7 World Famous Recording Studios

Published on 08 July 2024

6 minutes

 

For music fans, a big part of the mythology and storytelling of great albums includes the studios they were recorded in. Fabled locations with enormous mixing desks, cavernous live rooms and squinting engineers all spring to mind when one considers the notion of ‘the recording studio’. 

Back in the day, at least. Nowadays, musicians can record pretty sophisticated music from their homes with only a few pieces of equipment. Big recording studios are becoming more of a rare breed but the legendary places are (mostly) still with us, and are still frequented by the world’s biggest stars.

Today, I’d like to check out a few of these with you, as well as sharing some of the fruits of their efforts, as it were. I’ll attach a track that was recorded at each studio, so you can gain some context to the historical events literally recorded within. 

Is the red ‘record’ light on? Then let’s do this, people: time is money!

 

Contents

Rockfield 

Real World

Electric Lady 

Abbey Road

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio

Historic RCA Studio B 

Shangri-La 

Why Use a Studio? 

 

Rockfield 

Deep in the Welsh mountains lies a studio so legendary that it’s a mark of considerable honour to have driven down the terrifying rural roads to make recordings there. Rockfield Studios is legendary to several generations of music lovers, from hard rockers to madchester fans.

Split into two buildings - the Quadrangle and the Coach House - the studio is rock heaven, having welcomed the likes of Robert Plant, Motorhead, Opeth and Oasis there, as well as being the place where Bohemian Rhapsody was recorded. The relative seclusion of the place helps generate the mystique, though the sterling quality of the work produced there says equally as much. 

It must also be really, really comfy, because the Stone Roses effectively lived there for TWO YEARS whilst recording The Second Coming!

Rockfield can be found in the Wye Valley and is still in operation today.

 

Real World

Located just outside leafy Bath, Real World is the studio that recording studios themselves dream of becoming. Founded and owned by the ever-innovative Peter Gabriel, Real World is an impossibly beautiful and stylish place, plonked in an idyllic space filled with nature, atmosphere and some pretty fantastic vibes. 

There’s glass everywhere, a pond outside and loads of airy space to make a racket. Real World is a great mix of cutting edge tech and zen-garden simplicity, which has proven to be an unbeatable combination.

As well as Pete himself recording there (it would be a bit of a red flag if he didn’t…), Real World’s clients over the years have included Bjork, Jay-Z, Massive Attack, The Dandy Warhols and Tears For Fears.

 

Electric Lady 

What would be cooler than recording in a studio commissioned by Jimi Hendrix himself? Not much! Electric Lady Studios is also in Greenwich Village, one of New York City’s most perennially hip neighbourhoods, so cool points for this particular place go through the roof.

Even though Jimi ultimately only spent a short time there (ten weeks, according to various sources), his studio was considered the best in the area, attracting the likes of David Bowie, Stevie Wonder and Led Zeppelin back in the day. In more recent times, artists such as U2 and Taylor Swift have recorded at Electric Lady, and US indie band Bleachers even shot a video - featuring Bruce Sprngsteen - up on the roof of the studio for their song Chinatown.

 

Abbey Road

When it gets to the point where The Beatles are naming an album after your studio (or the road it’s on, I’ll concede), you’ve comfortably entered ‘legendary’ status. 

Abbey Road studios caters for a wide range of recording situations, from full-on orchestras playing movie and videogame scores to highly experimental contemporary music. It’s a must-walk-past part of London for any music fan, and yes, you will have to reenact the front cover of the Abbey Road album if you have three friends with you (the scene is directly outside the studios front door).

Abbey Road studios, located in the Westminster area of London, is actually nearly a century old, having started out in 1931. It has been owned by EMI, Universal and Warner, and whilst the most obvious association is of course with The Beatles, artists such as Pink Floyd, Kate Bush, Kanye West, The Shadows and Lady Gaga have recorded there, too.

 

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio

Muscle Shoals is a city in Alabama, and the studio on Jackson Highway has been a revered destination since 1969. Started by a group of elite session players, Muscle Shoals was instrumental (pardon the pun) in the development of R’n’B music, and was also used by Cher, Paul Simon and the Rolling Stones throughout the 1970s.

The business moved away from its original location (which was previously a coffin salesroom!!) in the late 70s, but was restored and reopened in 2017 as both a visitor attraction and, in the evenings, a working studio. For authentic deep soul vibes, no other studio can compete!

 

 

Historic RCA Studio B 

Another famous studio that operates as much as an attraction these days is Historic RCA Studio B in Nashville. It’s a sort of living museum with galleries and tours running throughout the day, but musicians can still hire the ‘Home of 1000 Hits’ to record in. 

Famous user Elvis Presley’s two ‘mood’ lights are still there in the studio to be used, too: red for uptempo songs and blue for slower numbers. Just imagine!

In addition to The King, RCA Studio B has been a temporary home to such luminaries as Waylon Jennings and Dolly Parton, as well as more contemporary artists like Amanda Shires. In a city full of studios, RCA Studio B holds a special appeal.

 

Shangri-La 

Nestled amongst Malibu’s film star seaside mansions lies Shangri-La ranch. Nowadays owned by Rick Rubin, Shangri-La was originally built by actress Margo in 1958 as a working ranch and, how to put it…bordello for Hollywood types before Canadian roots rockers The Band rented the place in 1974 and turned it into a studio (all of the interview snippets from The Last Waltz were filmed in Shangri-La).

Since then, it’s been a little slice of coastal LA heaven for all of the bands who’ve recorded there. Rubin has owned the place since 2011, and has hosted such notables as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Sabbath, Lana Del Rey, Mark Knopfler, Depeche Mode and a great many more. 

 

 

Why Use a Studio? 

Today, it’s tempting to write-off the whole idea of paying for a professional studio. When technology - and, importantly, tuition - is so affordable and available these days, what really are the benefits to going into a studio?

Well, those benefits depend on your expectations, but being sequestered away in a fresh place, filled with great equipment and knowledgeable staff, may just be the creative atmosphere you need to focus in and produce your best work. You’ll be outside your regular day-to-day life, and surrounded by not only an environment that’s developed specifically for achieving good recordings, but by that whole feeling of ‘difference’. Some thrive on this, and others find that it becomes a pressuring situation.

For things like recording live drums and mixing, studios can often out-perform what’s possible on a home setup. As with all things though, the equipment and rooms are only as effective as the people using them. History remembers some of these great studios thanks to the music that was made there, but it was the musicians, engineers and producers who ultimately made the magic happen! There’s a lot to be said for location, atmosphere and vibe when it comes to being creative, though. I’d certainly not discount that when considering the overall experience of using a pro studio.

And yeah, I’d take a fortnight in Shangri-La for sure…



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Ray

Features Editor

I'm a musician and artist originally from the South West coast of Scotland. I studied Visual Arts and Film Studies at...

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