Dramatic clouds hover over the Royal Palace, a light wind whips the steam from my strong cup of Swedish coffee, blending with the fresh air that’s shifting from Summer to Fall.
There’s a majestic small town grandeur to Stockholm, an almost fairytale like elegance.
I’m biased, of course, having spent many perfect days here, growing up in this epicenter of culture, nestled in the green and blue archipelago of tens of thousands of islands.
One of these islands is Skeppsholmen, in the center of the city. The bench I chose overlooking the Royal Palace sits a few feet from the Skeppsholmen bridge. The island was once used as a Swedish Naval base, and is still home to more than a handful of old ships as well as the Modern Museum, the East Asian Museum, a newly renovated hotel, the Royal Art Academy, and two striking yet rather nondescript and mysterious looking old brick buildings.
One of these is Mono Music, a record label and mix studio owned by Benny Andersson, one of the “B’s” in ABBA. He also owns the building next door, a newer addition to his 1991 acquisition of the Mono Music building.
This building houses his company’s recording studio, Rixmixningsverket, or RMV.
It sits about 15 feet from the water’s edge, and about 10 feet from the sweeping veranda of the hotel.
Large bay windows encompass the entire building, immediately making me think of slap back and isolation issues, but I hold my tendency to pre-judge, assuming that any studio with a client list including the likes of Celine Dion, The Hives, Peter Jöback, Ulf Lundell, Kate Ryan, Lars Winnerbäck and more would not consist of glass flutter echo chambers.
Linn Fijal, RMV studio manager and house engineer, and her dog Ellis soon come walking around the corner to greet me. Ellis is a bit hesitant in welcoming me but after a few minutes, it becomes pretty clear that I’m not out to hurt anyone. On the other hand, I do want to move in.
The interior of RMV is bathed in a color that to me translates to an immediate ‘calm and creatively-at-home’ feeling.
The lobby feels more like a living room, with a long wooden kitchen table, cozy couches and a fully stocked kitchen, decorated in simple detail, that make you instantly want to grab a guitar off the wall, brew some coffee and write a song.
The studio itself consists of one large control room and a large live room, with three attached iso rooms, each with different diffusion and acoustical treatment.
The ceilings are high and vaulted, with wooden cross beams delivering a rustic yet refined touch.
Both the live room and control room swim in a sea of sunlight, from the bay windows I had noticed from the outside.
It is perfectly quiet. The control room sounds balanced and natural and the live room offers a hint of reverberant color easily manipulated by gobos and the adjoined iso rooms.
Roughly 20’x15′, RMV’s live room has most recently accommodated a 38 person orchestra for the recording of Peter Jöback’s “I Love Musicals,” a compilation of some of musical theater’s greatest hits. Jöback is a famous Swedish singer and pop star, also known for his current role in the Broadway musical, Phantom of the Opera. Celebrities and orchestras are nothing new to RMV, however, considering Benny Andersson has his own ensemble, Benny Andersson’s Orkester, which uses RMV to record their material. The latest musical by Mamma Mia creators Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Help Wanted, was also recorded at RMV.
Coming back into the control room, Linn takes a seat by the computer, smiling as she recounts the days before the studio was ready for pop stars and orchestras, before the studio looked, sounded and felt as it does now.
“When construction began in June 2010, it was essentially four collapsing walls and a pounded dirt floor. By November 2010, we were able to get into the control room. That’s when we started putting together the Neve (8068). We flew Fred Hill in, who originally built the board, to help us renovate and clean it up, and at the same time teach us how to take care of and maintain it.
“We sat there, basically around the clock for five straight weeks cleaning every pot and module. The first recording was set for January 10, 2011 with the Benny Andersson Orkester. It was pretty chaotic. Everything had just come in and was completely new. The patch bay for example, hadn’t been labeled, which made things interesting.”
Much of the new gear in the control room was left to Linn’s discretion. Working with Deluxe, a Swedish music and pro-audio company, Linn, Bernard Löhr (studio manager of Mono Music), Benny Andersson and his son and co-owner Ludvig put together gear lists, interfacing with Deluxe and other resellers to find the best blend for RMV.
“The first few months of my job were dedicated to buying gear. We bought a little from each person’s wish list and to this day, continue to fill out, trade and upgrade. The idea is that there should be various pieces of gear, not anything directed towards a certain style or niche.”
Fully stocked with what one would expect from a professional studio, such as 1176s, Distressors, LA-2As, API pres, GML, Waves, Pultec, and more, RMV also has a few unique and difficult to find microphones as well as an impressive instrument collection, including 1959 Steinway Concert Grand along with Mellotron, Rhodes, B3 and Synclavier and other keyboards.
U67s, 87s, 47s (tube and FET), Coles and AKG C24 are typical top shelf microphones in the RMV collection; high end, but well known. Some lesser-known top-shelfers in their locker include two Manibus de Geer tube microphones, a relatively unknown yet highly regarded microphone made by Didrik de Geer (Al Schmitt is another fan of his work). Also in the collection are a couple of Thuresson CM402s, the Swedish made condenser that looks like a bug zapper but sounds unbelievably clear and transparent.
There’s also a nice collection of amps, pedals and guitars, some of which line the hallway to the live room.
“In the end, it’ll never be completely finished,” says Linn. “There are always little details to poke at and make better.” Beyond curating and configuring all the gear, however, Linn also has a studio business to run. Since I wasn’t familiar with what a “studio chef” or head of studio did, particularly when covering both management and engineering, I had to ask…what’s a day in the life like?
“There’s no average day,” she told me. “It’s pretty varied, depending on what project we have in at the time. It can be anything from one musician to 48, in for recording or mixing. Then there’s the booking side of things to take care of and manage; making sure that all the gear is functioning properly, updating the website and all social media, making sure there’s coffee and that the cleaning people show up when they need to; at the same time always looking to be better, to improve.
“I try to keep myself to 40 hours a week, and eat lunch and dinner at somewhat regular hours. It doesn’t always happen that way, of course.”
It sounds a lot like the to-do lists of many pro studios here in the States, save for the fact that Linn is the entire staff. As someone who’s spent my entire professional career inside studios, I scan the rooms, taking in each detail as Linn describes them, appreciating the tremendous amount of work it takes to create, maintain and improve upon a studio such as this.