Empire Music Studios started as Studio 52 back in 1986 at Collingwood.
Studio 52 spent almost 35 years at 23-25 Johnston St, Collingwood until the building was demolished to make way for new apartments. The original co-songwriters and business partners pictured below, Trevor Carter (L) and Paul HIggins (R) are still working together and head up the new Empire Studios facility. For more information contact Paul on 0412-686-252.
Small Beginnings – 8 track and then 16 track reel to reel
In 1982 Trevor Carter & Paul Higgins (still the current studio directors) met while working for the same company and quickly realised a mutual interest in a lot of music and bands that no one else seemed to know about. Trevor had a history as a guitarist working and recording with a number of bands in Adelaide & Melbourne and Paul had played keyboards in a Jazz Fusion group in Melbourne called Fly By Night. They started to write music together using a simple Teac reel to reel 4 track, a Boss drum machine a DX7 and a JP8 at Trevor’s Doncaster flat. Before long Paul moved to work for companies like Yamaha Music and Teac Australia with access to more and more gear at attractive staff prices and so the addiction to technology and music production took off.
Paul & Trevor then rented a house in Murrumbeena and set up a home studio to write and record. They moved up to a Tascam 8 track reel to reel and console and started collectively buying microphones, digital FX units which had just started to come on to the market, the early samplers and so on. Before long they had put a band together called Small Talk and had moved up to a Tascam 16 track 1” recorder and M520 desk. With a ridiculously low budget of $12,000 loaned capital they started looking for a building to set up a recording space that could be used for the band and ‘be hired out ocassionly to pay the rent’ – what a fool notion that turned out to be!
The whole building process took over and budgets were well and truly out the window, the band split due to lack of time as PH & TC were busy juggling day jobs and the building of the studio in every spare minute. So for every songwriter who dreams of owning their own home studio remember to keep things in perspective, its a lot cheaper to rent a studio on a regular basis than to own one. There is always one extra piece of equipment that you must have and once you have it you spend all your time learning how to use it and make it work in your system. There has not been one single month in the entire history of Studio 52 that money has not been re-invested into the business, not out of vanity to be the biggest or the best, but to stay relevant and up to date. Studios absorb money like a sponge to water.
Studio 52 started out as a home studio with no intention of being a professional business but has become one of the biggest music studios in Australia. It has only been in recent years that Trevor has been able to return to his major love of writing songs and now writes for and produces other artists and projects. Paul is yet to find time to return to songwriting or being a musician, infact these days is probably a better builder after so many renovations and studio builds. The great thing over the years however has been the opportunity to work with so many other fine musicians and songwriters and to have made a living working in music. Paul and Trevor are still passionate about the Australian music scene and are dedicated in encouraging artists to develop their skills, chase their dreams and to reach world class standards. But above all to enjoy music!
It all started in 1986
Studio 52 started in Collingwood in 1986 as a single 16 track studio at the ground level of 23 Johnston Street where studio A now stands. Paul Higgins and Trevor Carter built the first studio by hand with some help from friends. The original small control room was where the current studio A drum booth now stands. It wasn’t till 1996 that the studio underwent a major rebuild which included building the current control room and studio refit. Its hard to imagine now that a room comfortable for a drummer used to hold a huge mixing desk, a 24 track recorder, racks of gear and stacks of people listening all at once with hardly any oxygen supply. With only a small airconditioner it wasn’t only the long days that made people feel tired & sleepy. These days there are so many air systems throughout the building that there is a regular service contractor just to keep all the filters clean.
During these years, Paul Higgins was the main engineer and recorded hundreds of demos along with albums for Dutch Tilders and the Blues Club, Tunari, heaps of Jazz, early compilations including 52 Pickup Vol1 & 2, Nu-Music Sampler Series 1 & 2 and a tide of independent singles & Eps including bands like ‘Bitter Tears’, Adam Johnstone’s ‘43 Beans’, Peter Frawley’s ‘Industry’, Bachelor Party, Leningrad, Chris Scallin’s ‘Rhythm Pigs’, Stevo’s precursor to Area 7 and many more. 52 Pickup Vol 2 was the first release by the studio on the new CD format and was launched at the Club in Smith Street. The album featured acts like ‘Winterset’, ‘The Joyce Brothers’, ‘The Rescue’ and Steve Kirtland’s ‘Rule of Nines’. The studio’s aims were probably 10 years too soon as the desire was to promote a mixture of soloists and bands with the express goal of lifting them, in a production sense, to appeal to the mainstream radio market. The era of Indy was upon us and the studio was slagged by many independents for ‘trying to be commercial’ and having too much involvement in the music. Everyone had given up on the idea of getting played on Triple M or selling records thru a major record deal, the new era of independent radio and indy releases was here. In response, Studio 52 started the Nu-Music Series as a service to enable bands to get their first track on a CD release. The studio let any serious young band be part of the series and avoided having too much production involvement, this again led to a mixture of both positive and negative feedback.
In the music business you’re both damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Overall the series was a huge success as it gained a lot of support from bands, community radio including Triple R and 3PBS as well as a lot of street press. Many bands gained coverage, gigs and airplay and many used the series as a stepping stone to further recordings. Bands included ‘The Ergot Derivative’, ‘Fridge’, ‘Dekonstrukt’, ‘Barry Plankton’, Todd Angus’s early band the ‘Cenobytes’, ‘Snog’, ‘Heaven Help Us’, Adam Johnstone’s ‘43 Beans’, Peter Frawley’s ‘Dive’, Darrell Bassett’s ‘Little Seeds of Doom’, Kelly Auty, ‘The Caplights’, ‘Gentle Persuasion’, ‘Fibro House’, ‘Slaves of Cool’, ‘Inner City Cave Dwellers’, ‘Hydrosaurus’, ‘Look Mum No Hands’, ‘The Jaynes’, ‘Dream Poppies’, ‘Jackslam’, ’Indian’, Suzi McCarter, ‘Motorvators’, ‘Tonnic’, ‘Ikon’, ‘Primary Colours’, Mark Emberg, ‘Banista’, ‘The Simpletons’, ‘Happy Gas Stare’, Kasey Chambers first original release with the ‘Dead Ringers’, ‘Miray’, ‘Epicure’, Julie O’Hara, ‘Requiem’, “Ruby Fruit jungle’ and many many more.
The CD launches were very innovative at the time. Every 3 months or so a new series would be released featuring up to 19 bands performing on the same night at up to 5 major venues with a shuttle bus ferrying punters between all the venues for free. Everyone who came to the gigs got a free CD compilation as well. Regular venues involved included the historic Punters Club, The Tote, The Sarah Sands, The Richmond Club, The Prince Patrick Hotel & The Espy.
In the early stages of Nu-Music the studio released a specific Heavy Metal compilation named ‘While My Guitar Gently Kills Your Mother’. What a great title and the fun we had tying one of the band’s mothers up in leather & chains and then surrounding her in Marshall amps for the front cover photoshoot still makes us laugh thinking back. The CD featured great bands like ‘Spontaneous Human Combustion’, ‘Hyperion’, ‘Witches Hex’, ‘Frozen Doberman’, ‘Taramis’ and Perth bands ‘Botticelli’s Angel’, ‘SFD’ and ‘Allegiance’. The biggest launch for the album took place in Perth at Club Atlantis were about 1000 kids converged on the venue to grab the free CD and then moshed all night to the 3 bands.
Another great compilation series was spawned as part of the Nu-Music series in 1991, this was named ‘Real Australian Blues’. Not only a critical success but also quite successful in the shops as the first two volumes were distributed by Shock Records. These days the series is released & distributed by Empire Records. Volume 5 is about to be completed and will complete what has become the only proper archive collection of important original Australian Blues artists through the late 20th Century. The series played a big role in increasing the quality of Australian Blues recordings and strongly focused public attention on Australian Blues. ‘Real Australian Blues’ has also played a big part in launching careers and helping to establish new artists. Many acts got their first release as part of this series including Geoff Achison, Andy Cowan, Lil Fi, Howlin Time, Matt Walker, Kelly Auty, Marco Goldsmith’s Blue Heat, Peter Gelling, Jenny Marie Lang, Collard Greens & Gravy, Blind Dog & the Reverend & Lil Kenny Sutherland to name the main one’s that come to mind. To purchase the series go to www.empirerecords.com.au
1991 the Big Step! 24 track 2″ tape.
Up until 1991, Paul Higgins was the only full time person at 52, acting as engineer and manager. Trevor had kept his day job until the workload of the studio was too great. He quit his well paying job to come in fulltime. At the same time the studio took delivery of the new Soundtracs Inline console, upgraded to a 24 track 2” recorder and ambitiously took over the first floor, 23-25a Johnston Street. This was the start of constant building and renovations. At first, rehearsal studios were built but these were later to be modified and converted to become studio B. Further acoustic treatment and upgrades took place along with a steady upgrade of equipment. The other parts of the first floor were used to build the current offices, kitchen and the pool room.
The rear upstairs warehouse area at 23-25b was taken over at around 1997 and was used to house Empire Records which had outgrown the other offices. It wasn’t till late 2000 that the warehouse area was again modified and by August 2001 studio C was complete and running. As the last piece of the whole complex, studio C was designed to be a multi-purpose space. Unlike the other two studios it was never built for recording bands or acoustic projects, it was designed for solo artists, vocals, interviews and spoken word work and had the optional use as a photography and video studio complete with professional lighting. The control room was designed as a modern production space with three zones – programming, hard disk recording/editing and mixing. The control room and studio can be curtained off and run almost completely separate from each other.
Studio 52 has always been pro-active in creating projects and promotions to help all kinds of emerging acts gain profile and experience. ‘52 Pickup’ vol 1 & 2 , the ‘Nu-Music Samplers Series 1-13’. In 1991 the Real Australian Blues series was started and is still in production today. But the biggest success by far has been the ‘Kool Skools Recording & Multimedia Project’ which was initiated by Studio 52 in 1996 and is now coordinated nationally with studios subcontracted in each state. Each year about 500 school age bands get to record there own CD in a major studio. Approx. 30,000 CD’s are manufactured annually to support this project alone. Through the photo gallery you will find an assortment of photos from these projects as well. Connected with these CD releases and projects there has been dozens of launches, parties and major showcases.
Over the years, Studio 52 has helped thousands of bands starting out and has been a major influence in many artists getting early breaks, gigs and airplay. The studio has also personally been involved with a number of individual acts, investing and developing at different stages. Many of these acts have have tasted a range of successes, some have gone on to make a living releasing music independently and some have gone on to be signed to major labels. What ever the result, Studio 52 has been driven by a general dedication to the music and a desire to help artists reach their personal goals regardless of music genre. At the end of the day recording is a people business as much as a technical pursuit, working with creative people you get to respect there motivations & aspirations as much as their musical & songwriting skills.
30 years on, Studio 52 had multiple studios and other facilities available as shown in this brochure from 2015. 2015 studio 52 brochure (PDF) The Collingwood based studios continued until 2019 when in November they were closed due to the closure of the building as it was being demolished to make way for a new apartment development. New studios in Heidelberg West had been in construction during the previous year so as Collingwood closed the first studio at Northern Rd opened. Since then the further phase of construction has been completed and a whole new chapter of recording has began and the studios have been updated to the company name of Empire Music Studios.
2019/2020 The move to Heidelberg West
The move to Heidelberg West, just in time for Covid and the loss of an entire year’s work!