Arcade Studios

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This week’s Sunday Spotlight features Arcade Studios in Essex and DV Magazine talks to owner, producer, engineer and synth guru Pete Booker about life behind the mixing desk.

DV: How did you get interested in music?

PB: When I was around 10 years old for reasons I’ll never know, my father gave me an orchestral album featuring a synthesizer and it really blew me away. Considering I’d never really taken much notice of music before – let alone knowing what a synthesizer was – something definitely changed in my head.

DV: How did you get into music production?

PB: When I was 16 I built a mono synth called a ‘Transcendent 200’ from a kit and learned about programming. By 18 I was hanging around the local eight-track studio and soon got unofficially hired as a synth programmer, as not many musicians or studios for that matter really knew much about synths. The kit was basic an Arp Odyssey, a Yamaha SK20 and an Octave Cat mono synth.

DV: How long has Arcade been in operation? Was it set up as a commercial venture?

PB: Arcade started in 1985 as a private studio based around a Soundcraft 24-track two-inch recorder and matching 24-4-2 desk, which allowed me to arrange music away from the crazy prices that the London studios were charging. I then only needed to book a couple of days for mixing on an SSL rather than a whole week. However, after a short time people were asking me to mix at Arcade too, so I got some better monitors – Tannoys and Auratones – for radio reference, and before I knew it the studio was commercial, although I have never advertised.

DV: How hard is it to run a studio as a commercial venture, when a finished song can be turned out on a laptop?

PB: Things have definitely changed over the last 10 years especially in terms of computer power over cost and yes, it is possible to do a full record inside the box on a laptop. I have had to become very versatile and will take on any project no matter how unusual or challenging. Experience and enthusiasm is the key, which I guess has kept me working. I have noticed a decline in would-be songwriters booking as they understandably think they can produce themselves, although signed and more established bands have increased, as this allows them to concentrate on being creative and let me worry about making what they’re doing sound like a record! 

DV: What’s your own main area of interest musically?

PB: I really like a good pop song with a decent vocalist and at the end of the day, talent shines through. I’ve been working with a vocalist called Athenia and she has some really big songs which is great. I also work quite a lot on TV filmic stuff that is very rewarding too.

DV: What’s your main instrument?

PB: Working with synths so long has made me a reasonable keyboard player.

DV: Do you get time to play live?

PB: Not as a musician, but I do work FOH at live festivals in the summer.

DV: How big is the studio? Can Arcade accommodate live bands?

PB: Arcade is split into two main areas. The studio is quite large at 18 ft x 26 ft and the performance area is around 14ft x 20 ft. There’s also a kitchen area with room to escape a little if needed. I’ve recorded a 12-piece string section, but if we need more space I use a church or hall and record on an Alesis HD24 via a Soundcraft Ghost, then transfer back to the computer later.

DV: Do you offer rehearsal space as well as the recording facility?

PB: No, just recording.

DV: How diverse is your client base?

PB: It’s very diverse. Over the last month I’ve recorded two rock bands, an EP for a jazz quartet, a new age album, a theme tune for Sky TV and music and narration for the new Ford Focus training DVD, plus I’ve written music for two TV commercials.

DV: Do you engineer and produce all the sessions at Arcade yourself?

PB: I work with one other producer, Kiron J, and an arranger, Mick Stephens, who transcribes all my orchestral arrangements into something an orchestra might actually understand!

DV: Do you do any other work apart from music i.e. jingles or voice-over work?

PB: As well as the above I’ve done plenty of jingles and commercials for radio and a radio play for the BBC.

DV: As well as production, do you offer advice to clients on arrangements?

PB: Yes, I will try to help in every capacity and if I don’t know the answer, I will try and put them in touch with someone who does. I will happily play keys of required.

DV: Do you use live or programmed drums, or both?

PB: I really like to use a combination of real and sampled drums. Most modern productions, even rock, use a surprising amount of samples overlaid with acoustic drums.

DV: What do you record on?

PB: I now use mainly Cubase 6, which surprises some people as they think I’m a ProTools man. It’s taken a long while for Steinberg to get up to speed, helped in my opinion by Yamaha’s intervention, but now Cubase really delivers. I use Liquidmix for most of the dynamic control and tons of VSTs for the MIDI side.

DV: Do you record guitars live or use a Guitar Rig/Amplitube/POD set up?

PB: As well as real amps I use Native Instruments Guitar Rig which sounds good. When possible I will split the guitar signal and record an additional dry signal straight to audio. This allows me to process separately, which is a real help.

DV: Do you have a favourite microphone for vocals?

PB: I like AKG 414s as they work on anything. I also have a pair of SE 440s which I use on acoustic guitars and percussion. I also have an sE Electronics Gemini which is sweet on vocals especially good for fattening up female vocals.

DV: Do you a favourite piece of outboard gear?

PB: I do favour my Lexicon MPX1s for a quality reverb, and it may seen crazy but I use a Drawmer LX20 Compressor a lot on vocals as this little unit actually really helps keep things smooth.

DV: Which mastering software do you favour?

PB: I generally use Steinberg Wavelab.

DV: What piece of gear couldn’t you bear to part with?

PB: I have run my mixes through a TC Fiinalizer for years with a little three- band compression across the whole mix. It also doubles as a word clock and I would miss that.

Thanks to Pete Booker. Contact Pete at arcadestudio@googlemail.com  If you would like to be featured in our Sunday Spotlight, please contact mnj@digitalvillage.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Author

MNJ has been writing articles, reviews and blogs for the DV online magazine for the last five years or so. Although he has been playing for longer than he cares to remember and is now officially an 'oldie', he is still mad for all things guitar related and when not busy in his studio he's learning new songs, practising bluegrass guitar, painting his house and taking his dogs out. If banished to a desert island and forced to take only one guitar he'd take a Les Paul. Actually, make that several Les Pauls, a Strat, a Tele, an ES-335, a vintage Martin and some boutique amps. Battery powered obviously.

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