Words by Alex Watts
Photography by Anne Moffat
Tucked down the back of a non-descript parking lot in an industrial area of Moorabbin lies a recording engineer/musician’s dream. A single sign reading ‘Black Pearl’ is the only indication that behind one of these doors — the others presumably leading to factory warehouses of various varieties — stands a world class recording studio.
Having worked for thirty years in various studios and his own, much smaller space, Yury Kogan had the studio constructed from scratch as a way to provide a space that is most conducive to making music. “There are certain things that I don’t like about the process, and musicians, a lot of them don’t have decent gear or an idea of what sort of sounds they can get. The other thing is, in any large studio when they come in, it’s scary. It’s very corporate, it’s an unnatural environment, so what I was looking for was a creative home-like environment for musicians, because if you can get them to relax and get them creative then the rest of the stuff is easy and the results are so much better,” Kogan explains.
The studio consists of two main recording spaces, both comprised of a high-ceilinged live area with connected booths for vocals and amplifiers. Adjoining each of these are control rooms decked out with a vast array of outboard gear, both vintage and modern, some extremely expensive monitors by Avantone and Adam and an SSL E 400 console in Studio A and a Tonelux/API hybrid console in Studio B.
Despite their homely feel, the spaces are actually quite large, with baffles and miking techniques being used to create separation between the instruments. “We did fit a 50-piece choir with a piano. Vince Jones was seven musicians with a 20-piece choir and a 12-piece brass section.
“We are, in my opinion, the best studio in the country. Some of my engineers who have worked in the best studios in England reckon that the closest competition is somewhere like Abbey Road. I realised for a studio to be reasonably versatile you need larger rooms with controlled acoustics, you need high ceilings and control rooms which are comfortable to work in and acoustically balanced.”
Nobody could accuse Black Pearl of not having enough gear. Kogan has been adding to his collection for the past thirty years, with 130 guitars, 30 basses, 500 pedals, a few very nice pianos including a Yamaha C7 and 400 microphones.
The best part? All of it is free for those hiring the studio to use. In fact, Kogan encourages musicians to come in a week prior to their session to try out different equipment and decide on a sound before the clock starts ticking.
“If something needs to be prepared I’ll do it. We have $12,000, $15,000 guitars there to use. Using different guitars you can get heaps of different sounds. If a player picks up the right guitar, or right bass or uses the right keyboard, they play better. I have nine or ten Les Pauls here, so the question is: does it feel comfortable, is the neck the right shape for you, does it feel good? Somewhere there, there is a perfect thing for it, and when they come in on the day it’s all prepared.”
Considering all of this, it is almost shocking to learn that the studio only costs $550 a day to hire, with an assistant.
“I own everything. I’m not paying a bank or landlord and I can afford to do that,” says Kogan.
“Running costs are not huge. It makes sense to make it affordable, to run the studio like that where people feel comfortable. I understand how the industry is and it’s an investment that (musicians are) making to promote their music and to sell it; you don’t want to send them broke before they achieve it. If you have a four or five piece band — as long as somebody can shell out $130 bucks — they have a day of recording.”
Such a generous philosophy is remarkable in the world of music business and one that should appeal not only to those on a budget, but those keen on capturing a world class sound.
For more info, head to www.blackpearlstudios.com.au