Studio Owner Interview: Tom Fox, Moorcroft Studios

We take some time out to speak to Tom about his experience as a recording studio owner and what advice he has for others in the industry.

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You don't develop an online studio booking system without having a love and appreciation for the world of recording studios. From the equipment and processes used, to the newly emerging talent, I like to keep my finger on the pulse when it comes to the latest developments in the recording studio world.

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 Tom and I spoke about when we chatted recently.

Tom set up Moorcroft Studios just outside of Bradford / Leeds, West Yorkshire over 15 years ago after graduating from Leeds Met University and it's been going from strength to strength ever since. I learnt about what a typical day looks like, his client base, and his take on how the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the industry. He also shared his go-to equipment list, tips for those wanting to start out in the industry and the upcoming bands he's most excited to be working with.

A image of Moorcroft studio mixing desk and booth
Moorcroft Studios

Tell me a bit about yourself and the studio

I've been recording since I was about 16/17 in a bedroom studio. I started playing guitar, that's what got me into the digital recording side. I started off doing that in a converted bedroom studio and then I ended up going to Leeds Met University where I got a BSc degree in Music and Sound Technology. Then I had a little studio that I set up 15 years ago, and I've been there ever since to be honest, just by honing my technique, working with local bands and rappers.

What does a typical day in your life look like?

Recordings. Maybe ten years ago it used to be a lot of metal, everything metal orientated or guitar band at least. But it's all changed, it's a lot of rap music now. So a normal day for me, I get three different clients in, spread out over the entire day. Some might be vocalists, but mainly all rappers now. Obviously the charts are dominated with that sort of thing so all the kids are wanting to do the same. So I work with a lot of different artists day to day, it's quite varied to be honest.

This leads me nicely onto the question of what type of musicians do you typically work with? Is it more solo artists now than bands?

It is solo artists mainly with the rappers. Or you get groups to be honest, they've started forming groups which is a newer thing. Maybe two or three, like a rap trio or duo. That seems to be a thing that keeps happening. I don't know if it's like just locally, but for me, I've got a few people that do that. But mainly they're all rappers, they're all 'from the streets' as they say, that kind of thing, rapping about their lives. But I get vocalists in as well, I get singers, I get instrumentalists in from time to time, but it's mainly all rap now. So it's not as varied as it used to be, but it's still enjoyable.

And what kind of equipment are you using?

I'm equipped to deal with full bands as well. But for the soloists and rappers, you need a mixing console, you need a high-quality microphone, a microphone preamp - you need a way to get it into the computer. A lot of it is done 'in the box' as they say, it's all done on the computer rather than using outboard equipment. So I've got high-end equipment to get it into the computer and then all the mixing's done with plugins on a PC. So that gets really good results these days.

I've just been upgrading my equipment, I've bought a new microphone, so that sounds absolutely amazing in comparison to my older ones. It's a struggle to tell the difference between commercial, big studios and smaller places now because equipment has come on in leaps and bounds.

To produce, I'm using Cubase 11 at the moment, I've just upgraded. As well as Cubase 11, there's Waves plugins, I've got Melodyne which is like an autotune, I've got your standard autotune. A new one that I've bought, VocAlign which is amazing, that's for lining vocals up, you know, if you've got a rapper that's doing more than one take, at the press of a button you can align vocals now. It just sounds really polished. I could talk all day about this to be honest.

With the advances in technology, are you finding that it's becoming more commonplace for bands to produce in their own studio rather than going to their label's studio?

Yeah, a lot of people are choosing that route. I do get people calling me up asking to mix songs that they've recorded at home. They might not sound amazing, but it saves people money and they've got the comfort of their own home to record in. So if you feel inspired, you don't have to book a studio time and be there at a particular time and place, you can just do it all in the comfort of your bedroom or your living room now, which works well for a lot of people.

Have you worked with any famous artists or bands in your career?

I'm don't know if you've ever heard of them, Bad Boy Chiller Crew, they're popping off at the moment. There's bound to be someone that you know that knows who they are. They've just done Leeds Festival and Reading and they've got a pretty much sold out UK tour. They're signed to Sony, they're doing extremely well. I've done all their recordings. I've just got a plaque on the wall, 200,000 sales for one of their singles that was in the top 40, we did that about six months ago, so that was a good thing. Hopefully more of them to come.

And it sounds like you're really tapped into the local music scene. Are there any other local or upcoming bands you're really excited about?

Another great artist, who has done a collaboration with Bad Boy Chiller Crew is Chris Nichols. I've known him years and he's just signed to a label called BRG. He's the ex-manager of the Bad Boy Chiller Crew, but he's breaking out. He's got about 150,000 monthly subs on Spotify, we're just getting some tracks together for him to release along with videos at the moment. So he's one to watch out for, he's an amazing voice if you go on his YouTube he's got all sorts of styles on there, but we're just trying to find a certain style that fits him at the moment. So we're just recording and thinking about what we might put out with him. [You can follow Chris on Instagram here to keep up to date]

There's a group called B2. They're on Spotify. There's a song called Strange Faces that's very good. They're playing a mental health awareness gig in Liverpool it's quite a big do, I think that's November sometime and I can't remember where it is but it's one of the bigger venues in Liverpool and they're supporting mental health and have done quite a lot for it song wise, they're just trying to put the word out there for it all so that's encouraging. So yeah, one to watch them as well. [Follow B2 on Instagram here to see what else they're up to.]

Another one to watch out for is 8nightsmusic who focus on melodic rap music. Their latest video is for Fly Mode.

I've got a few others but they're all up and coming, it might be a while before you actually see them do anything, but Chris Nichols and B2 are the ones to look out for, you might hear their name on the radio at some point.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge the industry faces, in your opinion, in light of the impact of recent lockdowns and the Covid-19 pandemic on the industry and moving forward.

I think the pandemic's actually done some music good to be honest. I mean, a lot of people have come out, they've actually become famous from the lockdown. It's become more online streaming and video releases rather than gigging, you know, people have grown a fair old online following just because nobody could go to gigs. I mean the way forward, I think things are looking better for gigs. Obviously, it depends how the vaccination ends up being rolled out or if people end up taking it or if they'll bring vaccine passports in or not. I'm not really sure. But as far as it's going, everything seems good and back to normal. I mean, it gives the rappers, through lockdown, they became like an internet sensation, they can finally go out and actually perform their stuff, which is good for everybody, I suppose. It's had its ups and downs like anything.

Personally, lockdown was good for me because I was able to actually open up through the second lockdown. Recording studios and visual studios, they were able to remain open. So everybody was that bored, obviously, I was getting a lot of bookings, obviously abiding by all the rules, but I stayed extremely busy. And it's remained that way as well. So it's had its pros and cons for me. A bit like everybody, it depends who you ask I suppose.

One final question for you, do you have any advice for anyone who's looking to set up their own studio?

First of all, there's a lot of magazines telling you what equipment you want, but you don't need that much to get started out. You can keep buying the equipment and upgrading and then still not get the sound you want. It's a matter of learning the equipment that you've got and becoming very comfortable with it.

And practise, practise, practise. You just need to start out. If you're not sure what you're doing, just start recording and just do it at minimal fee. Never not charge. Always start out doing it cheaper. You'll get a lot of people coming through and you'll improve a lot faster doing it that way.

Never undervalue your work, that's what I'm saying because there's too many people out there coming through, they get decent equipment and they undercut the older end by like hundreds of pounds because they're at college and they've got no actual money to pay out so it devalues people who work when you get people doing that. So always charge something. Know your worth basically.