March sees the opening of two new recording studios in Belgium, each with their own approach and philosophy, notes Marc MaesThere's something in the Belgian air, maybe. Spring 2010 sees the debut of not one but two new recording facilities. A former EMI A&R man is behind the punningly-named Heverlee Hills, while two ex-Caraibes staffers have created Elastic Studios.
In Heverlee, close to the Flemish university city of Louvain, former record company marketing A&R manager Guus Fluit has kicked off with Heverlee Hills - a modest but to-the-point recording studio catering for artists seeking more than just mere recording.
The idea to launch a studio of his own has been bubbling for almost 20 years - Fluit entered the music business in 1990 as a member of the techno act The Neon Judgement. In 1994 he joined major record company EMI Belgium where he was confronted with what he calls "the wall between music and the record company" - his background as a musician and producer was a liability at first but proved to be a bonus in his A&R job afterwards. "Many colleagues didn't have the slightest idea about making records," Fluit argues.
The turning point came when he took rock band Zornik to what would later become his studio to prepare the recording of The Place Where You Can Find Us.
"I've always seen a studio as an instrument; call it a pen and paper," explains Fluit. "I started a basic home recording facility from the artist's point of view taking on the whole process from pre-production, songwriting sessions, demos and remixes and final recording, like I did for Stan Van Samang's debut single Scars in 2007."
Eventually setting up his own business in 2009 after having worked as a consultant to Galaxy Studios, Fluit says: "I want to offer a full 360° approach to the artists I work with: a recording studio, record label (Floyd Records), publishing and booking agency."
Heverlee Hills studio is centred around a Cubase 5 system with PowerCore X8 Sonnox Edition, TC System 6000 plug-ins and a UAD card with a Neve 8816 summing mixer. "The idea is to record in the digital domain and to have an analogue mixing process," Fluit explains. "Analogue summing combines the advantage of having lots of headroom while keeping the investment in control."
Matthias Aerts of Ideal Audio designed the acoustics (with Jocavi acoustic panels) and the studio configuration, which further includes ADI8QS RME converters, a Manley Vari Mu compressor and outboard by TL Audio, Joemeek and Universal Audio. The set up includes a Grimm Audio GC1 Master clocking system. Two Equator Q12 studio monitors (with built-in DSP) complete the layout.
"To enhance the 'music feel', the whole studio environment is filled with instruments and vintage gear - it's inspiring and make musicians feel at home, just like the pool billiard in the leisure area," adds Fluit.
With the album More & More by Ellektra, Fluit marked the studio's debut as a creative centre. On completion of the basic tracks with singer Eline De Munck, the recordings were taken to Galaxy to be mixed by Ronald Prent and mastered by Darcy Proper.
"This is the perfect example of how I see business and the integration of A&R, marketing and music - even though I had to launch my own label, because EMI (which distributes Ellektra's material) wanted a licensing agreement instead of an artist deal," Fluit enthuses. "I recorded the songs, played as musician and produced the tracks - as an artist she's embraced by (commercial TV station) Jim TV which generates an income and a management fee so things are becoming economically viable."
Meanwhile, on 1 March, former Studio Caraibes owner-engineers Christophe Tonglet and Denis Portal opened the doors of Elastic Studios. Two years after they thoroughly refurbished the Caraibes site and fewer than six months after they announced a partnership with Rudy Coclet's Rising Sun studios, the two entrepreneurs, united in L&C Partners, moved to the north of Brussels.
Elastic Studios is located in Axelle Red's former rehearsal room, which later became Rising Sun studios. Tonglet says the changeover and relocation are all part of the aim of continuing to offer quality recording at reasonable rates, and to keep upgrading and maintenance budgets at an affordable level.
"Let's say that the relocation to the new site has to do with finance and survival," Tonglet explains. "The decision was made at short notice late last year - Rudy Coclet has other projects and instead of him moving to Caraibes we left the building and started from scratch here."
This was no small decision: the Caraibes name stands for a long and impressive history, but Tonglet and Portal are set to write their own. "We realise that Caraibes has a prestigious reputation but we wanted to establish an identity of our own - 2010 will be a new start for us," Tonglet adds. "Also we want to diversify our activities."
The new site consists of two control rooms and three recording areas including a 64sqm room accommodating up to 20 musicians. A special 'axeman' booth allows guitar players to crank up the volume without interfering with other recording activities.
Tonglet and Portal started renovating the studio site in December 2009 and replaced all of the cabling; acoustics were controlled and a closed circuit video system was put in place.
"The video network covers all of the recording rooms and has a double goal: we have mobile screens allowing musicians to record live music to the projected images. But, because neither the DDA AMR 24 main recording room nor the Pro Tools driven digital studio have direct visual contact with the recording rooms, a video monitor system was crucial. "Instead of feeling 'monitored', we now hear from musicians that they feel so much more at ease without people watching them from behind the studio window," adds Tonglet.
Just like at Caraibes, the main hybrid studio combines analogue and digital, with the Otari analogue MTR 100 serving as recording unit with a Pro Tools 40 I/O, Digidesign 192 I/O and Apogee AD 8000 converters - the digital studio was upgraded with a Digidesign C24 remote console, Waves and Audio Ease plug-ins.
"We use this studio for post-production, vocal recordings and audio to video activities," Tonglet continues. "Although we see a shift towards post, the pure audio still makes up more than 50% of our activities."
Clients that have already discovered the new studio include Vismets, a new Brussels band - reactions were unanimously positive.