Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Edinburgh calling: PSNEurope meets Stephen Watkins, Tape studio

Talking Avid, analogue and ambassadors’ parties with Tape’s Stephen Watkins

Housed within a former whisky bond (“Very Scottish,” says studio manager Gareth Anderson) and designed by Munro Acoustics, Edinburgh’s Tape studio – the brainchild of Stephen A. Watkins and Fiona McNab – bills itself as a first for Scotland.

“[Tape is] something both new and inspiring – completely armed to the teeth with the most desirable of equipment and acoustics, yet affordable and accessible to emerging talent and established acts alike,” explains Anderson. “[It’s s]omewhere to focus on artistic development and the massive, over-the-top production style Stephen had been cultivating in the dark, [and] somewhere to feel at home and be inspired within for long projects.

“Edinburgh – and Scotland in general – has always lacked such a place, so why move when we can build and invest right here?”

PSNEurope: How did you choose your desks, monitors, DAW, tape machine, etc.?
Stephen: As far as DAWs are concerned, Cubase is and always has been at the top of the pile for me. I used to find it laughable that Avid were touting automatic delay compensation as a feature just a couple of years ago, when we had already been using Steinberg products to do just that for nearly a decade! The only tool that made me slightly envious was the old ‘tab to transient’ feature. Not any more, though! I am just not a fan of Avid stuff, to be honest. It is all a bit of an ‘Apple life’/ ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mentality. Make records your own way.

At this point all DAWs are incredible. Personal preference. End of.

The monitors in room two – my mix room – are [Yamaha] NS10s with an Infinity sub, KRK 9000Bs, Avantone MixCubes and custom-made Dynaudio MA 15Ps (which are very, very nice indeed). Oh, and a wee, shan Gear4 Bluetooth boombox bought in the HMV closing-down sale at [shopping centre] Ocean Terminal for the small sound. This simulates reality in 2014 – very good at forcing one to focus in on the 7/8kHz range that seems oh so important during these times of laptop fidelity and iPod docks…

The Dynaudios were chosen to compliment the NS10s for more top-end extension, and the rest I have used forever. Mix translation! I even like the wee mono speaker built into my Studer A810. Punchy! Downstairs in room one, we have a big pair of Dynaudio C3As, the usual NS10s and, of course, two Avantone MixCubes.

Everything is about character when you have pristine digital recording at your fingertips, and people are mostly choosing two-inch tape as a capture medium simply for flavour and saturation these days, so we went for my all-time favourite: the classic Studer A80. Hit it hard and print it in. Wonderful on rhythm sections – an amazing way to ruin a drum sound, actually! I don’t even use my Dolby SR XP any more… scary, eh? Over-bias time!

What about the console?
The SSL Duality is simply the best of the best available right now. I was an E-Series kind of mixer before – obsessed with Bob Clearmountain’s ‘80s stuff – and this is just the next step. I love it. Absolutely the best pairing of human and technology ever. Apart from the T-1000. Hasta la vista…

All the outboard I already had: 19 1176s, eight Vac Racs eight Dynamites and about 500 other beautiful and rare pieces – EMT 140 plates, EMT 251, etc. The building was the final piece of the puzzle… The glue that binds it all together.

What were the three bits of ‘other’ kit (mics, outboard, software) you felt you HAD to have?
Well, my favourite vintage pieces include the Coles ball-and-biscuit mic for mono ambience duties (dynamic omni, bandwidth-limited, great attitude… loved it on the drums in the hallway) and the [Coles] 4038s, which no human being with a preamp should be without – just my all-time favourite go-to microphone.

[I like the] Brauner VM1 for a modern brighter tone, and the Violet Flamingo Stereo mic – which is absolutely incredible, if you ask me: it looks like something from Ann Summers – is incredible on harp. We also bought all of the JZ range for some hissless, classic voicings without the hassle, and they all integrated well.

Software I don’t care for much, and outboard – well, we had about a million pieces already. I finally managed to source an old Sony DRE 2000 after years of hunting, so that was nice. As I said, we already had everything years before the studio was even built! So it was more about augmenting the already ridiculous pile of music junk at a time when we were receiving 30 deliveries a day – casually sneaking in a few Thomann orders and that… [Laughs]

What’s the ‘five-year plan’?
To boldly go where no studio has gone before. (Couldn’t resist…) To make it to №1!

What are the challenges and advantages of being central to Edinburgh?
No challenges. Apart from the listed building status during the construction phase – and the original hunt for the studio itself being near impossible in a city that wants to turn every single unoccupied space into a block of new-build flats for the yuppie types – it is in most ways the perfect location. We even have free parking AND you are never more than eight steps away from a Lagavulin [whisky] on the rocks. Beat that!

What was the first recording made in Tape?
I have produced, arranged and recorded two records here since we opened in February 2014. The first is the debut LP by hotly tipped Scottish band BooHooHoo, which is an absolutely piping smash! If you have ever wondered what an SSL Duality sounds like when it is going absolutely off its nut, then stay tuned…

We also just finished tracking the incredible Dead Boy Robotics album in room one, which in a few days is about to be mixed upstairs in – dun dun DUN – room two! See how it works? Tape is basically the ambassador’s party of recording!

With this Ferrero Rocher, you are really spoiling us…