During my interview with studio-builder Lucas Medus, I learned about his work with Studio Delta. Lucas helped develop the acoustics of the place, and since the studio pictures looked great, I decided to contact the founder, Thomas Bunio. Below you can read my chat with him and one of the studio’s assistant engineers, David Greita.
– Hi guys. Thanks for sitting down with me. How did each of you get your start with audio and how did you end up at Studio Delta?
Thomas: I started around fifteen with an MPC 2000XL and later became an intern at a studio in Montreuil when I was seventeen. I can’t remember what it was called, but it’s gone now anyway. I made coffee there for about two years before becoming an assistant, and the first project I worked on was called Stupeflip, which is a French rap group. I later started Studio Delta in 2004 when I was nineteen by renting what is now the control room, which I used for mixing and producing. Fifteen years later I met Patrick Votan through my work with a band called Tinariwen. We recorded their “Elwan” album in the Sahara desert and decided to become studio partners soon after that. The first thing we did was to expand Delta into what it is now. Next door to the control room was an office that we took over when the tenants moved out, and we knocked down the wall to create our live room there.
David: I started with music in 2010 with Adobe Audition, when I was sixteen. It’s not what most people use, but it worked as a starting point. I then attended SAE Paris for three months, but ended up leaving because the school wasn’t for me. I did a two-month internship at Les Studio De La Seine as a part of the program, but the staff asked me to stay on for six more months when it was over. So instead of returning to SAE, I accepted their offer. After La Seine, I continued interning at different studios for about three years. My first stop was with Mathieu Berthet, a well-known mastering engineer in Paris, followed by sessions at Studios Ferber and Les Studios Saint Germain. After my internship period was over, I tried mixing records at home, but it didn’t work because I got complaints from the neighbors about the noise. However, a friend of mine called Pablo had just become the repair technician at Studio Delta, and he told me about an assistant slot they had available, so I applied for that a few years ago and have been here ever since.
– I believe Thomas used to own an animation studio called “Pilule & Pigeon“, but I can’t find the website anymore. What happened to that?
Thomas: Yes, that was an animation company I created because I’d had spent too much time working at Studio Delta by myself. I wanted to do something else that involved having people around me, but unfortunately it didn’t work out; it just became a job I didn’t want to do. So after I met Patrick, I decided to find my way back to working with music. But my former co-owner in Pilule & Pigeon has started a new animation studio called Combbo, which is a great place.
– And what is Patrick Votan’s role at Studio Delta?
Thomas: He’s a producer who manages Tinariwen. He’s well-connected in the artist world and is also a gear collector, which is great for us. Even though he doesn’t participate in the sessions here, he’s been a great partner.
– Studio Delta looks very impressive, with beautiful decor and tons of backline. How much did it cost to build a place like this?
Thomas: It’s hard to say because it took me fifteen years to build the studio into what it is today. Upgrades were gradually made to the control room and lots of DIY work was done to the live room, so it’s hard to put a price on things like that.
– What about the acoustics though?
Thomas: We worked with Lucas Medus to improve the acoustics, but not long after he finished, the floor upstairs caught fire and most of his work in the live room was destroyed – only one wall remained intact. Thankfully, his work in the control room wasn’t harmed, but we had to start over and redo the acoustics of the live room on our own.
(Below: Studio Delta live room before the fire)
– How were you able to redo Lucas’ work when you’re not professional acoustcians?
Thomas: Rather than paying for it to be done a second time, we chose to redo the acoustics ourselves. I think it’s a bad idea to over-invest in a studio anyway, and we were able to save money that way.
David: It’s easy to listen to what the live room sounds like on recordings. If we felt that modifications had to be made due to problems with certain frequencies, we just did it ourselves. I remember that we didn’t like the hi-hat sound on our drum takes, so we moved the furniture around and brought in amps from another room to change the diffusion patterns. So we improvised our way towards a sound that we liked, and as Thomas said, it’s a bad idea to invest a fortune in a studio like ours, especially when we only charge €500 a day.
Thomas: Bands in France don’t have enough money to book studio time for a month anyway, so the finances wouldn’t add up if we pumped too much money into this place.
David: French bands are lucky to even have a week in a commercial studio. Sometimes we get booked for five days to record an album, but that’s the maximum. A big gap has been created in France between bands with a classical rock approach and those doing pop-rock with only one vocal track on the whole song. Even though the latter category get the most views online, Studio Delta was designed to cater to the former, so the most important thing is to have a live room that works well for acoustic music, rather than spend money on building what’s considered to be a “classic” studio with dead spaces. I’ve worked in studios like that, and to be honest, they were all the lamest places I’ve ever been to.
– Can you expand on that? Why are those studios lame?
David: Because their live rooms are completely dead and don’t have any character. For example, Studios Ferber’s live room sounds great because it has flaws and unexpected reverberations, but when you go to La Seine, the room sounds dead with no audible reflections, plus they have no backline. So all they have to offer is a “perfect” live room that feels a bit uninspiring. We never aimed for that here because a perfectly-shaped room with unattractive diffusion material on the wall isn’t what we wanted. We’d rather use something unconventional like a stuffed dear head to help with diffusion, and at least it looks interesting too.
– But anyone who looks at your backline and recording console would think this place cost €1 million to make. I have yet to see a studio of this size in Paris with this much backline.
Thomas: We’ve done an okay job (laughs). But look, it’s not that we don’t have any money, but our gear collection is the result of accumulating stuff over the years. Also, when you own a recording studio, lots of your musician friends tend to leave their equipment here. So our collection continuously grows because of that. But it’s not like we decided to buy this stuff all at once.
David: Exactly. Thomas and I keep some of our guitars and amps here, and so does Patrick. Even the studio manager, Francois, has some of his gear here. Personally, I have lots of synths and I needed a place to keep them, so I brought them here, and our Rhodes, Hammond and Wurltizer keyboards were lent to us by friends. We also have amps from previous US tours by Tinariwen, and from other French bands too.
Thomas: Honestly, we don’t do much with ourselves except music-related projects. I haven’t even taken a vacation in a long time because most of my disposable income gets spent on gear (laughs).
– It’s interesting how many studio owners tell me they don’t have much money, yet I keep discovering new studios all over Paris. Creating a studio isn’t exactly a cheap endeavor.
Thomas: Well, you have to keep in mind that Studio Delta wasn’t built to be a box-in-a-box – our walls are made of regular plywood and there’s nothing fancy about our construction; it’s just a basement space. Sure, the lights and decor are cool, but it’s not that expensive. We’ve also been around for fifteen years, so our rent stabilized and became more manageable. But if we had to buy this same space today, we honestly wouldn’t be able to afford it.
– But what can you tell me in general about the explosion of recording studios in Paris, despite the larger ones shutting down?
David: Home studios became very popular in Paris during the late 2000s, which killed off many of the bigger studios. But years later, people started to feel lonely working at home by themselves, so the trend has shifted back to working in studios with other people. As a result, people are teaming up with friends to create their own studios, even if they’re not commercial ones. We have lots of friends who shared production rooms with each other until they decided to break down a nearby wall and expand the place into something bigger, which eventually opened to the public. So things like that have contributed to the growth in studios.
There’s also many studios in Paris that people don’t know about. Studio Delta may have been around for fifteen years, but it’s only been open to the public for two. So many private places in Paris flew under the radar until some of them decided to become public, which explains the rapid appearance of studios in places like Montrieul.
– I’ve also been told that the larger studios ran into financial problems because of loans they took in the 70s and 80s to purchase their consoles, which they couldn’t pay back once the business slowed down. Do you know about that?
Thomas: The big studios in Paris are closing mainly because of the rent costs, not the loans; France isn’t like America where people take loans for everything. Besides, it’s hard to get loans in the music industry anyway. But the high rent became a problem when studios started making less money. I can’t imagine what Studios Ferber has to pay these days to rent the building.
David: That’s why they divided Ferber into smaller parts. They still have Studio A, B and C, but the other smaller rooms have been rented out to producers and engineers as private studios.
Thomas: Studio Plus XXX closed because of the rent too, and other place like Studio Davout closed for unknown reasons. They had to vacate their building so it could be turned into a parking lot and elementary school, which is weird. It was such a historic place so I was surprised they didn’t keep it open.
– Doesn’t the prevalence of studios in Paris mean you have to compete with each other for clients? I can think of similarly priced places like Onetwopassit and SODASOUND who probably serve a similar clientele as you do.
Thomas: Most of the studios in Paris aren’t really the same size as us, so I wouldn’t say we have much competition. Perhaps there are similarities between us and a place like Studio Mastoid, but not many others.
David: From a gear and backline perspective, we have some things in common with Mastoid and Onetwopassit, but SODASOUND is a different kind of studio from Delta. It’s more of a one-room setup based around an API console. So l agree with Thomas; we don’t really feel the need to be competitive in our space.
– But to obtain clients, you either need effective marketing or good relationships. Which has it been for you?
David: Our clients mostly come from the relationships we have; Patrick knows a lot of people and Thomas produces albums for different bands, which leads to word-of-mouth recommendations. That’s been our most successful form of advertising.
Thomas: Marketing isn’t really our thing, and I don’t want people to queue to book this place. If that were to happen, clients would pressure each other to finish their session so the next one could start, and I want to avoid that. Ideally, recording studios shouldn’t only be a business, so I prefer having less clients and doing right by the projects we get booked for.
– But if you had to run a marketing campaign, what’s the main selling point of the studio that you’d emphasize?
David: Like you said yourself, you haven’t seen a place of this size with as much backline as we have. As a musician, if I needed to rent a studio for even one day, I’d go for the one with the most backline. I wouldn’t care about the one with ten Neumann mics as much as the one with five drum kits, twelve guitars and six basses, and I think that’s what people gravitate towards here. That’s why our clients usually end up playing our instruments even when they bring their own. We also have a Trident 80B console, along with external pre-amps, compressors and synths, which you don’t always find in other places. Some studios may have nice acoustics, nice consoles and a good mic collection, but it usually stops there, as if outboard and backline don’t matter.
Thomas: The way we record is probably different from other studios too. I don’t have any educational background in engineering, so I do things my way and that attitude permeates here, where we don’t judge each other for things like mic placement or outboard choices.
Thomas: Well, when The National decided to record part of their last album here, I think it’s a sign of faith in what we can deliver.
David: They could have chosen to record in a luxury studio that costs €1000 a day, yet they decided to come here and there’s probably some reasons for that. Additionally, we’ve also recorded albums by Fantomes, Papooz and Tinawurien.
Thomas: Regarding the Grammys, I was nominated last year for Tinariwen’s “Elwan”, but as far as national recognition goes, you have to remember that sound quality isn’t that important to the music industry in France. The Victores De la Musique are far from the Grammys, so it’s hard to put France and America on the same level in terms of the recognition they give.
– But bands like Phoenix were able to succeed both in France and America, and were acknowledged by everyone.
David: Yes, but the kind of music they make puts them in a different category. Philippe Zdar mixed their albums and the result was something unconventional. I don’t think “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” could have been made in America. That album represented a fusion between a rock band and a guy from the French Touch scene, and the result was a loud, compressed album that couldn’t have been made anywhere else. Even if musicians in America had tried combining rock with EDM, it wouldn’t have created the same pumping, energetic sound that you hear on Justice or Cassius albums, which is what Phoenix and Zdar achieved. Plus, they’re singing in English with French accents, which doesn’t always work for French artist, but for them it did. So Phoenix are an exception, I think.
– I get you. So what’s the story behind getting the Trident 80B?
David: We got it a year and a half ago. Prior to that, the studio was centered around external pre-amps, but we decided to get a console because Thomas and Patrick specifically wanted a Trident. It’s a unique console that’s been used on many rock albums, and it’s helped achieve some of the best guitar sounds ever; I wouldn’t use a Neve to record an amp when I could use an 80B. Ours was used to make the last Lee Scratch Perry album before we bought it from Daniel Boyle in London.
It was also a way for us to transition into being a commercial studio. Prior to the Trident, the control room looked different, with the computer at one end of the room and the outboard gear in the middle, which split the room in half. So the console allowed us to center everything around it, and it also changed the acoustics of the control room for the better.
– Do you know anything about the Trident 65? Could you contrast that to the 80B?
David: For me, the Trident 65 is a cheap version of the 80B. There’s also the Trident 75, which is like an expensive version of the 65, but it’s still no 80B. When Trident stopped making their A Range gear, the 80B became their flagship console. It was designed to have independent channel strips, so it’s easy to repair. It also has input transformers on every channel, which the 65 doesn’t have.
Certain vintage consoles are known for having limited patching options because they were manufactured with cables that came out the back and led to a pre-made stage box. So you couldn’t patch anything, and if you plugged a microphone to input #1, it led directly to pre-amp #1. The first Trident 65s were like that, whereas the 80B allows more flexibility in terms of patching and cabling. It also has more EQs points and auxes. All of that makes for a more professional console than the 65.
(Below: David Greita)
– And what about the power supply? Is it one that you have to keep turned on permanently?
Thomas: No, it’s not like an SSL, so you can turn the power supply off when you’re done using it.
David: An SSL power supply is like two amp stacks on top of each other, which is kind of a joke, whereas the one for the 80B fits in a 2U, 19-inch rack.
– I see a lot of artists on your website who have worked here, but there isn’t any information on the projects they recorded, so can you tell me what it was like to work with the following names:
Thomas: He’s signed to Roche Music, who’s a big client for us. Many of their artists come here because they live nearby and the label has an office in the area.
David: I did two days of sessions with him. The guys from Roche usually come here empty-handed because they prefer to use the backline we have. That’s what FKJ did, and he’d jam for hours just to create ideas. Then he took the recordings back to his place to produce around it.
The National & Ben Howard
David: The National were here for five days to record their last album, “I Am Easy To Find“. They recorded different parts in other studios, but added finishing touches here.
Thomas: We were introduced to them through another artist called Mina Tindle. First we did a three-day session with Bryce Dessner, who was working on a score for a Johnny Depp movie. Things went well, so they came back to record vocals and guitar overdubs for their album. After that, Aaron Dressner came back to produce Ben Howard’s upcoming album.
Thomas: Ben mostly did overdubs here, although I think he recorded one full one song also. He and Aaron came with their engineer, Jonathan Low.
– Can you tell me about the staff you have here?
Thomas: David is technically an assistant engineer, but he also does a lot of lead engineering. Like I mentioned, the guys from Roche Music only want to work with him now.
David: Thomas and Patrick are the bosses of the place. Patrick mainly works upstairs and Thomas runs the studio as the house engineer. Francois is the studio manager, and Coline is his intern. We also have a studio intern named Augustine, and finally there’s Pablo, the technician. So it’s a seven-man team here.
– What are your rates?
Thomas: It’s €500 for a 10-hour day in Studio A with an engineer, assistant and intern. If you want to skip the engineer, it’s €400, and you can pay a bit more if you want a lockout or extended studio time.
– You don’t have a €300 option?
Thomas: Well, €400 a day for a place like this is already pretty competitive. But we have Studio B as the cheapest option for just €100. It’s equipped with Pro Tools, NS10s, and you have access to all the backline and microphones in Studio A.
– Wrapping up, can you tell me about some of the gear you have here, David?
Keys: Among other things, we have a Hohner Clavinet D6, a Hammond A100, a Wurlitzer 200a, and two Rhodes Mark 1s from 1969. There’s also the Rhodes Bass, a Seiler piano and some GEM organs too, which is an Italian brand reminiscent of Farfisa.
Synths: Some of our synths are the Minimoog Model D, the Oxford Oscar, the ARP Odyssey, the Oberheim Matrix 6, the Minikorg 700, the Korg M1 and the Kurzweil K2000. In total, we have about 30 synths here.
Amps: We have a lot of Fender amps from different eras, like the Bandmaster and the ’57 Champ reissue. The Supro Trojan is one of our treasures, and we have a Sound Comet Deluxe from the 70s also, which is good if you’re going for a crunchy guitar sound. We also have amps by Mesaboogie and Carvin, as well as a small wooden amp called Magnatone Troubadour from 1947.
Mics: We have many ribbon mic pairs, like the AEA R88, which we use a lot on drums. There’s also the Beyerdnyamic M380, which is a great kick mic that took Thomas some time to find. Some others are the CMV 563, the U87, a Manley Gold Reference, and a UM57. We have the Melodium 75a too.
– Thanks for talking to me guys. So what’s next for Studio Delta in 2020?
Thomas: We try not to make too many plans for the future, so it’s hard to say. But I don’t think we have any big changes for the rest of the year.
David: No big changes, but we’ve talked about putting a patch-bay and some cabling in the living room upstairs so that we can record the piano in there. We’ve also discussed creating a movable wall to split the live room in half, which might be useful for certain sessions. So we’ll see how that goes.