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Prior conviction: Inside Creative Design Studios

In the quiet Worcestershire village of Stoke Prior, two mad scientists are hard at work on a cure for the dreaded Londonitis, writes Jon Chapple

In potentially the biggest thing to happen to the village of Stoke Prior in Worcestershire since the birth of Zoë off Hollyoaks, this summer sees the grand opening of an ambitious new recording and mixing complex hailed by its backers as “potentially one of the few quarter-million-pound studios still in existence”.

“It’s actually underneath one of our offices,” explains Creative Design Studio’s studio manager, Tom Moore, who has been appointed to run the facility by directors Rob Linforth and Nick Buxton. “We had a dead space under one of our main design offices and we thought it would be a great place to convert and use.”

Entrepreneurs Linforth and Buxton are also directors of the similarly named Commercial Design Solutions – also abbreviated, rather confusingly, as CDS – which specialises in commercial design (hence “our main design offices”) build, refurbishments, fit-outs and maintenance for offices, bars, clubs, retail and restaurants. “[The studio] is on a technology park,” continues Moore, “but we [Commercial Design Solutions] own the building so ultimately we envisage CDS being a 24-hour business. With our parking gates and large doors, artists’ gear will be safe and secure – and there will be no one to tell us to turn it down at three in the morning!”

“The ethos behind CDS, for me at least, is to break away [from] ‘Londonitis’,” adds resident producer/engineer James Delin (pictured), a veteran indie record producer and the owner of Bewdley-based recording, production and events agency Angel Recordings. “The idea that everything worth doing in the music business has to be done in London is, frankly, old hat. We are well and truly positioning ourselves at the forefront of a new movement in recording and music. Birmingham has some of the best credentials in the world – and this is our patch.”

With well-established names such as the Oxygen Rooms, Arkham and the Miloco-backed Summerfield less than 30 miles away in Birmingham and the Session Rooms, Vale Studios and Blacktree near Worcester, is there much of a demand for a new recording studio in Stoke Prior (roughly equidistant between the two cities)? “Well, yeah!” says Delin. “I think there’s demand everywhere for new recording studios. There are new recording studios popping up every time some punk gets a new MacBook and a copy of Traktor or Live… in their bedrooms! There’s your demand.”

Does that translate into keeping a brand-new bricks-and-mortar studio in business? “We’re not initially going to attract those guys [the MacBook punks], but we’re not really competing with them either,” Delin comments. “[But] those guys eventually get to a stage where they realise they simply cannot make their stuff sound as good as a full recording studio. I know because I was one of those punks once.”

In such a competitive marketplace, both Moore and Delin recognise the importance of differentiating CDS from the competition. “The way we’re going to do things will set us apart, for sure,” comments Moore. “With us being 24 hours, [with] luxury gear, a dedicated engineer and eventually bringing a concierge service online, we have gone to great efforts to not only differentiate ourselves but to offer both high-quality core services and extra services.”

The video/film editing and photography services the studio eventually plans to offer should also go some way to help – although at this point it’s secondary to its function as a recording and mixing facility. “We will be able to incorporate the video aspect with audio recording as an added extra,” Moore explains. “It is an important revenue stream and will serve as a marketing tool as well. The photography will come online within the next 12 months and will be another important revenue stream, but ultimately there’s no rush with the visual side of things – we want to get it right, and so long as the recording is going well we’re happy to take our time.”

When asked about his choice of audio gear, Delin jokes that he “pretty much just forced my list of preferred gear onto the directors and Tom”, although Moore elaborates: “That’s not quite true. We’d had a number of quotes for equipment and, to be honest, it got to the point where I realised I was just looking at letters and numbers. It might as well have been Dutch! Hence why James then got involved.”

Delin divides CDS’s equipment into four categories he dubs ‘The Heart’, ‘The Soul’, ‘The Brains’ and ‘The Backbone’. The Heart comprises a 16-channel Audient ASP4816 console, Universal Audio Apollo 16 interface, PMC twotwo.6 active monitors and beyerdynamic DT 150 studio headphones with an ART HeadAmp6PRO, while The Soul is mics and pres – standouts include a Neumann U87, Røde K2, Electro-Voice RE-20, Shure SM57 and SM58 and an Avalon VT-737sp mic pre Delin calls “the Goldmachine” – and The Brains an eclectic mix of software, plug-ins, a Mac Pro and an enviable selection of analogue Universal Audio limiting/levelling amplifiers, preamps, EQs and compressors (including a classic UA Fairlight 670).

The Backbone is mostly backline, as well as mic stands and Mogami cabling throughout. “The backline sparkles, too,” Delin comments, “with a DW [drum] kit with top-of-the-range Sabian cymbals, an Ashdown bass amp and a custom guitar amp head by TLC. We went all-out to ensure the equipment would attract all gearheads within a 50,000-mile radius.”

What Delin brings in pro-audio passion and music industry connections, Moore matches in business savvy. “I’ve not had much experience in the music industry,” he explains, “however, I have been into music from an early age, so this opportunity was too good to miss. I met the directors in 2008, when I was asked to help run their new nightclub in Birmingham for a couple of months until they could find a permanent manager. However, over time, we developed a very good working relationship, and a couple of months turned into several years. The directors sold the club in 2014 and asked me to get involved in CDS.”

He also reveals that Linforth and Buxton aren’t planning to stop at a mere recording studio: “I think what really attracted me to the company was its ambition. The directors not only wanted to open a studio but also have the vision to start a record label and doing national tours. It’s exciting to be involved in something of this magnitude from the ground up.”

Until the launch of CDS Recordings/CDS Tours, however, Delin is content in his new role. “It’s within walking distance of a pub, and a sandwich lady comes round. I couldn’t be happier,” he concludes.

“There are so many residential studios in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes that’s nice, but here there’s a real buzz of activity. I find it an incredibly creative place.”