Every time I find myself in a new city, I go searching for studios to talk to. The first one I found in Paris was OneTwoPassIt. Run by Mathieu, Sylvain and Laurent, it’s been around for eight years and has served as the place of choice for artists like Guts, Wax Tailor, and G Bonson. I reached out to Mathieu, aka Mr Gib, who was kind enough to invite me over for a chat about how the studio came to be.
Hi Mathieu. Thanks for having me over. I didn’t find any online interviews about OneTwoPassIt, so I’d like to start from the beginning of its history. How did the studio come about?
This is the first interview I’m giving about the studio, so it’s no surprise you didn’t find much about us, apart from our website. Thanks for coming over and doing the first one.
I met Sylvain and Laurent during my sound engineering studies whilst doing an internship in Paris. They were renting a recording space at the time but were suddenly evicted by the owner because he decided to sell the place. But in order to do that, he had to refund all the years of rent money they had paid in advance. So they took the refund, went to Funky Junk in London, and bought a bunch of audio gear. But without a studio space to use, it all ended up in storage back in France. I was touring at the time as a sound engineer with Wax Tailor, but every time I came back to Paris, I would call them and say, “Guys, you have to do something with all the cool gear you have! “. After doing that a few times, they eventually replied, “You seem more excited about it than us, so if you can find a studio space to rent, we’ll make it happen “. I initially went looking for spaces to rent, but couldn’t find anything, so I changed my focus to buying instead of renting. I wanted a space with high ceilings that was close to subways and restaurants, for the sake of our future clients. It took me about eight months to find our current space. The three of us came with the acoustic engineer to check it out, and he was like, “You may have found something here “. The space used to be a factory that had closed down, and it had no sound isolation whatsoever, so we had to run basic acoustic tests as a first measure. The surrounding area was made up of residential flats, so sound-proofing was very important, in order to avoid complaints from neighbors. Afterwards, the acoustic engineer gave us the financial estimates for what the renovation and sound isolation would cost, and we took those to the bank. Thankfully, they gave us a loan, and we started building right away.
It took two years to build this place because we did it in our spare time, in between our touring schedules. We opened in October 2010 and have been running ever since.
When you brought the acoustic engineer to the initial space, what was his job to scope out?
He was supposed to figure out how much sound isolation was present in the original space. It was pretty bad – around 30 dB, which is less than the legal limit. If you want to purchase a flat, the noise isolation between you and your neighbor has to be at least 50 dB of attenuation. Now that we’ve turned the space into a studio, it has around 80 dB acoustic attenuation, with a low-cut at 13 Hz. Additionally, the noise floor in the neighbor’s flat is around 30 dB, for a total attenuation of 110 dB when we’re recording in the booth.
I see brick in some walls of the studio and wood in others. What were your thoughts behind the selection of building materials?
We wanted the studio to have a nice look to it, where people could feel comfortable and at home. Not like a huge studio with a 300 m² control room, which can alienate people. We knew that wood and brick would sound great, so we talked about it with the acoustic engineer, Camille Hamel, and were able to figure out which floors and walls would be suitable for that. He was excited about it because we let him do stuff that other studios didn’t, like putting resonators on the walls and acoustic panels on the ceiling. Camille used to work at studios for Universal, as well as different film production studios, where everything had to be done by the book, so this was different. We all felt good about it.
We wrapped up the construction after two years, and everything tested well. When we ran the isolation tests, the neighbors were so pleased by how well-isolated we were that they welcomed us with champagne bottles! That was a good starting point for us.
During the construction process, did you have a particular philosophy for the type of sound you wanted to get out of your studio?
Not really. We just knew that we wanted our drum recordings to sound good. We wanted to be able to make one spot of the recording room sound dead, and another sound lively. That way we could move around the drum kit in the room to get different sounds. We have some videos that show what the room sounds like when you move the drum kit around and use the acoustic paneling.
What are the different roles that you, Laurent and Sylvain have in running the studio? Have those roles changed over the years?
Our roles haven’t changed much. Sylvain is a venue and tour manager, and takes care of the administration at the studio. Laurent and I are both sound engineers who handle the recording and mixing sessions here. I typically get hired more for mixing than recording, but I enjoy both. The last project I worked on was for Guts, with Cyril Atef on drums.
Sylvain, Laurent and I all share the studio maintenance tasks, which is very important. When clients come here and ask to use particular items, we want to be able to say, “Yes, of course “, without any excuses or extra charges. Another reason studio maintenance is important to me is that I mix a lot of music which is made exclusively on a laptop, so I like to amp sounds a lot, meaning I record things even when I mix. I might mic a B3 Leslie cabinet just to record a plugin organ, to add more 3D texture to it, for example. So our gear has to work consistently for the sessions to run smoothly.
What kind of connectivity options do you guys have at the studio for your audio signals?
All the gear is connected to a Bantam patchbay. We also have a patchbay with Speakon connections, so I can set up an amp head in the control room, which sends signal to a cab in the recording room, allowing me to re-amp my sounds without having to run back and forth several times. I just place the mic in front of the cab, connect it to the patchbay with the Speakon, and then tweak the sound of the amp from the control room.
Really? In the toilet?
Yes (laughs). It doesn’t get used a ton, but we have a speaker in the toilet wall, which we can use to record reverb if we want. It’s just a fun thing to have.
As a studio that was built from the ground up, what has been one of your biggest challenges when equipping this place?
Creating a good microphone collection can be a financial challenge. We don’t own a real Neumann U47 or Telefunken C12, but I’ve made clones of them, and we also have things like the Coles 4038 ribbon mic, alongside some obscure brands as well, which I think help us create our own unique sound here.
Tell me more about your cloned gear. Where does the dividing line go between making clones of vintage gear and just buying the originals?
In my opinion, if you pay half the price of the original to make a clone, and get 80% of its sound, you’re in a pretty good place. The UA 1176 is special because whatever you put into it comes out sounding nice. The same with a Pultec EQ, which is why units like that became popular. But if you can’t afford them, then clones are a way to go, and you can also tweak them to your purposes. For example, we have the original SSL 4000 compressor, which works well on drums, but the clone I made is a little brighter and faster. So now I can use it on sounds that the original may not have been suitable for, and the two of them even work well together in the same mix.
Was all of your cloned gear made through direct comparison to the originals?
No, we developed the clones by using the original specifications. For the 1176, there exists different revisions, and if you want the “F” or “G” revision, you need certain transformers that are not made anymore, so you have to improvise. But when you finally get a chance to hear the original, and see how the transformer works, you realize why it costs so much.
When making your clones, what difference in performance do you see between transistors, capacitors and transformers? When I spoke to the founder of Burl Audio about this, he was very adamant about prioritizing the difference in performance between those components.
If you make machines with low-cost components, they’ll always under-perform. I think transformers are a very important part of the sound of gear. That’s one of the reasons why we have a Neve console, and not an SSL. I like the color that a transformer imparts to the audio signal, and in fact, I have a rack unit that’s made of nothing but transformers. It’s passive, and you just run the signal through it, with the ability to switch between different models, like a Gardner, a Westrex or a Cinemag, to achieve a certain color. If you hit them really hard, you get a nice distortion that colors the sound even more.
Can you give me a run-down of the cloned gear you have?
What’s the hardest thing to clone?
In my opinion, the Pultecs are the hardest, which is why we didn’t manufacture ours. We bought them from a Russian company called Magnetec. They use the same schematics as the original, but the components are new old stock Russian equipment. The engineer makes his own transformers by hand, using old paper-in-oil capacitors.
Do you have any interest in Fairchild recreations?
Yes, but our studio clientele continues to grow each year, so I don’t have much time to take cloning as seriously as I used to. You have to be serious with it, because if you mess around and screw it up, you’ll end up with a non-working machine, and will have wasted your time and money.
I used to be interested in the Fairchild 670 clone by a company called Drip Electronics who made a printed circuit board of the 670. But the components alone cost around €4000, which isn’t a reasonable price point for me. But I know other companies who sell their clones for less than €3000.
We also have some uncommon units like the Quantic QRS reverb, in addition to the Lexicon Prime Time 93 delay and the Eventide H910 Harmonizer. We have the AMS DMX delay, which is not cloneable, and the plugins don’t come close. However, Universal Audio and Slate Digital are getting closer to the real units with their plugins. We own the Slate Everything Bundle, which works great for us since they have plugins of devices we haven’t cloned. For example, we have a real EMT 140 plate reverb and the EMT 245, but Slate Digital has made emulations of other reverb units that we don’t have, so it’s complementary.
I noticed you didn’t include Waves Audio in your praise of plugin companies.
To be honest, I’m not a fan of Waves plugins. UAD and Slate Digital are what I prefer. Soundtoys are nice as well, but they’re a bit different; they can be used as sound design tools as well, and not just for mixing.
Between Slate Digital and UAD plugins, what’s your preference?
I’d go with Slate, because UAD requires you to own their DSP interfaces, and the individual plugins are quite expensive. I like the idea of paying $10 a month to own a suite of plugins from a company like Slate, including future releases and updates.
I spoke to Philippe Zdar recently, and he described how big studios in Paris were closing down due to financial pressure. How would you describe the studio scene in Paris currently?
I’m probably not the best person to answer that question, because I spend so much time locked away at OneTwoPassIt, and I don’t hang out much with other studio owners. When we started out, clients were asking me to mix two tracks a day, but nowadays I’d rather spend one or two days on a mix, so that the client is 100% happy with it. Sometimes the final tweaks that perfect the project can be time-consuming, so I’m always busy in the studio, rather than outside socializing in the studio scene.
How has your clientele changed over the years?
We went from working with only independent bands to mostly working with independent labels. We never used to have major labels as clients, but that may change soon, as we’re starting to see artists from bigger labels come to us. We’ve expanded into working with genres like hip-hop and electronic music, and Laurent is good at handling that kind of music session, in addition rock and jazz music. He’s made a nice record for a band called Cotonete, fully recorded and mixed here.
We’ve had a slow rate of growth over the years, but it’s been consistent. So every year we have more work, but also more maintenance costs, which balances things out, and our customers have always been happy with our results. Thankfully, we’ve never had an unhappy customer in eight years.
Why do you think the major labels were less interested in you at first, but are more open to working with you now?
I think we’re more interesting to them now because of our résumé, which shows that we’ve made serious records that sound good. Also, as Philippe Zdar said, many bigger studios are closing down, and majors need cheaper spaces to send their artists to. Also, we’ve had good musicians come here, who enjoyed our sessions, and told their friends on major labels about the studio.
The size of our space might have something to do with major labels not being previously interested. Sometimes major artists want big, fancy studios to work in, and ours is around 100 m². So if they wanted to fit a 12-piece band in here, we might be able to do it, but it would be tight.
Do you think there is any competitive advantage to having a studio in Paris, as opposed to another place in France?
An advantage for any Paris-based studio is that most musicians and bands who are serious about their careers have to come to Paris at some point, whether to play gigs or for collaborations. We have a lot of good musicians that come here as part of their tour, and it’s not uncommon to get last-minute requests from labels to record an artist who is passing through.
I don’t think we would have been able to manage if we’d built a studio like this in another city. Paris is the biggest music place in France, and even then, things can be difficult. It’s not a good thing when big studios have to shut down in the city, but because we have the same kind of equipment as them, at a cheaper price, we’re able to stay competitive.
What’s the roundabout cost of running a studio like this in Paris? If someone wanted to open a similar space, what kind of financial estimates should they have?
The main question would be whether you want to buy a large or small space. Large spaces are very expensive. In the center of Paris, it’s possible that an untreated, 100 m² space could go for several hundred thousand Euros, depending on the exact location. Then you might have to spend €1000 – €2000 per square meter for sound-proofing, internal acoustic treatment and general building work. And then comes the audio gear….
But the audio gear plus a console could cost anywhere from €200,000 – €500,000. That could put you over €1 million…
In the center of Paris? Yeah, most likely. Since we’re located in the suburbs, we were able to keep our costs down, and even more so by building everything ourselves. We dug the control room and recording booth for more than three months by hand. We designed everything as well, except the acoustics. The electricity, ventilation and running of cables was all done by us.
So if a person was to spend €1 million on building a studio in Paris, do you think they would make a decent profit if they sold it later on?
No, I don’t think so. I’m not a real estate specialist but in my opinion, it’s harder to sell a recording space than just an empty space. If you own an empty space that people can use for whatever they want, it will sell faster and at a higher price than one which is already adapted for recording. Also, if you decide to sell a studio, I don’t think you should expect to get back all the money you spent on sound-proofing the place. But having said that, we wouldn’t sell OneTwoPassIt.
Tell me about some of the industry relationships you’ve developed that have helped your studio.
The three main indie labels that we work with are Nowadays Records, Heavenly Sweetness and Born Bad Records. Those relationships came about because we met the label founders and had a good experience interacting with them, so they decided to try our studios out. We proved ourselves to be reliable, and more projects started coming in, so now they recommend us to most of their artists. Also, because all Sylvain, Laurent and I are touring constantly, we meet other sound guys, technicians and artists that end up working with us here.
Can you talk about the perspective your touring work has given you as a studio owner?
I used to be a touring sound engineer for five years with Wax Tailor. We started off with four people in the crew and eventually grew into eighteen people on a tour bus. I learned a lot by constantly using the same backline and audio rig at different venues, each of which has its own PA system. When you’re in that position, you have to learn how to separate the sound of the desk from the space itself, and to be able to achieve a good result in a small amount of time, which was a challenge I enjoyed. Sound-checks are fast and line-checks are even faster. Once those two things are done, the band’s manager and label people are going to be on your back. If things don’t sound right after the band rehearses their first track, you’re going to be in a bad place. So you can’t spend one hour making a kick-drum sound good; you have to develop techniques and procedures that allow you to be efficient.
I had always wanted to be a studio engineer after I graduated SAE, but I was offered a front of house job as soon as I got out of school, which is why I started with touring. So when we finally founded this studio, I already knew how to work fast, and that’s why we called the studio “OneTwoPassIt”. It’s about being able to get things done in a few steps: track it, mix it, pass it. It’s also a tribute to the D&D All-Stars record of the same name.
Touring brings benefits in terms of meeting new people and keeping the studio occupied. For example, Laurent is the front-of-house engineer for FKJ, who was in our studio last week, rehearsing his live setup. So we do need to be out and working, and not just be locked in the studio all the time.
I actually came across your studio because it was listed on Miloco’s website. How did you guys end up on there?
I discovered Miloco when I was searching for information about other studios. They represented top-of-the-line studios all over the world, and that impressed me. So we decided to call them and see if we fit on their roster, and they were like, “Sure. A Neve-based studio with all the gear you have? Let’s do it “. We’ve been with them for about four years now, and mostly get last-minute bookings from them.
Why did you choose to create a Neve-based studio, and what’s the story behind purchasing the desk?
We decided to run a Neve-based studio because we all went to SAE Paris and learned how the Neve VR works in our time there. We all love the Neve sound, and having one of their consoles creates a good standard for us. Ours was built in the UK, originally for a studio in Philadelphia. We bought if from a broker who sent it to us by air, because I didn’t want it to be on a boat for three weeks. You can imagine what a one-ton shipment by air costs, but it was worth it. Once we got it, all of our engineer friends helped us with emptying out the desk and splitting it in two parts to fit the frame through the studio doors, which was great.
In your case, the recording desk is also the mixing desk, which differs from bigger studios, where they have Studio A and Studio B with different desks for recording and mixing. How does this affect the final sound of your records, since the audio signal is run through the same desk twice?
What I like about the Neve-VRP 36 is that it enhances the sound even when you go through it twice. Rupert Neve was smart enough to design two different input transformers on this console: a mic input and a line input, which are not the same thing. You can buy Neve outboard pre-amps, and they sound great, but they won’t sound as good as they do in the original desk, because the stand-alone pres lack the summing that the desk provides. So recording and mixing on the same desk isn’t an issue for me. For recording, I use the mic inputs, and for mixing, I use the line inputs. The desk is designed to automatically switch between the inputs, depending on what you’re doing. And of course, we use the outboard gear alongside the desk.
The Neve-VRP 36 is unique in that it was designed to mix film scores, so its not your typical VR console with a line input that goes directly to a stereo bus. This one is able to create eight sub-mixes that are grouped separately before being sent the master, which is a pretty rare option. Each group or sub-mix can have outboard gear inserted onto it. So it offers a kind of flexibility that’s uncommon for this brand of analog in-line desk.
The power supply, summing buses and channels have all been modified by former AMS Neve engineer John Musgraves, who is well-known for his Neve modifications. On the channels, you can bypass the fader by way of a switch that sets them at 0 dB. So if you want to mix and sum stuff quickly, you can press a button and the faders set themselves to 0 dB, which is cool.
On your website, it says that this studio is “Mogami-cabled”. What does that mean?
Mogami is a brand of cables manufactured in Japan. It’s one of the premium cable companies in the world. All of our cabling is done with Mogami products. We took special care when designing and building this place to make sure that all our cables are running at least 50 cm from each other, into a Faraday cage, which is a metallic enclosure that blocks electromagnetic fields. We’ve also isolated our power supplies from where the cables run. We’ve done our best to optimize everything for the transport of the audio signal.
That must have cost you a lot of money.
Yes it did. The cabling alone cost €30,000. We also had to spend money on an oversized air conditioning system, but it was worth it. Even if we have lots of people in the studio, with some of them smoking, we can come back the next day to a place that doesn’t smell bad.
Cool. Tell me about your rates. What do you charge clients who want to book this place?
To rent the studio without a sound engineer, it’s €450, before taxes. With the engineer, it’s €600. But in either case, we provide you with a studio assistant.
What kind of service does the assistant provide?
The assistant is going to welcome you and your sound engineer to the studio, and show him the gear setup. He’s going to be a tea boy, a patch-bay guy and help with the line-check. He also knows the desk, the studio and the studio techniques we use.
Yeah. For example, we have an amp box that we’ve designed to handle loud guitar levels. Because of the acoustic ventilation system it has, the sound gets trapped inside the box, but without the disadvantage of a boomy, compressed sound that you would normally have in such a small enclosure. So the assistant can show clients how to use things like that. We also have a lot of other re-amping boxes and DIY equipment that we provide for our clients.
Cool. You also have a half-day price that clients can choose, correct?
Yes, we do; we don’t charge by the hour. The half day is €300 before tax, without an engineer.
If you decide to pay for an engineer, you would be working with myself, Laurent or a OneTwoPassIt-approved engineer that works with us. We’re very picky about the freelance engineers we work with, and have only used about five people in an eight-year period.
Nice. Now lets talk about some of the clientele that have passed through here. You’ve worked with Guts, correct?
Yes, the last project I mixed was Guts’ latest album, which is coming out on the 29th of March. It’s the fourth album we’ve done together. The first one was “Hip-Hop After All“.
I met Guts through my own beat-making career. I’m a part of a crew called “La Fine Équipe“, who came from the turntablist/scratch world, and have evolved into making beats and electronic music. Guts was featured on one of our albums, called “La Boulangerie“, which is how we met. We talked about music and audio, and learned that we had a lot in common, so I asked him to come by the studio and do a session with me. Things went well, and he asked me to mix his album after that. During the sessions, I remember him saying “Y’know, when I mixed with Bob, we used to do some of the same things I see you doing“, and I was like, “Bob? “. “Yeah, prior to working with you, all my music was mixed by Bob Power“. Bob Power mixed all the albums I grew up loving, and to be mentioned in the same sentence as him was surreal. But it showed me how Guts really cares about sound, and we always worked closely on his mixes, which was a welcome challenge for me.
He’s a friend that I met also through La Fine Équipe. The crew used to have a radio show in the 2000s, through which we met most of the beat-makers in France. We all agreed that we wanted to see the French beat-making scene grow, and after J Dilla died, we felt the need to make a beat-tape because of how much we loved his music; “Donuts” was such an influential album to all of us. So in 2008 we made a beat-tape with 33 tracks, featuring 23 beat-makers, which was unheard of at the time. It’s called “La Boulangerie”, and was the first of out three volumes. OneTwoPassit later became an extension of that project. Nowadays Records is run by two of the guys from La Fine Équipe, and another guy runs a mastering studio called Kasablanka. Between those three companies, we have all the tools to be an independent production company. G Bonson was a part of “La Boulangerie”, and later on approached us to mix his album.
Yes, I make a distinction. Most people can’t afford an original Neve 8078; it’s just in a different category of gear altogether. But the VRP has a sound we liked, and is more appropriate for today’s kind of recording and production. It offers you a mic pre-amp, a line pre-amp, a gate, a compressor and an EQ per channel, and we have 36 channels. An original 80s series would only gives you pre-amps and EQs on each channel, so the VR puts us in a good starting place.
What about converters?
We have 48 channels of Lynx Studio Auroras, with Thunderbolt compatibility. We also have the Cranesong HEDD Quantum, which we use on the Neve’s mixbus. We listen back on the HEDD as well, and use it as the clock for all the digital gear.
What kind of external pre-amps do you have?
The Studer was found in pretty bad shape in a basement by a friend of mine, where it had been for ten years. He said he was going to get rid of it if I didn’t take it off him, so I did. The deal was that I take out two pre-amps for him to keep, and I could have the rest. I refurbished it from scratch, which took me two years, and now it works fine. So we have ten pre-amps in that, which offers quite a different sound than anything else in the studio. It works really well with ribbon mics, offering 81 dB of gain, which is huge.
We also have two UA 6176s, and a bunch of DIY pre-amps that are inspired by SSL gear. We have the Groove Tubes The Brick, which is a DI and tube pre-amp, and I’m a huge fan of Anthony DeMaria Labs, so I have two stereo DIs and one ADL 1500 from them, which is a clone of the LA2A.
On what occasions do you use the Studer side-car?
It’s great for 60s garage rock and that kind of thing. I also use it for summing my effects tracks when I have no space on the Neve board. I just insert compressors on individual channels or the master bus of the Studer, before sending it back into the Neve. You also have fewer control options on the side-car. The EQs are only two bands of boosts and cut, so you have to get things right when you use that.
(Below: The Studer 089 MK1)
Tell me about the compressors you have.
We have an 1176, an 1176 clone, and the 1176 re-issue from the Urei. We also have an Altek 436, three Distressors, two DPR-901s, a Tegeler Magnetismus 2 and the SSL 4000 compressors. Oh, and the Ridge Farm Boiler compressor, which smashes things really hard.
I see you have quite a lot of reverb, delays and effects processors too.
We have quite a few of those. We refurbished from scratch our EMT 140, which is the original monotube version from 1963. Then we have EMT 245, AKG BX-25 Spring Reverb, the Quantic QRS, TC Electronics 4000, two Roland Space Echoes, the Korg SE 500 Stage Echo, the Lexicon Prime Time 93 delay, the Eventide H3000B, the Lexicon PCM92 and PCM60.
What about synths and keys?
Do you have any samplers or turntables?
We have the Yamaha NS10s, a pair of clones of the Auratone Mixcubes, and the Klein + Hummel O 300, which are now owned by Neumann. We chose the O 300’s because they make you work hard, just like the NS-10s. It’s hard to make things sound good on them, but they translate really well to other systems. We had different speakers prior to these ones, but I would always be happy with the mix in the studio, yet unhappy when I heard it elsewhere. These are the opposite; when I like the mix here, I like it more elsewhere.
What about guitars and basses?
And finally, what microphones do you have?
We have the Sennheiser 421, 441, and obscure mics like the RCA Type 74-B Junior and the RCA Type BK-4A ribbon mics. The latter one was designed to record rifles, so it can handle a lot of sound pressure. We also have the Sony C38B, which is like a poor man’s U47, though I love to use it on different sources. We also have a lot of large-diaphragm condensers, both transistor and tube-based, as well as many ribbon mics from Bang & Olufsen, Coles and other brands.
Cool. That’s a long list of equipment! Thanks for all the information Mathieu. What’s next for OneTwoPassIt? Any projects in the works?
I’m working on a tribute album to Hubert Laws, with a girl called Ludvine Issambourg. She’s headlining the project with great musicians like Eric Legnini on keyboard, Julien Herné on bass and Stephane Huchard on drums. We’ve already done drums, bass and keys, and are doing comps next. So that’s going well, and we also have some other stuff coming up.