Eddie Veale: The great problem-solver15 April 2013
“Doing the thing that I found most enjoyable and interesting.”
After talking to Eddie Veale for more than 45 minutes, it’s clear that his professional life choice could have taken him up one of many paths. But sticking to the axiom he quotes above steered his course into studio design, which is where he remains today, overseeing his staff at Veale Associates.
Eddie Veale has been instrumental in the creation of many fine facilities over the years, including Dean Street Studios where he arranges to meet PSNEurope. But, as is always the case in recording and in broadcast, his beginnings are humble.
Veale’s career started at the legendary Advision studio in Bond Street, joining them in the late 1960s as a technician while they relocated to a new facility in Gosfield Street. From the start, he says, he was “helping guys with their ‘home stuff’, doing a bit of small-level consultancy for others”.
One of his key early tasks was helping Dolby rationalise issues they had with earthing when studios installed Dolby A noise reduction systems. “Dolby units sat between the desk and the tape recorders so the units had to be wired in,” he remembers.
Of course, once a few select studios began using Dolby noise reduction, then everyone wanted it, and demand for the units rocketed – as did requests for Veale’s assistance. “I think I helped Dolby develop their business [before] they moved onto other things,” he says.
Advision was the importer of an earlier 8-track tape recorder made by Scully Recording Instruments, and also became the first studio to install it. Further models appeared – 16-track and 24-track versions – which Veale says was “a good move because it kept them, and me, at the forefront of technology”.
Around this point Veale met a jingle producer called Mike Vickers, who was writing music for adverts for commercial TV. “He used Advision extensively but had some issues with getting time in the studio doing his mixing….”
Vickers’ request for assistance in acquiring a newly available ‘synthesizer’ for his home studio led Veale to a relationship with the New York-based Moog; which in turn saw Veale being hastened to a session at Abbey Road to fix George Harrison’s faulty Minimoog (the one you hear on Hear Comes the Sun).
Harrison asked Veale to help him out with his home set-up, and an introduction to Lennon as a result opened the door to what Veale still rates as one of his finest achievements: the creation of the Beatle’s Tittenhurst home studio, where Lennon recorded Imagine.
“Throughout my work I’ve always supported technology,” says Veale. “I was always making up little boxes for the engineers… fuzzboxes and compressors and all sorts of things. I’d cobble something together and give it to them and they’d go, “that’s great, but can it do this?” and it was always interesting because there’d always be new ideas from that.”
In the early ’70s Veale recalls he ran a freelance electronic business (AudioNet), while linking up with an architect and another consultant as Acoustic Consultants. He was building, creating, selling, consulting, installing, problem-solving… But it was the studio design that was “most interesting and enjoyable”.
“I understood how studios are used, how reference monitors are designed, what engineers wanted and so forth, and started to develop ideas about how we could develop room design.”
Veale has been quoted elsewhere as saying: “While acoustics is not a new subject, it is still a fairly new idea in studios.” He sticks by this claim. “In my early work we were using various shapes of room and treatments, shapes of room; getting bass traps that worked and trying to contain the size of them. We were doing an awful lot of experimentation at that time.
“I wasn’t the only one but probably the guy pushing it most and the next major step in advancing studios was [Westlake Audio’s] Tom Hidley coming over here [from the US] with a completely different agenda. I give Tom credit for actually waking people up and getting them to recognise that they’d benefit from investing in acoustics. It did make a step-change. He got a significant number of studios to take on Westlake designs; and when other studios found themselves lacking clout then, of course, they had to do something. He had a standard format that he used and that caused a number of questions to be asked about their approach – ‘Why don’t you do the same as Westlake?’
Veale’s long and colourful career embraces working alongside fellow veteran Ted Fletcher to introduce the (American) concept of self-operating studios (“self-ops”) to a swathe of commercial studios in the ’70s, beginning with Wolverhampton’s Beacon Radio 303 and growing to three years’ worth of installations with 28 other new broadcasters.
When asked to name his favourite projects, Veale lists Lennon’s and Harrison’s private set-ups, Gus Dudgeon’s Mill studio, and an unusual fourth choice: a new base for Carlton Television in the offices of London Weekend Television (now the London Studios) on London’s South Bank. This major undertaking involved the creation of a new transmission centre while incorporating nascent digital technology into the equation. “It was very entrepreneurial, very future-looking and also showed me how to deal with projects when people change their mind!” He remarks how he wishes he’d built Metropolis in Chiswick. “I met with them in the early stages: we didn’t go ahead together. They’d got a group of architects involved and I think we probably locked horns, the architects and I, on the principles of design. The architects won.”
Veale Associates currently employs around 10 people in its Stevenage HQ. On a typical radio commission, Veale says there would be “probably three of us: interior designer, architectural technician and myself. The client’s introduced to the team early on to build up a rapport.” The interior designer is important here because “appearance matters”, he says. He remains non-partisan when it comes to equipment recommendations: “I quickly discovered if a room was designed specifically for one monitor system and someone brought another one in it might sound rubbish.” Instead, his methodology now is to “sit down with a client to determine what they want and determine whether the space is large enough and how you’re going to deal with acoustic treatments”.
Veale says the “heart is being stripped from local radio” (recently exemplified, perhaps, by the BBC syndicating one centrally-created evening show nationally across its local networks) and, having worked for so many years in radio, this concerns him.
But for recording studio design, he is upbeat.
“There’ll be a demand for studios… it might be slightly less demand but there’ll still be business there. We see the same amalgamation with television. Music studios… I can easily see a resurgence and there’s a move now where we’ve gone from analogue to digital back to analogue.
“I think it’s becoming more understood that to produce music it needs a bit of soul, it needs musicians. It’s about a couple of guys getting together and bouncing off each other.”
Veale has worked with so much technology, but insists that we don’t forget that human touch. Now there’s an axiom to live by.
Story: Dave Robinson www.va-studiodesign.com