By now a lot of you have checked out the Design for You contest page. Have you noticed the music that plays with the Behind the Scenes video? That’s Portland-based Mnemonic Sounds.”For the video featuring the five artists painting chairs, I think the song Lonely Heart works so well because it provides a sense of enthusiasm and excitement about the artists while providing a modern electronic sound to pair with a sleek clean artist/furniture visual video,” says Peter Suk, who along with Megan Ouchida, are the driving force behind Mnemonic Sounds. I talked to them about their new CD and the ins and outs of working from a home studio.
How long have you both worked from home? And where is home? We are two members of the band Mnemonic Sounds, a Portland based electronic-indie-pop band. Megan and I both work from our respective homes but did most of our writing, recording, and producing at my home studio located in the heart of the downtown Portland in a neighborhood known as Nob Hill.
Megan and I are both working musicians, fresh off of recording our debut album together, entitled Muscle Memories. We worked on this album in my upstairs home studio space for the last year and half.
Describe your style? How would you define your aesthetic? With the challenge of having to record live instruments and vocals within a room not really designed for sonic clarity, it took some imagination and cleverness on our part to turn a loft like room with lots of windows and a tin roof overhead into a space in which we could come away with quality, clear recordings. Since our music contains quite a bit of electronic instrumentation with synthesizer bass sounds, keyboards, and drum samples, the real challenges came when we had to record live vocals or guitars in such an open space. Since the area is so open and hardly insulated, we ended up using the corridors that divide the open loft-like space into 3 different sections to funnel and in essence create an isolation booth in which we could record. What the loft space did offer was a vibrant, well-lit space that let in a great deal of natural sunlight which made recording much more of a pleasurable undertaking; a stark contrast to most recording spaces that require no windows and are usually sealed tight.
As musicians how do you keep your studio organized? I’m thinking here of the physical space but also your computer. Are there any particular programs you find really useful? It can easily become an indistinguishable tangle of cords and more cords when trying to keep a home studio organized and running. In general, we would label and organize all the various types of chords and instruments on hooks in columns to keep them separate and identifiable. Same with the instruments – all in their right place. Often times, recording requires quick changes to the physical setup and a creative moment can get away from you quickly if you don’t have the instruments and cables and hardware set up in a clear fashion.
Program wise, we recorded Muscle Memories on software called Pro Tools, a fairly standardized software for the recording industry. Additionally we also used Reason, Ableton Live and even Garage Band which are all different types of software for recording and editing music.
As a producer of other artist’s music, I worked primarily from this home recording space on my MacBook Pro with the above mentioned software to record and produce various local artist’s in Portland. Last year I simultaneously recorded two other CD recording projects in the home studio.
When you were setting up the studio what did you have to keep in mind? Designing a recording studio space in a space normally designed for a living room posed quite a few challenges. Mainly we had to utilize our space in such a manner that allowed us to divide an open area into separate rooms so that the sound coming from the windows and from the engine hum of the computer and all the other recording hardware would not be audible in the space in which we set up microphones to record an electric guitar or a vocal.
For example we would use the sliding pantry door, a bathroom door and a cabinet, along with some blankets to create an makeshift isolation booth.
More often than not, the space would require patience on our part as frequently, birds would sit on our roof and chirp for a half hour at a time, or someone mowing their lawn a block away would be picked up by a vocal mic.
What would you change about your workspace? The home studio is a pretty open space, which gave a nice room amibiance to a lot of the instruments we were recording (ie guitar), but when it came time to record vocals, we had to get creative. Peter had me perched on a bar stool with a microphone enclosed in the kitchen’s food pantry. I became very comfortable with his pantry over time but I suppose if I were to change anything about our workspace, our workspace would include a vocal booth. Double pane windows that still maintained the view would have been nice as well.
What do you most love about your space? At the risk of being redundant, the windows and the great view were really motivating and inspiring especially when you spend ten hour days in the same room as each other and begin to lose sense of time. When it’s dark out, it’s time for a drink!
What inspires you? Megan: I am inspired by artists who can create something beautiful out of nothing. Peter: I am inspired by fellow artists who are able to have a clear vision of something they would like to create while having the drive and discipline to see it through to the finished product. The creative turned into pragmatic turned into art. The most inspiring part is when you are able to share your art with someone who can find something in your art that is relatable and invokes a genuine response.
Images: Portrait of Megan Ouchida and Peter Suk by Lindsey Byrnes.