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Demystifying the recording studio (III): The home studios

I have no record of the existence of any home recording studio in Havana during the era of analog audio. The equipment in those days was very bulky, expensive, practically impossible to acquire and difficult to maintain in perfect technical condition.

In other countries I met some other bold engineer, who did venture to build his home studio with tape recorders of ¼ or ½ inch, four and eight tracks respectively, but the results of their work were not always competitive according to the standards of the recording industry. However, there is no rule without exception, there are excellent records born in a garage or room equipped with a console of just 16 channels and a few recorder tracks

When I refer to the classification of home studio I do not include project studies. In my previous text, second part of this trilogy, I defined the project study as that belonging to a musician or composer, designed according to their artistic needs and that generally does not pursue commercial purposes. Although some of these project studies do not go beyond home workshops, others with greater economic possibilities reach a high professional level. 

In the 1990s, with the introduction of digital audio, the first digital recorders appeared in Cuba. Initially it was PCM modulators, equipment capable of converting an analog stereo audio signal into digital language that, once encoded, could be recorded on the video cross track using a common VHS recorder. A short time later, the Mini Disc emerged, a recorder with ATRAC coding on a magneto-optical disc, followed by DAT (Digital Audio Tape), the first standard 16-bit digital audio support, professional and durable. From this moment the horizons began to open for the appearance of the first home studies in Cuba. 

A short time later, the first modular recorders were released multitrack DTRS (Digital Tape Recording System), capable of recording eight 16-bit digital audio tracks, which used the videotape as support again, in VHS cassette in Alesis ADAT systems, and Hi8 in DA 88, DA 78 machines and DA 98 from Tascam. This new technology, with equipment of reduced dimensions and weight, affordable price and high quality (by the time they emerged), was the basis of the nascent home studios, already capable of taking recordings multitracks not limited to the amount of eight. These systems, whose existence did not exceed ten years due to the low reliability of the tape and the video head, allowed several machines to be synchronously linked, converting the number of tracks into a multiple of eight.

In Havana several engineers had the initiative, despite the limited economic resources, to found home studios that gave them the possibility of recording the enormous volume of emerging music that the few state studies in the capital could not cover. The first and most daring (if memory does not betray me) were Antonio Carreras, Miguel Ángel Bárzagas and Delio Ferrero. The premises in which they located their recording rooms were the living room or bedroom of a house, a garage or the basement of a building. While the expensive fiberglass and other necessary materials were not available, easily acquired egg cartons fulfilled the necessary role of absorbent material in the conditioning of their premises. I was able to witness the recording of demo tracks Of excellent invoice, in the distant conditions of being suitable provided by the aforementioned studies. 

Few musicians ventured back then to record their complete albums in the home studios. But the fear was overcome little by little, as they evolved. In a short period of time each one was better conditioned and equipped, until they became true professional recording studios that, despite the limited space of their rooms, began to assume projects of magnitudes never before imagined outside of the traditional studios. 

During the selection of locations for the film Havana Blues, the filmmakers were looking for a rudimentary home recording studio, like the one that finally appears in some sequences of the film. For this they visited one of the few existing then, which was active in the Playa municipality until 2007, when it was transferred to Vedado: Scorpio, to which were musicians such as Roberto Carcassés, Descemer Bueno, Yusa, Kelvis Ochoa, among others. Before visiting the study, Roberto Carcassés consulted the proposal, to which he replied: “don't waste your time, that this studio, like others, is already far from what you want to see in your movie ”. When visiting it they were convinced. So much so that they entrusted Scorpio with the recording of the film's soundtrack. 

The next and undoubtedly most important event that conditioned the proliferation and evolution of home studies, was the introduction and development of digital audio workstations (DAW, Digital Audio Workstation). The cost of a computer with enough power to process multiple audio signals, an interface of just a few inputs and a recording-editing software (in many cases acquired without a license), was not comparable even with the price of an ADAT recorder eight tracks, and provided resources that the sound engineer never dreamed of before, except in domestic conditions. 

A pair of speakers and some microphones - not always the ideals, but those that were within the reach of the budget - was all that anyone wanting to record music required to get a study. From then on the amount of them began to grow in unexpected proportions. There were several indicators that differentiated one from the other: the technological level, the conditioning and isolation of the premises and, last but not least, the technical and artistic capacity and level of the sound engineer in charge. 

Currently, the amount of home studios In our city it is incalculable. I will only cite two of the most well-deserved popularity, without this being why those who equally fulfill their role should feel excluded or belittled. As one of the founders commented to me some years ago: “in Cuba the musical flow is so great that there is work for everyone, without interfering with each other"

Miguel Angel Bárzagas (Maykel) founded his MB studio in his house in the neighborhood of Nuevo Vedado in 2004, with the recording of the projects of Manuel Argudín and Ojos de brujo. Its first recording medium was the DAW Protools with Digidesign 001 interface, updated shortly thereafter to the HD system with Avid 192 units, still active alongside the most modern Antelope interfaces with Ultimate version of Protools that it has today. Two rooms and a control booth are the premises that make up the study. It boasts a wide variety of microphones, from the classic Neumann U87, U 67, TLM 170, AKG 451, to the legendary vintage RCA 44 tape microphone. In its control cabin it has a Neve Summing Mixer 5059 mixer, and multiple systems of Monitoring: Genelec 1029, 1031, 4080, and a pair of Audio Unity, as well as high-end preamps such as the Rupert Neve 8801, 4081 and UA 6176. 

Many have been the albums produced in this study that have reached enormous popularity and awards in national and international record competitions and fairs, for the prestige of their engineers Maykel Bárzagas, father and son. Among them are the two Grammy awards for the records Techari of Ojos de Brujo, and Visualize yourself, from Gente de Zona, as well as a nomination in 2014 for the great recording prize for Bailando, album cut Sex and love, by Enrique Iglesias, Gente de Zona and Descemer Bueno.

On the other hand, just seven years after the inauguration, the dBega study has become increasingly popular, although for some it is far from being located in Víbora Park, in the Arroyo Naranjo municipality (although it is only 9 km from the heart of the city). His principal engineer, Carlos de la Vega, his assistant Alejandro Durán, and Maruchi, Carlos's mother, have done an arduous job that has managed to attract numerous artists and producers. After the work sessions, their clients usually verify with satisfaction the veracity of their slogan, "dBega is dB to your music". 

This study has an excellent microphone selection, which includes copies of the firm Neumann (U87, TLM 102, 103), Mojave, AKG (C 414 and C 214), Sennheisser and Audix. Two Warm Audio WA73 preamps (copy of 1073 of Neve) and two WA 412 (copy of the Api 412), a stereo valve IGS of Polish manufacture, UA 4710, Antilope Orion 32 interfaces, a summing mixer Kahayan with 24 SSL 4000 modules, and the DAW Protools in its X version, are its main working tools. Its monitors are Focal Twins 6 B with Subwoofer JL audio. 

He began his sessions with the recording of the Oddara jazz quartet project, which was followed by Bamboleo, Alain Pérez, María del Mar Bonet, and Susana Baca with Algeria Fragoso, among many others. At the beginning the space was limited to two rooms and the control cabin, designed by the engineer Carlos Hevia. In 2019, it was expanded with a third enclosure, designed by engineer Ricardo Suárez, specially designed to house a newly acquired acoustic piano. Perfectly preserved and restored, this 1917 New York Model ¼-tail Steinway & Sons expands the possibilities of the studio, already in the sights of many pianists who plan to record their music on it. 

A detail to highlight, common to most home studies, is that despite the fact that its objective is undeniably commercial, in addition to artistic, much of the income is reinvested in the development of the study itself, in the acquisition of technology tip, which brings as feedback a higher quality of their products, their prestige and with it the demand they acquire. 

Without a doubt, this translates into benefit for our music, which you have found in these little home studios A safe home to grow and develop.

Alfonso Peña Cuban sound engineer with more than 30 years of experience in the Cuban music industry. Your texts and some examples of your professional contributions can be found on his blog More posts

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  1. rafael berlanga says:

    Tremendous! I love this series of articles. Thanks Alfonos Peña!

  2. Argeo says:

    Excellent, in a few lines a complete tour of home studies in Cuba. Bravo!!!!!

  3. Andrei Martinez Agras says:

    Que alegria encontrar este artículo y saber de los grandes que nos inspiraron a ir por este camino!

  4. Maruchi Guerrero says:

    Excelente artículo, gracias por las referencias de Estudio dBega

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