The studio has long been more than simply an acoustically pleasing environment in which to capture and document a particular live performance. Under the guiding production hand of George Martin, the Beatles embraced studio technology as part of the creative process. The work of bands like Pink Floyd with Alan Parsons elevated studio engineering and production technique to an art form.
Although there have been major advances in studio technology, particularly in relation to the place of computer-processing power and digital audio, the essential principles of a recording studio remain relatively unchanged.
A typical recording studio comprises two main spaces – the recording area (or "live" room) and the control room. It is common for the control room to be adjacent to the live area, with line-of-sight communication between the spaces provided by a glass window. Commercial recording facilities will invest a good deal of money in the design and construction of the building to ensure that, as far as possible, the studio spaces are soundproofed. Triple-glazing, double doors and suspended, room-within-room construction all help to ensure that the studio environment is sonically isolated from the outside world. An ancillary space, (known as the machine room) houses items of equipment such as tape machines and computers, the noise from which might disrupt the listening environment.
The live room
The live room is where the musicians perform, their sound captured by an array of microphones. The selection and placement of these is a science in its own right. Headphones or foldback speakers enable the musicians to hear themselves, each other and previously recorded material. Drums kits are often isolated behind screens and singers occupy vocal booths in order to assist the engineer capture each part as cleanly as possible and subsequently apply different treatments to each element of the arrangement.
Fashions in studio design come and go. In the 1970s there was a tendency to dampen the sound in studios with carpets and walls covered in fabric. The theory was that 'live-ness' and reverberation could be artificially – and therefore controllably – added later. Contemporary studio design favors a more natural, brighter sound, with materials like wood, stone and glass used throughout.
The control room
The control room is the domain of the recording engineer and the producer. The recorded sound is captured to a multitrack recording format - tape, digital tape or, more commonly now, computer hard disk.
The music is monitored and played back over high-quality loudspeakers. Everything in the control room is geared to ensuring that the listening environment is as accurate as possible. The engineer needs to be able to hear a balanced stereo or surround-sound image with very detailed sound, The shape of the room and the acoustic treatments on the walls, floor and ceiling are all designed to reduce unwanted reflections and booming bass.
The control room is centered around the mixing console, through which all signals are routed. At the mixer, the engineer can control the relative levels of different sounds; position sounds within the stereo (or surround) field and apply effects.
Racks of additional equipment house various sound processing devices, such as delays and reverb units, the creative application of which play an important part in the recording process.