After leaving school, Rimshot Studios founder Mike Thorne spent his 20s working as a touring drummer in various blues and rock n roll bands including The Big Town Playboys, Rodriguez, Paul Lamb & The King Snakes and Steve Weston’s band, touring all over Europe, South Africa and the USA as well as running Rimshot.
As an engineer, he did some assisting at The Tone Zone in Kent, "a great studio that sadly closed a while back", but, he says, he's "pretty much self-taught".
"I was also a Trombone player in my youth (including a stint with the Kent Youth Orchestra) so I have a reasonable knowledge of music theory, which has proven useful.," he adds.
Here, Mike Thorne tells AMI about his studio in Kent, Rimshot.
When was the studio established and why?
The current studio was built from the ground up and was completed in 2012. We’re primarily a music studio - we have a beautiful sounding live room and everything you need to track a band or string section in comfort. The idea was to bridge the gap between the smaller studios that mostly cater to local artists and the larger, well known studios. Local artists would be able to come in for a couple of days to tracks drums or piano and established artists would be able to get the same level of service and quality of equipment and acoustics as they’re used to in the larger studios, but in a boutique, intimate and relaxed environment.
Who have been some of your key clients over the years?
Recently, Dennis Weinreich producing Gary Brooker and Procol Harum, Matt Berry, Ian Siegal, Mike Vernon, The Band of the Household Cavelry, Chris Wood, The Orchestra That Fell To Earth (original members of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra), Labels and library's include Sony BMG, Acid Jazz, Universal, Audio Network, Felt Music, No Sheet Music and Geoff Achison.
What is your equipment set up, desk, monitors etc and why?
I’d preface this by saying that although we have great gear, the most important thing to our clients is that they feel relaxed and enjoy working here - we go a long way to try and make the gear disappear into the background so that the artists who work here are able to focus fully on their music - everything else is secondary to that. Having said that, we have a great combination of old and new stuff, built up over the years.
On the vintage side we have a unique Decca valve recording console plus a Studer A827 Gold Edition 2 inch, a Studer/Esoteric Audio Research valve C37 half inch, an EMT 140 plate from CTS Lansdowne and Binson delay. Modern gear includes our SSL AWS900+, Pro Tools HDX, Burl B80 Mothership Convertors, Unity Audio Boulder monitors. We have some great valve gear including a pair of EAR 660 mastering limiters and 825Q passive EQ.
We’ve been very fortunate that Tim de Paravicini of EAR and Kevin van Green of Green and Green Audio took the studio under their wing and have really supported us over the years, looking after equipment, helping spec things and offering advice. Kevin designed the studio and the Unity monitors (which he prototyped in our control room) and together, he and Tim restored the Decca which was a huge undertaking that took several years.
We have some great instruments at the studio. A lovely Bechstein grand piano that Gary Brooker really enjoyed playing. We have a really special Hammond C3 that used to belong to Booker T, plus a Rhodes and Hammond M100. Various drum kits and amps including an Ampeg B15 bass amp.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in recent years?
Competition - we’re actually forging links with other similar minded studios as there it can be lonely out there! Although we are in competition, I’ve found that there are studio owners who, like me, have an abundance mind-set to business and life - if you consistently leave no stone unturned in trying give your clients a great service, there is work out there for you.
Budgets are certainly smaller, but we’ve always worked very hard to keep our rates at a level where this can run as a business. I’ve no interest in a race to the bottom - I do this because I love it and because I want to offer a very high level of service. There is a cost associated with that which means charging enough to not only cover the usual costs (mortgage, leases, maintenance, business rates, insurance, heating and lighting etc) but also the extra stuff like making sure there is decent fresh food for clients and that the studio is kept clean and building setup time into costs so the studio is ready as soon as the client walks in. This also means building in some down time for myself, so that I’m rested and can be present for artists when we’re working. And it’s working - people are willing to pay for a great service because they see the value in the quality of the work they leave with.
What about the industry climate? Has this affected you and if so how?
Most budgets are definitely tight and people expect the same high levels of service, which we always try to provide. I’d love to do more projects where the artist comes in for 3 weeks and we can take all the time we need. That still happens, but more and more we’re working with an artist or producer for a few days on a project, to do the things they can’t comfortably do in their own smaller studio.
I understand why – there’s no point paying for a live room full of gear to sit empty whilst we’re editing drums or comping vocals, but I think that some projects don’t reach their full potential and that’s a shame for everyone involved, especially the artist themselves – Of course you can record vocals and guitars at home, but being able to do them in a great sounding room with all the infrastructure we have is often going to help the project.
We’re also seeing quite a few crowd funded projects. These are pretty straightforward as far as the studio is concerned – we get paid just the same, but it does mean that independent artists can increase their budget and the quality of their release, which is great.
The other thing which we’re starting to do more of is take a publishing split on certain projects. This can be for projects I’m producing or to help get a project through the finish line if the budget is super tight. We’ve always done it in a way that is fair to both parties and of course, there are no guarantees about seeing anything from it, but if it’s a situation where it’s win/win for all involved then it can be a positive thing.
What are your hopes and plans for the studio in the future?
Continue to work with great artists and to expand our client list. I do a lot of mastering for several labels and I’d like to develop that service into an online option for non-label clients. We’ve recently done some live recordings with an audience at the studio. We’re ideally positioned for this as we have the live room and the space around us to make it work. I think this is definitely something to develop. We’re also starting to get into the education side of things, forging some links with universities and developing some courses that compliment what they offer. Plenty to do for sure!