Jeremy Harding’s gear is placed on rolling racks that pivot in or out to reconfigure the studio as needed.
Jeremy Harding's 2 Hard Records studio is also the home of the 2 Hard Records label. Harding is perhaps best known as the manager/producer of reggae/hip-hop star Sean Paul, but like many Jamaican producers, he does it all: engineering, producing, artist management, programming and playing. So Francis Manzella's design for the now one-year-old studio was tailored to accommodate Harding's various ways of working.
Manzella designed a modular cockpit-style station where different types of gear, on wheeled racks, can be pulled to, or pushed from, the central work area.
“He's an engineer/programmer/producer most of the time,” Manzella explains. “In the front of the room is a 24-fader D-Command setup. He's 7 or 8 feet from the mains, and then he's got, wrapping around him on one side, all of his processing gear — all of his analog recording gear — and on the other side, all of his drum machines and MIDI stuff. So the way we worked this out, he can actually pivot those two wings of the setup and close his cockpit to a tight ‘U,’ where everything is easily at hand. When he's working with more people in the room, he can push those out.
“That was important to him to have this kind of ergonomics that works for him,” the designer continues. “If he's only mixing, he just pushes that other stuff out of the way and pulls the mixing gear in close to him; and if he's recording or writing, he can pull the drums or the MIDI stuff up close and the room is configurable. It's a very simple thing, but it offers the room lots of flexibility because when you push that stuff out to the side, the room feels very big and open, but when he's working by himself and wants to have everything right at hand, it can feel very small.”
Harding says that this ability to have various tools within reach is essential to a Jamaican way of working, where one person has a hand in all aspects of creating music. However, he feels the similarities between his studio and most other local facilities end there. “We have very famous studios here like Tuff Gong, where the Bob Marley music was done, and other famous studios in terms of reggae that had very good analog gear,” Harding observes. “But the leap in studio design hadn't made it to the digital arena — that aesthetic of having a top-class studio didn't seem to translate for the latest generation of engineers and producers. It's almost like people thought that digital meant that studios could all be smaller — so small, in fact, that they could make studios in the corner of their bedroom with a PC and a mic on a stand. Even engineers who could afford proper spaces, something in their brains told them to go really small.”
So Harding set a goal of developing a studio that would serve his own creative needs, as well as set a standard for other regional engineer/producers. He says that as a result of his building the 2 Hard studio and inviting outside engineers, artists and producers to work there, “A lot of young engineers have seen that it's not enough to be on Pro Tools. They have to have a good room, good monitors, and they can do these things in a way that complements their analog gear — they don't need to get rid of it. During the digital transition in Jamaica, a lot of engineers thought, ‘It's digital now, we'll put the analog gear in the corner.’ They didn't understand how to integrate things, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that Jamaica is a developing country, and it took us a very long time to get on the whole computer train as a nation.”
Harding, who studied audio production at the Trebas Institute in Montreal, Canada, and has 15-plus years of hands-on production experience, has definitely been riding that computer train. His his setup is centered around Pro Tools HD and D-Command. His wall-mounted mains are Manzella's proprietary Griffin G1.5 monitors.
Acoustically, Manzella says that the tracking room is “what we call a nice, classically medium-sounding room — not too dead but has a room tone to it. It's not big enough to be a really live room. It's got a natural sound for recording anything from vocals to drums without getting a heavy room signature. The control room is treated very nicely. He didn't ask me to hold back on anything.”
Not holding back meant that some materials — such as the control room glass, door hardware, etc. — had to be specialty-ordered from the U.S. It also meant hiring general contractor Steve Koontz, a former college classmate of Manzella's, to manage the job on-site. Koontz, who splits his time between homes in Jamaica and Miami, specializes in studio projects and has completed several Jamaican studios for local luminaries such as Shaggy and Buju Banton. For Manzella, on the other hand, Harding's place is the first Jamaican studio where he has seen his designs fully executed.
“This is the third project I've worked on in Jamaica and the first one that I've finished,” Manzella says. “Hats off to Jeremy for actually finishing his project! And hats off to him for keeping performance very high on his criteria list. This was a special project for me because Jeremy had a vision to do something better, and not just ‘let's just get it done.’ On most projects, people reach that point of critical mass where they go into ‘Let's just get it done’ mode, and yes we got there, but never at the expense of the final performance.”
Barbara Schultz is the copy chief for Mix.