Escaping the rat race at The Anexe Studio9 November 2016
Increasingly, new studios are foregoing London to set up elsewhere in the UK. The Anexe Studio is another commercial facility that has gone down this path. Married couple Steve and Lindsey Troughton returned from a stint in New York to set up The Anexe in Exeter, UK – yes, that small Devonshire cathedral city in the south-west, between the Dartmoor National Park and the Blackdown Hills.
As Steve explains, apart from avoiding the expense of London, the beautiful, rolling countryside that Exeter offers was part of the appeal of setting up shop there. “London is all hustle and bustle, and some people might prefer to work in that environment. We offer a place to escape, a place to create; there is a lot of inspiration here,” he says. “If, say, you’re a punk band it might not be for you, but if you are looking for something atmospheric, this is something we have to offer – brilliant countryside, and Exeter is a thriving young city with lots to do.” Exeter is a two-hour train journey from London and there is a local airport with flights to Europe, adds Lindsey.
When it came to constructing the studio, the couple – literally – carved it out of the ground. It started with a 2.6m hole so the building could be partially submerged into the landscape, giving them 4m-high ceilings in the live room, without imposing too much on the local skyline.
UK studio design and installation specialist, Studio Creations, came up with the architectural, acoustic, and technical plans for The Anexe, and completed the construction, internal finishes and technical installation. “They have a fantastic eye for style and were very clear on their preferences,” says Mark Russell, Studio Creations director. “It’s not a ‘typical’ or ordinary studio. There’s a great mixture of materials used inside, including the cedar panelling taken from the original building, the New York-inspired brick work, the fabric panels…”
Steve is proud of the studio feel. “You walk into our studio and it’s so relaxed. It’s not a harsh Starship Enterprise studio, its quite vintage looking and warm and welcoming, and that’s what we wanted to achieve,” he comments.
Both Steve and Lindsey (pictured) also have a lot of experience with studios having come from musical backgrounds. Steve is a trumpeter, bass player, and vocalist, and has been in many bands from the age of 12. Lindsey is a vocalist, who has trained in stage performance, and spent time in recording studios over the years as a session vocalist and vocal director.
Lindsey comments that their backgrounds and relationship have helped when it came to setting up the studio. “Our strength is that we are a married couple, we are a team. I have been in and out of studies a lot and I found them intimidating, so we are hoping to provide a relaxed environment,” she says. Adds Steve: “It’s quite a male driven industry, the studio side of things, so if you’re a young girl and want to do some recording, it would be nice to have Lindsey there and have the more feminine touch.” Lindsey interjects, laughing: “Don’t worry, there won’t be doyleys on the toilet.”
Anexe comprises a control room, a main live room with three isolation booths, and a recreational room with kitchen facilities. There’s also independent air conditioning in every space, plenty of parking and a handy ramp to the studio for easy load-in.
“So its all very accessible. It can be a pain in the ass when musicians are travelling with gear to some studios in the heart of town and they might have to keep putting money in the meter out there, but we don’t have that problem here,” Steve adds. Even the bathroom sink is special – described by Lindsey as Steve’s pride and joy – it’s a one-off moulded concrete basin created from the body of one of his Fender Telecaster guitars (pictured).
In terms of gear, they choose the SSL AWS 948 (pictured), which uses a dual path channel design to fit 48 channels into a 24-channel frame, and offers three versatile operating modes, selectable per channel.
“It’s got 4-band EQ on every channel, selectable between E and G-Series,” continues Steve. “…And SSL dynamics, and of course the Master Bus Compressor from the G-Series console… I love that!
The hybrid nature of the AWS (pictured in the control room) is another aspect that Steve and Lindsey find suits their purposes well. The console’s Focus button selects Analogue and DAW Focus modes, allowing fast switching between an analogue and DAW operator focus, with reassigned meter, fader, Select switch and V-Pots. “Even when we’re tracking we’re on that Focus button doing the rough mix,” explains Steve. “Which is pretty much ready to go when the band has finished a take. That workflow is incredible.”
They also have two Avid 16 x 16 analogue HD I/O, a pair of Genelec 8260A Compact DSP 3-way active monitors and a pair of Neumann KH 120A active studio monitors.
In terms of microphones they have a broad (and comprehensive) selection: there is the AKG C414 XLS Stereo Pair, three Shure SM57, two Shure SM58 and one Shure 55SH Series II. They have also purchased an AKG C214, AKG D12 VR, AKG C451b, four AKG D40, one Neumann U87 Ai Stereo Set, Coles 4038 Studio Ribbon Microphones, an Electro Voice RE-20, one Sterling Audio ST66 Tube and one Sennheiser MK 4.
For the couple this is just the beginning. Steve says: “Top studios in the world, started with a basic set-up and built it as they grew. I’m a bit of a fan of the vintage sound, so would love to get more vintage equipment, but it’s so expensive and maintenance is quite a lot. Plug-ins are amazing, rather than spending £4,000 on a piece of analogue equipment, you can buy plug-ins and maintain a small footprint as you just download it.”
Before setting up the studio, Steve and Lindsey wanted to get some experience on the recording side of the industry and spent time in New York completing a course at the SAE Institute. Lindsey gushes about the experience. “Personally, being a singer I always wanted to know how it all worked, I wanted to have more control over my process, so I loved it. I think it was always a dream of mine to work with other singers and to be on the other side, so it’s brilliant.”
To start with the couple are aiming to work with local bands, but are open to everything, Lindsey says. “We’ve had some interest from producers that are looking to hire our studio out as a whole and without us having a say in it, they just hire it and use it like that, as well as single artists. We would like to do voiceover work and we’re had enquiries about audio books.”
But the long term vision is to create a mini independent label and find some young talent locally and put them on the right path, comments Steve. “Obviously with a studio like ours, we can only take them so far and they will be snapped off us by a bigger label, but it’s the nurturing side of things – to give them opportunities that bands I was in didn’t have – we tried to do it mostly on own, so it would have been handy to have someone like us to nurture and help us out.”
With planning and construction, the studio took over two years to complete, so the couple are excited to finally be in there. Steve sums it up. “It was a long time coming, we built it from the ground up – the building is three quarters underground. From the idea to the completion it was a labour of love, so to finally have it up and running and getting clients in, it’s something we are really proud of.”