Born and bred Londoner, Sam Johnson followed his heart to New Zealand last year, upping sticks and taking his studio setup and over 20 years’ experience in the music business with him, ASP4816 console and all. Setting up Rhythm Ace Studio in a small township in New Plymouth, he’s swapped the pace and bustle of London for an idyllic existence two minutes from the beach, surrounded by beautiful scenery.
Curious to find out whether his big leap into the unknown worked out, Audient started off by asking him: how’s business?
It’s incredible!! Building a studio in this day and age is always a slightly crazy thing to do and I was working on the principle that I’d have enough mixing/composing work coming through from the UK to tide me over, while I found my feet here and met and worked with the local music scene.
It turns out there’s a lot more than I’d bargained for and they’re all super keen to get recording!! So we’re packed at the moment – only a couple of slots available until the end of the year. It’s been an amazing start.
“the ASP4816 is like the kitchen table; it’s where we all gather”
I think in part that’s down to the way that Kiwis generally tend to operate: generous in their knowledge and friendship and word of mouth recommendations – ideal for nurturing for a new business like mine.
Tell us about your journey to where you are today.
I was a signed musician and producer in London and for 20 years was involved with releasing and touring my own music as well producing/remixing.
Sam Johnson: “Our first record was mastered at Abbey Rd – I thought that was standard!”
I was very lucky to be able to get my first deal in the fag ends of the ‘old music business’ where there was still money for advances and artist development. Our first advance funded my first ever studio setup, and that love affair with recording and producing just grew and grew from there. Our first record was mastered at Abbey Rd – I thought that was standard! Hahaha – I wish I could have told my 20-year-old self to pay more attention!!
I’ve been working more recently with composing for film which is brilliant fun and a real shift in thought process. Over the years I’ve realised that engineering and recording/producing are what makes me more excited than anything else – the daily challenge of an ever-changing cast of musicians and bands makes it so much fun.
There’s a huge variety of talent here including some seriously fresh young bands who are making me feel like a teenager again! Anyone who has the commitment to write and want to record their music is already a hero of mine!
So to your Audient ASP4816, what do you love about it?
Where do I begin? I still feel really strongly that I want to have an analogue desk at the heart of the recording process. It’s like a hearth that musicians naturally gather around. There’s a certain security in having it there; warm, lights on, looking after proceedings!
“I’ve got lots of funky preamp options but I love the ones in the ASP4816”
Yes, there’s a way of doing it all on a laptop but how dull! Hunched over a small screen, hand in the cramped claw of mouse use, constant email and Facebook alerts – horrible. The ASP4816 is like the kitchen table; it’s where we all gather to make and mix and chat and generally get into that mindset of making music – not checking emails.
It helps of course that it also sounds and performs superbly. I’ve got lots of funky preamp options but I love the ones in the ASP4816, they’re clean to a point but you can still get some gorgeous gluey vibe from them.
The EQs are magic – I’m a big fan of getting the sound right before pressing record – nothing worse than a load of options come mix time – and I’ve never regretted dialling in EQ on the way in using the Audient.
What features do you appreciate daily?
The routing for a desk of this size is fantastic. I’m tracking all kinds of bands and artists here and I never feel compromised by the flow of signal through the ASP4816.
It feels chunky, well made, sounds ace and on a daily basis you really appreciate the history of desk design behind it. Everything is in the right place – there’s nothing missing – I never think ‘oh if only it had……’
“[ASP4816 is] like a full-sized, fully-featured desk from the golden days of recording – just one that doesn’t require six people to lift it and a full-time maintenance engineer!”
I think it’s the perfect size desk for the majority of real life studio recording in this new day and age. It certainly doesn’t feel like a budget option, much more like a full-sized, fully-featured desk from the golden days of recording – just one that doesn’t require six people to lift it and a full-time maintenance engineer!
How do you see the future of Rhythm Ace Studio?
I hope that Rhythm Ace can be the kind of studio that I’ve always wanted to record in as an artist.
Time in the studio is one of those highlights of the year, and as an owner/engineer/producer I try and keep that spirit in mind with everyone that comes here. It’s a magic time – people have poured their heart and soul into writing pieces of music and I’m determined that they will get a matching level of passion and respect from me and the equipment here. It will never be just a job and I think there’s been too many studios (certainly I’ve experienced more than a few) that have ended up feeling that way. It’s too special to ever be allowed to become mundane!
I also really subscribe to the Steve Albini school of thought, that we need to make it as affordable as possible so everyone who wants to record can record. Far too many brilliant records are still in people’s heads!
Amen to that. Audient wishes you every success!