In this series of articles, I chat with people who share my love of recording so much that they make their career out of it. Here's what Robin and I spoke about when we chatted recently.
Robin Newman has been running Snug Recording Company since 2006. Originally set up in Derby, the studio is now based within the JT Soar building, a DIY music venue in Nottingham.
I learnt about his journey into recording studio ownership, the wide variety of creatives he works with, and how the only constant in his workday is coffee!
He also shared his advice for people looking to set up their own studio and his take on the challenges and opportunities for studios post-Covid.
What inspired you to start your studio?
Initially, I mean, before this studio, before Snug, I worked at the building that became Snug, which used to be a studio called Hide Recording Studios. And prior to that, I'd been, kind of, running my own recordings out of an old industrial unit in Nottingham. Actually just around the corner from where we are now. And it was always basically just out of education, sort of learning how to record. In those days, learning how to record badly, but then getting slightly better as it went on. But yeah, just running it, really, in whatever capacity we could do.
So at the time it was with bands that were in my network, or friends, and, you know, I was playing in bands myself. So it was, kind of, we had a tribe of people and we wanted to be able to record stuff. So yeah, hiring out a space, getting some relatively cheap mics and a computer and so on and kind of just doing it very DIY to begin with.
And then doing that got to the point where I was doing some recordings that were sounding not terrible. So I think when the guy called Julian who ran Hive was looking for someone, my name came up because other people had worked with me. So yeah, that was kind of it really.
And then I worked for him for a few years. And then when he decided that he wanted to do other things, myself and the other engineer, Rich, took over the studio, renamed it and made a few changes. So yeah, it wasn't necessarily a core decision to start a studio, I more, kind of like, fell into it a little bit.
And what does a day in your life look like?
Unpredictable, I think, yeah, there isn't really a very set kind of day for me some days, because there's two of us that practically do sessions in the studio. But there's also a lot else to do with running a business. So some days, my day will be I'll go in and get to work with great musicians and sell drum kits and, you know, make loads of noise and have fun. And then other days, I'll have to do my accounts. And, you know, yeah, I need to sit and do stuff like that.
But I also do a lot of work that isn't strictly kind of music studio stuff. So I do other kinds of audio work for things like video production, for installations, like art installations and things, some stuff over with sort of themed attraction stuff. So I'm doing some work at the moment over in Leicester at the National Space Centre. So it's a pretty varied kind of spread of stuff.
So yeah, a typical day in the life? Generally, it starts with coffee, but other than that, it's not necessarily as predictable, really.
So what type of artists do you work with? That all sounds extremely diverse and not limited to your typical artists?
Yeah, I mean, I do think that most of what I do, is working with artists of one form or another, it's just that kind of seems to be a bit of a delineation between what is considered to be corporate and therefore not artistic. But you know, that side actually involves some of the most talented people that I've worked with who are incredibly creative. And, you know, what they do, whether it's video or designing experiences, narratives and images, live experiences and things like that; or whether it is musicians, I don't really draw much of a line there, between, kind of, whether those people are all creative or not, like. They definitely all are.
But yeah, in terms of the kinds of musicians that we work with a lot of local stuff, but also, more and more things are kind of global now, really. And especially over the last two years, with Covid-19 pandemic, we've done a lot more remote work here and there. And that's something that I want to investigate doing more of, because things are just a lot more opened up now. And I think that there are a lot more musicians who maybe need mixing or need extra instruments laying down on top of productions, they've started at home and things like that.
So the previously quite defined version of who our clients were, has now blown wide open, really. People need all sorts of different things when it comes to what a studio can provide.
The remote thing is going to be really interesting. I think every industry is having these conversations. We've touched on this lightly, but Covid-19 has changed the world. In terms of the music and recording industry moving forward, what do you think the challenges or opportunities are for studios such as yourself?
I think that there's some short term and long term challenges.
The short term is that really, a lot of bands probably broke up over Covid. When they can't gig or get into rehearsal rooms and things like that, they fall out of the habit of making music together. And for a lot of them, if they're getting older, or they've got other focuses, like their families and jobs and stuff like that, a lot of them might just not return to it. So I think that that's a big thing that I've seen is a lot of bands just kind of deciding that they're not going to carry on.
A lot of venues have been lost as well, you know. The challenges for recording studios really are the challenges of the wider industry that we're in. So it's rehearsal rooms, it's venues, it's, you know, music, instruments shops even, just all that sort of stuff.
So that, coupled with the fact that when people have been locked in, and, you know, some of them have been on furlough, had a lot of time and so a lot of them have probably started doing more home recording, which can be both a good and bad thing for us. We get a lot of work from people who do home recording because they're musicians, they don't want to spend all their waking hours learning what takes 10 years to learn when it comes to engineering, production skills and stuff like that. They can do a good job at home, but I think that they often spot that there is something missing between what they're coming out with and what a finished, polished, record sounds like. So there's a lot of opportunity to work with more people because there's more people starting the recording journey at home.
But also, I think that it definitely does also mean that for certain genres of music and stuff, we will lose clients to home recording, because eventually they, kind of, for certain things, like if they're just making beats at home or something, and they just need to record vocals, I mean, we know that we can provide a lot of value still there, because we actually have an engineer who will work through the vocal takes with them, do an edit at the end, any effects, all that sort of stuff. But I think for a lot of them, if they're more of a kind of hobbyist level, they might not now spend the money on that, whereas previously, they would have done. I mean, Logic console is phenomenal value, like £200 or something. And I would say that you don't necessarily need to buy any other plugins or anything like that, just, you know, relatively cheap interface, which they're all great quality these days, as well. And a relatively cheap mic will kind of do a fairly good job if you can treat your room a little bit, and so on. So for a lot of people, it's a very inexpensive way into recording. The downside is that, yeah, you get to that point where you start it and you do something, you go, like, cool. I've made something brilliant, and you should be excited about that. But also, when you compare it to what you want it to be, there might be a discrepancy there that, yeah, you don't know where to start on learning all that stuff?
I’m always keen to know… Have you worked with anyone famous?
Yeah, we've done stuff over the years with a few people. I mean, probably the one that people have heard of is a guy called James Morrison, who was sort of, I mean, it's quite a few years back now. But we did some stuff. It was mainly just production demos for him and, you know, to get him signed. Some of that stuff was due to be on the album, but then they kind of ended up taking it in a different direction, getting some other co-writers in and things like that. So sadly, we missed out on a cut on that one.
But we've also worked with other people. I mean, it's all just, kind of, people that you get to know so I mean, we've done some work with the rock band called Therapy?, who have been around for years and years, we’ve done work with them.
There's a band called LostAlone who were around a few years as well. [Listen to them on Spotify] I think they broke up a few years back, but their singer and principal songwriter, Steven Battelle, has been an active guy, we still work with him all the time. [Hear Steven’s work on Spotify here, or on SoundCloud here. Or keep up to date with his latest news and releases on Twitter and Instagram.
There's a great band that I've worked with a lot called Haiku Salut, who are a wonderful three-piece from around Derbyshire that do amazing, kind of, electronic, slightly folky stuff. Just amazing musicians. [Check them out on Spotify here]
And other than that, I mean, a lot of the people that we've worked with, are just sort of, you know, they're all aspiring musicians. And, as we all know, a lot of those do not turn into famous musicians. So yeah, those are probably some of the ones off the top of my head that we've worked with, that anyone might have heard of. But there's loads of others that I will be forgetting as well.
And finally, do you have any advice for anyone looking to set up a studio?
Yes, don't spend loads of money, or think that you have to spend loads of money. We're at the point now where we have a great studio, and I love it. But also, we've, you know, we've been gently investing in that over the last 15 years. We’ve still got gear from when I started out at that little hole in Nottingham.
So yeah, I would say don't spend very much money, start things that you can from home. And the thing that people will pay you for is good results, not flashy equipment, or anything like that. So if you can, you know, rather than trying to take out a bank loan and start a studio, if you can devote a room in your house and get some acoustic treatment in there, get some decent monitors and a computer that can run what you need, well, that will probably do a lot more for you.
But then be prepared to also work another job and spend five years learning how to be good before someone's prepared to pay you for doing it. But, you know, that's jobs. Who’s amazing at anything when they first start?