Friday, 3 June 2016

Visit to School of Sound Recording SSR, Manchester

This post is from a 2012 visit to School of Sound Recording (SSR) in Manchester. I first visited SSR in 2008 during a workshop on new features in Pro Tools for the launch of PT 8. Back then it was an industry training academy with no degree programmes. They were quite clear on it: ‘we don’t want any red tape!’ Four years later they had welcomed the red tape (even though you can’t record on it!) because many students want academic credits to show if they spend a year or more studying something. I would want the same thing! SSR has been broadening its appeal in several ways. Currently, I can’t see the name ‘School of Sound Recording’ anywhere strategic on their web-page, and their logo has gotten four new words attached to it: ‘Music, Film, Games, Education.’ Evidently, SSR isn’t just a school of sound recording any more.  But true to their beginnings, the school still offers short courses and industry training. Notably amongst these is an impressive range of Avid Pro Tools certifications.

I was travelling with two Norwegians and we had booked an appointment to see the school, since one of them considered applying. We got a full private tour of the facilities and a long talk with (then) Vice Principal Ian Carmichael. Big thanks to everyone, as we were incredibly well received, and especially to Vicky Batrak (link to her company) who gave us a glimpse of what a student’s life is like at SSR.

Since I first set foot there, I have liked SSR. It has a number of studios spread across three floors. All smaller recording-studios are set up with Soundcraft Ghost consoles. These are easy and intuitive to use, while teaching in-line work-flow. Different Ghost-studios are set up with different tasks in mind: tracking or mixing, compact studio or larger studio with more outboard. Beyond the Ghost-studios we find consoles from Avid, DigiCo, Amek and Neve, plus a live venue with several traditional analogue consoles, a large analogue Midas and an Avid Venue system. The whole building is served by an Avid ISIS shared storage server and the venue has lines running to several of the studios.

SSR has long-standing collaborations with the audio industry and have very close ties with Wigwam. I believe there has also been some donations of gear towards the school from the industry who recognises that it attracts a lot of young talents. In my last post I mentioned how Leeds Beckett University has been teaming up with accrediting body JAMES. SSRs close collaboration with the industry is the traditional way of handling industry-connections in music and sound production. For prospectus students who might wonder, in my opinion there is no need for further validation of SSR Manchester’s various audio-courses as the institute has always been closely woven into the fabric of the industry.

Over the last few years SSR has branched out from Manchester to London, and further on to Asia. As a former resident of Singapore myself, I am really happy to hear they have set up a school there. Another school is set up in Jakarta. Both the Asian campuses are distinctly simpler than the UK campuses, but they provide a valuable addition in a part of the world that has a very short history in educating audio engineers. One of the areas you can specialise in at the Jakarta campus is live sound for ‘Houses of Worship.’ Let me put this into context for you! When I studied Music Technology in Singapore one of my classmates came from Jakarta. His cousin is from Surabaya and was one of my best friends. After Christmas brake I asked my classmate what he had been up to over the holidays. He said he had played at a festival. Ok, festival sounds good I thought! How big? Sixty thousand people, came the calm reply! I was a bit taken aback and later told his cousin. She just went “oh, well… it was just for his Church” (we attended a pretty big Church ourselves). “Just Church” doesn’t make the crowd smaller. Live sound for Houses of Worship in Jakarta makes great sense! Indonesia is also a great place for live music (think: Jakarta Jazz Festival) and has a music scene prominent with funk, RnB and soul.

SSR in Manchester is on my shortlist over great places to do professional courses and industry-training. It sports up-to date and extremely varied facilities for teaching sound engineering for both venue and studio. It also has computer-labs and short courses for certification on DAWs and the likes. I have never studied at SSR myself, but visiting always feels like coming home!


SSR use Soundcraft Ghost consoles in a number of studios.
It is a simple console with good pre-amps that teaches the use of
traditional analogue in-line consoles without too much clutter. Consoles
are set up with patch-bays and a few pieces of nice outboard.

Amek Einstein console. The room is well-stocked with outboard
and has lines running to the live venue and one of the other studios.

Judging from the SSR web-site, it looks like this Control 24 is now
changed to a newer C 24. These are great little consoles for integration
with ProTools and represent a cost-efficient solution for students
eventually setting up their own facilities. The room is set up with
screen and projector.

ICON studio with screen and projector. The current incarnation of
Manchester SSR's ICON studio looks a bit different. It sports both
a stereo and a 5.1 monitoring system.

A room set up with a DigiCo mixer. It has lines to the live venue.
This is a great facility for anyone wanting to record live concerts
or train for working in high-end sound-trucks or modern theatres.
Interestingly, the room also has synthesizers and software for music
production, so this will also work as a place for music-creation.

The Neve studio is said to be 'loosely built on Abbey Road Studio 1.'
It is a desirable recording facility and it has been attempted booked
by the recording industry in Manchester several times. Often they are
turned down, since it would interfere with student-work. This studio
is for training of advanced students.

It is set in a large room where you can record without having to
be separated by a wall of glass. There is an isolation booth
for when separation is needed.

 Venue and Live Sound

DigiDesign Venue

Midas Verona

SSR have several analogue consoles on tables with wheels.

The workstations have HD recorders with multi-track recordings
of performances in them for mixing-practice.

Monitor mix at the side of the stage

Thanks again to everyone we met during our visit for their generosity with time!

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