Shuffling past never-ending halls of classrooms, students, and water fountains, it’s hard to imagine that a state-of-the-art recording studio dwells inside the otherwise cookie cutter college environment at Loyola University New Orleans. I meet up with Paul Schoen (a studio teaching assistant and senior music industry student) and Jay Crutti (studio manager and instructor), on the fourth floor of the music building for a tour of Loyola’s Vital Sounds Recording Studio.
Vital Sounds has two studios: Studio A and Studio B, each with a Protools HD setup. Equipped with one isolation booth, two amp rooms, a 6-foot Baldwin piano, and 32 channels, Studio A is a 1600 square-foot live room with 30- foot ceilings and semi-dead acoustics. While I explore the space, Crutti (who is responsible for the construction of the studios) says, “The A studio control room was designed by acclaimed studio designer George Augspurger. It was built in a space that was formerly a classroom that looked into a TV studio. I also collaborated with him on the future plans for the live room renovation, which will add three more isolation booths and change the space to a reverberant ‘live’ sound.” The studio is currently fully financed through donations and grants.
Studio A’s control room looks like any nice professional studio control room. The dimmed lights shine across an overwhelmingly complex looking mixing board, fitted with both modern and vintage components. The live room is huge, which is ideal for fitting a large group of musicians and equipment, yet I think it leaves a lot to be desired. The dull walls leave the room feeling almost too big and warehouse-like, which results in it lacking an intimate vibe that can be crucial for creative energy to flow during a session. The smaller B studio is a collection of former audio/radio production rooms all linked together, with some windows between rooms. Those rooms existed when the building was built and were re-purposed for recording studio use. Consequently, the control room for studio B is slightly unconventional. Having a bunch of separate smaller rooms makes the environment seem the very opposite of studio-like. The plus side of this design, however, is that bands are able to put members in different spaces when recording, which is usually helpful for recording efficiently. Walking around the smaller studios, I feel a sense of comfort, which I wouldn’t necessarily find in a bigger, more intimidating studio environment. Backpacks and school supplies litter the walkways and floor, an indicator of just how prominent the recording facilities are in the lives of some students at Loyola.
When asked about the sound quality of the studio, Crutti says, “The studios have a good sound because they are non-reverberant ‘dead’ spaces that don’t color the sound or allow sound to escape into adjacent rooms and result in contamination in other channels. The unfortunate side effect of this is that artificial reverberation must be added during the mixing process to make the recording sound ‘natural’ again, but that is a typical approach in the mixing process today anyway.”
Schoen, who has logged many hours here since his first semester at Loyola, says that he loves all of the equipment at his disposal, especially the plethora of mics and preamps. “With all of this equipment, it really facilitates experimentation with each recording session. I usually have my surefire setup, but the other half of the process is experimentation. Every time I record, I develop new techniques. Loyola is one of the few schools that has a really dope studio where you can go in, book at any time, record any time, and record whatever you want!”
After spending time at the recording facilities at Loyola, I certainly agree that the studios have distinct advantages over other studios in town. Vital Sounds offers affordable rates with top quality equipment, and student and teaching engineers who are eager to help. This establishment is a space that caters to a wide spectrum of musicians and artists ranging from beginners to national recording acts such as Dr. John. In addition, the studios offer significant A/V capabilities so that sessions can be videotaped in spaces large enough for an audience.
A recent project undertaken by the studio was a live audience concert/ music video production of local indie group Paper Bison (paperbison. bandcamp.com), put together by a local student production and promotion collective called Full Tilt Productions. Says Crutti about the experience, “It was fun because there was a live audience in-studio while the band played and made a video at the same time. Everyone had a great time and it really created a sense of energy around the creative process in the studio.” Austin Rapbaum, the managing director of Vital Sounds, has also been working on some exciting things in the studio. For the past six months, he has been recording New Orleans hip-hop artist Dee-1 (dee1music.com), who just recently signed to RCA Records and was a featured artist at the BET awards.
For general information including rates, booking, complete gear lists and more, visit Vital Sounds online at vitalsoundsrecording.com