SA Life

Get CityMag in your inbox. Subscribe
July 27, 2023

Get reel: inside Milestone Records

Tom Spall has been recording bands since he was 16, always with the hope of opening a permanent studio. At Milestone Records, he’s collected together a generation-spanning trove of equipment.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  • Words: Isabella Xiao
  • Pictures: Thomas McCammon

Bright, whimsical paintings adorn both sides of the Milestone Records entrance in the Adelaide Hills – pieces from Elena Dakota, a friend of the recording studio’s founder, Tom Spall.

There’s a sign above the door that reads ‘Milestone’, which originally hung on the gate of his late grandparents’ house in the Blue Mountains. Miles is a family name. It was his grandparents’ surname and is his middle name.

Even before we’ve stepped into the studio, it’s the space is more than the sum of its parts for Tom.

There are photographs arrayed across the wooden-slatted walls of the studio, which Tom has taken on his Polaroid SX-70. This is how he documents the bands and arts who’ve come through Milestone. He admits to have missed a few.

Looking at the smattering of images, we spot Ricky Albeck & The Belair Line Band, All The Weathers, Big Town, Jardine Kiwat, Dom & The Wizards (in which Tom plays the violin), and Tom’s own band The High Beamers. There’s more than 40 year’s difference between his oldest and youngest client, with the thread connecting them all being their rock roots.

This comes as no surprise as Tom’s own musical history is grounded in the genre. However, he says the studio could be geared to a spectrum of other musical expressions.

“It’s set up so it sounds good to record live,” he says. “I could record classical in here, I could record a string quartet or chamber groups, so it’s open to that. Jazz would work well here too – I would love to record jazz in here. It really could be anything.”

Among the many modern recording accoutrements laid throughout the studio, there is one that catches CityMag’s eye – a 16-track reel-to-reel sitting unassumingly in the corner. It’s a machine that’s been superseded dozens of times over, but Tom still uses the machine extensively. “Computer is like 60 per cent, tape 40,” he says.

It was recently used on a song from Workhorse’s latest record, No Photographs, and Tom says he goes through periods of using it exclusively. Surprisingly, he uses it less for the sound than for the psychological effect recording to tape has on the artist.

“You go down different paths in your decision-making with what you choose to do, and that has more of an influence on the project than the sound,” he says.

Milestone’s inventory is an accumulation of equipment Tom has collected over 20 or so years – microphones of all shapes and origins, reverb and delay emulators, the list goes on.

“I’ve acquired it all slowly and I just keep everything,” he says. “These (sound dampening) baffles that are on the roof and on the walls, I’ve been carrying them around from house to house for many years, and I guess now they’ve found a permanent home.”

While the studio is currently not a dry-hire space, Tom hasn’t ruled out this possibility. Through his business, Tom hopes to foster collaboration between Adelaide artists.

“The thing I like the most is what happens when people play together and make decisions as things are happening, and react to other people,” he says. “So when you capture all of that at the same time it’s pretty special.”

This article first appeared in CityMag‘s 2023 Festival Edition.

Share —