Show Us Your Studio #5: "There's an immediacy with synths and guitars you just don't get with the PC"

paul jelfs
(Image credit: Paul Jelfs)

This is Show Us Your Studio, a chance for our readers to show off their set-up, shout about their gear and invite the world into their home studio. This week's studio shot has been submitted by MusicRadar reader Paul Jelfs. 

Paul is a media composer and former music teacher working from a home studio that's been designed to accommodate challenges presented by his disabilities. Paul's synths, controllers and PC have all been arrayed within arms reach to make the music-making experience more comfortable: these include the Roland System-8, a beastly polysynth that packs sounds from the Juno-106, Jupiter-8, JX-3P and more into a strikingly backlit shell, and the Yamaha Genos, an instrument we singled out as the best arranger/performer keyboard on the market in our guide to the best electronic keyboards.

Tell us about your studio set-up?

"I have been composing for just over five or so years, and due to my health challenges, including mental and physical, I am fortunate enough to have a modern music studio set-up where everything is within reaching distance. This friendly and accessible approach means that I do not need to strain my back to use any of my synths, controllers or monitors. I also have air conditioning installed, as I tend to get very warm on my medication, combined with all the electronic equipment. 

"My brother helped set up and build the studio, complete with soundproofing, in vibrant bright colours, which I find helps with my mood and makes for a much more creative environment. I love the mix of in-the-box and out-of-the-box; while in terms of sound quality, no hardware can come as close to recreating acoustic instruments as huge sample libraries do, there is an immediacy with synths and guitars you just don't get with the PC. 

There is an immediacy with synths and guitars you just don't get with the PC

"I love my System-8, as even if I don't often use it in my projects, it's a fun one-knob-per-function synth - you can get lost making the craziest sounds, which then fuels you creatively. My Yamaha Genos, although an arranger, sounds excellent, and as a media composer it very useful for trying different ideas in different styles, and getting ideas down quick; again, something not possible when on the PC.

"The Behringer Wing is probably used more for live sound than studio, but I think for everything you get for the price it is wonderful: 24 motorized faders, 16 effects busses with high quality effects, not to mention the choices of dynamic processors. Again, I love the fact that it's hands-on and everything is within arms length for me, so I can use it from my chair."

Tell us a little about your musical background?

"I am a self-taught musician that got in to the piano at 14, in the 90s, because I loved the band Madness. I was hooked and so learning was not a chore but a pleasure, and learned to play well, long before I could read music. I kind of did things in reverse: I learned the instrument first, then went back and studied all the theory. Me and my best mate wrote Euro-pop songs as teenagers, one of which was spotted by BMG Berlin, but the deal never ended going through. That was a massive blow, and because of my mental health, part of a breakdown. 

"In hindsight I should have kept going as we were so close, but the feeling of rejection made me turn away from composing, and I set up as a private music school and local music shop for many years. It has only been in the last five or so years I have got back in to writing my own music. I write media music, which covers a vast range of things, from orchestral arrangements to EDM songs. I really enjoy it as you are never really doing the same thing twice.

My biggest success was probably winning the international Able Artist All Genre competition in 2021

“I am still mastering my trade and will be studying an MA in Media Composition later this year. I had hoped to have started earlier but my mental health issues had gotten in the way and though it still affects me, I am taking each day as its comes. I am fortunate enough to have had some success with my compositions early on in my career, having had one of my songs used as a showcase for Cinesamples Cinewinds library. 

“Just recently I was approached by Spitfire to use another of my compositions to help promote some of their libraries. Last year one of my tracks got through to the semi-finals of the prestigious FMC 2022 international competition. My biggest success was probably winning the Any Genre category at the international Able Artist Foundation competition in 2021, which is a great organisation that helps fellow musicians and composers with mental or physical disabilities. 

“The founder, composer Stephen Letnes, has been really supportive and helpful. He set up the organisation after realising there was no help for musicians trying to get ahead in what is a very expensive industry in terms of tools. I would encourage others to check out the website if they registered disabled.” 

Tell us about the challenges you've faced as a disabled composer?

"My mental health issues have been a huge factor in affecting my ability to make music. I see it as a double-edged sword, as it seems to go hand in hand with creativity with a lot of people. More recently I have struggled also with a physical health problem in my spine, meaning I cannot stand unaided for any length of time. This is extremely frustrating as I used to like to stand and play the piano. 

My mental health issues have been a huge factor in affecting my ability to make music

"My brother Kev has helped make everything in the studio much more accessible for me from my chair. I think a lot of composers with either mental or physical health problems would agree that being a musician - especially if you are trying to develop your own set up for composing - is an extremely expensive affair. 

"Often because of said health issues, many musicians, including myself, struggle financially and that is why fantastic organisations like the Able Artist Foundation and Help Musicians UK, have done some wonderful work. You take your body and mind for granted until it is taken away."

What's your favourite piece of gear in your studio and why?

"It has to be the System-8. It's like a toy, and even if I do not feel creative, I know that I can have fun and get lost in the sounds that it can produce. I have no doubt that It will come to be seen as a future classic in years to come. I have VSTs that could probably get very close to the same results, but there is something inspiring about having some many knobs and buttons to play around with. It helps to remind me why I got into creating music in the first place."

What dream piece of gear would you love to own if money was no object?

"So many come to mind, but I would have to say something like the Moog One. I thought it might be the Jupiter-8, because it does have such a rich amazing sound, but in reality I think something like the Moog One is more impressive taking the best of all things modern (digital effects and stable tuning!) with analogue voices. That would take some beating for me."

Take a listen to Paul's track Back To Where It Began below.

Find out more about the Able Artist Foundation and Help Musicians UK

If you'd like to be featured on Show Us Your Studio, email us today with a clear and well-lit picture of your studio space. 

If you've already submitted and haven't been contacted, don't despair: we'll be continuing to comb through the emails we've received over the coming weeks, so keep an eye on your inbox. If we've already reached out, keep an eye on MusicRadar as we continue posting entries over the weeks to come.

Paul's gear list

  • Roland System-8
  • Roland Juno-X
  • Behringer Wing 
  • Yamaha Genos
  • Nektar GX88
  • Neumann KH120s
  • Behringer DI8000
  • 64GB RAM PC 
  • Too many sample libraries to count!

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