How A Small Studio in Wales is Making Big Waves Internationally Using the ProChannel and Console Emulation

Since the release of SONAR X3, there have been more and more commercially viable SONAR studios popping up around the world.  One of the more interesting ones that we have found recently is nestled in a land known more for its castles and Celtic folklore rather than commercial music.  But nevertheless, there’s a little-engine-who-could called Shabbey Road Studios who are finding great success from London to New York City through their network of talented clients and talented staff.  Operated by producers-mixers-musicians-songwriters Al Steele, and Nigel Hart, Shabbey Road Studios is a full service studio just outside of Cardiff Wales.  Al, a native Australian, has been a multi-instrumentalist since the age of 8.  A natural career progression in the music industry brought him around the world at a young age with some very significant names such as the Billboard chart-ers Johnny and the Hurricanes, and Del Shannon who had the #1 Billboard hit song “Runaway” in 1961.  He has also appeared as a featured guitarist on many music placements in the Film and TV world which has added much credibility to his current role at Shabbey Road.  Al’s studio partner Nigel Hart is a Musical Director, Film and TV Composer, Songwriter and Arranger. He plays keyboards and sings, but also has a large back catalogue of instrumental compositions and songs.  Recently, Al and Shabbey Road Studio’ staff have been recording Dan and Laura Curtis who are best known for their album “Love on 42nd Street,” which was released in aid of the BBC Children in Need appeal.   Al was assisted throughout this project by Rob Sherwood, another multi-instrumentalist/engineer and X3 enthusiast.  Daniel and Laura Curtis are considered as one of the foremost ambassadors for the preservation of the music of the Great American Songbook in the United Kingdom.  The Great American Songbook offers a dazzling parade of American popular songs as seen and heard in some of the most beloved films and musicals ever made.

“Whether a project is large or small, our emphasis is always on melody and the big arrangements and massive mixes which are all there to support the song and vocalist.  Because of this we spend a long time on recording and then editing the ‘perfect’ vocal take.

The new Comping feature in Sonar X3 is simply amazing.  The ability to quickly audition and select your preferred take without having to painstakingly move to a master track is a massive time saver.  To just be able to slip the edit point back and forth cuts our editing time by about half!

This means Laura can get the amount of sleep she needs, and I will be less grumpy… or we can just get through more songs! 😉

Our album ‘Love on 42nd Street’ came out in March 2014 and topped the Amazon and iTunes Broadway and Vocal charts in the UK and US.  The album featured a number of Broadway and Theatre artists including, Lea Salonga, Ramin Karimloo, Sierra Boggess, Samantha Barks, Simon Bowman and John Owen-Jones. We are currently working on a few concepts which we hope will be developed in musicals in the future whilst also finishing off some singles which will be released later on this year. We are just putting together our plans for future releases which will be part of an EP next year.

Since we found SONAR, it has become instrumental in our music creation process and success.”        ~Dan Curtis

Dan and Laura’s concert repertoire includes the works of composers such as Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart/Hammerstein and Cole Porter and they were recently invited onto the BBC One Show alongside the legendary Tony Bennett.  They have also gained further support for their work from Nancy Sinatra.

Shabbey Road Studios is a comfortable studio which prides itself on the ears and knowledge of its staff.  They accommodate all types of artists and have the ability to produce anything from solo singer-songwriters to big bands.  We recently had a chance to catch up with Al, Dan and Laura on a Skype session while they were working on some new music.  Al had just upgraded to SONAR X3 and was loving the new comping feature which saves him a lot of time.  Interestingly enough, Al’s favorite SONAR feature is the Console Emulator.  We found that interesting and wanted to get more info:

CW Artist Relations:  How do specifically use the console emulator?  Do you use just on busses, all tracks etc… 

Al Steele:  We mainly use the Console Emulator on busses. Sometimes it smooths out the vocal, or brings solidity to the bass and low-end.  Invariably, we get the mix to the final mastering stage, and then add the Console Emulator.  It adds depth to the mix that is hard to put into words – but it does what it’s supposed to do incredibly well.

CW Artist Relations:  Do you use all three models, or do you prefer one over the other?

Al Steele:  We do use all 3 modes. If I’m asked the question ‘Which one sounds better?’… there is usually an agreement. It often depends on the material, or it may enhance a particular characteristic we are going for on a project.  All 3 modes act and sound differently on different types of music, so we really just trust our ear to get the sound we are going for with whatever works best for the production.

Cakewalk Artist Relations:  Can you describe what the Console Emulation does for you and your music?

Al Steele:  You know when clients ask you to ‘sprinkle a bit of fairy dust on it’… this is one of those tools. You click it in, and immediately something special is brought out of the mix. Of course there is no magic button… but this comes close!  Other ‘fairy dust’ components we find ourselves using in SONAR X3 would be the ‘gloss’ button on the ProChannel, and of course the mighty 76 ProChannel compressor.

Cakewalk Artist Relations:  In what way do you specifically use the ProChannel and what attributes to do like about it?

Al Steele:  We use the ProChannel on virtually every track. I am a big fan of selective compression, so I am locking the tracks (sometimes very subtly) into a specific area.  In frequency, in volume and in stereo spread… everything has to find its place, and either work with, or get out of the way of, other instruments.  The ProChannel is the sculpting tool for virtually all these processes.  The other big one is the vastly underrated Channel Tools. Limiting the stereo spread of reverbs and echoes really helps focus.  Also the ability to pan the reverb send on each track is a mix-saver.  Full stereo reverbs often cloud everything together…but if you pan the reverb send of each instrument to its own pan position, it will clean up amazingly.

Of course, we are usually working with very large mixes, so the problems we have are not going to be the same as making a 4-piece band sound big… our mixes start off sounding big, and then we make them bigger!


For more information:

Shabbey Road Studios

Dan and Laura Curtis