Designing sound studios and the key things to consider when undertaking a design

Eloise Veale, Creative Director of Veale Associates spoke to us about her work designing sound studios and the key things to consider when undertaking a design. Her projects include The University of Winchester, Dean Street Recording Studios, Kerrang! Radio, Smooth Radio, The University of West London, Classic FM, Frontier Developments Games, Playfish Games and Lansdown Studios.

Looking after the design side of VA, she directs how spaces look and creates the vibe for the environment; finishes, furniture, materials and wall graphics…what you see. Her role is about ideas, understanding and listening, testing spaces, recording how users operate and move through their environments, and proving the project aesthetic to generate concepts, ergonomics and a style that works for each individual client.

Veale got involved with the family business as a result of conversation whist sat waiting for a flight. “My Father looked at me and said he had been thinking. In the past I had created a few sketches for him to show clients how their facilities were going to look. At the time, VA was working for GMG Radio who were looking to re-brand their studios and meeting rooms, so new finishes needed to be selected and graphics needed to be designed. VA were also about to start working on a relocation project with Classic FM which involved branding and designing a new waiting area for them, so my Father asked me if I wanted to get involved. The rest is history.”

We sometimes hear stories about how a studio build has gone horribly wrong but it can be a smooth and enjoyable journey if done properly. “The key to a successful build is to ensure the studio is built to expectation. There are in essence two sides that need to be supported and catered for; the high level management with specific business and facility requirements which also includes brand identity, and the users. The needs of both sides have to be fully explored to make the space fit for purpose and tick all the boxes. Then on top of that you have the building demands and limitations, external considerations, what the constraints are, any statutory considerations, and what is practical cost wise. Most mistakes that happen in the studio creation can be traced back to not taking the time at the outset. There are critical issues that need to be agreed such as how much sound isolation is required, will the audio being created in the studio impact on neighbours and how environmental noise will impact on the studio and recordings. Ideally it’s wise not to compromise on the acoustics; after all you wouldn’t put a Ferrari engine in a Mini or as Pirelli say “power is nothing without control”.
As for challenging projects, one that comes to mind is the University of West London. “The University needed new recording studios to replace existing ones that were about to be demolished due to a site expansion. The facilities were critical to them being able to deliver courses and student exam work so they had to be finished in time for their return after the Easter break. They chose a space in their basement that was being used as an engineer’s workshop and decided to put a live room, control room, drum booth and post production studio down there. Most projects of this kind have a minimum lead time of 6 months for design and install but they needed studios incredibly fast due to the main contractor’s construction programme, so we only had 10 weeks to design and build new flagship facilities. All acoustic projects are different and this one was so fast moving we had to absorb the unknown literally as things presented themselves. The project included a lengthy process of excavating the floor to create enough head height and be able to float the studios which challenged the programme even more! The project was a great success, it was handed over on time and snag free – something the main contractor Willmott Dixon hadn’t experienced before.”

Advances in technology makes more things possible in both design and manufacturing, more and more products and materials are being created that push what’s been before, offering more and more creative opportunity. “Design and technology influence how people use their environments. Things also get smaller, less and less space is required to do the same things as equipment becomes more and more comprehensive and accessible. Space and real estate is always a premium and anything not needed is consolidated. So everything shrinks, and with that comes more and more compact environments with higher demands and new challenges.”

The studio should be a comfortable space conducive to collaboration and creativity. However with the Covid-19 pandemic this can be difficult to achieve at the moment. “One particular project springs to mind where the design has been directly influenced by the pandemic. We have had to reduce the number of meeting rooms in the design so they can be enlarged and accommodate the 2m social distancing rule as per their policy, but this will have a large impact on them in the future and the services they can accommodate due to reduced facilities. I’m not keen on designing for Covid as this is a temporary state we find ourselves in, plus many aren’t in a position for a complete redesign so really this becomes an internal management process on how to operate safely within the current restrictions. If we designed for Covid every workspace would need redesigning, spaces would need to grow significantly and unfortunately you can’t just add water to make a building grow! It will be a case of having as few people in as possible rather than the old ethos of ‘cram as many as possible!’ So not an economical approach when so many businesses are really struggling and they need to be making their money work as hard as possible for them.”

As for the future, although much work is now being done at home the need for a professional sound studio has certainly not gone away – this will always be the real test. At the beginning of the pandemic and many adapting to working from home we found ourselves being asked about the difficulties with monitoring, and were reviewing a number of home working environments. Many engineers are used to recording and mixing in a high end studio and they were striving to achieve a similar and accurate sound at home. We found ourselves analysing reflections and negative acoustic properties in rooms and identifying how to cancel it out using EQ for a more accurate representation.”