DAFT: your creative home from home?

DAFT Studios, located in the stunningly serene Belgian Ardennes, is more than just a recording studio; it’s a creative residence that provides a home-like atmosphere for artists, with boss Stijn Verdonckt believing that, as a destination complex, providing a unique atmosphere is just as important as high end equipment. 

Not that technical specification is a secondary thought: DAFT’s main space, for example, is one of Europe’s largest recording rooms, spanning an impressive 200 square meters with an 8-meter-high ceiling. Sitting alongside four isolated booths, each with their own distinct characteristics, and with a Rupert Neve Designs 5088 Shelford Edition console at the heart of its 70m2 control room, it’s ideally suited for capturing the grandeur of drums, orchestras, and film scores, as well as more compact sessions for rock, pop or jazz projects. DAFT also offers up to 10 writing rooms, making it an ideal location for anything from writing camps, to rehearsal and demo sessions, to recording and mixing, and even tour pre-production.

But that’s not all. Taking full advantage of its unique location, surrounded by dense forests and rolling hills, DAFT also offers musicians (and the public) a fully functioning hotel with bar, cinema, pool and sauna – alongside more than 5,000m2 of gardens, campfires and glamping.

We spoke with Stijn Verdonckt about how DAFT came to be, and why hospitality has become just as important to the studio’s offering as equipment, backline and acoustics.  


Could you take us through a short history of Daft?

SV: I started in the early 2000s as a tea boy, then assistant through to being an engineer at La Chapelle Studios, which was another residential studio, founded in 1979. I climbed the ladder there until I was an in-house engineer. Then, throughout the 2000s, the business became harder and harder – this was before the DSPs so there was a lot of piracy. Studios ended up going broke. I became a freelance engineer and worked at several studios before I got the opportunity to take over La Chapelle Studios before it went broke. I had some ideas about how it could be managed better and so took the leap in 2008 – that’s when we became affiliated with Miloco. 

We rebranded the studios to ‘Daft Music Studios’ because we wanted to make it clear that it was a new era and we were doing things differently. We ran the studios in the old buildings until 2015, when we started building our facility here. We opened the new building and the hotel here in January 2015.


What were some of the things you did differently as far as managing the studio is concerned?

SV: I think one of the first things is that when you market yourself as a residential or destination studio, you need a good room, good equipment and a crew that is highly skilled, and next to that is the vibe. You need to have a good vibe, which is something that hadn’t been given much attention to before I took over. You need everything to be top level but you also want people to come in and feel good and feel at home – because people can stay for months. There’s a psychological aspect to the studio stay that we pay a lot of attention to.

We also realised that the studio world was changing. The sessions aren’t as fragmented as they used to be. At the beginning of the 2000s, bands would rehearse, record, mix and master. Now it’s become one hybrid, fluid process where the first rehearsals could be recorded and end up on the final thing. There isn’t that big a differential between a writing session and a recording session, a recording session or a mixing session. We work with that and have a creative writing room approach to the studio where you can quickly switch between composing and writing to recording. We really think about that workflow and how we can make it faster and more efficient.

Then, speaking about diversification, we constantly think about how we can do things and make it work in a constantly changing industry.


Tell us about the hotel you run alongside the studio. It caters to the public as well as artists, right?

SV: Yes. We are a real hotel! We always give priority to music, however, and fill the gaps with tourism. We have Belgium’s F1 race track nearby, and this is a beautiful nature region, so we have quite a lot of tourists but they usually book their stays with little advance, while the recording sessions are booked further ahead – so they work well together.

That’s the first thing that makes us different to other studios. We’re a real destination, and the hotel is an integral part of the studio. It helps to be able to land, stay here and think about nothing else other than the music you want to work on. We have catering, wellness with the sauna and swimming pool, it’s a beautiful place and the hotel adds to all of that.


What have been some of the highlights for you over the years?

SV: Artist-wise, we’ve had Sigala do some of his debut album here, and that went on to become a huge record. He’s a really great artist and producer, and it was a really great session. We did a session with a Belgian band called Novastar, who had all British session musicians including producer Mikey Rowe, who plays keyboards for Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and has produced for Oasis; Skin Tyson, a guitarist who plays with Robert Plant; Andy Britton, who plays with Amy Macdonald; drummer Keith Prior who plays with David Gray,… That was a really great session musically, and the record was a success, but it was also another example of a session where we tried something different because the band wanted a live vibe to the album so we brought in a small audience of around 20 people during a couple of the session nights. We organised something special for the super fans of the band. They stayed over at the hotel and attended the recording sessions at night. We did that for three nights. It was great for the band to have people to play for.

We do quite a lot of film scoring. The biggest project so far has been The Other Side Of The Wind, a movie that’s on Netflix. It’s the last film that Orson Wells made in the 80s, but he died before the film went into post-production. We did an orchestral score for the film with Michel Legrand and more than 70 musicians for a movie, which is something we are quite proud of.


Was the hotel always part of the plan with the new hotel premises?

SV: The idea came about because productions got bigger and we didn’t have enough accommodation for whole crews. TV productions like The Voice or Got Talent, if they’re doing things like workshops that aren’t happening in the studio, then they’d come and film here and bring 30 people. That’s why we wanted to make more accommodation than we used to have in the old studio. We also have a lot of artists come over just to write, rather than record. The hotel is a solution for that because they don’t need to rent the studio. We have some rooms that can be used as writer’s rooms, allowing us to have a bigger capacity with artists writing while others are recording in the studio. The hotel fits with that hybrid way of working. When we started building here, writing camps really exploded. We do a lot of writers camps now and the hotel allows us to answer that demand. We can host 30 – 40 people and nobody needs to leave the premises. You can eat, sleep and work here.


And you have a creative agency as part of your business as well…

SV: Yes we have a 12 person crew here at Daft, with three people working on the creative agency. We try to build bridges between brands and artists. We have a unique approach in that market because we have different links with artists than a traditional marketing agency. We have a knowledge of music that is a real added value when it comes to finding an identity for a brand. 

We have an ongoing talent support programme with Pepsi Max in Belgium and a partnership with national radio. Pepsi supports young artists and they get airplay on the radio and studio time. Pepsi in return gets some of the video content shot at the studio and does interviews with the young talent. It’s a win-win: the artist gains from the visibility and it’s the right audience and authentic content for Pepsi.

Last year we launched the BMW i5 in the studio and composed and recorded a Dolby Atmos soundtrack and show around it. Every night BMW invited 100 people to come and experience the release of the car with the Dolby immersive show, which was another win-win because it was a creative, impressive way of showcasing the car.

We no longer see ourselves as solely a recording studio. We call ourselves Daft Music Studios now because it’s more like a creative hub. We’re always eager to meet creative people and get to work with them.

For more info on DAFT, click here

For enquiries, email bookings@miloco.co.uk

Stay in the loop

Follow @milocostudios
Subscribe to Miloco News

We will send you our monthly newsletter, alongside occasional promotional emails and important updates from the Miloco group. You can unsubscribe at any time. For more details, please review our Privacy Policy.