Anyone who runs a studio-project or public-soon realizes there's much more to the process than simply buying and installing gear. As your needs grow, maintenance, security and front office personnel can become as important as your outboard racks, especially when you're working with a clientele that includes household names such as Oasis and Madonna. This was precisely the issue facing engineer/producer Mark "Spike" Stent, whose past clients range from Depeche Mode, Spice Girls, Bjork and u2 to Beth Orton, Texas and Massive Attack.
We caught up with Stent during a rare lull between gigs; he had just produced Standing on the Shoulder of Giants (the new Oasis CD) and was mixing the upcoming Madonna album. With his growing list of projects, Stent needed a full-time workspace of his own. "I had been working at Olympic for more than ten years-it's been my favorite studio," says Stent of the world-class studio complex, located in London's residential district of Barnes. "When Olympic heard I was looking for a place of my own, they approached me with the idea of working together: They built the room, I equipped it and Olympic rents my room out when I'm not using it. I basically built a room that I ultimately would love to work in."
Known as The Mix Suite and operated as a joint venture between Stent and Olympic's parent company EMI, the room's amenities include a 72-input SSL G Series console, Studer A820 multitracks, 48 tracks of Pro Tools and a Sam Toyoshima room design, all in a setting that overlooks a garden.
"I was worried about having enough bottom end, because the control room's quite large," recalls Stent. This concern was addressed with Genelec's flagship 1036A monitors, a three-way double-18 system that goes down to 17.5 Hz. "The Genelecs sound amazing," he notes. For near-fields, Stent uses KRK 9000Bs and NS-10s powered by Bryston.
Outboard gear in heavy use at The Mix Suite includes LA-2As, 480L reverbs, AMS and Roland SDE-3000 delays, an Eventide DSP-4000 ultra-Harmonizer, and Massenburg and Neve EQs. Stent's favorite new toy is the Filter Factory analog resonant filter from Electrix. "It's a brilliant filter box, and I've had them all-the Sherman, the Mutator, the MIDIWorks," he notes. "Filter Factory is fantastic-creative and well-thought-out. I also use a lot of cheap guitar pedals, either running stuff live into it or putting a loop through it and recording that right into Pro Tools."
When mixing, Stent likes having plenty of options, both analog and digital. "I master to timecode DAT via the Apogee AD-8000 and also run a 24-bit to the DA-98 from that [using the AD-8000's bit-splitting function], along with a 11/42-inch Ampex ATR-100 using Quantegy GP9, which I've had great results with," he says.
Stent prefers tracking at Olympic, but "for the new Oasis album, we hired Christian Dior's old mansion outside of Cannes and we brought an old Neve desk of mine and an old EMI console," he explains. "I ran drums through the EMI and ran other stuff through the Neve." The project allowed Stent to give his mic collection a workout. "On drums, I used Coles 4038s and my AEA RCA BX-44 reissue-a brilliant ambience mic. I have a batch of Beyer M130 and M160 ribbons, which I used on drum overheads and guitars. We chose RCA BX-77s on electric guitar. I have a pair of Sony C-37s that I love on acoustic guitars and the RCDE Classic mic is really good on acoustics, where you want a bright mic sound. For vocals, you can't go wrong with a valve u47 or Telefunken ELAM 251. I also use a Brauner VM-1, but my choice of vocal mics would be a Sony C-800G-the one with the heat sink-or a beat-up SM58: It depends on the vocalist."
Like most producers, Stent is most relaxed at home. "I like to feel comfortable, and that's why Olympic's perfect for me," he says. "The support staff is great and studio manager Siobhan Paine is amazing. There are probably four or five studios in London at that level, and then it just gets down to personal preference, the vibe of the place or what you like. But I love my place, and I'm very fortunate to have it."
Thanks to TLS Management, London, which represents Spike Stent, for assistance with this article.