Not too many of us get to spend our lives doing what we love, even fewer of us get to do what we love in one of the most beautiful places on earth…that makes Andrea F twice blessed! Andrea owns and operates Ocean Spiral Studio, his residential recording studio located on the island of Tenerife, in the Canary Islands off the west coast of northern Africa.
Andrea says, “I’m truly in love with the Canary Islands and their climate and vibe, no wonder they used to be called The Fortunate Islands!”.
Since 2014, Andrea has been running Ocean Spiral Recording Studio hosting a variety of sessions that encompass everything from overdubs and fine-tuning of projects already underway, to full fledged in-house productions like Slovenian guitar virtuoso Elvis Šahbaz’s sophomore effort, IO, released in 2019. He’s busy with the studio life, but it runs alongside his other full-time gig as the music editor and show host for RTV Slovenia’s 74 year old italian-language Radio Capodistria.
I think he’s working too hard, but Andrea would have it no other way. A self-identified ‘music person”, Andrea is a fine guitarist himself who became fascinated with the idea of music production and the possibilities that the technology, old and new, could offer in making great sounding records. Like a lot of us that love working in the studio, when the lights start flashing, and the meters start dancing, and the music is moving, time evaporates.
Andrea took some time to answer a few questions for us about what he does, why he does it, and why he does it in the Canary Islands! He offers some advice for those starting out in music production, and has some high praise for his Vanguard V44S.
Q: I see you’re a radio host; is that for Radio Capodistria, Slovenia? Please, tell us about your show.
A: Yes, it’s one of the several music-related things I do. I was invited to do a radio show on “new music” way back when I still had a band, in 1990 (apparently word got around that I was pretty good at understanding and explaining music), and it’s progressed into what I could call my “day job”: I’m Senior Music Editor & Show host for Radio Capodistria, a radio station now 74 years old. It’s the pretty legendary Italian language outlet of the national broadcaster, RTV Slovenia, and it’s listened to across Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. I have a weekly show commenting the UK, USA and Italy’s official album charts, and another several hour weekly live show on Mondays in which I play new stuff, do interviews with international artists, and regularly review & present our “Featured Album” of the week, which is a full half hour going through a new record each week. Many listeners are truly fond of that, plus it keeps me in constant contact with new artists, productions, sounds and trends.
Q: It seems perhaps being simply a musician was a little too limiting for you. What got you started in music production and engineering, the “other side of the glass” as we used to say?
A: Haha, I guess you could say that… I’m hard to contain! Jokes aside, yes, you seem to have figured me out in this sense. I tend to say I am a “Music person” – so it’s not just about one aspect of it. I started by playing guitar as a kid, out of loneliness and frustration because I’d lived in Africa for 6 years with my family so coming back and fitting in wasn’t an easy task, especially behind the Iron Curtain. The logical progression was my band, Idiogen, with whom I made 3 albums and played live extensively and got to know the music biz in Italy and the UK. But from the very first moment I set foot in a recording studio I was mesmerized by the gear, the knobs, switches, lights and all those secrets they seemed to hold. How does music come to exist so we can hear it?? I’m an immense Hendrix fan, so I clearly heard how far ahead of his time his work in the studio was. So, I wanted that knowledge. No internet info back then, so it was all about putting in the hours, hands on, experimenting. And it would appear I got good at it, so other bands & artists started noticing and saying “Hey, your stuff sounds better than ours, can you come and to that thing you do for our record, too?”.
Q: Ocean Spiral is your private residential recording studio in the Canary Islands. Lovely, no doubt, but a little off the beaten track. Which island are you on? Why there?
A: I’m truly in love with the Canary Islands and their climate and vibe, no wonder they used to be called The Fortunate Islands! The studio is on Tenerife, which is the biggest and most vibrant of the 8 islands in terms of population, music scene, music stores and travel accessibility. I began toying with the idea of having a second home and a full-fledged studio there between 1999 and 2000, took a long time thinking about it and saving up, so it’s now a reality since 2014. I liked the idea of being able to go to record in an inspiring place, with breathtaking nature, great food, good vibes and warm climate literally all year round, so I could offer both the artists I produce and myself a realistic and always available alternative to grey winters in the city or underground studios with no windows. I made sure the studio has its own adjacent 4 to 5 people apartment, with full kitchen, bathroom etc. I wanted it to be a good lifestyle experience, not just a place exporting good sounding WAV files. Tenerife also offers amazing photo and video locations and inspiration for the now all-important visual and social media aspect of what bands and artists have to do.
Q: Tell us about some of the recent sessions you’ve hosted at Ocean Spiral.
A: I’ve been doing a lot of overdubs and fine-tuning of single and album projects I recorded either in Slovenia or in Italy. A marvellous all-made-in-house album was the second album by self-taught virtuoso acoustic & classical guitarist Elvis Šahbaz, a record named “Io”, on which Vanguard mics played a very central role, even in recording rooftop terrace ambient sounds of the Canarian night! I’ve recently recorded the soon to be released EP for a Spanish instrumental blues rock trio with no guitars but a helluva Rhodes piano player, they’re called Crispness. And I’ve just finished recording a very powerful looping acoustic guitar cover of OMD’s “Enola Gay”, a quite scarily relevant song these days, by Italian singer-songwriter Matteo E. Basta.
Q: Which Vanguard mics are you using these days? How did you first hear about Vanguard Audio?
A: Ah, well I first read about Vanguard in the press, checked out several reviews and nobody seemed to fault your products. My big Vanguard crush is the V44S stereo mic, which I bought through Emerging distribution UK. Its sounds great, really a big, top-notch pristine sound, and having extensively used the Neumann USM69 and the AKG C34 stereo mics in the past, I can also safely say that Vanguard’s capsule rotation mechanism, construction, shockmount and versatility are well above those venerable mics – which is quite an achievement! I like it as a main stereo mic for big sounding sources like the classical guitar, or upright piano, and of course drum overheads, because the practically point-source phase coherence it offers is unbeatable, and I’m very sensitive to phase issues in recordings.
A friend in Italy has a Vanguard V13 tube mic for vocals, I’ve mixed several tracks of his and it sounds great, airy but not brittle, has this expensive, elegant sound with excellent midrange articulation. I’m secretly thinking of asking Derek to tailor me a dark one, custom tweaked to tame the ungodly, sharp sibilance of singers in Slavic languages!
Q: Any advice for fledgling music engineers and producers just starting down the spiral path?
A: The spiral path, huh? Well played!
First, I’d say to do not be afraid to make mistakes of their own, because in the end that’s what real experience is made of, it’s what builds your own taste and style. There is a total overflow of online tutoring, pontificating and advising, and sadly a lot of the info out there is either plain wrong, or myth repeating, or too cheat-sheet stereotyped, or skewed because it’s just poorly disguised promo and sales push by brands and megastores.
Second, I’d say work with people, don’t think it can all happen virtually – it sometimes does, but it’s the exception, not the norm, music is made by & with other humans.
Third, I’d say buy less gear but good gear, and don’t think you need much if you’re good.
Finally, I’d say work on your human and communication skills at least 10x more than your work on your social media or plugin tricks – be kind to people, be polite, easy and fun to be around, be the problem solver, not the drama queen wannabe web star.
Q: What’s in the future for you and Ocean Spiral Studio?
A: I have a personal pet project which is the upcoming release of the finally restored, digitized and remastered double album retrospective compilation of my old band, Idiogen, which will also include some unfinished & unreleased tracks all the way to the present day, so I’m truly happy whenever I find the time to move forward with that.
I’m finishing producing a really very potential single by an acoustic-folk-pop band, and with prog-space-rockers Fish On Mars we’re gearing up to travel to Tenerife in springtime to record their whole next album. Before that, there’s a couple of new pieces of outboard I’ve bought and want to install in the studio, as well as a young flamboyant flame tree for the back garden barbecue area.
Oh, and I’ve been recording and setting aside a bunch of videos for my YouTube channel, F-Unfair Studio Time, I suppose it’s about time I clicked that “publish” button… so stay tuned!