Words by Neil Boland
When recording, we can add echo or reverb to a track easily. The engineer does something mysterious, often with the click of a mouse or the turn of a dial, and there you have it, an effect that adds atmosphere through the artificial re-creation of the sound of a much larger space, such as a wooden hall or church. That’s the experience most musicians are used to these days.
Let’s consider the studios of the 50’s and 60’s, when such hi-technology didn’t exist. A ‘spare’ room that would be dedicated to the foosball table today was actually used for generating echo or reverb back then. One of the most famous of these is actually purpose-built at RCA Studio B in Nashville Tennessee, which takes up the entire second story of the facility, connected by a vent to the ground floor tracking room. The band’s ‘dry’ sound travels up to the echo chamber where microphones capture the natural reverberation. You can hear that sound on over half of Elvis Presley’s catalogue, recorded at the Music Row studio.
Do we have access to something like this in our own backyard here in good old Melbourne? Yes.
Soggy Dog Recording owner Steve Vertigan, who has worked with some of Australia’s biggest names – the Australian Ballet, to the Seekers, Tina Arena to the Victoria Police Rock Band – is a believer in this old-school method as an extra option to artificially-generated effects. In this case, however, the echo chamber doubles as another essential facility.
“That’s the bathroom!” says Vertigan. “For heavy metal, the advantage of having it right next to the drum room is that you can put mics in the bathroom and get a bright room sound. The name was the draftsperson’s doing. It’s a functioning bathroom, too.”
Whilst not an uncommon technique – concrete stairwells and tiled hallways are also popular – most contemporary studios will do without it in favour of an extra isolated tracking room and the exclusive use of digital effects.
Echo is not a single-genre metal pony, however. Producers and studios such as Phil Spector and Detroit’s Motown developed a whole signature sound using echo and reverb for pop and soul, too. Half of the fun for recording at Soggy Dog could be experimentation with this home-made facility.
The layout of Soggy Dog Recording consists of two isolated rooms for acoustic piano or drum recording and amplifier miking respectively and a control room that doubles as a second tracking room, all at the end of Vertigan’s house. There’s a homely feel which may appeal to those less comfortable with a standard studio environment. Add the echo chamber and you have a low-fuss facility best suited to those looking to record live with a small ensemble simultaneously, like a blues or rockabilly trio looking for that classic-era live sound, or an instrumental jazz quartet.
Those looking for greater flexibility with instrument isolation with the capacity to record live and drop parts in afterwards might find the layout limiting in the sense that additional acoustically-audible instruments may need to be played in the same room as each other, creating ‘spill’ onto each other’s tracks. Take a singer/guitarist who wants to record their electric guitar and voice at the same time, for example. However, Vertigan looks at the positives in this, pitching his studio as a more economical community-orientated destination, encouraging local artists and larger ensembles to record live, such as big bands and choirs.
“I work for some schools. I’m doing some mixing for Box Hill Senior Secondary at the moment. I’ve recently done work for Monbulk College and Blackburn High School brings their jazz ensembles here,” says Vertigan.
Soggy Dog Recording is fitted out with professional equipment from Neumann, Universal Audio, Trident, Royer, Avalon and RME and offers the opportunity to get away from the city for a day, located in Upwey, 40 minutes drive from the Melbourne CBD. It’s also great for parking and loading, compared to most metropolitan studios and their squishy laneways.
Soggy Dog has also attracted artists more accustomed to high-pressure, big end of town sessions. Studio musicians who have worked for some of the world’s biggest names have recorded here. In fact, Vertigan has a roster of some of them on the studio’s call list, so even the less-experienced client can get a professional recording economically with these players on it.
If you’re looking for a low-pressure and inspiring environment to record in, Soggy Dog has you covered, central bathroom, err, echo chamber and all.
Sound interesting? For more info, head to: www.soggydogrecording.com.au