Situated on the former site of unStudios, The Clubhouse at The Forum is Tunbridge Wells’ latest professional recording studio for local bands and artists. Head engineer Ricky Beetlestone tells Fred Latty about the importance of supporting emerging acts and finding the perfect sound for his clients
TELL US HOW THE CLUBHOUSE GOT STARTED
I had my own recording studio in Chatham in Medway, which was in my parents’ back garden. I was doing that for eight years, and in that time I recorded so many bands. The Forum then offered me an upgrade with this new studio, so I moved all my stuff over here. It’s really nice to work out of The Forum because it’s such a nice little community, whereas before I was just on my own.
THE PLACE USED TO BE CALLED UNSTUDIOS – WHAT CHANGES HAVE BEEN MADE SINCE THE REBRAND?
unStudios didn’t really use a mixing desk as much, so I’ve brought in quite a lot of analogue gear, which means it’s not so digital. I use a Midas 1,000 desk, which was used for front of house at The Forum before they upgraded to a digital desk. We track everything out on the stage, so we can speak to the bands when they’re out there through headphones and they can hear everything we’re doing here. A service we’re trying to get going is recording live sets onstage.
WOULD YOU SAY THE FORUM’S A CONDUCIVE SETTING FOR A GREAT SOUND?
Out onstage, drums especially sound amazing because they sound so big. We close-mic all the drums so that they’re not so ambient, and then we put two microphones out on the floor to give it that natural reverb. I didn’t have that before at my old studio, because it was quite a small live room, but since I’ve been here, it’s been perfect. It’s quite unique to have a live room as a venue.
WHAT KINDS OF ACTS DO YOU TEND TO WORK WITH?
I generally like to associate myself with subgenres of mainstream stuff, like punk, rock and emo. I’ve worked with bands like Moose Blood and a local band called Weak Nerves, who are grungy and Nirvana-esque and have the potential to do great stuff. I’ve worked with quite an extensive amount of bands, who come from all over the place, like Ipswich, Canterbury and Wales. I recorded Moose Blood about three or four years ago, and they’ve blown up quite a bit now; they’re doing really quite well and are fantastic and really nice guys.
ARE YOU QUITE HANDS-ON IN SHAPING THE SOUND OF A RECORDING?
Most definitely. That’s the thing I try to do the most; I like to get involved and make it a recording experience. I don’t want to change their songs, I just want to tweak them a bit, even down to the use of different microphones.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO RECORD AN ALBUM OR EP?
It really depends. If it’s a trashy punk band that just wants quick, live songs, we get five or six done in a day, but if they’re going for that nice, polished sound, I’d say a day and a half per song, then it takes around a day and a half to mix.
IS HAVING A SOLID RECORDING ESSENTIAL FOR NEW BANDS TO PROMOTE THEIR WORK?
If you’re going to start a band, there’s no point just doing a quick demo. If you’re serious about it, go and get a great recording, because without that, people are just going to turn their noses up at you. As an audience, listeners are used to a certain sound and a certain quality of recording, so that they can actually enjoy the song. If you don’t record it well and have something that portrays that, then people don’t pay as much attention. Everyone now wants to get their music out there, but at the same time, they hear so many decently produced records that they want it to sound as good as that.
HAS THE DIGITALISATION OF MUSIC MADE HARDCOPIES REDUNDANT?
No one really wants to buy a CD anymore; as an audio lover, I like a hardcopy, but these days it’s all completely digital. You’re not going to get much turnover selling CDs if you’re an up-and-coming band rather than Rihanna or Beyoncé! I think vinyl is a big thing at the moment – people like vinyl records as a collectors’ item, but no one sees a CD like that.
WITH SO MUCH MUSIC AVAILABLE TO STREAM OR DOWNLOAD FOR FREE NOW, IS IT HARDER TO MAKE A LIVING FROM MUSIC?
I think everyone knows the answer is ‘yes’. If you’re a musician, sometimes you just have passion and don’t want money, but as a whole, it’s going to affect things. People are cracking down on illegal downloads, so if people do want to get their tracks out for free, it gives great exposure. It’s almost like a trade-off; everything digitally being more accessible through all these brilliant websites like Spotify, iTunes and Bandcamp is fantastic for exposure, but the trade-off is that, once it’s on the internet, people can get hold of it and it’s not so much of a commodity. Bandcamp has got it right because, if you want to give it away for free, you can.
DO YOU THINK LOCAL BANDS ARE THRIVING AT THE MOMENT?
Yeah, I do – in their own little niches, they are. The thing is, these little niche bands aren’t going to get anywhere without people going out to watch them. People need to, because they’re great; if you’re in two minds about whether it’s worth going out for, or if they’re going to be any good, just take a chance, because some of these up-and-coming bands are great. BBC Introducing puts out a lot of great up-and-coming bands, and those two-piece niches like Slaves really hit at the right time, which is great for Tunbridge Wells and The Forum as well, because they’re local. There’s a lot of great up-and-coming music that just needs to be explored.