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22 l September 2014

studio UNITED KINGDOM The Realpiano man

A new remote piano recording service says it’s “proud to have played a part” in music made around the world, writes Erica Basnicki

TWO YEARS ago, Jonathan Dodd met with friend and Incognito keyboardist Matt Cooper for lunch and a chat about a grand piano – a purchase Dodd was considering. When the conversation turned to work Cooper had recently completed using Yamaha’s Disklavier range (a hybrid digital/analogue piano with MIDI input and storage capabilities), it, if you will, struck a chord with Dodd. “Matt said he had done a session in Malaysia and was able to correct the file afterwards; they had sent him the MIDI file, he corrected it and sent it back. I thought I could offer a service like that as well, and so the idea of Realpiano was born.” Realpiano turns its clients’ MIDI files into a high-quality audio recording of – what else – a real piano. Specifically, a 7ft hand-built Yamaha DS6M4PRO Disklavier grand piano. Having worked with producers and musicians throughout his career, Dodd was well aware of the cost and potential problems piano recording can involve. As he explains, the idea behind Realpiano is “to provide a really high-end piano recording facility without any of those problems we had

encountered previously, and at an affordable price. A full session in a good recording studio with a good piano is going to cost around £1,000 a day once you’ve paid for piano tuning, engineers and session musicians. So for you to be able to send your MIDI file, and for me to edit a couple of things if necessary and then send you back a real grand piano version of your piece – at a fraction of that price – is a pretty cool thing.”

Just last month Dodd moved his studio to its new location in Farnham Common, Buckinghamshire, not too far from Pinewood Studios. The facility is also available for hire, but it’s Realpiano’s remote work that had Dodd and Yamaha working closely together to bring the business to life. It was David Halford,

Yamaha’s business development manager for acoustic pianos who initially picked up on the idea, says Dodd. “I got in touch with Yamaha and they were amazed because they hadn’t thought of the Disklavier piano being used to provide musicians and creative people with real piano versions of their tracks.” The conversation led to a meeting with Charles Bozon, sales and marketing director at

Jonathan Dodd

The Disklavier, rigged up with Brauner mics

Yamaha Music, who arranged for Dodd to purchase the newest of the Disklavier series, the E3. Unforutnately, as Dodd explains, “it’s true to say it had software problems”. After eight months of sending files back and forth between Dodd, Yamaha UK and engineers at the company’s Japanese headquarters, both Dodd and Yamaha had to agree that the E3 wasn’t the right fit for Realpiano – at least, not at that time.

“David and Charles both

The Realpiano set-up also includes kit from Prism Sound, Dynaudio and Mackie

picked it up and ran with it, almost against the odds,” says Dodd. “When it was clear that the first piano wasn’t living up to expectations, they could’ve gone ‘well, we’re really sorry but it’s not going to work’, but they went out on a limb because they knew how hard I tried to make it work.”

A minor miracle enabled Bozon to secure the DS6M4PRO for Dodd. EU Trading standards had prohibited any further sale of the higher-end models, which featured more sophisticated software, within Europe. It just so happened a school in the UK had returned one they recently purchased – the last M4PRO in the country – as it was too complex for their needs. But it was perfect for Realpiano, and just as PSNEurope was going to press, Dodd received a new software upgrade, too. “It’s really exciting because it has taken many months and embraces so many of the factors that we brought to their attention,” he adds. What’s more, Yamaha has since also given its E3 software a full upgrade.

As for the rest of Realpiano’s recording chain, it starts with a pair of Brauner microphones – the VMX pure cardioid and

Valvet. The signal then runs into a Prism Sound Orpheus, which is a relatively new purchase for Dodd. Unsure of which model to buy, he called up Prism Sound and ended up discussing the business with a “very supportive” Graham Boswell, Prism Sound’s founder. “A couple of days later this truck arrived with five or six Prism Sound units, all fantastic pieces of kit, I sat in the studio and thought ‘how am I going to choose?’ It’s like having the whole series of Ferraris to choose from!”

For a different flavour of mic pre, a GP Electronics PML200E is also available. Monitoring is provided by a pair of Dynaudio BM6 monitors, and Mackie HR626 and HRS120 monitors, and files are recorded into either Logic Pro or MOTU’s Digital Performer 7.

Aside from work for the production music, TV and film industry, Realpiano has also contributed to recordings from artists globally: Canada, Israel, Australia, Brazil, France… even a remote island north of Norway in the Bering Sea. “That’s very often the most exciting thing to be involved in because you’re part of something that’s purely creative,” says Dodd. 

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