Red House Factory – Lucas Medus [Founder/Studio Builder]

Red House Factory is the studio-building company I’d never heard of, but the name eventually popped up in my Google searches and piqued my curiosity. Created in 2010 by Lucas Medus, the company has been designing and building studios all over Paris for the likes of Matthieu Chedid, Nicolas Godin and Breakbot. After reaching out to Lucas on social media, I was invited over to have a chat about his different companies, his background and studio-building in general.

Hi Lucas. Thanks for having me over to your office. I noticed you have a few different job titles on your website, but which came first for you: being an acoustician or an audio engineer?

Being an audio engineer. I built my first studio at sixteen in my best friend’s house so we’d have a place to record in the countryside. It started off as nothing more than one room with a small mixer and four walls, but it went through different versions as I built more rooms over the years. Once it was done, my friends from Paris would ask to rehearse there, and I later rented it out to them so I could buy more gear and expand the place. But to be honest, the studio wasn’t that impressive; the isolation wasn’t good, although that’s less important in a countryside with no neighbors close by, but I also didn’t have a good grasp of concepts like absorption and diffusion of sound. But I’ve since improved on all those things and my company has even developed special absorption materials that work very well for our work. So I’ve come a long way since the first studio (laughs).

How were you able to improve your skills as an engineer, given that you started off on your own as a teenager?

Primarily by becoming an intern in my own place, which later become Red House Studios. When other engineers came to record their artists, I would shadow them and learn as much as I could. Also, that studio had seven bedrooms, so I could share living quarters with my clients, and that allowed me to become close with the engineers and learn even more from them. Additionally, I went to SAE Paris for two years. But one day when I was recording a band at the school, I realized that I didn’t like the music and I thought, “Why am I spending two weeks in the studio with these guys if I hate their music? It’s a waste of time “. So I dropped out of the program after that, although part of my reason for leaving was that I had enough work at my own studio and I preferred recording there than at school.

But how did you even obtain the house that became Red House Studios?

It’s a family house that I transformed into the current studio. I also built the additional restrooms and bedrooms so I could welcome my clients there for longer periods.

What made you decide to go beyond just being an engineer to also becoming an acoustician?

During my SAE years, I met a guy in Paris who knew about Red House Studios and was impressed by how I’d built it. He asked me to advise him on how to construct his own studio and later gave me the job of building it. I took that job with whatever limited tools I had, and that’s how my studio-building career began. The finished place is now called Mirage, and I later built three additional rooms for the owner.

(Below: Mirage)

Did you ever go to school for acoustics?

No, I didn’t. But I did take a three-day course with a well-known organization called Acoustique & Conseil. They’re a big company of acousticians who built things like Stade De France, and I have a good relationship with the CEO, Eric Gaucher. He came to my studio once and was impressed by what I’d put together, so he decided to help me by offering advice on how to navigate the business as a young guy getting started. I also work with Michel Deluc, who owns Amadeus. They make speakers for studios like Question De Son, and being able to speak with someone like that has been a learning experience for me as well.

It sounds like France has quite a few people who have made a name for themselves in the world of acoustics.

We do have a number of people who are respected for their work in the audio world. For example, Michel Deluc is a specialist in studio monitoring. There’s another one called Christian Malcurt who’s one of the best acousticians we have, and there’s another one called Jean-Paul Lamoureux who works on big projects for Radio France. So depending on the field, we do have a few accomplished names.

What was the first studio-building project that gave Red House Factory its big break?

Even though Red House Factory has been around for eight years, the first major project was just three years ago. We built a studio for Nicolas Godin from Air. It turned out really well and we did the internal acoustics on our own, which we’re very proud of. Even Beck was surprised by how nice it sounded when he visited the place. We also recently finished building Matthieu Chedid’s studio, which is now one of the biggest in France, and we’re very happy with how that turned out too.

I only recently discovered Red House Factory, probably because I hadn’t seen any marketing for it prior. Would you say your main source of work is word-of-mouth recommendations, rather than advertising?

Yes, I would. We’ve been able to average one phone call per day for new projects thanks to word-of-mouth recommendations alone, which is incredible. That means more than twenty new project proposals per month, which is actually too much for us; our maximum capacity is four new projects per month.

I see a few different companies listed on the Red House website. Can you tell me about their structure and how they’re related?

Sure. Red House Studios has been around since 2006 and is just a commercial name that’s used by the first company I created, Muse Me, which I use to run my recording studio. That later branched out into Red House Factory, which is the company I use for acoustic conception, design and architecture, and we’ve recently added another company called Resonance, which is for studio-building and construction.

I can’t name that many studio-building companies off the top of my head, but are there any more in Paris?

We have about four other companies in the city, but Red House Factory is the only one who builds custom-made studios. We take a lot of time to meet with our clients and to understand what they want out of their space. In a sense, a recording studio is more important than a bedroom because you can spend the whole day there, working as well as sleeping. That’s why no two studios we’ve made look the same, and we don’t have a particular style of design for what we do. Everything has to be custom-made to order.

Would you say that working as an acoustician and studio-builder is a profitable profession?

Being an acoustician isn’t as difficult as some other professions because of the value we offer the customer. For example, an architect’s primary job is to design and draw the building, whereas a studio builder has to consider everything from acoustics and building materials to electricity and air-conditioning. All of that earns me more pay than if I were solely the architect of the studio. But just to be clear, you probably won’t get rich being a studio-builder. It also takes up a lot of your time, especially if a client isn’t satisfied with the initial design. My team and I might spend three months in the design stage if a client isn’t satisfied, which I would consider to be our fault because it means we didn’t understand his initial needs. But thankfully, that doesn’t happen often.

What’s the most important thing to keep in mind as a studio builder?

That clients don’t expect sub-par studios. Also, the technical aspects of the construction have to be rock solid, since the client most likely won’t be able to fix things if they go wrong. It’s like flying in an airplane: hardly any of the passengers know how the plane works, but they don’t need to either – the plane just has to fly. So most clients aren’t looking to evaluate the technical side of their studio. They just want it to sound and look good. That’s why we’ve adapted a new way of working where the design elements are being emphasized more than before. That doesn’t mean we neglect the technical stuff, but we keep in mind that clients are becoming less critical about that, and would rather have a nice environment to work in.

Let’s talk about acoustics. What factors are you considering the most when evaluating the sound of a room?

The reverberation time is the biggest factor for evaluating the acoustics of a live room. It’s measured in milliseconds by something called the RT60, which is the time it takes for a sound to decrease below 60 dB. The flatter the curve the better, although we allow for a tolerance of 7 dB of deviation, which still gives a pretty good curve. The RT60 tends to be longer in the lower frequencies, but that’s less important than the higher ones. For example, 0.3 milliseconds at around 1000 Hz is pretty good for a live room. But in a control room, the response of the monitoring is our main concern. Every control room has two or three sweet spots where the frequencies are at their flattest, which is where you want to sit as an engineer, rather than in the spot where a frequency dips or peaks.

Is it possible to move a sweet spot around in a control room, or is the spot fixed?

It’s usually fixed, based on the nature of the room. It’s possible to alter the acoustics to create additional sweet spots but you need a big space for that. Standing waves are so low in big spaces that you can’t hear them; they’re around 10 Hz – 20 Hz, and that makes the acoustics of the space easier to manipulate. So 30 m² – 45 m² is a pretty ideal size for a control room. In a room of 15 m², however, the standing waves are harder to control. It’s easy to get a lot of bad resonances between 100 Hz – 200 Hz in a space like that, which is the most problematic range, and you need bigger bass traps than usual to treat that. However, bigger spaces have their own problems too, like the increase in absorption of mid-range and high frequencies. So you have to create more diffusion in order to counteract that absorption. But the bigger the size of a room, the more money you have to spend on your acoustic treatment. So although there isn’t much acoustical advantage in having a small room, you do save money with it.

Can you walk me through the steps involved when doing acoustic analysis and treatment of a room?

Sure. First we measure the RT60 by using a noise gun that makes a loud bang. This allows us to also check what the resonances of the room are. We then brainstorm the necessary acoustic treatment for the space. We also look at the response of the monitoring in the control room by setting up about ten microphones in different spots, including the sweet spot. We take the average of those measurements, which we then use to determine what acoustic material should be used on the walls. In fact, we’re developing a new kind of large-format acoustic panel for this kind of thing. The 3D modeling for it is almost done and we might end up mass-producing it, though we’re not sure yet. We’re also developing a new system of modular acoustic panels that are made of perforated wood, mineral wool and covered in fabric, and are linked together to form a wall in the room. This is what we’re using to build Breakbot’s new studio.

Are there any other ways to analyze the acoustics of a space in the absence of the tools you regularly use?

Sure – by playing music through your monitors and moving around to hear how things sound in different spots of the room. You’d typically start off at a low volume and gradually make it louder until you hear what the acoustic impact of the music is. At a lower volume, you hear only the speakers, but the higher volumes will reveal the sound of the speaker in the room itself.

Believe it or not, it’s now easier to analyze the acoustics of a space with your eyes than ears. You can see which walls have absorption materials and how their angles affect what you hear. So I look for things like parallel walls because cube-shaped rooms sound the worst. I also look at the absorption potential of the materials in the room. Sometimes a regular living room is the best acoustic environment because of how many different materials are present, like books, sofas, tables, carpets, etc. The combination of all those surfaces can create very interesting diffusion patterns.

So on one hand, absorption materials are a necessity to acoustically treat a room, but when I look at many live rooms I see a lot of bare walls and floors. Why is that?

But do you look at the ceilings? There’s usually absorption materials up there. Also, live rooms are not constructed the same as control rooms. The walls in live rooms are normally built to act as diffusers of sound, and 20% of diffusion involves absorption. Also, perforated walls can result in 100% absorption of the frequency corresponding to the size of the holes, even if they’re only 1 mm wide. So if you make holes large enough, you can get 100% absorption at 200 Hz. So a wall can absorb a lot even though it looks unassuming, but you have to be aware of the material it’s made of. A hardwood wall won’t help much because it’s too rigid; it doesn’t vibrate like a membrane and only has around 2% diffusion. But glass is the worst – it creates 100% diffraction and absorbs nothing. In order to get something useful from glass, you have to angle it purposefully and make sure that it can vibrate inside some kind of frame, rather than be static.

What about other materials like brick, stone and wood?

Regular bricks works fine, since they have natural perforations. Stone doesn’t have much perforation but it does offer multiple angles on one surface, which creates interesting reflections. The efficacy of wood depends entirely on the species of tree and type of boards used. For example, plywood works well, although I probably wouldn’t use lightweight plywood like balsa. Normal plywood tends to weigh around 600 kg/m³, so I’d stick to that. Also, I’d stay as far way from varnished wood as possible. The varnish covers up all the perforations and makes the wood as ineffective as glass.

If a live room has bad-sounding acoustics, what kind of instrument would you say suffers the most from that?

Acoustic bass instruments by far. Some people might think drums would sound the worst,  but you can close mic a drum kit to avoid hearing the sound of the room and its acoustics. It’s much harder to do that with a double bass or an acoustic guitar. Instruments like that will excite the standing waves in a room similar to how a kick drum or a bass amp would. But at least a kick drum or amp can be closed mic’d, so it’s not a big deal. Not so with a double bass; that’s the hardest to control unless you use a clip-on mic.

In my interview with Henry Sarmiento, he mentioned how today’s acoustic foam is overrated because manufacturers choose to cut costs by thinning out the material. Have you heard of this?

Yes, that’s true. Additionally, acoustic foam only works at certain frequencies, so it’s not 100% effective. It doesn’t do much for your bass and certain mid-range frequencies I’m afraid. Having said that, Basotect makes the best foam and mineral wool products on the market right now, and that’s what I sometimes use.

Would you rather use acoustic foam or curtains as an absorber?

Curtains, by far. But you’d have to use thick and heavy ones. I build my acoustic curtains myself by using multiple layers of velvet, and they work even better than Basotect because you can leave air between the wall and the curtain, which creates a natural bass trap. But you have to be mindful of how much space you leave; a 30 cm gap will create a different sound than a 10 cm one.

Do you use any other material than velvet for your curtains?

It depends on if I’m going for acoustic isolation or acoustic treatment; those two things aren’t the same. Treatment is when you make a room sound more flat. Isolation is when you preserve as much of the sound inside the room as possible and block out exterior sounds.

The sound of today’s music differs greatly from that of decades past, and I wonder how much modern studios have to do with that. Can you talk about how the acoustics of today’s studios differ from the ones of the 60s and 70s? 

Sure. In the 60s and 70s, studios were more willing to use bigger spaces to shape their acoustics. That might have required the use of things like mineral wool to treat their surfaces, even if several meters of it was needed for a whole wall. But the studio owners back then chose to shoulder the financial cost of that. Nowadays, people want to use less acoustic treatment to achieve the same results. I’ve also noticed a difference between the major studios in the US and Europe. For a box-in-a-box studio in the US, they might leave as much as two meters of space between the original walls and the interior box. That’s generally unheard of in Europe, and part of the reason is that we often convert previously-used spaces into our recording studios, like factories and warehouses. That means the size of the place is already fixed, and you have to conserve as much space as possible for the rooms themselves. But in the US, they would build studios from scratch to make them as big as possible, which allowed them to reserve enough space for acoustic treatment.

Another difference between 40 years ago and today is that today’s studio-builders are able to achieve greater precision in their measurements. Even though that can be a good thing from a technical perspective, it doesn’t do anything for the soul of a studio. A studio can have terrible acoustics and still produce beautiful music because it has the right soul and vibe. Any musician will tell you that. So whilst today’s technology allows us to be more accurate in predicting the outcome of our designs, it hasn’t necessarily translated into better-sounding studios compared to the ones of old.

I understand what you mean, but we do see some modern studios that are said to be comparable to older ones. Isn’t Motorbass Studios an example of that?

Well, Motorbass is actually based on an old-school design, developed and built by Tom Hidley. I know Philippe Zdar rebuilt it, but he left the same stone foundations and built the rest according to the same specifications that Hidley used, aside from the exterior fabrics. Personally, I think a more interesting example is Studios Ferber. Their live room has a lot of acoustic flaws, but it doesn’t really matter – it still has a lot of soul. The acoustics in Studio A aren’t the best, and the results are inconsistent when you take a measurement of how the room sounds. Yet they’ve chosen not to change anything because so many great records have been made there, and I agree with that approach.

So how do you find a balance between being technically-minded and retaining the soul of a place?

I try to use as much of the original furniture that a place has to offer, and if I bring in new furniture, I always try to use solid wood rather than engineered wood; it has a more of a vibe to it. Beautiful fabrics can also help create the right ambiance, and a lot of older studios used to do that. Sometimes my staff might want to use things like plywood or imitations of classic woods, or even plastic, and I have to push back on that (laughs).

Isn’t plastic as ineffective as glass?

In the sense that it’s very rigid, yes. But at least it’s flexible, and you can create all kinds of shapes and angles with it that can mimic the properties of wood or stone. Plastic also has perforations in it, which gives it some diffusive properties.

I’d like to mention some studios that I saw on our website, and maybe you can tell me about how they were built?

Shelter Studios: The first challenge with that one was the three neighboring flats – two on the sides and one above the studio. The clients, Nicolas Borne and Pierre Yves Casanova, make loud electronic music at night, so the place required a box-in-the-box to provide the needed isolation. To achieve that, we used big springs to support a new floor on top of the old one. But first we had to stabilize the existing floor with big metal rods so it could support the weight of the second one. Next came the interior walls – we built 30 cm concrete ones, but they were so heavy that we couldn’t put them on the floor, so we had to build a big concrete bench with metal rods in them. Once it had taken ten days to dry, we built the new walls on top of that bench so they never touched the ground. Then we rested the new floor on springs that were 20 cm high. After that, we left 20 cm of air plus 10 cm of fiber wall, and a fine layer of plaster. So the new wall structure is around 110 cm thick, as opposed to the old 50 cm one. We also made a new ceiling under the original one by leaving 40 cm of space and adding 20 cm of fiberglass, which works like mineral wool, followed by the new ceiling of the box itself.

I was alone in designing that studio. I made a first draft to show the clients, and then I had to keep updating the plan as the place was being built. So my staff would build something, and then I’d draw a bit more, and they’d build the next thing. The construction workers wanted to kill me (laughs). I ended up losing a lot of money on that project, around €20,000, but to my credit, two other studio-building companies had already come before me and told the clients, ” Sorry, you can’t build a studio in this flat. It’s impossible“. But I did it, and it looks nice now.

(Below: Shelter Studios)

(Below left to right: Nicolas Borne, Lucas Medus and Pierre Yves Casanova)

Railroad Studio: That was built in an old train station, hence the name. We just tried to keep the soul of the place intact. The ceiling was already angled in a way that made for a good bass trap, so we left that as it was. Prior to Railway Studio, I didn’t have good techniques for implementing bass absorption. Even when I made Shelter Studios, I went off my gut feeling when it came to the bass frequencies, rather than use calculations for that. So Railway Studios was the first one I did with measurements that would address specific frequencies with our bass traps. We didn’t build the studio though. We only handled the acoustic treatment of the place.

(Below: Railroad Studio)

Studio Davoli We built that one, and I remember that one of the biggest issues to address was the ceiling height. It was very low, and we had to conserve as many centimeters as we could for the box-in-the-box. So we had to replace our normal springs with rubber stands. For Shelter Studios, we used 10 cm – 12 cm springs, but in Studio Davoli we used 1 cm – 2 cm rubber stands, and so we saved 10 cm. But things were still tight, particularly since we needed big beams to support the weight of the box ceiling. The beams keep the ceiling stable and prevent it from collapsing as it rests on the walls.

(Below: Studio Davoli)

As someone who taught themselves how to build studios, are there learning resources you would recommend aspiring studio-builders check out?

Honestly, I’d advise people to build their own studios. You can find different things on online, but there’s so much content out there that it’s easy to get lost, so it’s best to do it yourself. It took me ten years to learn how to build studios well and I even had to develop my own techniques for it, but I can’t think of a more effective way of learning than that.

Wrapping up, I’d like to ask about Red House Studios. On the website, it looks like a very fancy place with nice interior design and equipment. But it doesn’t seem like one of the more popular studios in Paris, despite what it has to offer. Why do you think that is?

I think the small control room is a possible reason for it’s lack of appeal. It’s also one and a half hours from central Paris, which can be inconvenient for Parisians looking for somewhere nearby to record. Additionally, I’ve stopped working there as an engineer. Even though I can still record bands, I’m not as great at it as some other people. Studios like Motorbass and Question De Son are managed by good engineers, and that attracts more clients. But I’ve bought another house two kilometers away from the current Red House Studios and I want to build another studio there. The New Red House Studios (laughs). Maybe that one will have more success than the current one.

(Below: Red House Studios)

Cool. So what’s next for you in terms of studio-building? Also, do you have any unfulfilled dreams in terms of what you’d like to achieve as a builder?

We currently have eight projects ongoing simultaneously, which are being managed by my colleague, Amaury Mazars, but three of them have priority due to deadlines. We’re doing one for a singer called Calogero, as well as a seven-room one for a post-production company called Alba Musique, and another for Tristan Bastid, who works at Jazz Magazine. I’m also building for a studio for one of the members of Breakbot, but I have more time to finish that one, so it’s no rush. We’ve been doing it for three years and new challenges keep popping up, but things are still going well with that one.

My dream would be to build studios in other countries. I’m starting to do that now in Morocco, which is cool, but it would be nice to build one in Los Angeles too.