Spartan Recording is a new US-based mobile recording service owned and operated by Joe Costner. The studio is built into a re-furbished and modernized original 1951 Spartan Royal Manor trailer and features a Solid State Logic XL Desk analog console with integral 18-slot 500 format rack.
Based in California, but available to bands across the US, Costner was inspired by classic recordings from the likes of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and The Rolling Stones, where the studio came to the artists and the live spaces were not necessarily built for purpose. “The idea is to travel, record in interesting spaces, and record those experiences,” says Costner.
“It was really a hobby project that became something much bigger. I was just going to build this thing for myself, take it around the country and share it with people, but as I started building it the idea got bigger and bigger and a lot of people were pushing me to market it as a business… There has been a lot of interest in it.”
Costner notes that the studio itself is not normally used as the live space, though it does have its own isolation booth – mostly used for voice-over work. Technically, the facility is designed to use whatever buildings or environments are available at the destination.
“I just love the idea of artists being able to record in spaces that they are comfortable in,” he says. “…Or spaces that they’ve always wanted to record in… People have told me it’s a big change of pace – doing a take then walking outside, wherever you’re recording. Being out in the open gives people a new perspective.”
Costner purchased the XL Desk from Vintage King in Los Angeles after considering a range of analog ideas. “I took in some stems from a session I did in Nashville and tried out lots of options.
“I wanted to bring analog gear to bands, but in a trailer there’s not a lot of space to haul racks of outboard gear. The fact that the XL Desk has the 18-slot 500 rack built into it made it very easy for me to incorporate 500 format gear… That was a huge plus.”
The small footprint of the XL Desk was a significant selling point for Costner too. The XL Desk has a 21-fader frame, but packs in over 40 SuperAnalogue inputs, a full-featured monitor section, four stereo channels, two dedicated stereo returns, and four stereo mix buses. All inputs, returns, mix buses, and the listen mic compressor circuit feature direct outputs, while inputs and mix buses have access to the 500 rack as well as dedicated insert points. The console comes with a stereo SSL Bus Compressor in slots 17 and 18.
“I wanted to give people a professional recording session, where you’re putting 12 mics on the drums in the same way you do in a normal recording studio,” says Costner. “The XL Desk gives me that.
“I’m still exploring all the routing possibilities – what I can do with the cue sends and the auxes – feeding headphones but also feeding FX down the channels. It really is a small version of a console you would use in a big analog studio, but still with all the amenities.”
Costner currently has eight EQs in slots 1-8 and eight mic pre-amps in slots 9-16. As well as being available internally, these are also brought out to a patchbay. “If I’m doing a narration gig I’ll have a mic pre and EQ in line with the channel. For tracking bands I can use the console’s built-in VHD preamps, and the preamps in slots 9-16.”
Costner likes the idea of tracking with live takes where possible; it fits well with the inspiration behind the mobile studio. “A lot of people assume we’re recording just in the isolation booth, individually, but I’m trying to do this with live takes – running the cables into houses and buildings and having the band perform live is the kind of method I’d like to continue.”
He sees distinct creative advantages to this approach, possibly born of the process, and the resourcefulness in that process.
“I think the ‘mobile’ process of recording requires a lot of active listening – understanding how different rooms and environments are affecting your sound,” he explains. “…And it requires a lot of creative problem solving: Just because instruments look good set up one way, doesn’t mean they’ll sound good. Wherever you record, you definitely have to listen to the rooms and how your sounds live within that room. With the mobile studio I take a lot of time during setup, listening critically before I commit to a sound.”
According to Costner, his next purchase will be a four-track tape machine, both for printing mixes and for use as a process for things like stereo drum mixes: “I’m always looking to expand with more outboard gear, while still conserving space. It’s important to me that people don’t feel cooped up or confined when they enter the mobile studio.”
“To be able to do quality recordings in the same space you live in, rehearse in, or vacation to, is a huge luxury. It’s a very enjoyable process that delivers some very interesting results.”