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On the Cover: High-End Recording at Charleston Sound

When longtime engineer/studio owner Jeff Hodges decided to move his family and business from Atlanta, Ga., to the Charleston, S.C., area, he did so with

Jeff Hodges at the API 1608 console in the Charleston Sound control room

Photo: Ed Freeman

When longtime engineer/studio owner Jeff Hodges decided to move his family and business from Atlanta, Ga., to the Charleston, S.C., area, he did so with the idea of creating a high-end, professional studio environment within the reach of local acts. That commitment has kept the space busy with established artists and emerging talent eager to take the next step.

“We wanted to create a world-class studio that was accessible to all types of musicians, bands, artists, producers and engineers,” Hodges says. “A lot of studio owners have had to change their business model, and I knew I had to do this right. So I did my research and hired Wes [Lachot of Wes Lachot Design], and we found a brand-new business park with a suite that included a small office up-front and a warehouse in back with 20-foot ceilings, so we had a huge, empty box to build in.”

The size of the building gave Lachot the latitude to place duct work and other infrastructure up high and still create large, airy recording spaces with good ceiling height. Hodges’ Charleston Sound Studios (www.charleston went online in February and includes a large live room (24×22 with 14-foot ceilings) and three separate isolation rooms of varying sizes. Lachot knew that Hodges was looking for a scalable design, so, he says, “We pulled out all the stops in terms of the control room being a well-tuned room, but one where we did not waste any money. On the sound isolation, we took it right to where it needed to be. For every wall, we would decide: This one gets four layers of drywall, this one gets three, this one gets two. I’m very proud of where we ended up acoustically and budget-wise.”

Lachot’s design firm works closely with RPG to spec and customize acoustical treatments for their studio projects. “The control room is a reflection-free room, and it uses RPG diffusion in the rear,” Lachot explains. “For the side-wall treatment, we used a pattern that RPG calls Diffsorption — a combination of diffusion and absorption. The pattern on the walls that you see in the cover photo may look random, but it’s a mathematical pattern that creates nice, even diffusion, as well as absorption.”

Lachot says this treatment was crucial in creating the large sweet spot in the control room that extends from the engineer’s position back to the client-listening position on the couch at the rear of the room. “That center area on the couch is nearly as flat as the engineer’s position, which is really hard to achieve,” Lachot says. “That’s a frontier we’ve been trying to push toward in our last few room designs, because when the client has suggestions, you want to know that what they’re hearing is accurate.”

Lachot was also an active participant in spec’ing the centerpiece of the control room, Hodges’ new 32-channel API 1608 analog console. “I also personally own one in my own studio,” Lachot says. “The sound of API preamps and equalizers are second to none. In my previous life, as an engineer, I never used EQ very much because I was concerned that if I used too much, it would have a degrading effect on the sound. I was conservative with it and tried to use just the right mic and mic placement rather than EQ, and that’s still a good policy. But when I used an API EQ for the first time, I was able to turn it up 14 dB plus, at some midrange frequency, and never heard any degrading of the sound.”

Hodges says he also appreciates the workflow with the 1608. “On my tielines, it’s one-to-one to Pro Tools,” he says, “because we have 32 ins and outs in our Pro Tools HD Accel system. Of course, we can configure it any way we want, but it’s great that this is the way it comes right up when we’re recording. It’s also got a great mic pre, great EQ — the 500 Series EQ is right there in-line — and it’s got all the echo sends you could want. I have a lot of outboard gear, so I just dial those things in on the console; no plug-ins. I don’t miss tweaking plug-ins at all.”

Since settling into his new digs, Hodges — who also owns a record label, 10t Records — has reached out to the local music community by sponsoring a CD comprising local rock, pop and blues artists, which presently has the working title Charleston Sound Presents: Homegrown. “We’re recording 12 local artists,” Hodges says. “They all come in for a day in the studio, on us, to be part of the compilation. The CD will be distributed through about 100 stores locally.”

Hodges and his assistant engineer, Joey Cox, have also recorded a number of religious groups, as well as progressive rock music, which is the focus of Hodges’ own longtime band, Man on Fire. And, of course, the studio is also a commercial concern, open to freelance engineers and producers who enjoy working in beautiful Charleston. “We moved here because it’s a nice lifestyle and a great place to raise a family,” Hodges says, “but it’s also a major tourist destination with the beaches and historic architecture. It’s a great place to visit, and now a good place to record.”

Barbara Schultz is Mix‘s copy chief.