We go “In the Studio” with Marty Brown, who in addition to managing and playing drums for Clare Bowditch, plays drums with several ARIA-Award Winning bands such as Art of Fighting, SodaStream and Darren Middleton.
In what remains of his time, he’s a producer and engineer at his Standalone Studios, where he’s recorded seven albums with Bowditch and around a hundred others — including ones by Andrew Morris, The Royal Jellies and Evening Cast to name a few. Marty reveals his use of some unique pieces of vintage gear and his philosophy on how he goes about capturing the right sound for the artist.
Thanks for having Noisegate come and check out the wonderful Standalone Studios. Can you tell us a little bit about how the studio came to be?
I was always playing in lots of different bands and it kind of came down to me to be the one to record, put things out, get the band gigs, so I was just motivated in that aspect. I always had a bit of an interest in it as well, recording with cassette tape decks back when I was a kid and then I progressed onto a four-track reel to reel, which I’ve only just got out of the back shed recently and started to mess around with again to do some loops and what not. I would just use that as my playtime as a kid and late teenager, recording onto cassettes and doing kind of backwards things on the reel to reel, so it just developed from there. I got into a band when I was probably in my early twenties that started to write songs that I was very impressed by and I wanted to crank up the whole process a little bit. I borrowed some money off my parents, thanks Dad, and with that bought a tape machine, a desk and a couple of mics and went from there. I’ve just kind of ploughed my money into it ever since, as one does with recording gear. It’s a never-ending pit, but it’s a very enjoyable pit so that’s a good thing.
Are there particular sessions you’ve worked on over the years that are a standout?
I end up recording lots of bands that I play in but the sessions I really like it when bands are playing live, with all the musicians playing in a room type setting. I always find this incredible with the excitement you can capture in the room. But the standout ones are recording string sections, I enjoy it every time I have a string day, I always love doing that. So often these days I’ll move out of my studio and go to the Abbotsford Convent or Freemasons Hall around the corner just to get a big reverb, Abbey Road Studio Two type of sound. Just a couple of mics and a few musicians, that’s always amazing. Apart from string sections, I recently did a session for my wife Clare Bowditch’s album. We had three backup singers and went into Abbotsford Convent with a group called Iluka, who have been singing together for years and years so they know each other’s harmonies and can work out harmonies very quickly. We would place them down one end of the room, microphones down the other, press record and it creates a completely different sound as to what you can capture with adding your reverb plug-ins or anything like that. It just puts it in a completely different space and makes the recording essentially “sing”.
Do you have a philosophy on capturing sound at the source and committing to it as opposed to the “fix it in the mix” mentality?
Pretty much as soon I hear demos from people I try and imagine exactly how it’s going to sound and just where I want everything placed, like what the arrangements going to be and what those sounds are going to be like. Then I can adjust exactly how I’m miking something up and placing it as everything gets built up essentially. Obviously, you get things wrong and you have to kind of mess with it to get it back into where it was or you realise that it was a wrong decision and you shouldn’t have miked it up like that and you have to kind of change things. But essentially, I’m kind of always searching for getting it as near to the vision as possible, as early as possible, because I think that just gives it the most coherent sound. The thing that creates bad sounds in a studio environment is having to change things a lot, if you can kind of keep it as pristine as it is, it always comes up with sounding the best.
We noticed the classic Soundcraft Series 500 analogue console is the centrepiece of your control room. Were you drawn to that console for a particular reason?
No, I think it was just in the Trading Post, which is probably something you don’t remember young Andy but, it’s a thing that used to exist before eBay and so I think that was just one of the desks that were in the Trading Post on that particular day, where I’d got my money from my Dad and went out to buy it. Apparently, it was a band called Chocolate Starfish’s’ live mixing desk. It had toured around the country many, many times and because of that it’d seen better days, so it was very cheap for what it was. It probably would have been an eighty to one hundred-thousand-dollar desk back in the day but, I got it for a couple of grand because it had done the rounds of Australia that many times it was falling apart. So it’s one of those things, it’s actually quite good and I’ve used it a lot when I was recording on tape all the time when I’d have to do the live mixes and it all worked quite well. It’s one of those aspects that I would like to improve in the future, but just trying to find the right desk is always quite tricky.
You’ve got an incredibly impressive microphone collection from vintage to modern; do you have any particular favourites?
Yes, there are so many great mics out there and all so useful for so many different things. I think the one I was telling you about the other day is the Gefell MT-71. It has got the same M7 capsule as a Neumann original U-47 but it’s non-valve, but that’s my main vocal mic and it sounds awesome. I actually haven’t found a singer that hasn’t essentially sounded perfect on it straight away. Then there are the AEA ribbon microphones that I use a lot of and then some great dynamics, I think so many dynamic mics get overlooked these days, especially the Sennheiser 441, of which I’m a big fan of. Then there is the Beyer Dynamic 201, which is often used on the snare drum, or I would use the Calrec condenser pencil instead on the snare and the Sennheiser 421’s for toms. Just having the right mic for the right job is often the thing that makes it work, so it’s nice to have a big collection and knowing that “this is the bass cab mic, this is the kick drum mic” and how each one is going to sound and you can then get those sounds going very quickly. All my drum microphones are generally always set up around my drum kit. It only takes me 10 minutes or so to get a drum sound which saves hours and hours and hours generally so, I quite like that.
There’s some glorious of pieces outboard gear here too. Any unique/go to pieces you’d like to share with us?
For a long time, I’ve been using an Amek 9098 Pre and EQ into an Alan Smart C2 compressor. That’s the main channel path especially for vocals, and that’s the main setup when I’m using just using one microphone. It’s excellent and very smooth, but I also have a Universal Audio 6176, which was the first high-end piece of equipment that I got and I’ve recently come around to using that more and more often. There’s something about the punch that it has, just a little bit more, it pokes out of a mix than what the Amek does, so that’s kind of become my new “go to”. About a year or two ago I got a Shure Level Loc, one of those old school compressors that Tame Impala and lots of the modern, artists like MGMT, and there is a lot of modern psych rock bands that have been using it and I’ve been loving that. At the moment I’ve got above my drums an AEA ribbon microphone straight into the Shure Level Loc so it’s getting recorded straight while playing which is kind of nice, so I’m often just adjusting the input as there is only one control but it makes such a massive difference as to how it gets smashed in the box. So you just kind of have to set it, as you’re recording and essentially that’s it, then it’s locked away. I quite like that, just settling in on a sound and having that dictate almost how you play the instrument as well. There’s no messing around with plug-ins later, it’s just done and dusted. Well I think that’s the great thing about starting off recording on tape machine where I had a 24 channel tape machine, just having to always decide if “is this the take or not “and there may be one tiny little drum fill or a little bit of guitar, especially drums usually when I was recording myself would have to be like “nup, that was almost perfect apart from that one little bar. Delete and let’s go again.” Yeah, you get very good at your instrument when you have to have that kind of pressure on yourself as opposed to just being able to cut out little bits and pieces. But also, it’s good for a producer just to be able to realise “is this what I want out of this take?” and make that decision straight away and only keep one.
Why would Standalone Studios be a choice for artists or bands?
That’s a good question. Well, I would say one of my things that l like doing the most is just helping a musician arrange their music. So often I get lots of singer/songwriters in that don’t have a band and together we’ll piece the song together and make a beautiful arrangement for it. And having all the instruments here and being able to play most of them between whoever the singer/songwriter is and me, we can kind of get everything done essentially.
Do you have any advice for upcoming engineers and producers?
Yes, what advice would I give people? Well obviously, just getting amongst it and learning on the job. It’s pretty amazing these days and I do it all the time. So as soon as I have a question about something, being able to Google the answers or just seeing how other people use bits and pieces of gear and what kind of plug-in settings etc is amazing. Essentially, just working by myself and buying gear and working out how to use it. So, it kind of felt like I was re-inventing the wheel with so many things, you don’t have to do that these days. Just get on the old interwebs and you can sort yourself out straight away.
What’s install for the future of Standalone Studio? Any plans for expansion, gear acquisition?
Well, that mixing desk, replacing that guy I think that might be high on the list. Possibly not but there are always bits and pieces that I really want, like a real plate reverb. They just don’t come up very often. I think all the things I really want are just so infrequently pop up that I just have to bide my time a little bit. But yeah, I think the studio spaces work out quite nicely for most things and then if there’s something a little bigger then I just find a bigger space, so I’m kind of pretty settled really.
Well on that note, thank you for having Noisegate down to Standalone Studio Marty.