Siem Reap’s first professional recording studio is taking the country’s music production scene to the next level, by promoting local artists and attracting international acts. Writing by Joanna Mayhew; photography by Anna Clare Spelman.
A throaty male voice croons from the powerful speakers, filling the dim-lit room. Gradually, the strums of a guitar join in, then slow and steady drumbeats, followed by a virtual amplifier and pedalboard. The sound grows more robust and complex, as the engineer manipulates four screens crammed with a complex array of dials, circles, and lines of yellow, green, red and blue.
Though the soundproof room, filled with high-end equipment, comfortable grey couches and guitars, could be anywhere in the world, this is Siem Reap, at the city’s—and arguably the country’s—first international standard recording studio.
Opened in March, 60 Road Studios supports the development of the Cambodian music industry. “At its heart, it’s a social enterprise,” says co-founder Ian Croft, who launched the operation alongside fellow Brit Clive Butler. The pair, both music lovers with backgrounds in banking, saw the need for providing high-quality recording services, including preproduction and arrangement and, in some cases, management and marketing for local bands and musicians.
The studio, funded entirely by Croft and Butler, will invest time and money in promising artists who demonstrate commitment and then share in their potential success, says Croft.
To fund this, they plan to host international bands at the studio, which has been strategically placed in temple town to provide a relaxing recording experience for musicians to be creative and benefit from the spiritual element of Angkor Wat, says Croft. They can also use the traditional instruments that dot the space, including the tro, krapeu, and chapey dongveng, to add a Khmer sound. “The Beatles went to India way back when,” he adds. “It’s a lot more interesting than recording in your hometown.”
Located on the outskirts of town, the six-bedroom house took a year to convert into a functioning studio, using complex construction to soundproof the building through bricking up windows, building a porch and installing 10 centimetres of rockwool in the walls. The acoustics also had to be addressed to reduce reverberation and echo, by building 300-kilogram diffusers that hang from the ceiling, erecting moveable walls and even considering the sound impact of the air conditioners’ flow.
The result is impressive. The main room, more than 100 metres squared with double height ceilings, is filled with imported speakers, amps, drums, a Fender Strat and 1959 Gibson Les Paul reissue. The space also boasts a control room overlooking the main room—operated by an Australian producer with more than 30 years’ experience—a multi-media room, and an entry lounge lined with record covers from the Grateful Dead, Queen and The Clash. “We’re really pleased with the results,” says Butler.
The studio is launching at what the duo feels is a strategic time in the country’s music scene. Though in recent history the industry has been dominated by Khmer lyrics synced over K and Thai pop, more original artists are now emerging, with Croft citing Phare, Bambu Stage and Phnom Penh-based bands. Under organisations such as Cambodian Living Arts, young traditional musicians are taking over from the masters and are open to fusion after being influenced by a variety of music.
The studio plans to first target the largest bands in country before working on a diverse array of projects for the label, encompassing jazz, rock and roll, hip hop and “anything that’s respectful,” says Croft.
“It’s key we don’t feel arrogant about this. We’re not setting up to develop Cambodian music – it’s developing anyway,” he adds. “The challenge is to help these guys create a living out of it.”