Below is an article about Len and Bedside taken from the June 2013 issue of PROFESSIONAL SOUND magazine (page 27), by Tony Altomare. Photos by James Forsman.
Over 30 years ago Len Milne began his career in the recording industry laying down original guitar tracks on a small tape deck in a dark basement. Now a seasoned veteran in his field, Milne grew weary of performing in cover bands and began experimenting with his own recordings, which eventually led him to his calling.
"I was probably 16 or 17 years old, and I had a couple of tape decks. I was just bouncing stuff back and forth with guitar ideas," recounts Milne. "By the time I was 22, I started getting into reel-to-reel machines, bought a board for it, and, by that point, I started getting clients."
From That point on, Milne became heavily immersed in his craft. Buying and selling equipment led the engineer to set up shop in a home studio and begin to record local talent. Two decades and four locations later, Milne, sole owner and main engineer at Bedside Studios, finds himself amoung the elite studios that comprise the core of the recording industry in Winnipeg.
Although there are hundreds of private recording studios in the province, Milne says that Bedside Studios is the only studio of its size that operates in an independently owned commercial space. "At the time I built the studio, there were no big rooms in the city. There were three studios being built at the same time, and this is actually the only studio of this size that is actually owned and not leased. So the building is mine to pick at. Anything I want to do in here I can, as long as I keep in mind the city building codes," jokes Milne.
The freedom that comes with working in his private studio has helped him to create one of the most popular and unique locations where Manitoba musicians can record. With a proven track record that includes three JUNO nominations and five Western Canadian Music Awards, Milne continues to produce quality recordings that keep clientele coming back yo Bedside.
Now occupying its fourth and presumably final location, Bedside Studios has settled into a more permanent and impressive home. Prior to Bedside taking up residence, the building once functioned as a dance and social hall. With approximately 5,000 sq. ft. of space to work with, the studio is a large step up from the last incarnation.
Having spent the majority of its existence in various basements, Bedside's new commercial location provided the space for Milne to finally implement his own design ideas. One major change for Milne was the sheer size of the new building. "Our last studio was a home studio in a basement," Milne explains. "The (current) control itself is probably about the size of our home studio. There might have been 400 or 500 sq. ft. combined between the control room and the playing area."
Working with Scott Pinder, owner of Polyphonic Mastering Labs and carpenter by day, Milne set about doing most of the design and construction on the new space firsthand.
"The building dictates what you can do and what you can't," shares Milne. "Some of the ideas were shot down based on what we could actually achieve in the building."
Because the facility was originally designed as a dance hall, the main performance room is a free-spanned area, unobstructed by support beams, which could've affected the room's acoustic properties.
Milne also incorporated some features of the old building into the current studio by choosing to keep the original stage intact for use in the control room, which offers a unique perspective for engineers.
"It just looked cool to have that much of a height for any of the producers to sit at the back and see down into the playing area." says Milne. The control room is comprised of a spacious 420 sq. ft. The use of the original stage helps to provide a raised separation between a lounge area and the recording gear, rather than have the two intertwined in one room.
As far as the dimensions of the live room go, Milne says it is difficult to narrow it down to exact measurements because of the many "weird angles" it contains.
Both the control room and playing area are covered by 80 percent cedar, Milne's wood of choice which contributes to the signature sound of the room. "It's a soft wood and you get not so fast of a reflection, but still some, which helps to dampen the room. Also, if you've ever been in a room with cedar, you know it smells good too," says Milne, laughing. "Everybody says it smells like a sauna in here. You're in the middle of the city but it's like you're out at the cabin."
the 1,020 sq. ft. playing area is one massive free spanned room, which Milne believes to be the reason that so many musicians specifically seek out Bedside. "There have been quite a few different freelance producers and engineers that have come here just for the drum sound," says Milne. "It's such an open, ambient room that is also well defused."
Milne attributes the tonal qualities of the room to the lack of parallel surfaces present, both vertically and horizontally. Details in the planning for the room even involved installing the ductwork at an angle to try and break up the sound on the 12-ft. ceilings. The result was a very open and ambient-sounding playing area.
"You can put a mic almost anywhere and it will sound good in this room," says Milne. "I've had quite a few engineers say the same thing."
Because of the ambience of the room, Milne says he prefers recording lve off the floor - a sentiment that most of his clients share with him. "The main thing that a lot of people are attracted to here is the fact that live-off-the-floor recordings are done here all the time and they always sound really, really good."
In addition to the first floor recording studio, there is also an isolation booth for applications that call for one. The lower level of the studio houses cabinets for Milne to use for amplifiers and, possibly in the future, a larger isolation booth in order to capture more of the room's natural ambiance.
To the people of Winnipeg, he's known as the "Analog Man." Milne got his start in recording working in a basement studio with reel-to-reel tape - a method and mentality he tries to preserve in his recordings at Bedside Studios. Although the market seems to be shrinking for tape recording, Milne says there are always a few clients who entertain the idea of analog recording.
"From year to year it seem to be declining a bit, but there always seems to be about four to a half dozen clients a year who decide to track to tape," says Milne. "They're always very interested in it, but once they go through the financial scenario, bands find they don't want to go that route because of the cost of tape."
Milne still finds a way to incorporate it into his work, recording many of his clients live to tape and then running directly to Pro Tools HD in order to preserve some of that tape sound. In terms of preferences, Milne strikes a compromise between the two mediums.
"I like both because the editing capability of Pro Tools is good," explains Milne. "The idea of recording on to tape and then putting it into Pro Tools is ideal for me and I have a choice of mixdown decks. I can go either to an [Ampex] ATR-100 or an MCI110. If they want to get a bit of the tape sound then we do the mixdown to tape."
When Milne takes his place in the control room, it's behind his Ward Beck L2042 console, custom built with 16 M470 preamps, six M460 preamps, four stereo M471C line amps, three onboard M466 comp/limiters, and 21 various Ward Beck equalizers. With a good portion of his recordings coming as live performances, Milne outfits the studio in order to work with the sound of the room.
For vocals, Milne says he favors both a Neumann M149 tube mic, as well as the TLM 49 of the same make; however, of late, he has also become involved in beta testing of mics for Winnipeg based mic manufacturer Kel Audio, becoming one of the first studios to use the mics for multiple genres.
"They're really good and really open," says Milne of the mics. "The one mike I use is the HM-1X. It has a very wide cardioid pattern, a little wider than most mics, and I like to use them for the rooms. When I'm using an ambient mic on anything, chances are it's one of those."
Although Milne tries to preserve the analog methods, Bedside is on the cutting edge of recording technology with an abundance of new equipment that moves in and out of the studio to keep up with the times. Recent editions to the studio include a Pro Tools HD2 Accel set-up with two 192 16-channel I/O interfaces.
Milne also keeps the studio stocked with a variety of instruments for musicians to use during their stay. Fender Stratocasters, Warwick and Rickenbacker basses, and two well-maintained Hammond organs are only a portion of the gear decorating the live room.
In addition to the new gear that comes through the studio, there is no shortage of vintage and hard-to-come-by items. Mile has a selection of vintage gear that would impress any aficionado, including a Heintzman 1927 upright piano, a special edition handmade Garnet amp with built-in Guillotine distortion box, and multiple compressors and EQ's, such as a UREI 1176 Blackface compressor, the Allison Research Gain Brain, and NTP Mastering EQ's.
As far as the future of Bedside is concerned, Milne hopes that in 10 years he will still be behind the console doing what he loves. As for now, Milne says the studio is complete and functioning well, but in the future, some updates may come in the form of more amplifier cabinets and larger isolation booths in the lower level.
"Everything's working here. I'm pretty much done the main level and I pick at it here and there because you're always going to add things to it," says Milne. "It's functional and the construction is pretty much done but I'm always adding to it. I'm always buying and selling gear because that situation never seems to stop. You always have to keep up with the times and get the latest gear that everyone is dealing with."
Milne says his goal when the studio was constructed was to bring international talent to Manitoba, and to stop the Exodus of musicians to larger markets in Canada. His efforts to preserve and enhance the state of the industry in his home province are apparently paying off. According to Milne, the change has already begun with producers making the trek from outside of Winnipeg to work with the local talent.
"Producers have been coming to work with bands in Winnipeg that would normally travel outside of Winnipeg," explains Milne. "Now, instead of having that upper-end clientele leave, they're actually starting to stay here and bring in producers instead, which is one of the things I was trying to achieve with the studio."
And all that effort is paying off for Milne as well. Bedside Studios has attained a reputation in Winnipeg as a hot spot for both local and international talent, and that is music to Milne's ears. "I find myself getting busier all the time," he shares, and for anyone that truly relishes his work, that's the penultimate professional payoff.