Hellfire Studios is the hidden gem of Ireland’s audio production industry.

Perched in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains, its stunning setting provides an inspirational outpost for musicians and producers who can simply step outside the control room to look across the rooftops of Dublin city and towards the Irish Sea.

Inside, at the centre of things is Hellfire’s historic ex-BBC Neve 6604 desk, paired with Pro Tools HD and industry-leading Lynx Aurora A/D converters: the very best combination of analogue vibe and modern flexibility.

Meanwhile, the 200 year-old building’s three-foot-wide stone walls and John L. Sayers-designed treatment provide recording isolation and acoustic perfection, all underscored by an enviable equipment and facilities list and the expertise of studio manager Joe McGrath.

All this makes Hellfire an in-demand destination for all manner of Irish and international artists: musicians and bands in every genre, music producers, and film and TV post-production professionals operating at the very top of their industries.

Our Team

Joe McGrath

Joe McGrath

The Sound of Hellfire

Hellfire Studios’ manager Joe McGrath has guided the facility carefully from day one – but as it announces itself to the world more confidently, McGrath is content to remain in the background as an engineer and facilitator of music and music-makers.

The arrival of mix and mastering expert Ivan Jackman, along with his Yamaha grand piano and equipment list, is a milestone in the studio’s development. Combined, McGrath and Jackman offer formidable expertise and experience – and yet the focus remains on Hellfire Studios itself.

The atmosphere, the facilities and the setting of Dublin’s ‘hidden gem’ amount to an extraordinary environment where people come from all over the world to make and record music. And, explains McGrath, it’s a place with an inspirational sound.

Ivan Jackman

Ivan Jackman

Prolific Producer and Engineer

Ivan Jackman is a prolific producer and engineer, resident at Hellfire Studios since September 2016. Ivan has worked with a variety of renowned artists across a broad spectrum of genres: he has guided sessions with vocalists such as Sinead O'Connor, Norma Winstone, Luka Bloom, Kevin Godley and Jaime Nanci, as well as great musicians like Bill Carothers, Larry Coryell, Chad Channing (Nirvana) and Kevin Brady.

Particularly known as an expert mix engineer, his mixing and mastering expertise have also been put to use with emerging artists such as New Secret Weapon, Solar Bears, and Contour.

Ivan's arrival at Hellfire in September 2016 was a milestone moment, expanding the studio's expertise as well as its inventory: Ivan's sensational Yamaha C7 grand piano is now a centrepiece of the Hellfire Studios live room.


Q: How did you come to set up Hellfire Studios?
A: I was doing recording and mixing work, and I needed a more professional environment that was acoustically sound to work in. I found it very difficult not having a properly treated space that I could trust – that was the main thing, for a start. In 2002 we looked around, found a building and put it into shape to become a good recording and mixing space. It was driven by the need to have a trustable base that you could get results out of without having to second-guess yourself.

Q: Why did you choose the name?
A: It’s named after a local landmark in south Dublin: the Hellfire Club, a ruined building with a mythical reputation. When you walk out the back of the studio it’s up behind you on a hill. I chose it because of the locality, and because it was different. It ties it into Dublin and it overlooks the place we work. Nothing demonic; no satanic worship!

Q: The Neve desk and ATC monitors are the studio’s big show-stoppers. Did you choose them or did they choose you?
A: The monitors definitely chose me. We went to London to audition them around two years before we finished the control room. We listened to a lot of monitors that day; I brought along a lot of tracks that I liked and mixes I was working on. We went through everything, and on the ATCs you could just really pinpoint what was going wrong with a mix: there was a vocal that wasn’t sitting right, and the second it went up on the ATCs you could hear where the frequencies were too high. Nothing else showed them up like they did. So the rest of the control room was built around them.
Any Neve is obviously an amazing console to have – it’s the tracking console on this side of the water, as opposed to the American APIs. But we needed to find one that was in good condition and suitable for the kind of work we are doing. The Neve VR was too complex for what we need, and they’re not quite the best-sounding Neve desks that were made. The Neve 6604 that we found is much better sounding than a VR: getting it was one of the best things that happened us. It sounds great, it’s really reliable, everyone loves working on it, and it really suits recording with Pro Tools. There were very few of them made – 65 or thereabouts. They’re quite rare, but this one came from the BBC. It was built in 1989, and when that BBC building was knocked down in 2006 Funky Junk refurbished it.

Q: Tell us about designing the acoustic profile of each space.
A: The control room is designed with odd angles and tailored specially for the ATC monitors, but in general it’s a really balanced acoustic space for monitoring. There’s a great stereo image. Then there are the recording spaces. There’s a vocal booth that’s dead on one side, a little bit live on the other – if you want a little more life you can just turn the mic around, and we track guitar amps there too. The main live room has a very controlled low end at all times. It’s all granite walls, and we mounted the wall panelling on wheels so we can change things around to expose more stone: we can get it quite live throughout the mid and high frequencies, but the low-end is always very well defined. Then there’s the drum room down the end: reasonably live, but a tighter sound. We can record anything there and get very different results through mic placement. We built a fourth room too – concrete floor, all stone walls, never treated. It’s a really live space that has great properties. It’s completely different.
It’s a really interesting space to work in, capable of textures for recording, or a Zeppelin/Bonham drum

Q: Are acoustics particularly important to you as an engineer?
A: Source sound is something I’ve always loved: capturing the sound that you’re looking for in a finished product. If you don’t have that from the beginning, you can find yourself chasing a sound or trying to make it sound acceptable, rather than something that inspires or pushes on the music. If you have the musicians and the instruments, you want to capture that as well as you can. It moves along a project, and inspires you as you go. Listening back to a take and being surprised by the sound can be very off-putting for musicians and engineers alike.

Q: Hellfire has kept a low profile until now. Is it fair to say it’s a hidden gem?
A: It’s an expression that people have used… we haven’t openly advertised; we’ve found great musicians and they bring great projects. It’s been a very organic growth. A lot of people who use Hellfire tend to use it quite a lot.

Q: What kind of projects has the studio hosted over the years?
A: It’s a very wide range, but one of the common threads tends to be people who love to play live together, and prefer to play together rather than being separated. We can host quite big sessions, but sometimes a string or horn section might need to play together to capture that feel. The atmosphere of the place and the feeling of being there is really nice – it’s a very comfortable place to be, and to make music. That feeling drove us on when we were finishing the studio. For example, there aren’t many brass brands around, but we do quite a lot of that work and it’s very enjoyable – like Hypnotic Brass Ensemble from Chicago, who have been with us many times.

Q: What makes Hellfire so suited to film/TV post production?
A: There’s been a lot of foley and voiceover work been done here; it’s very suited to that. People can get immersed, settle in and finish their project here, as we’ve found with documentary films and recording audiobooks.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and your career.
A: I grew up in the ‘80s, and musically I was into bands like The Smiths, The Cure, Ride… Indie ‘80s bands. But then in the ‘90s dance music arrived, and it had something vibrant and exciting about it. That was really interesting, and a lot of people were able to start making dance music in their homes – that’s what got me into recording first. But ironically, that came full-circle to recording bands and live-based projects. The love of live music never left. I love horns, love Motown… the musical journey never stopped. Recording something good still brings me back to the feeling of getting a record and carrying a square 12” record bag home.

Q: What producers/engineers inspire you?
A: Flood always sounds great, and is really innovative. Eddie Kramer and Glyn Johns have done amazing records. Quincy Jones had an incredible hits.. Susan Rogers, a self-taught engineer who did a lot of Prince’s albums up to Sign O’ The Times… stories like that are very inspiring. There are endless   amounts of hugely talented people out there who do great things.

Q: Do you have a particular engineering style/technique?
A: Get it right at the start, as all engineers recommend, but in an environment in which people are comfortable to play, focus, be confident in their playing – and push it further. It’s the musicians who provide you with the quality, or not. I’m most interested in great takes, and people playing.

Q: You have a new collaborator at Hellfire, Ivan Jackman, and his equipment including a Steinway grand piano is on-site. How did it come about, and how will it work?
A: Ivan booked the studio once or twice to mix in; I got to know him and he’s mastered a lot of our projects. It was obvious that he’s really talented at what he does. In time, he was looking for somewhere permanent as a mix room, and it came about very naturally that by putting what we have together, the sum of our parts became greater. We’re both independent of each other: I record more and he mixes more, and we complement each other really well based at a studio that can really deliver.

Q: How do you see Hellfire developing in the short/medium/long term?
A: We’re letting the world know about us more so that the studio can develop more on its own momentum: it’s not about one person, it’s a space to create within. I think that more acts and engineers will come here with that in mind – it’s somewhere to collaborate and somewhere that music gets made.