Show Off Your Studio: Mitch’s Broadfields studio is a punk’s dream
Tyler, The Creator and Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes’ mix engineer shows us what gear makes him tick.
- Apple Mac Pro with Pro Tools
- Focal Solo 6Be Monitor Speakers
- Antelope Orion 32
- Neve 1073
- Audeze LCD-X Headphones
- Ludwig LM402 Snare Drum (It’s not a main piece of equipment, but I love it!)
Tell us a bit about Broadfields studio, Mitch!
Broadfields is located in Watford, Hertfordshire. It’s a two-room studio with a control room and live room, and I’ve been working here for the last 15 years or so. I’m constantly adding to it and improving it in every way I can. It has a nice range of old and new equipment and a good atmosphere and size to accommodate full bands. It’s situated in a nice and quiet area, so even though it is only a 20-minute train ride away from the heart of London, it feels like a different world from the sometimes distracting and more stressful aspects of the city. The relaxed atmosphere and calm surroundings help put artists at ease so they can perform at their best and enjoy the experience.
Can you tell us a bit about your amp and pedal collections?
I record a lot of guitarists and I’m a guitarist and bassist myself, so it’s great to have a nice selection of amps and pedals to experiment with. I’m a big fan of Marshall amps and I have quite a few of them, from small valve combos to an old original 60s 100 Watt Super Lead that sounds amazing. When I’m not certain what amp might work, I’ll often start with a Marshall as I know them so well and they work in a lot of situations.
As for the pedals, I started off trying to have all my bases covered, so that if a guitarist or bassist came in and wanted a specific effect, I’d have it there. I bought a lot of the more mainstream pedals (Boss, DOD, Ibanez etc.) which did the job at a good price. In the last few years, I’ve been starting to build my collection with more interesting pedals that do some crazy things and can be used in more creative ways, brands like Z.Vex and Fuzzrocious are favourites of mine. It’s nice to be able to introduce artists to new sounds – they can open up more ideas and inspiration and lead you down a new path – pedals are great for that.
What atmosphere do you try and create in the studio and how does the studio environment help you with your creativity?
The overall atmosphere in the studio is one of the most vitally important elements in music production. Being able to create a relaxed, non-judgemental safe place where artists feel comfortable to not only perform at their best but also to have the confidence and inspiration to experiment is what I strive for the most. Every single artist is totally different. Like everyone, they have different personalities, levels of confidence, tastes, knowledge, anxieties and worries. Listening to them, learning how they see things and being the most supportive and collaborative you can be while you’re working with them is the key to getting the best ideas, recording the best performances and, as a result, making the best records. Having a positive studio environment is absolutely key to creating the best work.
You’ve worked with some pretty prominent artists, how does your workflow adapt to suit each project?
Regardless of whether the artist is a big name with many albums under their belt, or if they are a brand new artist and this is their first recording, I treat them with the same attention and respect. All artists are different but they are all similar in the fact that they have trusted you to work on their art, something they have often spent a lifetime working on, so I try to never forget that.
Whether I’m doing a single or a whole record will affect my process. If I’m working with a band, I get them all playing in the room to start with so I can get the feel of how they perform live and hear what they sound like together. From that point onwards, it all depends on what makes the most sense with regards to the music and the performances of the musicians. After all the music is recorded I will select final takes and comps, do any editing that is required and then prepare the files for mixing. Even if I’m mixing the project myself, I prepare all the files as if I’m passing them to someone else to mix. This might sound strange but I see mixing and production as two very different disciplines and I try and start mixing with as clear a head as possible.
You said that Blossom by Frank Carter & Rattlesnakes was recorded in a raw manner to make it sound like a live performance. What creative decisions did you make here?
Frank Carter is renowned for being a fantastic live performer, and anyone who has been to any of the gigs will know the level of commitment and energy he and the band put into every note of their performances. I wanted to try and get as much of this energy and realness onto the record in a focused and powerful way. We live in a time where it’s all too easy to quantise everything to a grid, to sample and replace drums, to autotune and edit every second of a production so it is both metronomically and pitch-perfect. There is a place for all of those techniques, but I personally find it frustrating when it is done as a matter of course.
With Blossom, we set ourselves some rules from the outset. We decided we were going to record everything as live as possible, just the four of us together in the room was the basis of all the recordings – looking for takes that had the right feel and energy. All of the drums and bass were recorded in that fashion, and a lot of the vocals and guitar were used from those initial live recordings too. After we had the live song recorded, we then jumped in and re-recorded any vocal or guitar phrases that might need another take or two but that was kept to a minimum.
Sometimes setting these limitations can force you to be much more creative and that achieves a more unique sound. I was fortunate to be able to go down this route purely because I was working with musicians that had the experience and talent to record like this – it’s not an easy thing to do well. With processing, I did do things a little unconventionally, there is distortion all over the place. We liked the idea of the guitar being relatively clean and dynamic with the heaviness coming from everything else. I was playing bass on the album and I used an incredibly driven bass sound coupled with quite a bit of drive on the drum room microphones.
In keeping with the idea of making this record sound as live as possible, I liked the idea of the vocals fighting the music and sounding like they are being pushed through a small PA way too hot in some rowdy small gig. I used a Shure SM7b on Frank’s vocals, it’s a mic that I love and it seems to work really well on Frank’s voice. I then distorted the vocal signal in parallel with the clean recording. I don’t know many albums where the vocals are driven to that extent on every song. I’m really proud of Blossom as a record and it was great to be able to make a record in that way, even if I was playing bass, engineering, producing and mixing all at the same time. We achieved what we wanted from that record and I’m excited for the five-year anniversary deluxe edition which is coming out soon, it’s been great to see the band go from strength to strength over the past few years and then look back on where it started.
What is your favourite piece of gear?
My Focal Solo 6Bes, I absolutely love them. Translating what sounds good in the studio so it sounds good in the real world was a struggle of mine for years. I tried everything and it was not until I auditioned loads of speakers and settled on the Focal’s that I was happy with my mixes. Some people buy the speakers that make their music sound the best, but you don’t want that in the studio, you don’t want them to be flattering. The Focals immediately exposed all the issues I was noticing in the real world that I was not hearing in the studio, and the minute I could do that it changed everything for my mixing.
I’ve had a similar experience with headphones very recently. For years, I’ve been unhappy working on them as I’ve never been able to find a set that I can trust mixing on. Recently I bought myself a pair of Audeze LCD-X headphones. They have had a similar effect on my mixing and now I have something I can trust as a true reference point. I’m taking them everywhere and they have quickly become a favourite of mine.
What would you save in a fire?
Aside from my family and pets, it would be some of the instruments that have a strong sentimental value to me. I have a Fender Precision Bass and a Telecaster that I’ve had for years and I’ve played so many gigs on those two – I know them inside out. Most things in the studio can be replaced, but there is something about instruments. As a musician, you develop a connection to them and if they’re lost or stolen it can be hard to find replacements that are exactly the same. Another thing would be my hard drives of all the work I’ve done over the years – it would be sad to see them go up in flames. But I hope I don’t have to make that decision. I try to keep away from fire as best I can.
What’s something that’s boring but essential to your setup?
There are actually quite a lot of very boring but essential elements to my setup. But if I had to pick the most boring I would have to say my kettle, and it’s not even a very good kettle, but I can’t do a session without a coffee. That is essential.
What is next on your shopping list studio-wise and why?
Aside from maybe a new kettle, there are so many things I would love for my studio. I would like a nice polyphonic synth, maybe a Nord or Sequential Prophet. I enjoy using synth plug-ins, but when working with artists it’s great to have something tactile and playable. Having something physical is much more satisfying than clicking through presets with a mouse and a MIDI controller keyboard. I would also love to get myself some new microphones – I’ve been hearing great things about the Aston mics. I’d also love to one day get my hands on a nice valve condenser mic – maybe something from the Telefunken range.
What is your top piece of production advice?
When you are producing an artist or band, you are being trusted with what is often their life’s work. It’s their art and is something that they have put countless hours into writing, practicing, performing and thinking about right up until they go into the studio with you. The fundamental key to being a good producer is to understand what an artist wants, learn how to get the best from them to achieve it, collaborate with suitable ideas and use your experience to show and demonstrate the possibilities open to them. Overall you are helping them take their ideas and use them to create something brilliant, and you are responsible for every stage of that process and that all comes down to the people you work with and how you work with them. If you are starting out, just record and work with everyone you can and put yourself in all sorts of situations. Even if the outcome is not great, the experience is never a waste of time as you will always learn something, even if it’s learning what not to do, that’s sometimes just as important as learning what’s best to do.
What is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting out building a studio?
Think about what your main requirements are from it and concentrate on getting the fundamental elements as good as you can. Building any type of studio is very expensive, so it’s good to be as informed as you can be before making big choices. Knowing what equipment would be the best for it and what is worth spending the money on is hard to know as there is so much choice, so ask people you trust for advice. Read up as much as you can and really experiment with acoustic treatment and where you place your speakers. My studio is constantly evolving and improving as I learn more and as I’m able to invest more in it. That journey is important as you learn by experimenting and trying new things with your space, the people and the equipment in it.
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