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Leading Irish studio lodges new initiative

Grouse Lodge, the famous residential outpost, is offering a revitalised recording model

Italian-born songwriter, sound engineer and record producer Filippo Gaetani gets about. Having run a bucolic little slice of heaven called Le Bozze for a while – as a unique Tuscan recording hideaway – he began collaborating with songwriters in Vienna, LA and London to build up a freelance production network that eventually prompted a move to Austria.

Freelance work also took him to Ireland and to boutique residential complex Grouse Lodge, notably with singer-songwriter Peter Doran and acoustic trio Arrow In The Sky, and it was conversations with Doran about new funding models that gave birth to the idea of a ‘pooled’ hire of the multi-roomed residential in County Westmeath that would make full use of the distributed facilities and bring down the costs of recording for each individual act.

“We arranged a collective session,” explains Gaetani. “It’s charged by the day, so why not? We split the hire and decided to devote three days of track-laying to each project and four days of mixing and collaboration. That’s how the idea of collective recording got started, and it worked really well.”

Grouse Lodge owner Paddy Dunning approved, but the question remained: how to find and select participating talent in an equitable and reliable way. Some sort of screening process was necessary, and Gaetani came up with the notion of a web portal representing what he called the Recording Festival (RecFest), an online application forum that flagged up a specific two-week period during the summer that promised all the delights of Grouse Lodge along with all the advantages of joint subsidy.

“Instead of me picking bands and calling them cold, I set up the web site with the idea that bands and solo artists would post links to samples of their songs,” Gaetani recounts. “At the same time I got together a network of judges from people I respect in the industry, and by 2014 we were up and running.”

Another partner is Sonicbids, the US management portal that has pioneered the use of online resources to connect talent with promoters and publishers, alongside a suite of marketing and legal advice. With this dimension the applications soon ran into the hundreds, with a small registration fee covering the maintenance of the sites and the legitimacy of the links. Eventually three acts were chosen to join Gaetani, Aussie-born engineer Cameron Craig, Canadian producer Jordon Zadorozny and the Grouse Lodge team over two weeks in July 2015.  (The top picture shows Craig, left, and Filippo Gaetani at the Neve VR60 console at Grouse Lodge.)

A second RecFest took place just last month. “We had way more applications this time,” reports Gaetani, “which easily covered the costs of the web site and also our contribution to the flights – we pay 75% of flight costs. The bands have to co-invest in the accommodation, and if they want they can bring gear, but backline is provided anyway. We make sure it’s a great session!

“It’s like a summer camp,” Gaetani says. “We’re locked in the studios for 10 hours each day and then we just enjoy the fantastic setting and all the attractions of the location. We use all three studio spaces: the main studio with its Neve VR60 console, large control room and two live rooms; Studio 2 which has a mobile Pro Tools set up with the latest preamps and interfaces; and the white-space writing room where the bands set up their own laptops; and we operate a rota – one full day in Studio 1 for each band in turn, while the others are writing or preparing files, so each gets four or five days in there.

“It’s very easy to transfer the session files on a removable hard drive from one studio to another. The guys here are expert in making sure there are backups, nothing gets lost and everything is compatible and updated to the latest version of the song you’re working on. We’ve never had any technical issues.

“The important thing is to assign one person to each main task, and there are four highly experienced producers, engineers and techs always on hand – guys that are used to working with the likes of Snow Patrol and Muse. There’s always one person spare to fly around and just make sure everything’s running smoothly.”

The judges include renowned US engineer and Grammy-winner Al Schmitt, and there’s no doubting that the standards set by RecFest should attract many more serious acts, sponsors and other residual support as the concept gains traction – not the least of which may be zeitgeist-defining reality television deal. (Pictured: US band Nightmare Air discuss matters in Studio 2’s control room.)

“I had a meeting in Milan with a production company called Magnolia,” reveals Gaetani, “and they do a lot of talent shows. There’s a real interest in following the story of each band through to the Recording Festival and afterwards, maybe syndicated through Sky Arts, and combining the reality and talent elements. If that happens, the promotional and sponsorship opportunities will be amazing…”

Gaetani spends a lot of time based at Tic Studio in Vienna, now part of the ever-expanding Miloco roster, producing more acts and sustaining a presence that includes a white space and a role within Miloco’s web-based information model. Yes, he gets about – and that’s exactly what today’s European recording industry is about.