Making sound waves in a man's world

Sound engineer Promsorn Riewpakorn aspires to put Thailand on the recording map

Promsorn Riewpakorn at her workstation. Photo by Somchai Poomlard

'When I work, I don't feel gender differences," said sound engineer Promsorn Riewpakorn, owner/managing director of Studio28, a top-notch recording studio in Bangkok, about being a rare bird in the male-dominated field.

"At first, clients may give you a second look, but once you show that you are the real deal, they'll trust you. That's the only challenge I've ever experienced as a woman engineer. I just have to prove to them that I can do it."

Promsorn, 36, was destined to walk a musical path. At 13, she started to make tunes. At 22, she was signed to GMM Grammy to front rock band Revolution under Giraffe Records. Then, after classical training from the College of Music, Mahidol University, she flew to the US state of Florida to complete a recording arts degree at Full Sail University.

"It all started from my love for music. Then, when I recorded my first album, it didn't turn out the way I wanted to convey it. I became curious about the technology for recording music. I was wondering how artists in the past did it without computers. I researched into old productions and found that sounds of artists like The Beatles are so real because their recording was a live music performance. It's not audio technology. It's the art of recording."

Looking up to studio veterans like Eddie Kramer, Tony Mesarati, Rick Rubin and Tom Elmhirst, Promsorn spent two years sharpening her skills in LA studios after graduation and returned to Bangkok to open Studio28 in a former location where she did a string of mainstream and independent works for five years.

"It was an uninspiring period of time with MP3 piracy and the increase of bedroom studios," she recalled. "It's a double-edged sword. Even I myself was one of the founders of Monotone Group who was known for bedroom productions. The bright side was the rise of young talent. But, when a song made in a bedroom could top the charts, people would say, 'Why invest in a fancy recording session when you can become famous by making music in your bedroom?'. Music piracy also killed the whole industry."

It was the poor audio quality in her old studio that opened Promsorn to new possibilities. When she was recording with a four-piece chamber for a friend's project, she felt it was time to set up a new space.

"I told my friends casually that I'd make a new studio and everyone rooted for it. They thought I wasn't serious until I showed them the design draft." Promsorn's initial plan was a 30-piece studio, but the location was partially expropriated. Her family offered an idea to build a new facility on the family-owned 2.5 rai plot of land. Last year, Promsorn reopened Studio28 on a more grandiose scale.

"It became full-blown, but I went all for it," she said. "I sent the scale, the requirements and everything to the studio designer in the US. When they sent back the design, I showed it to my mastering engineer [Woody Pornpitaksuk]. He was like, 'That's a dream studio'."

"When it was all done, I even felt it was so huge. How could I run it?" she recalled. "But thankfully, since the opening, we've been getting attention from local and foreign professionals alike. Everyone seems to be excited when they walk into this studio. International clients would say, 'Are you crazy? Studios shut down all over Asia!'. And I would go, 'That's why we're open!'. They seem to like it a lot also because they basically love Thailand."

Studio28 was designed by US-based studio designer Jay Kaufman and Associates. The construction took two years for technical precision of isolation walls, floating floors and optimal acoustic treatments. The large live room is designed to fit orchestral sessions and other music performances with a reverb time of 1.2 milliseconds. The control room is outfitted with an 80-channel SSL 9000J console from Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios in New York which had been used by the likes of Whitney Houston, Pet Shop Boys, Beastie Boys, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. This world-class audio facility hidden in Krungthep Kritha was also listed in 2015's "world's coolest new studios" in Mix magazine.

"I have to prove myself in so many ways," said the studio founder. "Now people started to believe in me. First, they might think I was just daydreaming. Luckily, I've been getting great support from the music industry because they can feel my genuine intention. Also, my family supports me fully and have great faith in me. I cannot disappoint them."

Although still in a soft launch, the multi-room international recording studio is ever-busy with top artists and professional musicians coming to record commercial numbers, film scores and video game soundtracks. Most recently (just last Wednesday, to be exact), Thai rock heavyweight Bodyslam completed their soon-to-be- announced orchestral project here.

Promsorn makes use of the one-year test-run to learn about usability limitations in the actual work process. While the studio is gearing towards its main business of film scoring and orchestral recordings, it will replace the analogue mixing console with a more modern counterpart before the studio's official opening later this year.

Studio28's main live room studio designed to accommodate a 64-piece orchestra.

Now with an entrepreneurial mindset, Promsorn realises that with such a massive investment it's a slow route to profitability. The sound engineer-turned-studio owner still puts passion before profits with a practical aim to make it pay in the long run.

"I told my business partner [Rapeedech Kulabusaya] that if you ever see me becoming a greedy business person or forget about my own passion, you have to punch me in the face.

"I feel lucky because I have a great team," she added. "Everyone here is driven by their abiding passion for music. It's not purely commercial. I think this is also a strong point for us. We're like one big family."

In addition to regular motion picture scoring sessions for international productions, Studio28 is working on a catalogue of songs for Universal Music Publishing Group which stocks sounds for film, television, advertising, computer games and stage productions.

"My ultimate dream is to make music come alive again," said Promsorn. "And musicians can earn their living."

To achieve her goals, Promsorn is making a pitch for more big movie score recordings, as she sees it's also a big opportunity for Thai musicians to master their skills and meet world-class standards.

"I want Thailand to be known for movie musicians, to be the destination for orchestral recordings. That'll be a successful mission to some extent. The dream at first seems impossible, but with this recording facility, the recording sessions are really happening here. I feel confident and believe in it."

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