A day at Soho Sonic Studios in London
By Hollin Jones
Ofer Shabi (OJ) and Yaniv Fridel are musicians and producers from similar backgrounds who came together to form Soho Sonic Studios in the heart of London. Drawing clients from a wide range of disciplines, their expertise covers everything from songwriting and production to sound design, movie and game scores. With a philosophy that a studio is much more than just a place to plug in and record, they share their thoughts on how collaboration brings people together, and why people get more out of working in a studio than home alone.
Can you tell us something about how you came to be working and running Soho Sonic together?
Fridel: It was almost by accident really. We were introduced by a mutual friend who thought we should meet each other. We found that a lot of the music we liked was the same and we had similar backgrounds. It’s rooted in the music - OJ plays the rhythm section and keyboard instruments and I am more towards the brass side of things. The first project we collaborated on was writing a song for UEFA and we kind of joined forces, and the results were really successful. So we started working on more projects.
OJ: Fridel was doing a lot of projects for media, for film and TV and I was working more on producing artists but we sort of introduced each other to our respective worlds. One thing we worked on early on was a global rebrand for Universal’s NBC channel, and also a song for a game called Trials Fusion by Ubisoft. We both had our own studios and people working with us, and we just kind of came together. Eventually we set up a publishing company called Make This Noise so everything that the team writes is handled through that. Four years ago we opened our Camden studio which has a live room and also a Foley stage. So that’s good for bands but also sound design for films.
Fridel: The first things we worked on together really suited our respective skills. So they used OJ’s skills of songwriting and modern pop production and my knowledge of media production - we put those together and put a song together. And when we work on films, for example one with Guy Nattiv who has won an Oscar, we based elements of the score on songs we had written for the movie.
You handle lots of different kinds of audio production and have many types of people coming to the studio to work. What is it about coming to a studio that people appreciate the most?
OJ: It used to be that the limitations of technology and space meant that it was impossible for people working by themselves to get the kinds of results you can get in a studio. You needed to buy and maintain all the equipment, it wasn’t viable for people making one or two albums a year. Of course, now it’s easier for people to record in higher quality at home - it’s not always the most silent environment but you can get great results. In fact, we sometimes mix music that people have recorded at home. Some of our guys do some of their prep work at home. But the reason we need a studio is because of two factors - the hub, and the team. We’re a hub where people can come together. Some of the most exciting projects we have are people that book last minute and the energy we get when everyone comes together is just incredible.
Fridel: It’s the community of people you can bring together. Because our projects are very varied and the musicians and artists are from different disciplines, we have what we call the Soho Sonic Community. We keep in touch with all our clients and it often results in collaborations. That was the vision from the beginning - it’s not just a place where you come and record and then leave. Of course, we have great quality gear as well - we work with Cubase and Nuendo because we believe they’re the best DAWs. All our engineers fall in love with them, even if they’ve come from other software, and they find it hard to go back to anything else.
OJ: The team is very important, having a safe pair of hands. Our team is known as The Sonic Crew and when we take on interns we teach them about our way of working, how we treat the artists that we work with. Which is to say, they’re not just clients, they’re people we want to stay in touch with. It’s important that if it’s anyone from Idris Elba or Lewis Capaldi to Usher or Ryan Tedder, that they feel that whatever idea they have, the engineer or producer who is here will capture it and every crazy idea they have will happen. Making that all work requires different skills and it’s much better to do it in a studio than working alone at home.
Fridel: When you work at home you often do all the roles. You deal with the technical problems, the recording and everything else. So you might have a great idea but it takes time to actually get it down and by that point it might have gone. So here we try to create a safe zone where you’re disconnected from the outside world, where you can be very much into your artistic space. And it’s hassle free, with someone taking care of the whole technical side of things. That’s very valuable for artists.
Do people come with material pre-recorded or just with an idea?
OJ: It’s a mixture because we have people coming from a variety of places. So at the moment, we have a new artist called Lost Girl who we’re working with on songs but also finding a new sound. With a lot of pop artists, they start with a beat but we’re lucky that a lot of our producers and engineers also play instruments. We like the Motown approach of all jamming together in a room with artists. In some other cases, we would work with an artist who has already written a song and put them together with one of our producers who is particularly familiar with that specific style of music.
Fridel: We’re a very music-oriented studio in terms of the people who are working here, all of our producers are also multi-instrumentalists. So even if someone comes in with a demo or a version they have recorded themselves, the track they actually leave here with, after collaboration and lots of other input, they say they couldn’t have imagined it sounding like that.
So you do a lot of re-recording of parts from demos and existing tracks?
OJ: Yes, lots. Brass is one thing I used to really struggle with before I met Fridel. Either you’d use samples or MIDI but it was hard to make it sound real. It does the job but it doesn’t inspire.
Fridel: And sometimes when you’re re-recording parts, small mistakes or changes that you make can really work to help improve the song. We’re also known for our vocals - a lot of clients say they’ve never heard themselves sound like they sound here, and that’s because our producers have such a keen musical ear as well as technical skills.
Can you tell us a few of your favourite features of Cubase or things that you find most useful?
Fridel & OJ: There are lots. All the VariAudio stuff for pitch and time correction and the comp and lane tools which we use a lot. We use the colours as a rating system that we do on the fly. When we’re slicing the takes up we use our colour scheme as an intuitive way to quickly mark them up.
For mixing, because we have several studios with different outboard setups, we try to do external processing earlier in the production so whether it’s choosing preamps, running to analog tape or analog synths, we print those earlier on. But we also like to work in the box because it makes things easier to change later. We love Cubase’s EQ and channel strips.
Another thing we love is AudioWarp. In the last film we did, it allowed us to put all the cues in the same project. And after that there’s the great new feature of batch bouncing - bouncing according to markers makes it so much easier to move things in and out of the studio, which we do a lot. We also use the Control Room feature in Cubase a lot especially when recording bands or string sections, the talkback and cue mix tools are great.
Where would you like to see music technology go next, is there anything you’d like to be able to do that you currently can’t?
OJ: VST Connect is a really good tool to record a vocalist or a musician remotely over the internet, but some of our projects involve artists based all around the world that need to be able to play together at the same time. We’ve done some songwriting sessions over Zoom but it’s not perfect because of the latency. So if there was a way people could play together, record together and see each other remotely, that would be great.
Fridel: Another thing that would be cool is if you could link two copies of Cubase together. Our team works together using Dropbox but you can’t work on the same project at the same time, like Google Docs. So if you could have a constantly updating cloud collaboration system and then say, record into the same loop from different remote locations, that could be really useful.