"We were looking for that punch and clarity that we couldn't find anywhere else. The desk has brought that to us."
Michael Bannister and Ross Hamilton started Glasgow's Rocket Science Recording Studios in August 2010. Located on the West side of Glasgow, the studio's clients are spoilt for space with the large control room and three live rooms. "Originally we just opened it up for ourselves," says Bannister. "It was somewhere to put our gear and somewhere to work on our own music. But within the first two weeks someone phoned up and asked to book in! It has grown steadily ever since.
"We try not to grow too fast. We've seen lots of studios in Glasgow pop up, get loads of gear, then in a year they've gone again. We've concentrated on choice bits of gear by researching what exactly it is we need - what will push us up to the next level. We started with monitors, then waited a while and got some outboard, and so on. The last things we got were great convertors and now the desk... Though now we're thinking it's a shame we left the desk until the end!
Prior to purchasing the XL-Desk, Rocket Science had been replying on a more basic summing mixer. According to Bannister, a big part of their deliberations was whether the SSL could really make a difference to the existing signal path. "It has made a massive difference," he notes. "…We were looking for that punch and clarity that we couldn't find anywhere else. The desk has brought that to us. The built-in Mix Bus Compressor has been a big thing - it does something special, to bring a commercial sound to the music - especially that version of it with the high-pass filter sidechain... The bottom end that we've been getting is so different from the bottom end we were getting before...
"It's also sped up our workflow. We have to do a lot less in Pro Tools now. We've noticed we're using fewer plug-ins and actually think we were compensating for the summing bus we had before, with more plug-ins. With the SSL we don’t have to do that. Even when we recall old sessions through it, there's an immediate jump in quality, which is fantastic."
The SSL XL-Desk has an 18-slot 500 format rack built-in, accessible from channels or mix busses. The Rocket Science console's rack is populated entirely with SSL's 500 format E-Series EQ - an easy way for the studio to make a big jump. "We've got quite a lot of outboard," explains Bannister, "But probably the one thing we were lacking was outboard EQ. Obviously many people have had these EQs as plug-ins, but when you get the real one the difference is incredible."
Hamilton and Bannister have kept to the original summing arrangement for the most part, but have also started to explore some of the flexibility that XL-Desk can bring to that role. "We use the first eight channels, which have the VHD preamps, for tracking, and we use 9 to 24 for summing the returns.
"We've been using flexible Mix A, B, C, and D busses as well, taking advantage of their routing capabilities… Around about the same time we bought the SSL we also got an outboard stereo compressor so, spoilt for choice - as you get the SSL Stereo Bus Compressor on the Mix A bus of XL-Desk - we've been experimenting with putting the outboard compression, set to a crazy, heavy compression, strapped over the Mix B bus."
Putting their discerning approach to technology to one side for a moment, it’s Bannister and Hamilton's wide range of talents - engineering, song writing, producing, and playing – that give Rocket Science a unique edge.
The pair have even put their skills to use on more than just straight music recording and mixing, having completed a number of high-profile advertising projects and broadcast mix projects: "We're lucky," says Bannister. "People come to us because they want us to play on stuff and produce more than anything. We don't get many people just wanting to record.... Quite a lot of our clients are individuals; so Ross and I, between the two of us, track everything and do a lot for them... But the SSL does make a big difference - even people who don't know about music, know about SSL.”