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London is a powerhouse of musical culture and history.
We look at 7 of the most iconic music studios in London.
From The Beatles, to Radiohead, to Jimi Hendrix, these studios have hosted the biggest names in musical history.
It’s quite possible that no city in the world has been home to more influential recording studios than London. It is impressive how many legendary recordings were made in this city and the sheer number of high-end studios that it holds, many of them still up and running today.
London’s music scene has arguably been the most robust in history, and that is clearly reflected in the quality and longevity of many of its studios.
In this article, we’re going to explore 7 of the most famous recording studios in London and discover what made them so special.
What Are The 7 Most Famous Recording Studios in London?
Abbey Road Studios tops our list, for several obvious reasons. Despite being synonymous with The Beatles, Abbey Road Studios does not live in the shadows of the Fab Four and has a rich history that extends far beyond this.
We also have AIR Studios, from legendary Beatles producer George Martin. These started out of a need to take financial control and spurred some of the greatest records ever made. We’ll also discuss the legendary but now defunct Trident Studios.
So, here are our candidates for the 7 most famous recording studios in London.
Abbey Road Studios
Olympic Sound Studios
1. Abbey Road Studios
Abbey Road Studios is one of the most legendary recording studios in the world. Its structure was originally a nine-bedroom house built in 1829, that was bought by the Gramophone Company in 1928 who then transformed the building into a recording studio.
The Gramophone Company later merged with Columbia Gramophone Company to form Electric and Musical Industries (EMI) in 1931, and the studios later became known as EMI Recording Studios.
The Beatles – Abbey Road, The White Album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (and many more!)
Pink Floyd – The Piper at The Gates of Dawn
Oasis – Be Here Now
Depeche Mode – Ultra
Steve Harley and the Cockney Rebels – The Best Years of our Lives
Abbey Road started out as a studio for classical recordings, but soon embraced jazz and big bands, too, as well as the first British rock & roll records of the 1950s, including Sir Cliff Richard’s first single Move It. Naturally, Abbey Road will be forever associated with The Beatles, who worked with EMI producerGeorge Martin and recorded 190 of their 210 songs at the studios.
Abbey Road Studios was also home to the wild musical and recording experiments of Pink Floyd to iconic recordings from Shirley Bassey, Aretha Franklin, The Hollies, and many more.
Other artists that have recorded in these legendary studios include Kate Bush, Radiohead, Oasis, Kanye West, Amy Winehouse, Kylie, and Muse to Sam Smith, Florence + The Machine, Ed Sheeran, Frank Ocean, Lady Gaga, and Adele.
Today, Abbey Road Studios offers online mastering and mixing services, as well as their traditional studio services.
2. AIR Studios
In 1965, iconic producer George Martin was helping the Beatles reach unsurpassed levels of success. Help! was breaking chart records and it was followed by Rubber Soul and Revolver, iconic records that sold extremely well.
Despite the vast sales chalked up by the Beatles’ records worldwide, Martin was not getting financial rewards, just a weekly salary from Parlophone.
He then decided to put together a stellar cast of record producers to form Associated Independent Recordings or AIR. They came up with a new arrangement where AIR would fund the production of new releases, relieving record labels of the cost, and in return take a royalty on sales.
This new freelance enterprise was a smash.
They continued to record the day’s top artists at Abbey Road, Decca, and other studios and within a few years, they were making enough money to take on staff. Later, they were able to bank enough of AIR’s profits to build their own vinyl production facility.
Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms
The Police – Ghost in the Machine, Syncronicity
Elton John – Too Low for Zero
Rolling Stones – Steel Wheels
AIR Studios opened in October 1970 and quickly gained a reputation as an academy for the very best young engineers, and became a byword for the latest studio technology, pioneering 24-track recording, multi-track tie-lines between studios, and 48-track mixing.
The larger Studio One had a live sound that was great for orchestral work, while the drier sound of Studio Two made it popular with bands.
But the big drum sound that bands got in Studio One meant that it was booked out for months in advance, and securing time was difficult. Two more studios were added to meet demand.
George Marin also opened a new AIR Studios in the Caribbean island of Montserrat. This studio offered all of the technical facilities of its London counterpart, but away from all distractions.
For more than a decade, AIR Montserrat held recording sessions by a who’s who of rock and pop. Unfortunately in 1989, Hurricane Hugo hit the island, destroying 90% of its structures. The building and its equipment were irreparably damaged, but the music recorded there lives on.
3. SARM Studios
SARM Studios is located in the prestigious neighborhood of Notting Hill, in London and was formerly known as SARM West Studios.
The studios were originally established as a facility to record Island Records artists and were built inside a former church.
Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV
Jethro Tull – Aqualung
Queen – News of the World
George Michael – Faith
Seal – Kiss From A Rose
Some of the Island Record artists that used SARM Studios include Bob Marley, Bad Company, Steve Winwood, Free, Robert Palmer, Jimmy Cliff, King Crimson, John Martyn, Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull, and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.
The studios were also used by many legendary artists that did not belong to Island Records, such as Iron Maiden, Madonna, The Clash, KT Tunstall, Depeche Mode, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Rihanna, Paul McCartney, Genesis, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Christina Aguilera, and more.
Two iconic albums stand out among the many masterpieces recorded at SARM: Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV and Jethro Tull’s Aqualung.
Legends like Bob Marley even went as far as living for a year in an upstairs apartment at SARM, and the place was a hotbed for creativity in the seventies and eighties.
Another notable moment in SARM’s history is the recording of part of Queen’s album News of the World there, including the rock anthem “We Are the Champions“. Queen had previously used the studio to record sections of “Bohemian Rhapsody” as well.
4. Metropolis Studios
In 1985 the Metropolis team came across the Chiswick Power House, a big and stylish building commissioned in 1900 to house the London Tram System.
However, the building had been neglected and unused for many years. The Metropolis team decided to restore it to create a special place for music makers, helping create one of the most unique recording environments in the world.
Metropolis Studios features recording, mixing, and mastering suites that are designed around a large and airy 20-meter high atrium filled with platforms and walkways.
Their aim is to provide producers, engineers, and artists new freedom to avoid the sometimes claustrophobic atmosphere of conventional studio life. Metropolis Studios consists of four floors, five recording and mixing studios, and four production rooms.
Metropolis Studios has been one of the most sought-after London studios for years, not only by dedicated independent artists but by some stars as well.
A partial list of the artists that have recorded there include Queen, Michael Jackson, U2, Lady Gaga, Adele, Rihanna, and Lauryn Hill
5. Townhouse Studios
Townhouse Studios was built by Richard Branson in the late ’70s before being absorbed by the EMI/Virgin Studio Group.
The Townhouse was later taken over by the Sanctuary Group in 2002. It is one of the world’s greatest studio complexes and boasts a wealth of history.
Pretenders – Last of the Independents
Coldplay – X & Y
Phil Collins – Hello, I Must Be Going!
Muse – Black Holes and Revelations
Located in West London, the studios have three main rooms, each of them with a unique character and atmosphere which is appreciated by regular clients such as Elton John and many new acts from all styles and genres.
All rooms are equipped with SSL consoles and were designed by studio design guru, Sam Toyoshima.
The list of artists that have recorded at Townhouse Studios is a whos-who of music and includes stars such as Elton John, Queen, Phil Collins, Philip Bailey, The Jam, Asia, Bryan Ferry, Coldplay, Muse, Duran Duran, Jamiroquai, Kylie Minogue, Oasis, XTC, Robbie Williams, Peter Gabriel, and Joan Armatrading.
Studio 2’s “Stone Room” was an especially popular place to record drum sounds during the 1980s. It was in this room where iconic producer Hugh Padgham’s produced the timeless treatment of the drums on Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”.
Another legend to use Townhouse Studios was Bob Dylan. In 1986 he entered the studio and recorded a few songs including the unreleased “To Fall in Love with You”.
Thought to be one of Dylan’s greatest masterpieces, the song was not completed or considered suitable for official release. It is not known how many takes of “To Fall in Love with You” were recorded but only one take exists.
The Town House also holds a piece of history by being the first studio in the UK to install one of the first SSL B-series consoles. The 1000th console produced by SSL was also installed in studio one.
6. Trident Studios
Trident Studios was one of the most iconic studios not only in London but the entire world. It was located at 17 St Anne’s Court in London’s Soho district, a location beloved by artists.
It was active between 1968 and 1981 and was built in 1967 by Norman Sheffield, drummer of the 1960s group the Hunters, and his brother Barry.
Trident Studios’ history is deeply intertwined with the discovery and success of Queen, but many other legendary artists also recorded seminal works there.
David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
While Abbey Road Studios still only used a four-track recorder at the time, Trident’s Ampex eight-track machine drew the Beatles in on 31 July 1968 to record their song “Hey Jude”.
Paul McCartney later said about recording the track at Trident: “Words cannot describe the pleasure of listening back to the final mix of ‘Hey Jude’ on four giant Tannoy speakers which dwarfed everything else in the room”.
The list of artists that used Trident Studios from 1968 to 1981 is just mind-blowing: Black Sabbath, David Bowie, Carly Simon, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Marc Bolan/T.Rex, Frank Zappa, the Rolling Stones, Free, Genesis, Lou Reed, Joan Armatrading, Lindisfarne, Dusty Springfield, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Krisma, Jeff Beck/Rod Stewart, and more.
Trident Studios was also renowned for its recording consoles. The Trident A-Range consoles were originally designed and built as an in-house project by Malcolm Toft who was a chief recording engineer at Trident and Barry Porter who was in charge of studio maintenance.
7. Olympic Sound Studios
After a few years as a studio for television commercials, Olympic Sound Studios started as a recording facility in 1966.
It had enough room to house a 70-piece orchestra and thus offered a unique space for large bands or orchestras. Unfortunately, Olympic Sound Studios is no longer active.
Madonna – American Life
U2 – No Line On The Horizon
The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
Queen – A Night At The Opera
Pink Floyd – The Final Cut
Olympic Sound Studios began in central London in the 1950s, then moved slightly west to Barnes. The name Olympic Sound proved to be problematic for copyright reasons, and there is some speculation that this dulled their success in comparison to Abbey Road (EMI) Studios.
The Rolling Stones were among Olympic Sound Studios’ first notable clients and recorded six albums between 1966 and 1972. The Beatles also recorded there, specifically on the original tracks of “All You Need Is Love”.
Another legendary act to record at Olympic Studios was The Who, with their classic albums Who’s Next and Who Are You.
Other notable users include Queen (with their groundbreaking album A Night At The Opera) as well as The Small Faces, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Procol Harum (with A Whiter Shade Of Pale), B.B. King, David Bowie, The Jam, Pink Floyd, Duran Duran, Oasis, Barbra Streisand, Nick Cave, Madonna, Prince, and The Spice Girls.
U2 was the final act to record on the site in December 2009 with their album No Line On The Horizon.