Studio Design

In what follows, engineer Taylor Tatsch discusses his studio, including its distinctive characteristics and creative attributes.

First, let me say that I am not a studio designer, architect, acoustician, or any technical authority on building a studio. My studio was built to serve me and the artists I record in a logical, productive, and creative way. This is the story of how that came to be.

First let me describe the different studios I have either worked out of or owned.

Every space is different

I started, as most engineers did in the nineties, with a four track portastudio in my high school bedroom. When I moved to college in 1999, I set that rig up in the dorm and recorded some buddies I had met. By the time I was a Junior in college, I had rented two bedrooms in my friend’s house at 1000 Hickory Street in Denton, TX. This became Studio 1000.

Out of this location, I recorded local Denton artists Grant Jones, Save the Empire, and Space Cadet. This Space Cadet record ended up getting mixed by Derek Taylor and got them signed to Kirtland Records, then later to Trauma Records. These were my first attempts to record a drum set in a way that was clean and competitive, not intentionally trashy and lo-fi. I immediately saw the need for better isolation, acoustics, mics, and monitoring.

I was interning at Bass Propulsion Labs in Dallas at the time. I learned so much from the way these guys recorded bands, but I’ll focus on the spaces and environments at this time. Todd and Toby Pipes, through the different incarnations of BPL, focused on the vibe and the productivity of the space. True, audio excellence was important, but more important than that, we were committed to ensuring that the artists felt they were in the correct creative space. Tons of guitars, amps, keyboards, and accessories were laying around, ready for use. The space felt warm and inviting. Everything worked, but it didn’t feel sterile.

A few times in my life, I have had the pleasure of recording at Palmyra Studios, a converted barn owned by Paul Middleton. Palmyra shares this same approach to recording. Sure, there was a Neve and a Studer, but people recorded there because they felt inspired, welcomed, and appreciated.

During my time at BPL, I inhabited a two-room studio down the hall from BPL’s main rooms that was well designed, but very small. My studio at 408 Styles lane in Colleyville TX (hence the name Audiostyles) was a metal building in which I built freestanding rooms for my spaces. Though good sounding, it had terrible sightlines and no bathroom!

I’ve visited quite a few “showplace” studios in my time, and these served as a lesson in what not to do. They were often built by a world-renowned designer, contained a half-million-dollar console, featured perfectly treated rooms, but virtually nothing to inspire you. I remember arriving at a studio to play guitar on a session at one of these commercial studios to find that my amplifier and guitar were the only ones in the building. I kept thinking back to BPL and how we had almost one of every kind of guitar and amp from which to pick the best combo for the part. These gigantic SSLs and pristine rooms weren’t going to help me turn my Vox into a Marshall or my Tele into a Les Paul!

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Building an ideal creative getaway

My studio spaces have always strived to be a combination of vibe, sound, gear, and ease of use. These principles guided me in my studio design at Audiostyles.

Firstly, you cannot build a studio without considering its sound, so basic principles were followed. I built the tracking and isolation rooms as freestanding “rooms within rooms” to suppress any sound leakage. Right angles were avoided wherever possible to avoid standing waves. You can see in my plans and diagrams how we achieved this. Nick Mehl from Element 5 architecture was a great help in turning my crude drawings and ideas into a functional studio. This was the first recording studio he built, so we were learning from each other as we progressed. I designed a small side/big side tracking room so we could put different instruments in different places depending on the acoustic space I require.

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Fortunately, I had the foresight to save the fencing from my previous house when I replaced it. When it was time to finish out the studio, I cleaned and sanded the wood, and (with the help of a few good friends) put it up all over the walls. Wood has an uneven texture, a nice resonance, and subconsciously puts people in a calm mood, much like a quick walk in the forest.

I cannot skip over the fact that I designed the place to accommodate the gear I needed. The control room was made long enough to fit the gigantic frame of my Trident Series 80. The Steinway and Hammond organ both needed to fit, as well as a dedicated amp and drum area. These can all be switched around, and in fact, almost every arrangement has been tried.

When I think of the records I love, my favorites have been made in imperfect studios. This is one way character gets imparted to a recording. I can’t imagine The Band’s self-titled record being done anywhere other than Sammy Davis Jr’s pool house. The pictures of Abbey Road during the Beatles sessions show a conglomeration of square rooms and bare walls. Imagine was recorded in a home studio. Tiny Music was done in a rented home. Nevermind was done at Sound City, which despite its storied history, contained basically an untreated square tracking room.

All that to say, a studio is a tool. A tool that should work with you and for you. I feel it shouldn’t be transparent, but should involve itself positively at every turn either by aiding creativity, sonically, or even by presenting gentle hardships that push you when too much ease would result in blandness.

Lastly, I designed the studio with modest living quarters, kitchen, and bath—features I love about other destination studios. I love that a band goes into the studio for a series of consecutive days, becomes closer friends, and learns how to get along and create without distractions.

If you wish to visit or record in this lovely space, email us and we can make your next record your best record.

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