Show Off Your Studio: Alex Tronic’s sonic attic is a vintage synth treasure trove
Paul Croan’s studio may not be massive, but his collection of gear certainly is.
Owner Paul Croan
Studio Alex Tronic Studio
- Korg M1
- Roland JD-800
- Novation Supernova II
- Roland Juno 6
- Allen & Heath GL2400 mixing desk
- AE 22 and Genelec
How do you use your studio?
I record and produce under the names Alex Tronic and Leith Bass Team, using the studio exclusively for these two projects at the moment due to lockdown. I make all my own recordings in the studio and master the tracks for my label, Alex Tronic Records, as well as remixing other artists’ music. I am currently using this unprecedented period to write my fourth Alex Tronic album, as we cannot do much with our events company Edinburgh DJ Hire now due to social distancing strategies.
Tell us more about the studio, Paul!
I have been recording in my attic studio for over two years, which is based in Leith, Edinburgh. My studio is located in a C listed building, dated 1860 in the outbuilding stonework. I started experimenting with beats in the attic studio in the early noughties. I was getting asked to record various electronic acts so I decided to move to a bigger place.
I rented a studio space in the RAF club and ex-servicemen’s social club. I was based there from 2006 – 2018, but had to leave as the club sold the building due to dwindling profits from the elderly veterans. My mixing desk then was a large format 32 channel vintage Soundcraft series B circa 1984.
You have a lot of gear in here and not so much space – how do you decide what gets used and how easy is it to include it in the setup?
I am very tight for space so I tend to run as much through the desk as possible so I can live mix in the headphones – a pair of Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro.
I always have at least 16 channels of audio out via a Focusrite Scarlett 20/18 audio interface and the rest is hardware with the Korg M1 as a master keyboard. I use a four out Midiman (M-Audio) MIDI box to chain the modules and synths – 64 channels of MIDI is plenty.
At present, the kit staples on the next Alex Tronic album are the Roland U220, Juno 6, JD 800 and HS60 plus a Roland 2080. I also use a Microkorg and Novation Supernova II. For sampling, it’s an E-mu 5000 Ultra and Akai MPC 2000XL. I also have some compressors and hardware effects like reverbs, delays and hardware filters.
Can you talk about how some of the vintage gear gets used?
I have some vintage gear like a Jen String Machine and the Juno 6. I tend just to patch them in as required. I also have an old 80s British made Cheetah rack drum machine, the MD16RP and the Akai MPC 2000XL sampler.
I’m very old school in my approach, with a lot of time spent on programming beats and sounds. I still use an Atari 1040 computer with monochrome monitor sometimes. My main use for the Atari 1040 nowadays is to recall different sounds I have programmed over the years. I use a programme called Omnibanker to do data dumps of sounds collected on floppy discs over the last 15 years into my Korg M1 or Roland U220.
Which DAW do you use?
I went quite reluctantly to a Windows PC a good few years back. I started on Cubase 2 on my Atari 1040 back in the day so I guess it is Cubase that I know best. I feel like most of the main DAW players nowadays borrowed heavily from the original Cubase layout. When I started it was a choice between Cubase or Notator as I recall.
For the DJ side of things, I use Native Instruments’ Traktor software supplemented with Kontrol F1 and X1 controllers.
How much time do you spend in your studio per week?
I spend roughly 20 hours a week on music. I don`t do long exhausting music sessions as much now.
How do you try and get the acoustics right in your studio?
I have some acoustic treatment and some bass traps that were given to me by my music manager friend Bob Wallace (Miracle Glass Company). They came from Owen Morris, the Oasis producer’s studio. It was kind of them to think of me as it was all free which was a nice bonus.
What atmosphere do you try and create in the studio?
I try to create a nice warm vibe where the music doesn’t get overly bouncy to wake up my elderly whippet Jett who lies on the couch crashed out while I work. If I’m working with vocalists or live players I try to just have fun with it. It is best to keep things light. The benefit of having your own recording space is you are not clockwatching.
What is your favourite piece of gear?
At the moment I’m enjoying messing around with the Behringer RD-8, which is a very good TR 808 emulation. I’m also using the Roland HS-60 which is the domestic version of a Juno 60. What a chunky machine that is! These machines along with a Kawai K1 and a Roland D-110 and a Rhythm Wolf will feature on my new album.
My favourite all-time bit of kit has to be the Korg M1. I’ve gotten so much value from it in terms of programmed sounds.
What is next on your shopping list studio-wise?
Do you have any frustrations with your current set-up?
The space is extremely limited. Also, I can’t really crank the music up due to neighbouring properties like I could in my old studio in the RAF Club.
What is your dream piece of gear?
The Alesis Andromeda. A friend Baz owns one. It sounds perfect to me.
What is your top piece of production advice?
Have fun and be careful not to go round in circles. I try to put deadlines on my music projects. It is very easy to get sidetracked. My advice is to be yourself and try not to worry about what everyone else is doing. Play your own game. It is your journey after all!
My most successful tracks were probably the ones I didn’t sweat on. My advice to young producers is don’t become an expert at arranging loops other people have made; it teaches you very little in my opinion. Find your own way.
What is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting out building a studio?
Have deep pockets and plenty of time to research your goals.
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