A musician’s guide to Cairo's rehearsal and recording studios

A musician’s guide to Cairo's rehearsal and recording studios

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Thu, 30/06/2011 - 12:07

There are a number of professional recording and rehearsal studios available in Greater Cairo. Rehearsal studios, while fewer in number, do provide an essential service to a wide spectrum of musicians. Instead of “jamming” with your band mates in your cellar or apartment without the insulation of soundproofed walls, and ending up with your neighbors pounding and shouting at your door because they can't work or sleep, you can always book one of the following rehearsal studios.

All of these studios are, in fact, apartments, which have been painstakingly soundproofed. If you decide to go, you’ll find yourself walking through double sets of thick doors into studios’ rehearsal rooms, which are insulated with layered wooden walls filled with mineral wool, sound proofing mats, and other noise reduction materials.

When booking, keep in mind that lots of other bands and performers are looking for any available timeslots in order to rehearse or record. Also, keep in mind that if you do book a timeslot, then the studio managers expect payment even if you don’t show up. If you are going to cancel a timeslot you have booked, remember to do several hours, if not days, in advance so that other musicians make use of your timeslot, and so that the studio’s staff doesn’t end up losing money.

In general, studios have a policy of “You break it, you buy it” unless the respective equipment was clearly falling apart before you got to it. The studios listed below are somewhat selective as to who they let play. If, for example, you're a member of a death metal band that brutally punishes the equipment, a punk rock act that trashes studios, or wannabe musicians that merely experiment with instruments and equipment, then you may be kept on endlessly long waiting lists, openly told not to return, or prevented from ever booking at the place again.

The following five studios are not the only around Cairo, but they’re among the most noteworthy:

Ganoub was established in 1998 as a single room studio. As of April 2009 it has been equipped with a brand new specialized recording booth for drums and other instruments. The booth has rendered Ganoub a bit more crowded, with less seating space, but it’s the workspace that really matters in studios. This studio has a cozy homey atmosphere and outstanding acoustics. It costs LE35 per hour for rehearsal sessions. Ganoub is equipped with a 16 channel mixer, Ludwig drums, Sabian cymbals, along with well-maintained Marshall guitar and bass amps. It also offers a fine Washburn bass guitar for rent at only LE10 per session - not per hour. Well experienced studio staff take charge of recording, which costs LE150 per hour, and involves the use of Pro-Tools recording software. Your finished multi-tracked recordings are all given to you on a CD. The demand for timeslots on Ganoub’s schedule is quite high, so you may have to book several days in advance.

Working hours: weeklong from 1 pm to 2 am

9 Seif al-Din Barqouq Street, Nasr City (near Genena Mall)

Telephone number: 2405 4383

Maqam is another single room studio. Established in 2006, Maqam is only a few blocks away from Ganoub. After getting to a shaky start, Maqam has been revamped, rewired, and re-equipped. In place of the mic-stands that kept falling over, the studio is now equipped with specialized vocal and drum mics hanging down from the ceiling, and a surround-sound system for vocalists’ mics with four speakers spotted around the room: one midrange and one high-range speaker plus two main powered speakers. The new and improved Maqam is furnished with musical décor along with a red and dark blue colored interior.

It costs LE30 per hour to rehearse at Maqam. A wide array of instruments is offered for rent at LE10 per hour. It’s equipped with a 24 channel mixer, a Premier drum set, Remo drum heads, and Sabian and Zildjian cymbals. There are also electric guitar and Behringer bass amplifiers available for use in the rehearsal room.

It costs LE80 per hour to record using live takes or multi-tracking. Ask for the presence of the studio manager when recording, since he's the one most familiar with using the hardware along with filters and compressors, as well as recording software (Pro-tools M-Powered). Final recordings are burned onto a CD and given to the customer.

Depending upon demand, the studio may operate 24/7.

12 Hatem al-Tai’i Street, off Abbass al-Akkad Street, Nasr City

Land line: 2263-3511         Cell phone: 010-107-2278

Salvation Link is a single room studio that is distinguished by its team of certified, dedicated and well experienced sound-engineers and technicians. It was established in 2007 and provides a comfortable workspace, furnished with grey carpeting and studio-foam pyramids fixed along the walls. While Salvation Link serves as both a rehearsal and recording studio, the recording of demo tracks/albums is their specialty, and they do it quite well.

It costs LE50 per hour for jamming sessions and LE120 for recording. The folks who work there are experts in using Pro-Tools recording software, and their studio is equipped with racks of hardware, filters, limiters, and compressors, which make for a more professional sounding CD. Using high quality specialized microphones, the studio staff records the drums on six different tracks (bass drum, snare, high tom, low tom, floor tom, high hat and cymbals). Specialized professional microphones, fitted with filters, are also used for recording vocal tracks.

Salvation Link boasts a 32 channel mixer, Tama drum set, Zildjian cymbals, Evans drum heads, a Roland Jazz guitar amp, and Yorkville bass guitar amp. This studio is characterized by its excellent sound-proofing and acoustics; the overall output/sound is really impressive. Given that Salvation Link is more of a recording studio than anything else, it does not rent musical instruments. What really matters here, however, is that the studio equipment is properly maintained and set up, offering a very clear sound. The studio staff is generally cooperative and they provide insightful advice on layering tracks, panning, using effects, etc. A basic understanding of Pro-Tools or similar recording programs is useful for guiding the sound-engineers as to the exact sounds required.

The studies hours are flexible and depend on demand.

Villa 6 El Qamar Street, near Baron Palace, Heliopolis

Land line: 012-724-2401

Studio 32, with its double rooms, was established in 2003 and is a generally fine-sounding place. It has a mid-sized rehearsal room which can be rented at LE35 per hour, and a big room which costs LE45 per hour. Each of these rooms is equipped with a 16 channel mixer. The small room has a Premier drum set, while the big one boasts a Tama set; both are fitted with Remo heads and Sabian cymbals. Each room is also equipped with a Behringer bass amp, and a Roland guitar amp. Musicians can rent the studio’s bass or Fender electric guitars at LE20 per hour. In 2008, Studio 32 began offering multi-track recording services for LE130 per hour; experienced technicians use Pro-Tools software to record demo tracks. Uniquely, this studio has a display case stocked with guitar picks, strings, straps, drum sticks, and multi-effect pedals/boards for sale; they even sell electric guitars and basses (Jackson, Dean, and Ibanez among others).

Working hours: Saturdays through Thursdays from 12 pm to 2 am and from 2 pm to 2 am on Fridays

32 Jeddah Street, 1st floor, Mohandesin

Phone number: 3749-3299

Double Vision is a studio with three rooms, connected by a long winding corridor. Only two of these rooms, however, are usually functional. Established in 1996, Double Vision was the first and largest rehearsal studio in Cairo. It has plenty of seating space outside the studio rooms and sufficient work space within the smaller room. It costs LE25 per hour to rent the small room, which is equipped with an eight channel mixer, and LE35 per hour for the large room, which has a 24 channel mixer. Double Vision is an exclusively jamming studio; it does not offer recording services except for the use of an old cassette tape recorder with a built-in mic. This studio also does not rent any musical instruments. Keep in mind that Double Vision is usually short on shields/instrument cables, so don’t forget to bring your own.

Double Vision used to be the most sought-after studio. It was a state of the art rehearsal studio equipped with fine-sounding Marshall guitar amps and Peavey bass amps. Unfortunately, the studio equipment has deteriorated with the bass amps now sounding scratchy and frequently producing crackling sounds. During some sessions, drummers have had to play on cracked Zildjian and Paiste cymbals, along with squeaky bass-drum pedals. Hopefully Double Vision will bounce back to its original grandeur.

Working hours: Everyday from 12:30 pm to 2 am

30B Ahmad Mokhtar Hegazi Street, off Mathaf al-Manial Street, al-Manial

Phone number: 2362-8276

Numerous studio owners have expressed interest in turning their rehearsal studios into recording ones, primarily because the latter are more profitable. A number of rehearsal studios, such as the Fox Studio in Nasr City, already have. Fox Studio is now used exclusively for recordings. However, with the marked increase in the number of local bands and performers, the demand for rehearsal studios is on the rise. There aren’t that many rehearsal studios in Cairo, so as musicians, let’s do our part in keeping these spaces available, and hope that studio owners do their part in keeping them sustainable.