The Life Of… a Studio Producer

By Dan Austin, Music Engineer & Producer

Posted

An interview with Dan Austin, Music Engineer & Producer.

How did you get started in production?

I was really fortunate from a really young age. I knew  that I wanted to do something in music, whether that be production or in a band. During my A-levels I managed   to get in to Mole Studios in Bath. I was meant to work evenings and weekends, and continue doing my school work throughout the week, but I ended  up  working there all of the time. My general assistant (tea boy) job eventually led to being assistant engineer at the studio. As different producers passed through the studio I managed to do more and more engineering work.

At 22, The Cooper Temple Clause, a band I had engineered with alongside producer Paul Corkett (Placebo, Biffy  Clyro) asked if I would produce  their  second  album. This was my big jump from being the in-house engineer at a studio, to working alongside bands and producers all over the country, including people like Steve Osborne (Happy Mondays, Doves, U2), John Leckie (Muse,  Radiohead,  The Stone Roses) and Flood (Depeche Mode, Goldfrapp, Nine Inch Nails) etc.

 

You have management now – how easy is it to find representation?

Fortunately, the album I left Mole Studios to produce, happened to do really well. The week it came out it was high in the charts, so I approached various management companies to see if anyone would take me on. It had always been a childhood dream to be on 140db’s roster, and lucky enough I ended up with them as representation.

I always like to study the producers I  look  up  to  or work with, and take bits and pieces from their own production styles to create my own little ‘bag of tricks’. 

I think it is relatively easy to find representation, and certainly much easier when you have ‘good brackets’ beside your name i.e. recording credits. Obviously this does not necessarily mean that you are any better than any other producer, but it does allow potential management companies to place some trust in the quality of your work. There are so many different companies who represent various producers/ mixers at various levels in a career. I would recommend contacting management early in your career, so  that  they can keep track of your progress, and hopefully find   a suitable time to get involved from a management angle.

 

You work with a lot of different bands – what’s your favourite type of artist to work with?

I am very fortunate as I get to pick and choose who I work with now. I also work across a lot of different genres of music, my CV can be a little confusing as I work with rock, electronic etc. Essentially, I just love music and love working with bands whose music makes me feel something. If I receive a demo and think I would buy the record, then I will most likely want to work on it. If it’s music that both the artist and producer enjoy, they can inspire each other and achieve one another’s ideas and visions.

 

Can you make a living as a producer?

Yes, but it is increasingly difficult. Gone are the days of helicopters and mansions, three months to make an album, and absurd amounts of money being thrown around. There have been difficult times in my own career when I wondered if I would make enough money to pay the rent, but as with most things, you just have to work incredibly hard and believe in your own ability. >>

 

What’s a typical day like in the studio for you?

Some days I am on my own in a mix room, sometimes I am in a room with a band doing pre-production, making changes and working on parts and arrangements. Other days I am in the studio recording. There isn’t really a typical day, however they are always really long, but exciting!

I generally work from 10am until midnight, but dependent on the time constraints or budget I may work longer hours. When I am in the studio though that is all I want to do. If you have an amazing band, and an incredible studio, you just want to use all of the hours available.

 

Who are your favourite producers and why (biggest influences)?

Growing up, George Martin showed me cutting edge techniques and classical qualities. Flood managed to take weird and hardcore sounds to the mainstream, and Rich Costey’s (Sigur Ros, Foster The People) mixes are beautiful. Dr Dre’s sonic and inventiveness was beyond anyone else’s at the time. I always like to study the producers I look up to or work with, and take bits and pieces from their own production styles to create my own little ‘bag of tricks’.

 

What’s the biggest change you have seen in the way music is produced/recorded?

Without a shadow of a doubt… computers! I started working in 1997, and the only computer they had was an Atari ST that ran Cubase in order to run MIDI for sound launchers and samplers. Now you can make an entire record on a laptop or computer. It was actually a great time to get in to production, as I experienced that crossover; learning skills through tape recording and gradually integrating computers and recording software like Pro Tools in the process as they became available.

I think it is brilliant that anyone can make a record on a laptop to the highest quality. The sounds I can make, manipulate and use, and the way I can mix and automate a mix is way more advanced than what was possible on    a console or tape machine. Those creative opportunities have been fantastic for me and I fully embrace them.

 

Many of the bigger studios are struggling or even closing. Do you think there is a sea change in how people make records? Is there still a place for the bigger studios?

It is tough for the big studios at the moment. Lots of them have closed. It is partly due to budget restrictions from labels, and the first people to have their fees cut are the producers, engineers and studios. Which has meant that suddenly the studios either cannot maintain their equipment, employ enough staff, or pay their rent.

This demise of studios has gone hand in hand with the advancements of technologies. People do a lot more themselves at home. You can record anywhere now (old houses, peoples bedrooms) so the need for an actual studio space has become less.

However for certain records you might need a big wooden drum room. You might need 50 microphones. You would not be able to achieve these kinds of things in your own bedroom. There is also the environment a ‘professional’ studio provides – it gives you a certain mind set. A studio has such a big effect on the sound of a record. The ambience of the place combined with how the musicians feel about the space will in turn effect the delivery of their performance. So there is definitely still a place for the bigger studios.

 

What is your favourite place to record music and why?

I have worked around the world in many different studios, with many holding a special place in my heart. Ocean Sound Recordings in Norway, often referred to as ‘the studio at the end of the world’ is up in the fjords on an island. Waves lap up against the studio windows whilst recording! It is absolutely incredible. East West in LA has amazing equipment and history – Frank Sinatra recorded there, and the album Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys was made there. Currently I have been working in a place called Vada in the UK, which is a beautifully well-kept studio, with incredible equipment and an incredible environment that really inspires those that record there.

 

What is your favourite piece of outboard equipment?

If I could only have one piece of outboard equipment for the rest of my life, it would have to be a Distresser – it’s the Swiss army knife of compression. I use it to warm things, abuse things and distort things. It is just a great sounding bit of gear!

 

What has been a highlight in your career so far?

Highlights that really stick in my mind are working with bands that I was a real fan of growing up. Pixies and Doves are a great example. I had all of the Pixies records and used to follow Doves around the country watching their shows, so to work with them was a dream come true.

 

Do you have any advice for those just starting out producing records but looking to make a career from it?

Trust yourself, work really hard, be nice, and be on time!


Dan Austin

Music Engineer & Producer

By Dan Austin, Music Engineer & Producer

Danaustinweb

Interview with Dan Austin, Music Engineer & Producer

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