An Inside Look at Studio Maintenance: Here's the Drill
“How long could we maintain??”
That’s just one of our fave quote snippets within the classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (we heart the book AND the movie). But to us at BB4, that is not the question. Instead, we query, “How long could we maintain without maintaining?”
Not long at all. Because unexciting as it may sounds we get the itch to undergo studio maintenance on a very regular basis here. And in fact, any studio owner will tell you maintenance must be rigorously scheduled into your workflow. If it’s not, you’re not really running an audio facility at all -- just a clubhouse with really sweet speakers.
But running a Truly Tight Ship goes deeper than you might think. BB4 breaks down our upkeep into three distinct categories.
We’ve curated a sharp selection of analog equipment for our mixing and mastering clients. Keeping these juicy units running at optimal performance requires a regular routine, however. Here are some highlights:
Sine wave sweeps -- we regularly perform sine wave sweeps (at 1 kHz) through every channel of each unit. For preamps this can reveal anomalies in the volume knob; distortion or cutouts in EQ frequency knobs; and similar problems in a compressor’s threshold, ratio, or gain. For gear that is stereo pairs, like our Vintech 573’s and API 512’s, we do that to make sure that both sides are equally matched/balanced.
Normal wear/tear and everyday usage can cause these inaccuracies to crop up, even at the world’s biggest studios, so keeping on top of these drifts is key. If we hear a problem, it’s time to call the tech!
Cleaning the knobs -- also on the agenda. If there’s static or a scratchy sound, or a delay unit where the accuracy has slipped, the knob could be the prob. We never shoot these delicate machines with compressed air! That could knock something loose inside, or coat it with residue. Instead, we’ll put 99% alcohol on a Q-tip and dab ever so g e n t l y.
Wiring -- Our PMC monitoring system is the heart and soul of our extremely accurate critical listening environment. Maintaining it starts with ensuring that all the wiring between the speakers and Bryston amps is tight -- you’d be surprised how shaking bass can loosen things up! Without this procedure, performance from the subs can suffer.
Vacuum the patch bay -- ‘nuff said!
We love us our analog, but we take equal pride in the digital side. For tracking and mixing, our Pro Tools HDX system, running Pro Tools 12, lives on a turbocharged Mac Pro 3.5GHz. For mastering, we have a separate Macbook Pro Retina running SoundBlade HD. Keeping those engines running clean requires due diligence!
Plugins -- In an ideal world, every plugin developer would release their updates at the same time. But of course that’s not going to happen. So we check once a month to see if there are OS updates for the plugins we have (Soundtoys, Waves, Sonnox, iZotope, FabFilter, Slate, many more).
System health --A regular diagnostic check and internal hard drive optimization (defragmentation).
Backups -- All sessions are constantly backed up to external hard drives, which have 24 TB of storage. The OS of each computer is backed up as well.
Only audio! -- Our machines are not for playing Space Invaders or browsing CNN.com. They host Pro Tools, various other DAWs like the MPC, SoundBlade on the Macbook, and any other audio applications. They are on a secure hardline Internet connection for pulling down/sending any necessary files.
The Studio Itself
Here’s where the true elbow grease comes in! Not to mention the time management, because even though BB4 has a relatively compact footprint, keeping it super sharp -- which is the only way we like it -- entails some big jobs.
The whole studio – Once a week, we vacuum every square inch with our mighty Dyson Cyclone V10.
Acoustical fabric -- There are fabric-covered acoustic treatments everywhere. That calls for a two-part cleaning process every four months: dry vacuum followed by a wet vac. Before we can wet vac, however, we cover EVERYTHING with plastic -- all the gear and the entire wood floor. Plus, the cleaning solution has to be carefully calibrated to make sure the fabric doesn’t get oversaturated. And after that wet vac? A reverse blast overnight from our Homelabs 70-pint dehumidifier to pull the extra moisture out of the fabric.
Air conditioning maintenance -- We wield a mighty air compressor, complete with an external tank, to tackle this big job. This beast shakes when its powered on, so we have to place a piece of rug between it and our wood floor to prevent scratches. The reward is a thorough cleansing of hard-to-reach corners of our HVAC system.
The air we breathe -- We keep the oxygen ecosystem extra fresh with a secret weapon: Moso Natural Air Purifying Bags. These use a charcoal filtering system that acts naturally to soak up aromas and allergens from the air. You just need to put them in direct sunlight once a month to rejuvenate them. These were recommended to us early on by construction workers -- totally invaluable. A pair of Rabbit Air Minus A2 air purifiers are also always at work in the main room and lounge, each with a specially calibrated defense filter.
Surfaces -- With our focus on enabling total creativity at BB4, we know that even a speck of dust can distract. To combat that, we offer up two words: Pledge. OK, that’s just one word. But it’s the final word!