Chris Culos has come a long way since 1996, when he and bandmate Marc Roberge started O.A.R. in the basement of his childhood home. Twenty-three years later the band is still making new music and touring amphitheaters around the U.S.
Culos and his wife moved to the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee, in 2013. “We found a neighborhood that was just being developed,” he says. “We were able to build a house from scratch. That meant that I was able to design a home studio rather than convert something into a studio.”
What would have been designated a pool house in conventional blueprints became a 400-square-foot studio with 18-foot vaulted ceilings. “This is definitely adequate for what I had in mind,” he says. “It’s my studio and my office, and I can teach here, jam with friends, and work with writers. It has everything I need. I wanted a live-sounding room with a lot of natural light.
“In order to minimize the level of noise coming from the room, we used 2-ply drywall with soundproof glue between each ply,” Chris continues. “The air gap between that and the outside brick wall prevents a lot of the sound from escaping. We also added a second layer of noise-reducing glass to the existing windows and doors. The ductwork was designed with a zigzag S shape, and the outlets and vents were wrapped and treated to displace some of the sound.”
Jeff Hedback of HdAcoustics and Nashville-based audio engineer Marc Meeker designed the room for optimal acoustics. “The process was intense,” recalls Culos. “They built a three-dimensional virtual model that replicated the room down to the smallest of details. Sound tests were run on that.
“Excessive midrange decay was our biggest challenge,” Chris continues. “The solution was decorative wall tile—not an acoustical tile—discovered by Hedback, who found that the acoustical properties of their shape, depth, and spacing were perfect. They’re simply squares of cardboard, but their shape disperses the sound exactly the way expensive acoustical tile would.” (You can check out the tiles at http://mioculture.com/shop/wall-ceiling-tiles/acousticweave-paperforms-white.)
The studio has absorption panels on the walls, made by Simplified Acoustics, along with a pair of GIK Acoustics Soffit Bass Traps that sit in the corners of the room. A custom panel also hangs two feet below the ceiling. “Working with the vaulted ceiling became a little tricky,” Chris says. “But Hedback created an acoustical pergola by affixing three of the MIO tiles onto separate absorption panels suspended in a frame. That tamed the room just enough without killing it.”
The five members of O.A.R. live in different cities, but advancements in technology have made collaboration easy. “We used to record our parts and then send it on to the next band member,” says Culos. “Now we use the cloud, so we can all be on a session at the same time and make real-time decisions. Now that I have this space, I can quickly open a template in Pro Tools and begin recording. I have a vintage kit, a modern kit, a Recording Custom kit, an arsenal of snare drums, and all sorts of percussive tools, so it’s nice to have all of that stuff ready to go. I do a lot of experimentation in here.”
For recording gear, Culos relies on a range of classic and modern tools. “I have two UA Apollo interfaces,” he says. “That gives me a total of sixteen channels. I wanted to use some outboard gear, so I have API 512c 500 series mic preamps for the kick and snare and Rupert Neve Design 511 preamps for my overheads. Hedback and Meeker suggested that I save money by using a package of Shure mics. The mics I’ve chosen offer great versatility.”
Culos currently has four drumsets in his studio, but he has a nostalgic favorite. “It’s a 1967 Slingerland that belonged to my dad,” he says. “It had been in my parents’ basement for years. Sam Bacco here in Nashville did the restoration. When I was in college at Ohio State, we were touring on the weekends and I needed a high-quality drumset. The band had saved up some money, so I purchased a Yamaha Recording Custom set. Over the years, I’ve accumulated probably every tom size available for that kit. But I’ve endorsed Ludwig for the past ten years, and I’ve been so incredibly happy with my Classic Maple kit on the road that I ordered a second set for my home studio.”
Culos has been recording with O.A.R. for over twenty years, but he admits to being a little tentative around audio engineers. “I didn’t grow up speaking the language,” he says. “But now that I have my own studio, I’ve learned so much and can communicate with engineers in their language. So much of that just comes from experience—learning the correct way to tune a drum and put a mic on it. I’m getting better at all of that.”
Chris’s Studio Gear
Snares: Sugar Percussion 6×14 Black Cherry, Slingerland 4.5×14 Super Sound King chrome-over-brass, Ludwig 6.5×14 Black Beauty and Supraphonic, Ludwig 5.5×14 Super Classic, Ludwig 5×14 Pioneer and Acrolite, Ludwig 7×13 Black Magic, Maryland Drum Company 6×13 Maple, Sakae Trilogy 5.5×14 maple/ poplar/maple, Yamaha 3×14 copper piccolo, Yamaha 5.5×14 Maple Custom
Drumsets: Ludwig Classic Maple in Champagne Sparkle finish (12“, 14“, 20“), 1967 Slingerland in Aqua Satin Flame finish (13“, 16“, 24“), Maryland Drum Company Maple (12“, 16“, 22“), Yamaha Recording Custom (8“, 10“, 12“, 14“, 16“, 22“)
Cymbals: assorted new and vintage Zildjians
Sticks: Vater Los Angeles 5A
Hardware: Ludwig ATLAS Pro Drumheads: Remo Ambassador Coated and Emperor Clear
In-Ear Monitors: JH Audio Roxanne and Layla models
Recording Equipment: UA Apollo 8 QUAD and Apollo 8p interfaces, Lindell Audio 500 series rack, API 512c preamps, Neve 511 preamps, Pro Tools, Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, Focal Shape Twin and ADAM A5X monitors
Microphones: Shure SM57, SM81, KSM32, Beta 98A/C, Beta 57, and Beta 52, and an Audio-Technica AT4033/CL