Tucked away in the picturesque surroundings of Byron Bay is Rockinghorse Studios, a space boasting what is arguably one of the most idyllic recording environments in the country. Still going strong more than three decades since its inception, Rockinghorse remains high on musicians’ bucket lists as a dream recording studio, with a legacy and bright future to match.
“Rockinghorse Studios has been there for almost 30 years,” says Paul Pilsneniks, one of the expert sound engineers who calls Rockinghorse home. “It is fairly iconic in that it’s the premier studio up here in Byron Bay. It’s been around for a long time hosting a bunch of bands. I came to Byron Bay 20 years ago and had been working in and out of there as a freelance engineer before asking to join the team. It’s always been the one main studio up the top of the hill and since it’s been sold to Taryn and Rob, they’ve gone and built a second studio on the other side of the property, which we call The Workshop.”
Pilsneniks’ personal road to Rockinghorse has been years in the making. His decorated career has seen him work with the likes of The Mars Volta and Powderfinger, granted him the opportunity to visit Abbey Road Studios in London, and seen him put a lifelong passion for music to use every day.
“I was always fascinated with how records were made,” says Pilsneniks. “I didn’t even know what I was doing as a kid, but I’d hear songs on the radio and record them on cassette and then if I didn’t like bits in them, I would grab scissors and sticky-tape and chop bits out, which is basically a really crude form of editing. But I guess it was there from day one, you know? Just the fascination with capturing a band and its sound.”
The sound Pilsneniks captures at Rockinghorse is unlike any other. Situated in one of the most enviable locations in all of Australia, the studio’s proximity to Byron Bay and the Gold Coast ensures the natural element can play a huge part in a final recording.
“Unlike a lot of the studios in the cities, with Rockinghorse once you immerse yourself on the property there, you are in your own world without any distractions,” says Pilsneniks. “It’s got lots of natural light, which I think is really conducive to being creative. We’ll record a lot of the time often with the doors wide open, just to get the bird sounds and have the natural light coming through and what not. There’s no distractions because we’re on a property, so it’s not like people are going to be dropping by all the time. You settle in for a week or a month and just get creative. It’s awesome.”
For those travelling to the studio, settling in for an extended stay seems like an option that’s difficult to resist. With onsite accommodation and airport transfers on offer, choosing to fully immerse yourself in the Rockinghorse experience is a no-brainer.
“There’s two types of accommodation,” explains Pilsneniks. “We have the luxury house up the top, which is seasonal in its rate, and then we offer budget accommodation, which is in the old water tank, for bands. It sleeps up to six people in the water tank and up to twelve people in the house.
“It keeps everyone focused because they’re onsite. You wake up in the morning and you’re not in the studio, per se, so you’re not there 24/7, but you can just wake up, have your breakfast and then wander across and start making music when you feel like it. In the recording process, there’s a lot of downtime for band members once you start overdubbing and they don’t have to feel like they have to stick around. They can walk across to the house and chill out and play some records or play some video games and then just come back at a moment’s notice if they’re needed.”
Naturally, the location is one of the biggest drawcards for the studio, but their impressive list of available equipment is not to be ignored. Boasting everything from the most advanced Neve technology through to an enviable collection of Wurlitzer, Rhodes and Hammond keyboards, Rockinghorse truly does have it all. With such an elite equipment offering, coupled with the expertise of its engineers and the utopian location, it’s no wonder the studio draws musicians from around the globe. For those looking to record at Rockinghorse, Pilsneniks is always happy to share his advice.
“Basically, you don’t want to be rehearsing in the recording process,” he says. “You want to have your songs solid and structured, and that should all be done in pre-production with the producer if the band has one. I’ll often get bands, if they don’t have a producer, to send me demos of what they’re working on and then offer feedback and advice — restructuring songs if they need them or presenting ideas, such as potentially cutting songs down in length if they’re too long or adding extra bars for a song if it needs it … If you’ve got a great-sounding bass and a guitar and a drum kit, then it’s going to make the engineer’s job a hell of a lot easier to capture.”
There’s a lot to love about Rockinghorse, but can words really do somewhere like this justice? It seems like this is one studio you have to see to believe and for bands considering doing just that, Pilsneniks knows they’ve made the right choice.
“If they want a fantastic sounding record in an amazing environment, they should call and have a chat and we can work out a budget that’ll suit their project.”
Visit Rockinghorse Studios to secure your session at Byron Bay's premier recording studio.