Recording in paradise: AIR Studios Montserrat

AIR Studios control room
(c) Shane Thoms

In the modern recording era getting clients to travel more than an hour is a big ask, but in 1980, not so much. After a trip with his wife, George Martin decided to open up a secret studio in the rural, non modernized, secluded island of Montserrat. Recording artist flocked to the island to not only record in one of the most sophisticated studios in the world at the time, but also to enjoy the peace and tranquility the island offered. Most of us could only dream of getting the chance to take a trip to an exotic island with the sole reason of creating the best art possible. For over ten years Air Studios hosted artists such as Dire Straits, The Police, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Duran Duran, The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Black Sabbath and Eric Clapton, just to name a few.

AIR Studios Montserrat in it’s heyday

In 1989 disaster hit the island when Hurricane Hugo destroyed over 90% of the island’s buildings. This included Air Studios and it was shut down, liquidated and boarded up. In 1995, disaster struck the island again when the Soufrière Hills volcano erupted and left only a small piece of the northern tip of the island habitable.

The remnants of Air Studios resides right on the border of the exclusion zone; an area covered in ash, mud and overgrown trees and considered too unsafe to have open to the public. However, this hasn’t stopped numerous adventurous tourist from trespassing so they could experience a piece of what’s left of the extensive history. Over 75 albums were recorded at Air Studios in Montserrat, yet there is little information or pictures in existence. The best documentation of the studio and island is in Stings music video “Every Little Thing You Do Is Magic

Most of the information that can be found about the studio on the internet is from people sneaking in while it was already in a debilitated state. Shane Thoms is an urban exploration photographer from Australia, visited the island of Montserrat last year. He was kind enough to let me use his pictures. You can visit Shane’s website here.

(c) Shane Thoms

After the hurricane there were discussions of turning what was left of the studio into a museum but it never materialized. Air Studios still sits at the edge of the exclusion zone, almost symbolic of a better time for not only the island of Montserrat but the music industry. Million dollar budgets and tropical recording gateways are a thing of the past. On the bright side, you can take a laptop and an interface or midi controller on vacation and experience a similar feeling.

Related articles:
Carbon microphones and the Placid Audio Carbonphone
The “your mixes sound bad in the car” phenomenon
[Even more] Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering
Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering

David Silverstein

David Silverstein began engineering at the age of 14 when he purchased a Fostex four track cassette recorder. After high school he enrolled at Five Towns College where he graduated with a Bachelors of Professional Studies in Business with a concentration in Audio Recording Technology. He has worked under renowned engineers and producers Jim Sabella (Marcy Playground, Nine Days, and Public Enemy) and Bryce Goggin (Pavement, Spacehog, The Ramones and The Lemonheads). David currently works out of Sabella Studios in Roslyn, NY.

Leave a Reply