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Andy Bradfield
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Andy Bradfield

Producer and Mixer
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Andy Bradfield

Andy Bradfield started his career in London's iconic Olympic and Townhouse Studios, during which time he worked with huge names including Queen. Since then he's produced and mixed a huge variety of people including Sheridan Smith and Craig Armstrong, but nothing comes close to sipping champagne around Freddie's house…

Queen, Craig Armstrong, Sheridan Smith, The Answer, The Spice Girls, Elbow, David Gray, Manic Street Preachers and many more.
The Olympic building site

I was drawn to recording at an early age, and got a cassette recorder when I was quite young, around 10, not only to play things but also to record with – it used to drive everyone crazy! It wasn’t great quality, of course, but that was beside the point. I also learned to play keyboards and was in a band for a while, but I was always drawn to sound and recording so studios started to pull me away…

I went on a 20-week recording course course when I was 14, a night a week in a studio in Essex called Diploma, and on the first night I was hooked. It had a proper 36-channel desk, a 24-track 2-inch analogue tape machine and some great mics. I did work experience there in my last year of school and as I was leaving school, aged 16, the owner of the studio suggested I write a lot of letters to studios. I eventually got on a Youth Training Scheme at Red Bus Studios for six months. I then got offered an interview at Townhouse for a position as an assistant at Olympic which they were in process of rebuilding. When I got to Townhouse, Olympic was still a building site and slightly behind schedule!

I got onto sessions once Olympic reopened. There was a succession of varied ones coming through – everything from film recordings to bands to vocals to mixing sessions. It made things extremely interesting but also very full on. Sleep? What was that? Olympic was a very modern studio at the time with big SSL consoles and Studer tape machines and, most importantly, a great atmosphere. It had an incredible work ethic which was drilled into you, not to mention extremely high technical standards in everything.

A couple of drinks cabinets

Queen wanted to check out the new Olympic studio. I was a massive fan so I begged to get on the session. I had never seen so much gear. They brought their own Sony tape machines, loads of guitars, keyboards, bass guitars and, most importantly, a small drinks fridge. The studio had a fridge too. I asked the crew were they wanted it and they said “next to yours in the control room – this one's for alcohol, keep yours for soft drinks and chocolate.”

I was the assistant engineer and on the first day I was getting it all working for recording, overdubbing, editing or mixing – basically anything that might happen. They were finishing and mixing tracks for the The Miracle album with Dave Richards as the engineer and producer. Although they recorded digitally it was still tape based and destructive – just like analogue – with proper man-sized drop ins and epic fails if you did it wrong. Believe me, that made you concentrate!

Freddie Mercury would often pace up and down behind the desk while he was warming up and Dave was getting a monitor balance and headphones sorted. One day I was by the SSL as the track was playing quietly and Freddie, standing right behind me, sang a loud note. I literally ducked and he burst out laughing! I don’t think he realised how powerful he was!

One night, some of Freddie's friends came in. It got to about 10:30pm and I thought we were winding down. As everyone was trooping out, Brian’s guitar tech asked me if I was coming to Freddie’s house. Not long after 11pm we were sitting in Freddie’s front room drinking crystal champagne with the whole band. It was unbelievably surreal, but incredible at the same time. You were always made to feel welcome, and it never felt awkward. They were amazing people to work with, and it struck me just how hard they worked, despite being a successful band already, to get a record where they wanted it to be.

 

 

Don't come out until you've finished

It was an interesting time as it was a combination of analogue and digital. What’s interesting looking back is that this 'hybrid' of technologies is still what we have now. Whatever we do in recording or mixing, the start is nearly always a transducer (or microphone) and it ends up playing back out of a speaker. So as the saying goes the more things change the more they stay the same. Yet the bit in the middle has changed beyond all recognition. Storage, mixing, processing and workstations have all replaced the tape and desk, but the start and end are still almost identical in terms of the physical technology involved.

Now that everything I do involves a computer, I take regular breaks, because working in a computer there is no rewind time! Sometimes your brain needs a little reset time –

it certainly helps with perspective. I am glad I went through the tape/desk way of working and the Olympic discipline when I started as I think it taught me a lot, like having to be ready for whatever comes at you, regardless of what equipment you have. And when you are the engineer you have to make it work, whether that is recording a vocal, a whole band, or finishing a mix. Set up, go and don’t come out until you have bloody well finished! That discipline has stuck with me and has served me very well.

Now we are all working in workstations, I love the fact that I can come back to an incredibly complex session with fresh ears and finish it off. Sure, there is time pressure but not just because of the logistics of the studio anymore.

Game, set and match

I am not one for abusing microphones but they sometimes do get a knock or a whack. The Aston mics are built like tanks and they can more than take it. I have done a couple of projects away – wrapped ‘em in bubble wrap and stuck them in the suitcase which is something I could never do with other mics – and they have always performed perfectly.

Most importantly, though, the sound of these mics is incredible. They do a great job of capturing the detail and they sound full and clear which is everything I want in a modern mic. Added to that they are very consistent, something that is not always applicable to other mics, especially ones that aren’t matched. Yet that is precisely what I have done – use two mics for stereo pairs and they have been nothing short of spot on. Reliability and repeatability in a studio is worth its weight in gold. As I always say, it will never go wrong until the red light is on, and the Aston’s have never let me down.

I was working away in slightly challenging monitor conditions when we tracked some of The Answer record as it was a make-shift control room. I was a bit concerned that I had enough low-end thwack on the kick drum so, just to make sure, I put the Origin outside the kick drum. Boy, did that have some low end – problem solved!

The Spirits also make for great ambient mics, and are also great for lead vocals, plus string and brass overheads. You get a very open sound – clear but not hyped and with a fabulous top end. I used them for lead vocals on both the Sheridan Smith album and The Answer's Solas album.

That something so great and well engineered is coming from the UK is amazing. It might also account for the fact that the quality control is so good – certainly what I have experienced anyway.

Out-takes

Q. If you weren’t working in music what would you be doing?
A. “An electrician – I have always loved wires!”

Q. What would your fantasy mic be?
A. “An M49/Sony C800 hybrid, for uber classical (49) or uber pop (C800). It would be fun but probably impossible, certainly size-wise anyway.”

Q. What are the 4 words you’d chose to describe Aston, or your experience with the brand?
A. “Enthusiasts, groundbreakers, helpful, forward-thinking.”

Q. What was the first song that made you cry?
A. “Tears in Heaven, Eric Clapton.”

 

Credits

 

“My favourite artists include; Stevie Wonder, Fleetwood Mac, Sigrid, Julia Michaels, Michael Jackson, Madonna, XTC and The Police.”

 

The Answer 

Sheridan Smith

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