Playing for keeps: Inside Spydabrown’s Play Deep Studios8 June 2015
Are you paying attention? Because this is important. This is big. This is, if you will, deep.
Someone has opened a studio in central London. I know, right?
It’s called Play Deep. But the owner is not playing around.
“You can’t go the bank to ask for a loan to build a music studio! Well, you could try…” begins Zach Brown-Smith, aka DJ and engineer Spydabrown, who owns the chic multi-room boutique facility just a few streets away from King’s Cross Station.
The 31-year-old Canadian-British entrepreneur has been heavily involved in the dance music industry since the 90s, when he co-founded Play Records in Toronto. The label discovered DJ superstar deadmau5 and put out his first five albums. “Big moves for a little indie label!” says Spydabrown.
The success of the imprint led the DJ to decamp to the UK. “In the process of putting out all the albums we built up a network of people over here,” he says. And, as he puts it, he came over for the ADE music conference in Amsterdam and “decided not to go home”.
He initially rented a 680sqft space in north-west London (the Saga Centre); it was small and of limited ambition, but it demonstrated what might be possible. “It was a good writing facility. And it showed me there was still a market for writing rooms.”
Then, in June 2012 he bought a building a couple of streets away from King’s Cross “for a steal”, gutted it and built a whole new studio inside it, as well as offices to run his management company and label.
Play Deep 2015 comprises three studios – two writing/recording rooms, one recording/mixing room – but at nearly four times the size (2,500sqft) and 30 months of building time, it affords everything the previous premises could not.
It was his design, too. “I was here everyday, with the builders from 7am, till God knows what time…” he laughs. “A lot of [the design] came out of necessity – there are things you need, no questions asked, and when you have gone through all the ‘doing it right’ sort of things, you are left with little space on the walls and little to choose from in terms of style. So [the décor is] ‘necessity with industrial chic’, but I aim for what I imagine to be five-star treatment: iPads in every room, they control the lights, and you can order drinks, cabs, get phone calls, without it disturbing any of the sessions.”
Is there daylight?
“I made sure of that! I’ve got two skylights, one in the live floor and one in Studio 3, and then the other two rooms have front-facing winnows, eight foot by four foot, and I’ve triple layered those [for isolation].”
The proximity of the traffic-heavy roads around King’s Cross has not been an issue, he says. “I was more concerned about unknown tube lines underneath” Spydabrown installed three layers of Trim Acoustics’ Defender 35 soundproofing on top of two underlay layers. “There’s about 50mm of cushioning on top of the floor. So far so good!”
The DJ chose Van Damme cabling throughout, using a variety of types, all supplied by VDC Trading along with assemblies and connectors. “I was recommended Van Damme cable, with everyone saying it is the best, and I must say I have not been disappointed. The team at VDC Trading did a great job.”
The key feature of the main mixing room is an Otari Series 54 32-channel fully automated inline desk from 1989, built for Casablanca Studios in Toronto, shipped and reassembled over here. “And three months later, it’s running,” he reports.
Spydabrown is a self-confessed gear addict, and his studios amplify that, with an enviable array of kit: Neve 1064 channel strips; Cranesong Avocet discrete monitor controllers; rare Ward-Beck mic pres and EQ (“pulled from CBC broadcast desks”). He’s running PMC TB2A, Yamaha HS80 and NS-10m monitors in two of the rooms, Focal SM9 and Focal Twin 6 monitors in the third. All three carry Pro Tools HD3 Accel rigs.
“We are a commercial facility,” he emphasis. “The studio has to stand on its own two feet for it to be useful to us as a label.”
Although he says long-term lets are absolutely not the plan, Spydabrown does have a tenant in one room currently – Jonny Coffer, who has worked with Gorgon City and Sam Smith. “Emeli Sande has been here working with him – it’s exciting to have a big name in a studio that’s so new!”
“I left school when I was 16 and I’m now I’m 31, so in those years I’ve had a chance to build up a network of people. Because, you know, this business is all about people. I feel – without sounding arrogant – I feel I’m in a position where I can make money and live and keep this place running. It’s not for the faint of heart – It’s an investment, that’s for sure, but I believe in it. I know it’s going to work.”
Play Deep. Aim high.