It’s been a while since I last talked to any studios, but after having relocated to Barcelona, I figured I’d start reaching out to the recording spots around. First up is Angel Sound Studio.
Having moved into a new venue in Barcelona’s inner city, Jordi Moraleda and his partners have been servicing artists as well as companies like VICE and Mcdonalds in both the realms of music and production services.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. Tell me about the venue we’re sitting in. Does all this space belong to Angel Sound?
The space we’re currently renting is a combination of two brands. Mutuo is an art gallery, whilst Angel Sound Studio is a studio created four years ago. We’ve been in a joint venture since 2017. One of the guys who runs Mutuo also happens to be a sound engineer from Argentina. He didn’t have a place in Barcelona where he could work, whilst me and my studio partner, Miqel, had a lot of gear in our old venue in Gracia, but we didn’t have a lot of space to work with. So we decided to help each other by creating this collaboration. We share the space with various creatives, from painters and fashion designers to DJs, so the overall vibe is one of art creation, and being able to meet your friends everyday at work makes it less about work more about having fun.
What was it like working in Gracia before moving to this venue?
We actually started in a garage in a parking lot. More specifically a garage for ambulances. Miqel’s mother had a lab where she did analytics for medical staff. They had a big parking lot that they weren’t using, so instead of leaving it empty, she offered it to her son. So he started putting up walls and isolation, whilst I got us a mixing console and audio gear. Slowly we built up our studio, even though the space wasn’t ideal for it. This was in 2012. Two years later we were given the opportunity to move to another venue which was well-built and designed. The occupant was moving to Chicago, so we took over the facility from him. The control room was great, but the recording booth was too small for our comfort, which was remedied when we moved to our current location. So basically, Angel Sound is a project between Miqel and myself. We’ve been moving around like nomads until we ended up here.
What kind of clients did you get working whilst in the garage?
In the beginning of any business, you’ll take any work. Given that both of us are musicians who have played in different bands, we each had our contacts, so it was helpful to be able to call on those people who wanted to record. We started off at very modest prices just to spread the word, and worked with a lot of bands in our community and in the psychedelic scene, like Dead Parties. From that we slowly moved into more music production work, which our second venue was good for. After that came advertising post-production, which was good for business, though we made an effort to continue doing music work also.
Did you feel like being a recording studio for bands wasn’t profitable enough and that going into post-production was a necessity? Would it have been different if the bands had been bigger?
Well, bands are hardly ever big in this line of work. There may be very interesting bands in Barcelona, but the industry is focused in places like the US and UK. It’s harder to find international success outside of those markets because much of the infrastructure and investors are focused there.
There are two categories of music acts in Spain, and the first one covers 95% of bands: you make underground stuff that’s based on your influences, you like what you do, and the motivation is to express yourself and you stick to that, but you’ll be bound to a local scene. You might be able to talk to a label, sign a small deal, and get a bit of funding to release a record, which is what most local bands go through. But the other 5% have a huge amount of major label money for promotion. So only bands that make music for mass consumption will fit into that category. It’s not about a band being “good” or not. In a world where people are being constantly bombarded with distractions and media, spending lots of money on advertising and radio is how those bands get heard. People get familiar with the song whether they like it or not and then it’s what they expect to hear in clubs and on the radio.
What about just being a good band that gets promoted on its merits?
There are exceptions who overcome the funding wall, of course. I can think of John Talabot, who does a lot of international gigs. But a fundamental difference is that places like the US and UK have a strong culture of going out to clubs and big venues to hear live music, whereas in Barcelona it’s more conservative in that regard. We don’t have it in our culture to just go out for the sake of music and listen to just any band. Here, people who are motivated to go out and hear music do their research first, check out songs online, pick their favorite venue and then go out. But you’ll have a hard time convincing your friends to go with you if they aren’t into the same kind of music. So it’s hard to find a group of people to go with, unlike places like New York or London where people go clubbing in groups just for the fun of it. It’s one of the problems that faces a scene full of small bands: if you can’t afford to play at a venue that already has a track record of audiences that attend it regularly, things can be hard.
If the live scene is such a struggle, do bands have to pay a fee if they want to perform at certain venues? I’ve heard that such things might happen.
What I’ve seen is that bands sometimes enter into competitions for promo. So if you’re new band that no-one knows of and your skills aren’t even top-notch, you might partake in a competition among bands, for which you have to pay to cover the competition’s expenses. So it’s marketed as PR for new bands. The finalists usually get to play at big venues that they’d only dreamed of playing at, like Razzmatazz.
My experience with meeting young Spaniards that are living abroad is that they seemed quite avid about the grunge and alt-rock music of the 90s. Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Matchbox 20, etc. So apparently this isn’t an enthusiasm that’s widespread in Spain itself?
There’s a difference between people who live in Spain all their lives and have their minds set, and those who have traveled abroad and interact with other scenes. Personally, I’ve lived in Paris for a year, spent several months in Canada, and my former bandmates have lived in London for four years. So those things tend to differ based on your travel experience.
The standard person in Barcelona will go out to a club for the sake of disco or dance music, and not because they want to hear a particular band. Then you have a small percentage of that group who might go to another venue afterwards where live music was being played, but they’ll arrive only after the show is over. Live music normally starts between 10pm and 12am, but the main parties start at 2am, so most people arrive late and miss the band. As I said, the attitude here is not one of people going to live gigs just because.
Is your area of work solely in recording and mixing, or have you ever had to deal with labels and the distribution side of things?
Well, I’ve played bass, keyboards and synths in many bands since I was fifteen. I’ve also recorded classical music, since my father was a symphony conductor. He also played the bassoon alongside my uncles, who all played different instruments. On occasion they would ask me to jump in and help with the recordings, and it was amazing to record 100 people in a big room with 25 mics. But the classical music industry is very different; they rely heavily on public funds and external support. So my main experience is in these two fields, classical recording and studio recordings.
What’s your preference, recording classical or modern music?
Modern recording, because it’s what I’m working with now. But I do recommend that people seek out the classical recording experience. To have headphones on and listen to the depth and detail of what’s being recorded is amazing. Later, of course, it gets mixed and subdued, but even then it’s very different from mixing rock music. With classical music, you can’t overdo the compression and EQing, and harmonic distortion is a no-no. Modern music is about loudness, harmonics and brightness, whilst classical music is the opposite, where it’s about detail and depth. So mic placement is crucial, as well as the type of mic, and you need to know how to capture specific timbres. You can’t record a violin the way you would a brass section. The room will reflect the instruments differently and you need to place the room mics properly.
Do you see any potential in your current space for any unconventional types of recording, given the size?
Recording acoustic reverbs would be nice here. We might look into that later
As a music professional, what would you say is your specialty?
I like mixing. I can do engineering also, but I lean more towards producing and helping the artists get a good performance than focusing on the technical side of mic placements, routing cables, etc. I’d rather be a coach.
Miqel and I split the work. He does the recording, mic placement, setting up of the sessions, etc. After that I take over on the mix end, adding color and polishing things.
What are the major differences you’ve noticed about your work process and the end result in this new studio space, compared to your older spaces?
The main change has been the vibe and motivation. In this space we have more exciting energy than before, which the artists we work with love. The most important thing about this space isn’t the technical recording process, but the human element. When musicians come here and hear the acoustics, and play with their friends in the same room, it creates a live show vibe. So their performance is enhanced, and that’s what’s key. If that doesn’t work, then you have to use technical tricks to overcompensate.
Have you had situations where you weren’t able to capture a good performance here?
When you have a small room, it’s easy to record because the sound of the room is stuck to the music. It ends up being a tight and dry sound that’s very audible. That’s how we used to record in our earlier space, and it made things easy for us. But now that we have a bigger room with more ambience, it increases the difficulty of capturing the sound we want. But we haven’t failed yet, and I don’t think we will.
Tell me about your recording console.
It’s a Japanese Tascam M700, better known as a baby-SSL. It’s similar to the SSL 4000G, with the same structure and workflow, minus the dynamic section. I love the EQs, which remind me of an SSL, and I use them a lot, more than any plugin. The pre-amps are rather clean, and they do a good job in most situations, but if you want a specific color for a vocal, it’s better to use a specific pre-amp for that. If you already had an Avalon, you wouldn’t use the Tascam over that. But I’ll use the Tascam for drums and for recording a larger number of instruments for the sake of summing and mixing. I’m a lot slower when mixing in the box, and have found myself aborting sessions where I was using plugins and just switched over to the console instead.
Do you feel like the console gives an overall more favorable sound than plugins?
If I feel happier with my workflow then the song sounds better, but if I’m getting bogged down with too many options and technical decisions, then the song sounds more boring. I’d rather play a Steinway piano than a MIDI keyboard. That’s how I’d compare a console to plugins. Looking at the screen and the plugin layout can be distracting. But I’m happy to use digital tools for editing and production convenience.
What’s your master bus setup like? Do you turn to analog gear for that also?
I generally prefer using parallel compression or processing groups of instruments, rather than slapping things on the master buss. I might mix the Master onto tape, which is good for achieving a glue effect and for color, but generally I avoid master buss processin. I don’t think drums shouldn’t be compressed in the same way the guitars are. It’s about degrees on different things.
I understand. So if we take an instrument like drums, how would you approach that?
I’d have to ask if the band was a three-piece or something like a seven-person setup. If it was a small number of people, I could imagine using mono drums and being generous with the EQ on the high-mids to bring the sound forward. But if we’re talking about a psychedelic band with 30+ tracks of guitars, theremins, keyboards and pads, then my approach would change. I’d probably try to make the drums as stereo and as colorful as possible.
What do you find to be most critical in a drum mic setup: the overhead mics or the room mics?
Rooms. I find myself being able to achieve a consistent sound with my drums without having an overhead mic, and just by using the kit mics. But there’s no replacement for a room mic. If you have a good room mic placement, I don’t think you can duplicate it.
How do you address drum bleed when mixing?
I used to overthink the bleed issue, but then I later found that every mic contributes to the overall sound, even the ones with bleed in them. If the low-end of the snare drum sounds great, and the overhead is picking it up, why would you EQ it out? I used to be a fan of surgical EQing and removing the low-end from anything that wasn’t bass-centric, but I realized that I was being more of a technician and not an artist. Mixers have to think as musicians do. You can’t just listen to one mic and make a call based on that. However, if the recording was poor, and you have an ugly-sounding bleed in the overhead, then you have a problem. But drums need to work as a whole, so you shouldn’t take a Frankenstein approach to it by being surgical with each mic when it’s time to mix. The drums have to sound good based on how the overheads and the room mics blend with the kit, since those mics are where you hear the overall sound of the instrument. It’s possible to get an unfavorably biased image of the drum kit if you start only with the dry kick and snare, and then try to overcompensate with processing to make it sound full without even hearing what the overhead and room mics sounds like.
Have you mixed drums without compression?
Everyone wants their music to sound loud, so I think compression is inevitable. In my case, I haven’t worked with a band that didn’t want compression, so I’ve always used it.
I see you have a Roland Space Echo here. Does that get used a lot?
It’s not as usable to me as it is for the bands that record here. It’s a piece of outboard gear that functions more as an instrument than for mixing. We’ve tried playing with it by feeding drums into it and having it feeding back on itself and stuff like that. But we usually leave it to the band to use.
Are you interested in mastering at all, or would you rather stick to mixing?
I’ve done a bit of mastering, but it requires a totally different mindset than what I’m into right now. It’s very technical and you have to stay calm and listen to the objective details of the song. Mixing is more subjective, so I’d rather stay doing that for now.
I saw on Angel Sounds website that you’ve worked with companies like VICE, Mcdonalds, Doritos and M&Ms. How much post-production work are you guys getting nowadays?
Our work with those companies is mainly related to advertising and promos, but we’ve also done other interesting things like sound effects for a Tame Impala music video. But it’s Miqel who handles that side of things, so I’m not sure what our workload for that is at the moment.
What are you hoping to see develop with Angel Sound in the future?
We’d like to be able to do more live music work, and not just studio recordings.
One last question. Tell me about a recording session here that turned into an unexpected learning experience for you.
One of the bands I played with eight years ago was called San Leon, and we had we hired a well-known Spanish producer called Paco Loco. At the time, I thought the recordings had a bit of noticeable hiss, and the takes appeared a bit unpolished. But as additional instruments were recorded and we went into the mixing stage, all of a sudden, most of these apparent defects had either become unnoticeable or had contributed to giving the band a sense of character. Paco had focused on getting a great performance out of us, instead of asking us to perform like robots, playing clean parts with our instruments. I ended up realizing that the most important thing was to capture the talent, and not to obsess so much over getting the cleanest take ever. We were also recording everything straight to analog tape, but with no noise reduction. I kept asking “Won’t we use any Dolby SR noise reduction? Or gating? Or filtering? The tape machine has 24 channels open and the hiss is really loud.” But in the end, all that mattered was the performance, and once the songs were sent to mastering they just trimmed the start and cleaned the endings. Worrying about the hiss had been a waste of time. So I learned that getting pristine recordings isn’t the point at all.