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Livingroom Studios about Cubase, Plug-ins and Projects

Norwegian Livingroom Studios is situated in Oslo and offers recording and mastering services for over a decade now. Owners of this exquisite studio facility are Espen Berg and Simen Eriksrud, two producers using Cubase and making Livingroom one of the most influential recording studios in Norway. Livingroom Studio has been working with internationally renowned artists the likes of Lady Gaga.

Tell us a little about your backgrounds and how you became producers.
Simen: I started out playing keyboards and writing songs in a band called Padington. We were just three friends from Trondheim having a good time making music together. We quickly discovered that there was something called Cubase VST that let us record on our PC rather than on our four-track tape recorder. I then made so many demos that after a while they started sounding better than just "demos". After a while I came in contact with Espen who was already an established producer and I joined Livingroom Studios in 2002.

Espen: I am also from Trondheim and grew up listening to English and American pop music through a gigantic satellite dish installed in the neighborhood as a pre-cable test project in 1981. I was the only one in my class that had cable TV with music videos and while the other guys in my school would go head-banging to Iron Maiden I would get punched for trying to play The Clash and Depeche Mode on the sound system in the school canteen. I moved to Oslo and a few years later started Livingroom Studios. That was in 1999.

What services do Livingroom Studios provide to clients, and what kind of artists do you work with?
Livingroom has offered recording and mastering services ever since the start and we have been involved in almost any stage in the production of music. The last three years, however, we have focused on writing and producing. The studio was completely rebuilt in 2011 and the studio now consists of a big mixing suite and three smaller work rooms/control rooms. We decided to build them as "mastering type" rooms as the setup people work with is getting more compact but more focus is put into well-tuned and acoustically balanced listening. The ergonomics is also a big issue when you work ITB as you simply don’t move as much around as you used to, so we have put a lot of effort into making the work rooms well laid out and feel good.

Why did you choose Cubase as your DAW software solution, and why did you recently decide to get rid of your big SSL 4056G series analog desk?
The SSL desk was more and more used as a big monitor controller. With no mixes being laid out one more than a couple of stereo channels and the hassle with patch-bays and no instant recall, we just couldn’t wait to get rid of it. Of course it sounds beautiful in it’s dirty, unpredictable way but the world was moving forward and with building the new studio we wanted to focus on making the place suit the people working there and not build it around a huge console. The WK ID Consoles were perfect for working inside the computer with small footprint and automation/faders resembling the feel of the SSL.

We have both been using Nuendo and Cubase all the way since Atari and so we grew with it eventually making the program feel like part of the brain. Some people suggested we should have Pro Tools as well for compatibility so we got that. We never use it for anything other than some mixing work in the big room and sending projects. Cubase is so much faster in almost every aspect, and for audio editing it’s just amazingly fast!

You produced both the initial debut album of the latest Norwegian pop sensation Donkeyboy as well as their new second album that has just been released in Norway. How did you get in touch with the band to begin with?
We met them in 2006 but it took over three years before we started working together. They were hanging around in the studio helping out on sessions and we worked on doing demos with them for a while but nothing really happened until we co-wrote the track “Ambitions” and it had this somewhat dry sound that everyone completely loved and from then on we just knew what we wanted to do together.

What were the most challenging tasks during the work on the Donkeyboy albums?
It was trying to keep serious and calm. The guys love practical jokes so we struggled a bit with getting actual work done some days. But humor and will to experiment is an important part in a good working relationship and we really had a good time. We’re sure some of that rubbed off on the music.

What features of Cubase would you highlight as important to your way of working, and do you have any favorite Cubase tips and tricks to share?
The main features that are important to our way of working are the ease of use and the speed of audio editing, such as with Lane Comping and AudioWarp. Being able to go into recorded audio and move the timing and pitch is easier in Cubase than in Autotune or Melodyne for instance. Also the possibility to undo processing on rendered clips through the process history is great. The layout and color scheme are also nice. MIDI editing is also easy but when you have worked with a program for over 20 years it is a little difficult to mention anything in specific. It just feels like an extension of your body.

How do you find working inside the computer with an external remote controller vs. the more classical studio setup you used to have with a big analog desk and lots of external outboard?
It is a lot easier once you get used to it. Of course nothing can beat laying out a mix quickly on the SSL for 30 minutes and get it grooving. Working inside the computer will take a little longer to get to the same place, but when the mix starts to sound good the inside-the-computer possibilities with automation and manipulation are unbeatable — not to mention recall. The only two things we try to be aware of when working inside the computer is not to overwork a song due to the ease of recall and time and to limit our VST plug-in arsenal so we don’t get overwhelmed by the possibilities. Nothing good comes out of having too many compressors and gear.

Has software plug-ins and software really come of age in order to fully replace their more expensive hardware counter-parts, or are there more practical reasons for working inside the computer? And what are your favorite plug-in effects and virtual instruments?
We have sold a lot of our analog rig but have a few important units in the mixing room and some nice recording stuff in the working rooms, such as Neve pre-amps, classical recording compressors and so on. As long as you’re not working to the computer through a brain implant you’re going to need good speakers, amps, mics and pres so we have kept those. The old tape machines were the last to go with the SSL and the only thing we miss a little is the smell of a fresh tape wound up with a nice cup of coffee to start off a session. Apart from that, it’s all plug-ins now. The plug-ins get better and better every day and there are more of them as well, so we try to limit ourselves. Like really getting to know the ones we have instead of wondering which of these 13 saturator plug-ins would be best for this vocal. The standard plug-ins in Cubase are used a lot and we think they sound great. The others we use a lot are the Waves Mercury, Soundtoys and Universal Audio which we’ve had since they came out in 2000.  When it comes to soft-synths we have a lot of them and the favorites list changes all the time like the flavor of the week. It’s really impressive now with VSTs like Diva how lifelike and huge sounding they have become.

What are you currently working on and what will be your next big project?
We are writing with artists from many places and it’s more a song-to-song based situation now. We normally do like three or four tracks a week and some of them get picked up by artists through publishers or we work directly with the artist in writing sessions. Sometimes they fly to Norway or we get to travel. It’s just a totally new situation these days as you have so many producers and writers on an album so we feel really lucky and privileged to get to work with so many great people.

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