With the exception of my Instagram and to a less degree my Facebook page, I have been far less active online that I used to be – largely a result of being ever busier. It’s a shame from a self-promotion point of view, as much of the guitar and recording work I’ve been doing has been very exciting and probably really interesting blog material. But the nature of being busy means less time available for it.
So there are about three years to summarise, and I don’t know where to start. The first thing the comes to mind though, is the album I made in 2018 with Liv Austen. After doing some writing with Liv in 2017 she invited me to hang out at the studio where she was in the early stages of recording her album, having signed to NUA the previous year. Liv and her multi-instrumentalist producer LOFT took advantage of me being there and I recorded some guide guitars, which turned out to be good, and they asked me back the next day in a more official guitar session role. I offered a few ideas about production and arrangement which they liked and I ended up as co-producer on those tracks.
Fast forward a few weeks and I was doing preproduction with Liv at my studio in SE London – working out arrangements, making sure keys and tempos were right, thinking about mood and sonic goals, and of course getting lots of guitar work done. Liv and I were pretty much on the same page musically and I had developed a huge amount of respect for her ability to know what she wanted her music to sound like, even if she wasn’t sure how to achieve it. It became my job to figure it out. Once we’d got a song ready we’d take it back to the studio for drums and vocal tracking. I loved working with LOFT and despite – or perhaps as a result of – coming from different places musically it was a really good combination for those songs. Here’s a little video of the first single that came off the album, recorded in this way:
Move on a few months and the ‘pre-production’ I was doing had become full on production. We were taking Liv’s voice note demos and developing them to near-commercial release level recordings. Drum sessions for new tracks required different drummers in different studios, and I had upgraded my vocal recording chain with a mic suited to Liv’s voice to enable us to record lead vocals at my place. About 20 songs were recorded like this, and they’re not simple acoustic guitar songs – they’re largely big productions, very layered and lots of details and nuance. Acoustic guitars, lots of electric guitars, bass tons of vocal harmonies and vocal production, electronic drum programming, live drums, live string arrangements, programmed keyboards, sample manipulation, the works. With the exception of the live drum recordings virtually all of the above was done by Liv and I at my studio. It was a huge learning curve for us both.
The issue of mixing began to rear its head in early 2018. I didn’t want to mix it as I felt someone more experienced should do it. To be honest, I knew how important the album would be and wasn’t sure I was confident in taking that responsibility – my strengths were in production and guitar recording. We tried a few different options but the modern country pop sound that Liv and I wanted is not something everyone understands. I tweaked a few of the working mixes as best I could – and nobody complained about them. Meanwhile Ash Howes – who has mixed a million pop records (One Direction, Dido, Ellie Goulding and so on) had mixed a couple of the singles specifically for radio. Analysing what he had done to my mixes was pretty educational. The changes were small but they made a big difference – the vocal processing was better and he always made the chorus ‘pop’. There was more energy in the high end – it was brighter and more sparkly – and he took more chances. Ash’s mixes refined the production, making more of the most important things. It just sounded a bit more confident than my mixes.
As an exercise I spent some time trying to recreate those two mixes in my sessions, and that was helpful. Even though I did realise that it was not necessarily the right sound for the whole album as those mixes can be a bit fatiguing and again those mixes were specifically for radio, it made me realise what was possible, and also some confidence that I wasn’t as far away with my mixes I’d thought. With the music now mostly recorded, it was agreed that I would mix the rest of the album. It was one of the most challenging, enriching things I’ve done and 2018 was a time of huge growth and development of my skills as a mixer. I learned to trust myself and my ears a lot more and while I’m still learning (hopefully we all are, whatever we do for a living) I’m very happy with how it sounds.
As with the mixing, the mastering was something that I DEFINITELY did not want to do. With the album delivery deadline approaching and being unhappy with the masters we’d received from the mastering engineer that the label recommended, I was deeply apprehensive about the idea of doing that. It’s widely stated that it isn’t a good idea to master in the same room as the music was mixed (let alone recorded) but we had no better option. I had bought some high end mastering plugins and some brilliant headphones that were very different to both my speakers and my other headphones – and I added the Neumann sub to my monitoring set up which changed their performance substantially, opening up the midrange of the speakers and obviously adding the lower octaves. I spent a lot amount of time going back and forth between reference recordings and Liv’s songs, switching between the monitoring that I know (my old headphones and sub-less monitors, to the different headphones and sub-on. It’s probably not ideal and not something people would recommend. I wouldn’t! Because I was learning the new gear at the time it took me a long time. But the results were better than what we had before – to me, to Liv, and to a very experienced mix engineer friend who took a blind test.
Would it sound different if I did it all again now? Yes. Would it be better? Hmm. I don’t think any recording process is perfect, and I think that once it gets to the public all those little things that annoy the creators or they would do differently now actually become part the listener’s experience of the album. It’s the album we started in early 2017 and finished mid-2018, and the songs that Liv was writing or had written up to that point. The guitar sounds and production decisions that I was making at that point. A recording that contains examples of both my limitations as an producer and mixer engineer, and my growth and imagination as one.
The album was named album of the month at Chris Country Radio, playlisted on Spotify and Amazon (‘Best of Country 2018’) and many other radio stations, got 5/5 stars at Maverick Music magazine (the UK’s #1 country music magazine) and has been generally received really well. Working with Liv has been one of the highlights of my career to date and I’m glad she had faith in my abilities!
As that record was completed I was also producing (arranging, playing, recording and mixing in it entirety) an album for a Alexis Gerred, star of the West End and TV shows. After that I did the same for an EP for singer-songwriter Nielsen Reavely. But they are another blog.
What else has changed? I was chosen out of 150 applicants to take over the guitarist role in the UK biggest Bond tribute act, Q The Music. 12-20-piece band with brass and all the works, some outrageously good musicians and vocalists, incredible music, big theatre shows around Europe compered by Bond girls Maddie Smith and Caroline Munro. In 2019 we go to Piz Gloria in Switzerland, the revolving restaurant on top of a mountain seen in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – should be fun.
I’ve done a lot of shows with Liv Austen, taking the role of guitarist/MD for her live band, and accompanying her on acoustic dates. Trips to Tuscany, Majorca, a load of festivals and live radio shows. We replaced Liv’s live band during 2018 and added some track to the live set up, so lots of change to oversee there.
While this has been going on I’ve somehow made it to the final year of part time training as a counselling psychotherapist. As part of this we are required to be in therapy for the duration which I’ve found profoundly life-enhancing and has helped with anxiety and low mood immensely. I now see clients once a week, have clinical supervision and student membership of the BACP. I hope that counselling can fit around my music career once I qualify as I find it immensely rewarding and enriching. It’s definitely enhanced my work as a producer; it’s made me a better listener for sure but also really cemented the idea that the artist is my priority and that my job is to help them achieve (and in some cases help them find) what it is they’re going for – it’s not about serving my ego or needs as a producer or guitarist, but helping people figure out what it is they really want to do helping them achieve that.
Greatly reduced, this year, have been the wedding and function gigs. I’ve had some fantastic gigs with Madhen again, filling in for Martyn Hope when he’s otherwise engaged, and they’re still the best party band in the business. A residency with the wonderful singer Megan McConnell at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in London was curtailed by a major fire, but only after we’d done about 5000 nights there! I’ve depped for a number of other bands and enjoyed that, but while I sometimes feel as though maybe it’s time to look for a more regular band slot, I’m enjoying the freedom and variety that I currently have. I’ve no idea what 2019 will bring – perhaps a tour with Liv, perhaps even a creative project of my own. It feels as though things are changing, and as though what I would LIKE to do can be what I focus on, rather than just scrambling to deal with what comes my way.
Thanks for reading if you’ve got this far! As always, if you’re interested in discussing having me provide session guitar tracks for your music, any other arrangement or programming, or indeed working with me as a producer and/or mixer, I’ll be happy to hear from you.
Ps you can see me in this music video, taken from Liv’s album. Very happy with the sound of it:
I work with design agencies, producer/animators, and directly with marketeers to provide striking original musical soundtracks. Previous clients include Unilever, the BBC and a number of pre-IPO tech companies.
If you’re looking for a unique piece of music for a video, a jingle for an advert, or an original music soundtrack for online media of any kind, I can help! As a guitarist I specialise in beautifully recorded real instruments and while I do sometimes use samples for things like drums and textures, my strength is really in making the most of the amazing range of music possible with the acoustic and electric guitar, ukelele, and mandolin.
Delicate, dreamy, ambient electric guitar. Optimistic, cheery acoustic folk sounds. Purposeful, driving pop rock. Tense, sinister metal. Whether it’s gentle, intimate and acoustic, or a full band sound with electronics and sound effects, the chances are that if it’s a guitar-centric idiom, the years of guitar sessions mean I probably know it inside out – if that’s what you’re after. With more open briefs, I have a quite an identifiable compositional style that leans towards the thoughtful and inspiring, with and emphasis on texture and melody.
The recordings will sound lovely but also have an appropriate sense of space. I try to take into account the ‘visual acoustic’ and the links between what we hear and what we see. I don’t create a literal link of big space=echoey, small space=dry/close, but I instinctively consider the visuals, the overall mood and aim of the piece and the sonic properties of the music involved.
I’ve become pretty good at interpreting abstract descriptions and translating them into cohesive musical events, while hitting markers and leaving room for the voiceover. I like identifying your structural cadences and reinforcing through appropriate, stylistically-pertinent musical devices and events. In short, I aim to take your objectives and good ideas, and create great-sounding music that fits your campaign perfectly.
I can also create and add sound effects to help bring onscreen action to life. I’m meticulous with the timing of this, and getting it right can add great depth and realism to the soundtrack. Time code/SMPTE no problem.
I work quickly, offer very competitive prices, and and happy to provide exclusive, non-exclusive, limited or unlimited licenses to suit budget and uses.
To discuss a project, drop me a line at email@example.com or with the form below:
March 17, 2014
There is a wide range of ways to record electric guitar, from plugging a guitar straight into a computer and using a free guitar amp simulator, to agonising over the impedance of guitar cables, using decades-old vintage stomp boxes, having the ‘right’ preamp valves, buffers, isolated power supplies, fiddling with microphone placement where an inch makes all the difference, the TYPE of mic, the mic preamps and convertors and THEN all the things you’re going to do it in the computer.
Just to be up front about this, I’m at the latter end of the scale for sure, though digital guitar amp sims have their place and there are a couple of high-end hardware options that sound great. For most electric guitar sessions I’ll go with a real amp and mics because I think it gives you the most interesting, sympathetic and detailed sound, but the digital options can be perfect for some material. I think if you’re making a record that real amps should at least be an option because authentic guitar tones are a great way to add soul and a human element – particularly when dealing with programmed music – and can really lift a recording.
That guitar tone is a result of a series of components doing different jobs and they’re all essential. Start with a great guitar with great pickups (we’ll assume a nice fresh set of strings and a suitably trained fleshy carbon-based lifeform able to manipulate them). Then it’s clean, not-crackly guitar cables. The best patch cables between pedals, and the funky old pedals completely bypassed so that they don’t have a negative impact on the tone. Seriously, there are pedals which when off, are not really off and still do something to the sound. Usually it’s not a nice something, and manifests itself in what you might summarise as loss of top end or brightness but is actually a bit more complicated than that. So during recording sessions you generally want to bypass them completely if they’re not on.
Next up is the amp, which is likely to contain valves. It’s a big subject and these little light-bulb thingies are key to most of the guitar tones that we all know and love. Guitar amps are usually divided into two sections – preamp and power amp, both with their respective sets of valves. The preamp is when the tone shaping happens – your bass, mids and treble controls and the amount of drive or distortion. The preamp valves play a big role in the sort of tone you’re working with. The power amp section is where this tone is, um, amplified so that it can drive the speakers to make it come out all loud and full of fun for your ears. The valves in the power amp section also play a role in the final tone and there are different ‘flavours’ of valves that are commonly associated with the resulting tone.
All of these valves need to be working properly, not making funny noises or ringing sounds, and not being excessively noisy.
Next – speakers and cab. These play a big role in the actual sound being made. To analogise it, if the amplifier is a singer’s larynx, the cab is their mouth! Yum. The type of speaker(s) and the physical construction of the box contribute significantly to our objective of recording a type of guitar tone.
At least one microphone will be used to capture the sound being made by the cab, and positioning is again key. It’s like a really cool EQ in a way; put it on the outer edge of the cone for a warm, wooly tone – put it right in the centre of the cone for a bright, spiky sound. Right up close gives an uncompromising, direct sound as you’d expect. Move it away and there’s a bit less low end, and a slightly rounder sound with a bit of the ‘room sound’ coming into the equation. Use two mics or more, and experiment with the phase relationships between them – VAST tonal options. Of course, there are a number of microphones to choose from, all of which sound different.
It sounds like there’s a lot to go wrong, but it’s all good news really because if everything is right, you’ll be hearing completely awesome, beautiful recorded guitar tones – comparable to the sounds on some of the best-known albums of all time. I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time recording guitar tracks and I still get excited hearing what I’m doing sometimes. I think of it as being a bit like a chef – if you ask me to make you a Bearnaise sauce, I know that I’ll need a Telecaster, a compressor, a tape-style delay and an SM57. You need a soufflé? Behold, my fuzz, Engl, Suhr and a Sennheiser 906! There’s plenty of scope for experimentation and that’s absolutely part of it but it’s also helpful to have a basic understanding of what ingredients always go well together, and how to achieve what you want.
If you’re thinking of getting some session guitar tracks recorded I’m happy to advise on any of this stuff. Alternatively just let me crack on with it – after all you’re if you’re a songwriter you probably don’t want to get bogged down in details. Hopefully most of the time the decisions I make are good, which is simply reflected in the guitar tracks I record. Feel free to show me the sort of thing you want on an existing record though – that’s extremely helpful. Hopefully at the end of the day you get some guitar tracks sent back to you that fit just perfectly with your production. For me, while I’m doing it, there is a series of technical decisions (quite boring stuff to normal people) that is really kind of ‘my thing’ – hopefully this is reflected in the quality and vibe of the tracks you get from me.