Q. What hours are you open?
A. 7 days a week. Call us for a time that will suit you.
Q. Should we record together as a band, or record each part separately?
A. There is no right or wrong answer to this question. The advantage of playing together, is that you are able to interact with each other. You wouldn't for example, want to record improvised jazz separately, as the musician interacting is a major component of the final performance. I love recording a good band playing as a unit, but playing together is not always the quickest way to get parts down. It often takes longer to get a performance that everyone is happy with. If your drummer is good, they will often get a performance that they are happy with in only a few takes, (with other members playing guide tracks with them, to keep the band feel), leaving the rest of the band to concentrate on their parts individually. Albums are often a combination of 'playing live', where the rhythm tracks are played together simultaneously and vocals, solos and additional parts, are overdubbed later. I would estimate that 75% of the demos and EP's recorded at Aphek are recorded 'live', with vocals and solos overdubbed latter.
Q. You were known for being analogue fans and anti-digital, but I see that you are now recording to Pro Tools. Why the change?
A. Until recently, we didn't think that digital sounded good enough and in the case of hard disk recording, it wasn't stable. We weren't so much anti-digital, as pro-tone! With the latest generation Pro Tools HD, we think it sounds as good as all but the very best (and very expensive) analogue equipment. The other thing to remember, is that nothing is all digital. Everything you track with on the way in, your instruments, the room, the mics and the preamps, are analogue. There are some people who maintain that you can't get things to sound right, when you mix 'in the box'. I think that with most hard disk recorders (and despite the name, including the old PT Mix systems), this is the case. With PT HD, they got the mix bus right. We use a Control24 surface to run Pro Tools, so we have real knobs and faders and aren't trying to do it with a mouse. Along with this we can now control almost every parameter in the mix and recall it exactly as it was. So if you get home and decide that the bass drum should have been slightly louder and the vocal should have had a bit less reverb, we can open the session and make the changes in minutes, rather than hours.
An example of the improvement in sound quality in the last couple of years: In the past, I've engineered a few albums to 20bit ADAT. Each time one those albums was mastered, the Mastering Engineer, felt the need to run the mix through an analogue 2 track machine, to 'warm up' the sound, where as previously, when using the same analogue desk and my Tascam MS16 analogue multi track and now where I'm recording and mixing in Pro Tools, they haven't done that once!
Q. What styles do you record?
A. We record pretty much all styles. We've recorded critically acclaimed albums for bands that were Alternate Rock, Jazz, Hardcore and Progressive Rock and have recorded everything from Classical Piano, Acappella, String Quartets and Traditional Ethnic Instruments, through Jazz and Ska, to 8 piece drum kits and screaming Marshalls (and vocalists).
Q. Can I have more bass in the cans?
A. Yes we have six independent headphone mixes, so everyone can have the mix that's best for them.
Q. Our drummer's kit isn't great. Will this matter when we record, or can you make it sound better?
A. We can only work with the sounds that you produce in the first place. It is worth the time or money to arrange to borrow or hire better instruments (especially drums) and to make sure the instruments you have are in the best condition possible. That means finding and fixing any rattles or buzzing, getting your guitars intonation checked and sorting out all the other problems you've been putting off. And use fresh guitar/bass strings and drum heads.
Q. How long will it take to record and mix?
A. It impossible to say exactly, but we can give you some averages. Albums vary enormously. The average time being around 100-150 hours. The shortest one by far, was for a jazz trio, where the album was finished in 5 hours (including mixing). The longest, would be over 300 hours, for a singer songwriter who used different musicians for each song and finalized a lot of parts in the studio. Most 3-4 song band demos, with vocals, get completed in 10-15 hours.
Q. What preparation do you recommend before coming to the studio?
A. First and foremost, make sure that you can play your songs through, from start to finnish. It sounds like an obvious thing, but a lot of bands haven't finalized arrangements or just can't quite play all sections of their songs, when they come to record. After this, make sure that your instruments are in the best condition possible. That means having fresh strings on your guitars and basses and fresh heads on the drums. If you're not confident in your ability to tune your drums, find a drum shop that will do it for you. Most good drum shops offer this service.
Q. What would be the typical time breakdown for a 3-4 song demo?
A. Setting up the gear; getting drum and other instrument sounds; and levels usually takes 1-2 hours. The better the sounds you are producing, the less time it usually takes. After this, the first song often takes the most time to get right. This is because most people take a while to settle into the studio environment and to get comfortable. One mistake a lot of groups make, is trying to record their most difficult song first. It's almost always best to start with something easier, as you relax, warm up and get used to the studio. Most bands then get all the rhythm tracks down in 2-4 hours. After this, we would usually spend another 2-4 hours overdubbing any solos, extra parts and doing lead and backing vocals. Once the songs are complete, we're ready to mix. Where possible, it is preferable to book another session, to mix. This way you're coming back to the recording fresh, rather than after having spent all day focusing on the songs and being too tired. For a demo, allow about 2 hours per song for mixing.
Q. There are a lot of cheap studios around, that claim to be able to get 'professional' results, for a lot less money. What's going on?
A. With all the low cost gear now available, there are a lot of people opening studios. The trouble is, that while on paper, they look to have the same sorts of gear as the better studios, there is a difference. Most of the budget gear, is great value for money, but there is a reason why the truly 'pro' gear costs more. Where you especially see this, is in the microphones. It doesn't matter what comes later, if the start of your signal chain, isn't up to standard. Have you ever noticed, that it's only the people with the budget equipment, that tell you it's as good as the expensive stuff?
There seems to be this ridiculous idea, that when it comes to recording, if you buy the right software, anyone can do it. We have a beautiful Yamaha grand piano in the studio. The shop we bought it from, had a Bosendorfer and a Steinway that were the same size, that didn't sound as good. And yet when I sit down to play it, it doesn't sound that impressive, because I'm not a pianist. No one would expect me to become a great (or even just OK) piano player, just by owning a great instrument. Yet, there is this belief, that you can make a recording as good as a professional studio, just by buying some recording software and a couple of cheap mics.
Most importantly, (after having great musicians), you need a great engineer. The job of a recording engineer, is part technical and part art. There are a lot of people who can do one or the other, but there aren't many people who can do both well and simultaneously.
Q. I have a mate who's just completed a sound engineering course. Can we bring him in to engineer and do we get a discount for using our own engineer?
A. Yes, you can bring him with you, but be aware that there is a good chance that he hasn't had anywhere near as much experience as our own engineer (over 12 years). When it comes down to it, the best gear in the world won't make up for lack of experience or ability. The other problem we see, is that people without much experience, tend to want to prove how great they are, or tell you something can't be done, often at the expense of your music.
Having said that, there are some very talented freelance engineers who use the studio for their own projects. The rates are negotiable depending on how much assistance will be required.
Q. Is it OK to bring our girlfriends/boyfriends or should we leave them at home?
A. Most people record better without distractions. Recording at its best, is a slow process and musicians often get bored. Non musicians usually get bored a lot sooner, as they aren't directly involved. They usually aren't very patient when hearing the same song over and over and will be a lot more impressed hearing the final product, than hearing you play the same 8 bar solo for an hour, until you're happy.
Q. Do we really need to spend the money to record in a real studio? After all it's only a demo!
A. The saying "only a demo", is only valid if it's a recording that will never be heard by anyone outside the band (i.e. a tape of a new song you've written, so the others can hear how it goes). Other than that, you want to sound as good as possible. After all, the better you sound, the better your chances of getting the work. Ask anyone who's been around for a while; bad recordings invariably come back to haunt you.
Q. What would be the advantage of recording with you, compared to hiring some gear and doing it ourselves?
A. If you add up what you get for the money, per day, it usually costs as much (or more) as a day in the studio, just to hire the gear you need. With a good studio, you are getting great sounding rooms, well maintained (and better) gear, and most importantly, an experienced engineer, working in a controlled monitoring environment.
Q. We have an LE version of Pro Tools. Is it true that the sessions are compatible with the full HD TDM version that you use.
A. Yes, the sessions can be opened on any version of Pro Tools. TDM systems have a lot more processing and plug-in power than the LE systems, but the audio files open and can be added to and edited on any PT system. This gives you the option of recording in a professional studio and doing some of it yourself. For example, you could work out tempos and record guide tracks at home, then bring in the sessions on CDR/DVDR or a Firewire drive. You can then take advantage of our experience, rooms, industry standard mics, pre-amps and converters, to record drums and other instruments (like loud guitars). While we'd like you to then record everything here, if the budget is tight, and/or you feel confident to engineer yourself, you can do vocals and other overdubs and any editing, at home. You can then bring it back here (or somewhere else) to get it mixed by a professional, using our outboard and plug-ins.
Q. Can I do work experience with you?
A. Unfortunately we can't offer work experience. This is because the hours we work vary continually and we usually don't know what we're doing more than a few weeks ahead. On top of this, a lot of musicians don't like other people watching them record (even other band members). As they're paying the bills, they have to come first.