Show Us Your Space: The Ranch Production House in Southampton

UK rock is currently experiencing somewhat of a renaissance, with bands such Creeper, Boston Manor, and Milk Teeth all enjoying mainstream exposure and occupying festival main stages. The studio responsible for the sound of this resurgence is the Ranch Production House, based in Southampton. In this Show Us Your Space feature, founder Neil Kennedy gives us an insight in to why The Ranch is leading the way for British studios.

Have you assembled a great practice space, project studio, or music workshop? Be sure to drop us a line at [email protected]. For more information about The Ranch, check out its website here.

The Ranch Production House was founded in 2008. Our first room, "The Ranch," had a small footprint, but worked well enough to offer some competitive results. As the studio evolved, we started attracting bigger names and budgets and expanded to meet demand with a second space, "The Black Lodge," in 2013. The Black Lodge is now our main tracking room and has the studio’s most unique feature—a huge 82 square meter live room with high A-frame ceilings. It’s an exciting room to track in—drums sound bombastic, vocals have a great ambience, and it’s easy to create a really good sense of organic space whilst tracking.

Meanwhile, the setup in the Ranch has been inverted, with the smaller control room now an overdub space for guitars/vocals and, if required, space for some tight drum sounds. What was originally our live room is now a spacious control room and, more often than not, the main mix suite.

In terms of equipment, the Black Lodge is based around a vintage Neotek Series 1 console. It’s small format, but offers 12 channels of very usable EQ and the preamps can get pretty crunchy when pushed hard. Truth be told, most of the engineers who use the space (including Lewis Johns, Daly George, and myself, who all use the studios as our production base) tend to stick to the outboard options, as there are some fantastic 500 series preamps from AML, Chandler and CAPI as well as Great River MP-2NV, A-Design Pacifica, API A2D and many more in the rack.

Dynamics options include an Empirical Labs Fatso and Distressors, API 550s, Kush Electra EQ and some UA compression options (1176, LA2A). The aim of the studio is really to offer the engineer the ability to capture exciting, energised sounds at source and, having trialled and played with ££££’s worth of outboard options over the years, these are the tools that I’ve found offer the best balance of flexibility and tone.

As a tracking room, it’s key to have a decent mic locker too. There are dozens of options, with notables including a pair of vintage Coles 4038, AEA R88 stereo ribbon, a pair of Peluso P-12s, Josephson e22, Blue Mouse as well as many of the more familiar and everyday names.

Over the years the studio has up built quite the array of backline. It’s key to the Ranch Production House experience. On arrival, artists are able to be inspired not only by a great space and beautiful recording equipment but also amazing instruments, amps and drums.

The "House kit" is a Q Custom Drums 24, 13, 16 copper model; for those that haven’t experienced Q kits I implore you to check them out! Incredible control, easy to dial in different tunings and just the most stunningly articulate tone—the best drums I have recorded… by a margin. Also on site are kits from Yamaha and DW and huge selection of snares, including a vintage Sonor Phonic, Yamaha 9000 recording, an '80s One Piece Maple Pearl, and more modern options from DW and a Mapex.

For the guitarists and bassists we have a huge collection of amps including Bogner, Bad Cat, Marshall, Fender, Mesa Boogie, Orange, Ampeg and some great 4- and 6- string options including my personal favourites: a Fano JM-6 and a custom-built Telecaster with ebony fretboard and Bareknuckle pickups.

As I mentioned, the original space, The Ranch, has now become the preferred mix room for most engineers. It has acoustic panels from GIK and a blend of absorption and diffusion that give the room a really nice, balanced space to work from. It’s taken us years of moving things around and trying panels in different places, but it feels as though we’re now at a place where we can mix reliably and consistently.

Gear-wise, the Ranch is all about colour and movement. Like the Lodge, monitoring is through Focal Twins—I find these very dependable; the bottom is superb and the midrange is more detailed than the other options we tested. The racks feature Preamps from Overstayer, AML, and the excellent JHS colour box, compression from Looptrotter’s Monster, Retro Doublewide, EL Distressors, and the Serpent SB4001. The tools that get the most use are probably the saturation options—I tend to break out of the box with my stems when mixing, but have yet to find a summing mixer that offers exactly what I want, so instead I "colour in" my mixes with some CAPI Missing links and the incredible Louder Than Lift Off, Silver Bullet, and Chromas. The Silver Bullet pretty much always sits on the 2 Bus—it offers API- or Neve-style saturation (or both) along with a passive Pultec two-band EQ with filters. It’s a real "Betterizer."

Although we cater to a wide range of projects, the studio has been tailored toward the guitar band end of the spectrum, and most of the work coming through our doors are bands looking for a modern but organic feel from a studio able to offer them the creative space to define their own sound (and often we act as ‘Personal shoppers’, helping musicians to find new sounds with our experience of the amps, pedals etc!).

Over the last few years we’ve been privileged to work with some amazing bands and on some incredible records, including with Creeper, Milk Teeth, Employed To Serve, Funeral For a Friend, Boston Manor, and Puppy, and we’re super-excited to look forward to what the next few years will bring too.

We'd love to see your studio, practice space, or gear lair too—whether it's a professional outfit or a weekend retreat. Contact us at [email protected].

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