HDS-6. The MOTU MIDI Timepiece is the interface for Evans’ host of keyboard MIDI controllers.
A jazz composer, player and producer, Evans is known for his work with jazz saxophonist David Sanborn on the Grammy-nominated album, Hideaway. The first project to be done completely at Studio Records, Dream brought several jazz musicians together to perform five of Evans’ instrumental compositions, and–effectively–put the studio through its paces. “I wrote and recorded the rhythm section parts, recorded the melodies and harmonies and then called in the players,” Evans recalled. “You see, once I’m certain that I’ve achieved the correct mood, I know the players can fall right into it and enjoy themselves. The musicians come in, listen to the track, and are ready to start recording before the piece has finished playing.”
Evans recorded nearly all his players by Neumann U86 to API 3124+ into Pro Tools HD3 onto a LaCie hard drive. The U86s were even used as drum overheads, with a combo of Shure SM57, Sennheiser E602 and Audio-Technica AT 4050 used respectively on snare, kick and hi-hats. “For this particular album, I didn’t mic toms individually,” he mentioned. “I started out trying the three mic method, but ended up adding snare and high hat mics. The overheads did a marvelous job of picking up the toms, though I wouldn’t advise using the U86s unless your drummer is an experienced studio player and has a delicate touch with cymbals.”
Evans was totally pleased with tracking sounds, and in mixing, was able to employ the other major studio component custom designed by Berger–the Precision Kinetics monitoring system. “I feel the word transparent is often overused, but in the case of the Precision Kinetics system, I can find no other more appropriate description,” says Evans. “No fatigue, no false highs or lows. I could work at a very low dB level and still hear everything. After finishing the mixes and listening in the car and several other locations, I was thrilled at how consistently the final mix presented in the different environments.”