The mobile recording studio is no longer the sole plaything of one band or record company, spending months on the creation of a new album in some out-of-the way location or capturing an entire tour for posterity. These days it is more likely to be at a venue covering the gig for live television, a DVD shoot or, increasingly, a simultaneous relay to digital cinemas round the world.
As a live music balance and recording engineer of longstanding, Tim Summerhayes (pictured, centre, in black T-shirt) is an eyewitness to this transition firsthand. Through his days with Fleetwood Mobile and then the Sanctuary group, Summerhayes has seen the power of the record companies diminish while numerous specialist TV channels, and latterly web services, have appeared to offer new outlets for musical performances.
“In our heyday, after Fleetwood was taken over by Sanctuary and then they bought Manor, we had five mobiles,” he says. “We were possibly the biggest group of our kind in the world. There was so much going on, with music TV and record company work, but the industry has changed so much since then.”
From that highpoint in the early 2000s changing economic times and market conditions made themselves felt. With the music business in flux and the Sanctuary group over-stretching, Ian Dyckhoff led a management buyout of Fleetwood, supported by a venture capitalist company. Unhappy with how his financial backers wanted to run the operation Dyckhoff left in 2007 and a year later set up Red TX.
With Dyckhoff as managing director the new company ran with a one truck, RED I. Summerhayes joined soon afterwards, eventually becoming a director, and worked with Dyckhoff to build up a client base in music TV and digital cinema. Summerhayes comments that conditions as they were when Red TX first went on the road meant a single vehicle was enough.
The situation is different now and last September RED II was brought into operation. Larger than RED I, the new truck also features a Studer Vista 8 digital console, along with a PMC ALM 1 active 7.1 monitoring system, plus Pyramix, Pro Tools and Logic recorders. Summerhayes explains that during 2011 “it became apparent” that they did need a second mobile to cover contracts that overlapped: ” We’re getting double-booked more often these days so it made sense to have two units rather than have to turn something down or rent in someone else’s vehicle.”
RED II is bigger than RED I, partly to accommodate a new video area, which allows clients to view pictures on site but in a good acoustic to get a better idea of how every thing sounds. This feature was built into the new truck because Red TX is working on a regular basis with vision gallery flyaway company One Box Television.
In May this year the company upgraded its original truck to the same specifications as the new arrival. RED I now also features an ALM 1 7.1 system, plus improved acoustic treatments and insulation. Another change was the removal of an internal wall, giving more space for crew and clients. Summerhayes says the alterations to RED I are “more cosmetic” but the vehicle does now have a Pyramix workstation and there has been an upgrade to its Vista 8 desk.
The move to digital consoles from analogue is, according to Summerhayes, the biggest technological change in the mobile recording market. As well as the two Vista 8s in each of the trucks, Red TX has a Vista 5 for its bigger flyaway packages. “During the closing years of Fleetwood we had a digitally controlled analogue Euphonix, which was superb, but for Red TX we knew digital was being used more for live broadcasting,” he explains. “We looked around and Studer seemed to be top of the list.”
Pro Tools, Reaper or Boom are used for smaller de-rigs but always, says Summerhayes, in conjunction with a Studer mic amp. Another key element, he adds, is having a Red TX crew to run it: “Over the last ten years we’ve stripped things down to a lean, efficient three man team. We know we can do the same with that number of people as others can do with ten because we’ve got a regular formula we work to.”
Over the last year Red TX has worked with Coldplay and Guns ‘n’ Roses, among others, maintaining its purely music recording approach. As Tim Summerhayes says, RED I and II are “music mix rooms on wheels” and, despite the changes in the market, there is still demand for that.