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The Darkroom: From negative to positive

London's the Darkroom has developed a brilliant facility, and a unique mixing service, ensuring its future success in the age of bedroom recording

For over 40 years, the property at 14 Chaplin Road in north London has remained a recording a studio. It began as Morgan Studio 4 in 1974 where the likes of Lou Reed and Cat Stevens recorded there. In 1980 it became part of Zomba’s collection of Battery Studios in London. Music producer Steve Lipson (Annie Lennox, Pet Shop Boys) took it over in 2001 and renovated the studio with acoustic consultancy Munro Acoustics.

Today, it’s known as The Darkroom and current owner/engineer Anthony Long (Hawkwind, Sugababes), has turned the studio into a forward-thinking digital music facility. A recent substantial refit from pro-audio suppliers HHB Communications has allowed The Darkroom to embrace the future of audio even further.

HHB provided The Darkroom with a Rosendahl nanoclocks GL master clock generator, Avantone MixCubes for reference monitoring, a Tube Tech MEC 1A recording channel, Maag Audio EQ4 – 500 Series EQ and a UAD-2 QUAD plug-in package from Universal Audio.

One final piece of kit, a 48-channel Merging Technologies Horus networked audio interface allows The Darkroom’s clients to take advantage of Audio-over-IP using RAVENNA on a single Cat5 or MADI from USB.

Despite its fondness for digital, The Darkroom doesn’t shun analogue – there are Studer, Ampex and Otari tape machines available at the studio, and Long is a huge fan of the analogue Neve VR desk – but it definitely endorses digital’s flexibility, which is why the control room is centred around the UK’s only Neve 88D digital mixing console.

“The 88D simply blew me away when it came to workflow and signal flow possibilities. What I find truly remarkable is that rather than thinking ‘I’ve run out of channels, better submix’, I can just allocate more channels. Or more groups. Or more cue mixes for foldback. Or we can setup a 5.1 film mix at the same time we’re doing the stereo mix. Or I can just drop in EQ and dynamics processing to the drum group.”

The ability to configure the console on the fly has allowed Long to offer a unique service to his clients, who can just show up with their laptop, plug in, and mix.

“The idea behind my turn up and mix service stems from seeing some very well known dance producers book out Metropolis Room 2, and proceed to bring their laptops, and only use the bus compressor and the monitoring system,” says Long.

“Seeing that, and witnessing the decline in midsize studios, I had the realisation that a lot of artists are producing their own stuff, be it due to budget constraints, a desire for more creative control, or because they’re doing it on the road as part of a busy tour schedule. So then it struck me – rather than fighting that, why not cater to it?”

Long has set up The Darkroom in such a manner that “clients can turn up with their laptop and DAW of choice, and within just a few minutes be fully integrated with my studio (audio, timecode, machine control, house sync, etc). So say they’re a rock guitarist and songwriter – they’re probably going to track their guitars at home, possibly even vocals, but they just can’t get Addictive Drums sounding real enough. They can turn up, and be running 48 channels into their DAW before their session drummer has finished tuning!”

The analogue vs. digital debate rages on amongst consumers, who are streaming more and more digital content online while at the same time buying a record number of turntables from Amazon. Digital audio doesn’t guarantee there will continue to be a studio at 14 Chaplin Road 40 years from now, but accommodating a digital recording process means a steady stream of clients at The Darkroom.

“The fact that more and more people are working in the box says a lot about digital audio and how it’s progressed, and my room offers the ultimate in the digital market,” concludes Long. “Time, and the charts, will show how many clients agree.”