Manor House, London N4 is the location of the latest professional recording studio to open for business in the capital. Much time and industry expertise has been involved in the design, build and equipping of this facility housed in an anonymous-looking light industrial terrace a stone's throw from leafy Finsbury Park. So, who has been bold - or mad - enough to start such a venture in these uncertain economic times? Snap! Studios is the brainchild of Funky Junk director Mark Thompson who has ambitious plans for the project.
“Over the course of 30 years in the recording business, I've developed a strong concept of what a real studio should be and how to achieve that,” says Thompson. “First and foremost, a studio should offer a quality of sound reproduction far beyond anything that can be achieved at home or in any of the thousands of small private facilities that have sprung up around the country in recent years. Of course, one key element is the quality of equipment but this is a secondary consideration. Without sound fundamentals, the gear is irrelevant.”
The fully-fledged commercial recording studio is now up and running, with the first clients including a famous name. “After a couple of short dummy sessions, the first fully-blown commissioning gig came and went,” says Thompson. “We were offered five days to record and mix tracks by 1970s/80s cult band Deaf School produced by legendary producer, Clive Langer.
“From our standpoint, nothing could have been better. Clive's production credits occupy pages of recording history, and include all the great Madness cuts, Elvis Costello, Morrissey and dozens of other seminal albums. He has high expectations and knows how a real studio should sound; he damned well ought to, as he previously owned and operated two of the best in the world - Hook End Manor and Westside.
“The clients were happy, which left me feeling chuffed. The rooms sounded great, the gear was quiet as a computer mouse and delivered the full-blooded, detailed sound I'd hoped for, and the monitors shone.”
Langer was impressed too. “Having just left Snap! with fresh mixes playing on my home stereo, I'm amazed that they sound as rich and full as they did coming through the vintage Neve desk and Tannoys in control room 1. As soon as I walked into the joint I was impressed with the very workable layout and size of the control room and recording space.”
The studio complex features a sizeable main live area with equally spacious control room, plus a smaller studio for pre-production and editing. There are tie-lines to all parts of the building, which was previously the base for producer and Funky Junk client Anthony Marshall who is now working in the US.
More than 18 months in development, Snap!'s acoustics and building were overseen by Stephen Pickford of Thumbprint. Central to the main control room is a 1972 Neve 5316 recording console, with 33114/33115 mic pre/eq modules based upon the legendary original Neve 1081. In addition, the control room boasts a 12-channel matching sidecar, bringing the total number of channels on mix to 60. The smaller studio 2 features an SSL AWS900+.
Engineer/producer Marco Pasquariello (pictured) is managing the studios. “We wanted to keep the live space relatively controlled, not too lively, but as useable as possible for many different types of music,” he says. “We can screen off areas as necessary. The sound in here is simply fantastic: the piano sounds great and the drums sound really tight. All the power coming into the building is filtered via giant transformers. Basically this allows a much lower noise floor throughout the studio, enabling you to hear a lot more monitoring.”
So how did they decide on the equipment? “That's Mark's territory,” says Pasquariello. “Basically Mark's been collecting classic gear for a long time and has built up an impressive collection. Some of the vintage microphones, for example, are exceptional. He found the Neve desk - which has been highly customised - in France. His stamp runs through the building, like the Astroturf in the hallways; he found the wooden studio flooring in Yorkshire and located a specialist to restore it. We like to think that clients come in here and think - 'This place is different'.
“The Bosendorfer piano came from Cream. It was previously at Westside and before that in Air Studios in the 1980s. It sounds absolutely wonderful. It's so nice to have a room of this size where you can have a big piano, and it still doesn't feel cramped.”
And where will the work come from? Pasquariello explains: “The work at the moment is coming as a direct response from Mark's website blog and word of mouth. We are planning a series of open days. People are coming down and checking it out, finding the vibe a little bit different from a lot of other places and the gear speaks for itself. We're trying to offer high-end vintage with the best of the modern stuff as well. The idea was to create a vibe, a creative workspace for people to come and use - it's a commercial venture but one that's all about creating. Ultimately, Mark's dream is for a legendary, classic record to be made here, one that people will still be listening to in 30-40 years time.
“Mark is also trying to encourage jazz and some world music, offering quality facilities at a price that is affordable, allowing you to get a better quality of recording than you would normally at that price level, especially for those on smaller budgets. He is also interested in developing stuff in house; working on music that we actually believe in.”