Studio Pro-Audio

Ian Osrin Industry Expert

Mon, 22 Oct 2012 16:52

Ian Osrin

Tucked away in a quiet neighbourhood on the outer reaches of Albert’s Farm, stands a recording studio that is as unassuming as it is seminal. If the walls could talk, they would have a lot to say and we would listen with bated breath because when it comes to South African music, there are few studios that can contend with such a long and impressive pedigree.

Digital Cupboard’s owner Ian Osrin, a veteran of the SA recording scene and a virtual godfather of audio. To many of us young aspiring audio engineers who were still wet behind the ears when Ian was already decades into his career making hit records.

What sets the Digital Cupboard apart is that it was one of the first – if not THE first – fully digital recording studios in South Africa and possibly anywhere else within 10 000 miles at the time. On top of that, Ian Osrin, despite being a long-time player in the game, has not let his longevity ail his sense of technology because the man is a virtual technological guru. But do not be fooled. Once you meet him he starts to reveal himself as somewhat of a paradox because model numbers, specifications, and marketing claims mean very little to him because his philosophy leans more towards function and transparency than anything else. Does the technology do what I want it to do? Well, let’s find out.

The man Ian give me a little bit of background as to how and when you started your career in audio?

“Back in 1983 I tried to produce a group and they told me how useless I was and how little I knew, and they were right. I then went to study sound engineering in the States at one of these six week recording workshops – and quite a good one – in Chillicothe, Ohio. It was a fantastic course, and I loved it.”

What did you do when you returned from the States?

“Initially I couldn’t get a job so I was advised to work in live instead of trying to get into studio so I got a job with Coliseum Acoustics and did many shows with them. Then I was lucky enough to do an event for Gallo Records.”

Please go on.

“At that show, the head of what was then RPM studios – which eventually became Downtown Studios – heard (my mix of) the show and said to me: “You’re not bad. Do you think you can record?” and I said, “Ja, I think so.” So he said: “Okay, go to a studio, get a band, and if you can bring me a cassette in the morning with music on, you’ve got a job.” So I said: “Cool.” I did that, delivered it, and he put in me in an old studio in Gallo Studios in Kerk St.”

Kerk Street in Johannesburg near Downtown Studios?

“Yes. Basically, all those studios used to record were demos, church choirs and Mbaqanga groups, which were typically material that white engineers at the time would scoff at. But for me it was like heaven for three years because nobody came there. They left me alone. I had a two-inch Studer 16-track machine, which was amazing. The quality was amazing. I had a Neve desk as well. That studio was heaven for me and I learned a lot there.”

What came out of your experience there?

“Well, like I said, that studio was heaven and I was lucky because I was recording all this interesting traditional music. It was really lekker. Then I graduated to the bigger studios, did a bit of work there until I finally got a job at the Teal Truetone record company as an A&R manager. I worked there for a couple years until I was fired for being too revolutionary.

We laughed. What did they mean by “too revolutionary”?

“Effectively, I was once told by one of my bosses that I was too black, which was a bit silly, because I’ve never tried to be. I just happened to see that in those days that there was a lot of injustice so I stood more on the side of justice. That made me too radical. Plus, I insisted I go to work in shorts and refused to go to a 9am meeting after a 4am session.

By Greg Bester