State of the nation: Portugal

When you start looking at the recording, post, and broadcast industries in Portugal one name seems to crop up over and over: Marcelo Tavares. The man behind the Audio Designer studio and acoustic design firm has put his stamp on facilities ranging from Al Jazeera’s TV complex in Paris to O Ganho do Som in Lisbon – the last of which is owned by self-professed audiophile João Ganho.

A 15-year veteran of the Portuguese broadcast industry, Ganho opened the studio in 2006, basing it on his own high-end equipment including five Electrocompaniet Nemo amplifiers and five B&W 801D monitors.

We talk to the duo about the current state of the industry in Portugal.

How healthy is the market for recording studios in Portugal?

Marcelo Tavares: I’ve been involved in projects for medium and even large studios, although people are more selective in their investments as revenue is not taken for granted in the short term. A lot of people are trying to strive through the crisis and hoping for better times.

João Ganho: Portugal has never had so many recording artists as nowadays. Everyone is recording, from fado [traditional Portuguese music] to hip-hop. It looks like a paradise for studio owners but the truth is that budgets are very low for most artists and most of them have a non-professional status.

Has the market changed in the past 5-10 years?

MT: Yes, in a way. A few years ago, only big companies or wealthy individuals could afford to build top facilities with high-end gear and proper acoustic spaces. With the affordability of certain key technology items, a lot of people are now more focused and aware of the importance of proper acoustics, as in a way that is what can differentiate them from the competition.

JG: In 2006, when O Ganho do Som opened its doors, there was just one good and big recording studio in Portugal. Lisbon’s bigger studio then was an obsolete facility from the 70s and there were no high-quality studios in the capital. Small project studios and inexpensive TV post studios were the standard. There was not even a single true mastering suite with the kind of reference monitoring and acoustics we have at O Ganho do Som.

Do you see more demand for personal studios over larger commercial spaces?

MT: There aren’t many large commercial spaces here and it is a fact that there is more growth in personal studios. However, that depends on the type of personal studio we’re talking about. Some people are keen to invest in acoustics and proper monitoring, some don’t have the budget or don’t care.

I’ve done more high-end home theatres and personal hi-fi rooms than personal recording studios.

JG: During the past six years there has been an increment of small studios and small TV post studios. Although we have [been in] a financial crisis for several years in Portugal, many small studios were built and the older ones were updated mainly in their acoustics.

I think there are an excessive number of studios nowadays for such a small market and, sooner or later we will start to see most of them closing doors.

What about audio post-production facilities? Is there much demand for new facilities?

MT: Not a significant growth. It’s a stable market. I’ve projected a few in the last years, but most are integrated in TV facilities. The rest are independent facilities that work for the broadcasters and advertising markets.

JG: If you ask the common audiences what they know about Portuguese films, the first thing they will relate them to is bad sound. Unintelligible dialogue is the most obvious for them because they can’t follow the story. From an informed point of view, one can easily find that is the result of successive mistakes, which start during the recording of the production track and end in the final mix.

Where have you seen the most growth in the past 5-10 years?

Without any doubt I would say on the broadcast side. The growth has been driven by the lowering costs in technology, production, and distribution models. I’ve seen an exponential demand for small-scale television stations and associated studio infrastructures.

JG: TV sound post in Portugal is much more professional and industrial than cinema post. It may have serious limitations from the creative point of view but it is a very efficient assembly line that gives any sound professional a high standard to start a career.

Lastly, do you have any predictions for the future of the industry in Portugal?

MT: Well, it’s a difficult question. It’s unpredictable. It all depends on the way that the industry adapts to the increasing difficulties posed by the economic situation. I think it’s a global or, if you want, a European issue. Portugal is a small country, but it has a lot of potential for growth and I am sure it will win over the difficulties.

Atlântico Blue Studio A designed by Marcelo Tavares