Modern World Studios: Nick Cowan Interview

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This week on the Sunday Spotlight we talk to Nick Cowan, owner of Modern World Studios in Tetbury, Gloucestershire about the studio, his guitar collection, and his online tuition service for engineers and producers, Singing Canary.

DV: How long has Modern World been operating?

NC: I commenced the build in 2006 which took around six months before the console (the first SSL Duality in a commercial facility) was installed April 2007. We opened for testing in May and formally started taking bookings from the summer, so we are nearly four years old.

DV: Was the studio always going to be a commercial venture?

NC:  I’m not sure the words ‘studio’ and ‘commercial’ belong in the same sentence! I originally built it for myself to work on TV music etc, and had no interest at all in being commercial, but I started getting calls from producers who wanted to try the studio and the SSL console. After a quiet word from my wife telling me that I was probably a better studio manager than a composer, we went fully commercial, be it reluctantly, on my part. I have yet to record anything of note in my own studio as we`ve been pretty much fully booked since the day I opened (hence sparing the world`s ears!)

DV: Modern World offers the total package, including accommodation, yet your rates seem very reasonable. How competitive do you have to be?

NC: Music will continue to get made but budgets will continue to be tight, and I don`t see that changing in the medium term. I read recently that 90% of UK studios had closed in the last 10 years – I think that sums things up really. I’m afraid those of us that are left will continue to fight, but it’s tough and we have to stay competitive to remain busy.  I normally throw in the accommodation, which if you’re staying for a month, can seriously reduce your bill.

DV: You have a lot of guitars, especially Rickenbackers; are they all from your own collection?

NC: Yes, they are all mine. I’ve played guitar since I was young, and started collecting 25 years ago. The Rickenbackers grew out of a tribute band to the Jam I played in. I was a fat Paul Weller…..we split up due to musical differences….the audience wanted to hear music different to what we were playing!  My collection ranges from a 1966 Gibson ES-335, Les Pauls and Strats through to a Manson loaded with Muse like effects. I decided early on to make the guitars available to anyone who books the studio at no extra cost, which has proved attractive to both artists and producers alike. We’ve got around 40 guitars, so there’s something for everyone.

DV: In fact, guitarists are extremely well catered for at Modern World as far as instruments, amps and effects are concerned; does that influence your client base?

NC: Yes it does. It seems to attract producers who may have a guitar based band as the choice is large. It also helps with overseas artists as they don’t have to bring so much gear. Our amp choice also helps hugely in terms of choice. Having said that, we have a couple of drum kits, a piano, keyboards, and loads of other gear which supports the artist.

DV: What made you decide to install an SSL Duality console?

NC: I think SSL make great consoles at extremely reasonable rates. I could never have afforded a Neve 88R, it’s way too much cash. I had initially looked at and had in fact ordered the AWS 900 just as the Duality was born. I visited SSL and had a go on the desk and thought it was fantastic. It sounds incredible, and offers in line compression, EQ, plus a choice of mic pres, recall and 5.1 (which we have done quite  a bit of.)  It allows for a faster pace of work, which helps budgets. A full recall (a year later) can be achieved in minutes. It controls the DAW as well so it’s a very clever piece of kit.

DV: You’re also involved in an on-line tutorial venture, Singing Canary; how did that evolve?

NC: With the technology available for recording there is an explosion in home engineers; degree courses etc. in music tech is the new art college. However, there are no jobs in the industry so getting hands on exposure is tough. Equally, there isn’t a huge amount of material available on how to record stuff. Sound on Sound is excellent, but it’s a magazine. I figured it made sense to be able to see and hear how to do things, rather than read about it. I formed a company of record producers called Singing Canary, which specializes in on line tutorials on record production. From the basics of sound, recording drums, guitars, vocals etc. we go right through to a producer masterclass on how to record a whole song (there’s a three hour film released this June).

We give you a unique insight into how producers work to capture their sound. It’s all shot in hi-def and all of our tutorials can be purchased through www.macprovideo.com. From next year we will have our own web site offering you the chance to subscribe to our products. We’ll have product reviews, cover every type of instrument or genre, competitions, store discounts etc. Everything tomorrow’s recording engineer requires.

As a further development, we have started filming instruction booklets for audio manufacturers. Having spent years reading manuals, I figured that the principles were the same. You can film everything you need to know (and hear it) about a compressor or a console very quickly. I passed my English A level by watching the Romeo and Juliet movie three times and never read the book! It’s kind of the same logic. If any manufacturer is interested pleaseget in touch.

DV: You have a vast collection of microphones; is there a favourite mic that everybody chooses for vocals?

NC: It depends on the producer or the genre. However, it’s normally one of three, our Telefunken, our Soundelux 251 for valve warmth or for a cleaner brighter response, our Sony C800G.

DV: Is there any equipment you still want to add to the studio?

NC: A Hammond would be great as would a grand piano.

DV: What piece of gear couldn’t you be without?

NC: Probably our SSL Duality. It has made an enormous difference to our client’s work rate. I reckon it’s the best console out there right now.

Thanks to Nick Cowan. If you would like your studio featured in the 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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