Jake Young takes a trip to the Kent countryside to visit a recording facility determined to make people feel good.
For drummer, producer, and engineer Mike Thorne, building his own studio and house in Tunstall, Kent was just a case of finding the right place, acquiring the money, and getting on with it.
But after opening Rimshot Studio during April 2012 he found a number of problems with the construction of the live room, and so closed the facility a year later. The builder was brought in again, all equipment was put into storage, and while Thorne moved into rented accommodation the builder ‘did a runner’, leaving him with no income and huge storage costs.
“A lot of it came down to these little bars that isolate the structure, which hadn’t been installed properly,” explains Thorne. “We were doing sessions in here and it was like living next door to a nightclub. It was tough.”
Thankfully since Rimshot reopened in October 2013 it has undertaken a number of successful projects plus smaller mastering jobs, and Thorne recently recorded rock band David Migden & The Twisted Roots.
The layout and design of the rooms was a joint effort with architect Hugh Wray-McCann. Thorne was inspired by the oak frame in McCann’s office, which he saw on TV show Grand Designs, so used him for the majority of the studio.
“I want to have an environment to work in that inspires me as well as the people that come in,” says Thorne. “When people walk in I want them to feel like their energy level and their performance steps up a gear because of the space they’re in.”
The M2 motorway is roughly half a mile from Rimshot, so on the advice of Kevin van Green from Green & Green Audio, Thorne acquired airport glass and placed all of the live room’s acoustic treatment in the roof. It’s a very versatile space that can be used wide open, with a very natural acoustic for piano or string sessions, or closed down with screens, to achieve a tighter sound.
A six-metre-high booth is often used for drums, although while it’s not on a huge footprint it has proved a versatile space. Thorne is keen to do something simple with the wall where he can raise and lower the roof slightly to vary the acoustic. The live room can take about 80 people and Thorne is eager to record live gigs later this year.
Green designed the control room to Thorne’s brief. It’s a room within a room so the walls go back about a metre each side. You can hear the change in acoustics between the control room and the live room straight away. It’s got enough space for people to hang out and it sounds great as well.
Monitors are The Boulder from Unity Audio, which Green also designed, with testing taking place at Rimshot.
Thorne uses a Solid State Logic AWS 900+ compact SuperAnalogue console to complement the Decca Records all-valve console, which everything goes through.
The studio has 30 channels of valve mic preamps, 10 in the control room and two racks with 10 each in the booth and live room.
“These days, as far as I’m aware, when most people say ‘valve’ they think ‘it’s an effect, it’s warm and fuzzy, it’s something to help a computer sound less clinical’. Decca was trying to make these as clear and as pure as they could in the 60s. They sound great. It’s almost like cheating.”
Outboard includes a one-off Decca 67 prototype EQ from 1967. “The bottom on the 50Hz is fantastic when you’re mastering things,” says Thorne. “They’ve really chosen the frequencies nicely.”
Additionally, valve guru Tim de Paravicini has made major changes to an early 60s Studer C37 tape machine for Thorne. “It would have used thin 0.25in tape and Tim’s completely rebuilt it to use 0.5in tape. He was down in November to give it a little bit of TLC but most of the time we end up mixing to it.
Upstairs is a machine room that contains more Studer tape machines, all of which get lined up before every session, and Pro Tools HDX with some Burl Audio B80 Mothership converters.
Roughly 70% of recordings at Rimshot start on tape then end up in Pro Tools because of logistics or time and cost. Thorne has some custom equipment that makes transitioning between tape and Pro Tools easier. “If you’re recording on tape and you want to dump it onto the computer you often find that the levels you’re working on for tape are hotter and the converters don’t sound great when you’re running them that hot.
“With these attenuators you can tweak back little bits when you need to and make sure the convertors see the perfect level. Little things like that make a big difference to my workflow.
“The look on people’s faces, whether it’s kids who have come in, bands who have done it a lot, or even engineers who’ve just forgotten, when you put up the 2in multi-track and they hear the first thing back they all smile. There is something romantic about watching the wheels go round. That’s what studios are. They’re supposed to be a space to make people feel good and inspire them. The technical side of it is great but sometimes it’s the little things that actually matter more.
“I’m not a retro gear junkie. Everything we’ve got is here because I think it’s the best at what it does.”