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Producer · Engineer · FOH
Dom Howard

Dom Howard

Producer, Musician, Songwriter
Dom Howard

Producer, mixer, musician and DJ Dom Howard was advised not to pursue music as a career but still quit his English studies to attend music college. Now, as a founder member, producer and mixer of Submotion Orchestra he has collaborated on a string of successful albums and countless high-profile live shows. He is in demand as a commercial and library music producer too, and his Aston Origin is always at the heart of his recordings.

Submotion Orchestra, Author, Ruckspin, Leo James Releases: Counter (Ninjatune), Tectonic, Deep Medi, Hospital Publishing: J.I.M. (Ninjatune), EMI, Cavendish
London to Leeds and back

"Growing up in South London I was exposed to pirate radio and the electronic music side of things, jungle and rave music. My parents are both musicians, they met in a choir. I was playing piano at 6 and then violin. I got to grade 8 viola and violin. I did my fair share of orchestral stuff but my heart was really in electronic music.

I had an Amiga [computer] when I was 12 or 13 with a program called Rave Ejay. It gave you loads of loops and you could just drag and drop, and the great thing was it had a basic sampler so you could import your own sounds and mess around with them. I got really into that.

I didn’t really consider producing as a career. But then I went to Uni, I was doing a lot of drum and bass dj’ing. I knocked about with a bunch of other DJs, people started showing me Logic on a Mac and stuff, and from there on I was hooked.

I went to Leeds College of Music, not for the course, but because I saw all the posters for the amazing nights going on there. During that time I started Central Beatz [Drum and bass events organisers]. When I left Leeds, I left it with my mate Chris in charge.

I won a bunch of [Drum and Bass] competitions and that got me a residency on Valve Sound System, which was the biggest touring drum and bass sound system, so that was like a life achievement straight away. After that we started Submotion Orchestra. Getting records out was a massive thing for me at the time, and now we’re playing at the Roundhouse in London, we sold out the Barbican, we played at Royal Albert Hall supporting Farside - we did an actual orchestral version of everything with a whole string section and horns section – and playing crazy festivals…"

Fingers in pies

"I’m a producer, I do a lot of composition but I’m also doing a lot of mix work. Fingers in pies… I used to DJ, but I’m mainly in studio hibernation now - whatever encompasses more of the stuff I enjoy the most. I do live engineering for the band. I do bespoke stuff for adverts, library music and things like that. You gotta keep yourself busy!

I’ve toured the US as a DJ twice, I was the first dubstep guy to play in Mexico. I’ve toured Russia. So many amazing things, but then I feel like now I’m starting to chill out a little bit on the touring side of things and playing big gigs. I’ve got my heart set more on film soundtracks and like bigger projects that involve a lot more composition and a lot more studio time.

I’ve enjoyed all of it so far. Obviously doing gigs as the sound engineer you can get overlooked; everyone goes straight to the singer. It’s fun but it’s not as rewarding, especially going form DJ’ing. I’d play the Outlook festival where you’re playing to a sea of thousands of people - just you on the stage - and it’s amazing. Then when you’re behind those people and you’ve just got backs of heads, you go “Uuuuh, not as fun!” It’s still good because it’s the best seat in the house, for listening, and I obviously enjoy what the band play and I love producing and engineering them. But I’m not really into engineering other bands or doing it as a job. I’ll do it for my band because it’s… well, my music!

I’m not a frontman, I don’t need lots of people looking at me. I just want to know that I’m being heard. To be fair, for a lot of the Submotion gigs, especially when we’re touring, a lot of our fans will come and chat to me afterwards because they appreciate what I do as well as the band’s music."

Getting the Virus

"At first with the band, because I hadn’t really done a lot of live engineering, the live gear was all kind of cobbled together. I got a Pioneer DJM909 mixer which I managed to rig up as an outboard effects unit, and a little Boss Space Echo. And that’s literally been my setup since day one until now. There’s no other sound like the reverb you get of the 909 mixer - it’s massive and heavy. I spoke to Pioneer and said they should make something that’s just for engineers, a bit more portable, and with faders!

I can set all of my AUX’s so that I just have to flip a paddle and I can get a massive reverb off a snare or percussion overheads or whatever, so I’m not having to constantly dial stuff in on the decks. It’s super-easy. Every engineer that I’ve worked with has been like “I’ve never seen anyone use that”, which kind of makes sense - they’ve discontinued that mixer! They’re more into the DJ market now.

In the studio I run a Mac Pro dustbin thing [pro tower], with UAD plug ins – I have a Neve 1073 pre-amp, with a UAD 1176, and a pair of Distressors. I have a load of different synths; my first was the Access Virus, obviously, because I like drum and bass! I’ve got a Korg MS20 System 1, a couple of pedals and I use a lot of soft synths and stuff as well. I have quite a small room, so it’s mainly post production and composition. I do record vocals and a bit of guitar, but drums I’d have to go elsewhere."

Smooth all the way up

"The kit that I buy is for me, it’s not really to show off. I’m not particularly concerned about name. If it works it works. I had an sE tube mic, but I was having problems with the tube and I had to get it fixed and it’s still not great. The guy who sold me my [UAD] Apollo interface put in a Rode mic as well. It was awful, it was really bad, it was an NT1 or NT2 or something like that? I don’t know if there was something wrong with it maybe, but it seemed super harsh in the 2-3k area. But then when I tried the Aston Origin it was just smooth all the way up - the tops were nicely soft. It was almost like it was de-essing in a way. It wasn’t that you lose any clarity, it just didn’t have any brittle spikes.

To be honest, I just have the Origin in the vocal booth now. It’s there for whatever I want to record, it’s a permanent fixture. I try not to mess with things too much, I just need things to do the job, and it always delivers. I also use the Starlights on drum overheads, they do a great job.

Right now, I have a project that’s being recorded in Budapest, a cinematic, big epic thing for AMI publishing. I’m doing a project for another publishing company, Cavendish, they just recorded strings yesterday.  I do a lot of stuff for Ninja Tune but that’s just bespoke advert stuff. I recently got an advert for Heineken with [Brazilian footballer] Ronaldhino, that was like a Blade Runner kind of pastiche, so I was thinking “I know exactly what I need to do there”. Super exciting."

Out-takes

Q. Who are your favourite artists?
A. I used to be a big Queen fan as a kid. Then I got a bit obsessed by The Prodigy before getting super into Jungle (the genre).

Now I have a much broader range of artists I’m into, right across the board. Jon Hopkins & Nils Frahm are doing great things. Om Unit, Frederic Robinson & Machinedrum have always been awesome. I like a few bits from Anderson Paak, NAO, Royce Wood Jnr & SG Lewis on the more pop side of things. I also love a bit of Jose Gonzalez, Bon Iver, Novo Amor, Fink, Sigur Ros and Cinematic Orchestra and everything by Maxim Wolzyn.

I’ve been working with some really great artists and bands recently too - Peng Shui, KIN, Sk Shlomo, Equals, Aux, XOA & Cap Carter are all really promising!

Q. If you weren’t working in music what would you be doing?
A. I tried not doing music but it didn’t work out. I’ve had jobs in silver service, factories/warehouses, teaching, even worked in Topman for a bit (they soon put me on after-hours clean-up duty after they realised I hated everything about fashion retail!).

 I think if I wasn’t working in music I would be bouncing from job to job hating life. To be honest I’m not very qualified to do much else!

Q. What would your fantasy mic be? (i.e. not one currently in existence!)
A. I think a super-focussed wireless dynamic microphone, with built-in de-esser would be a dream. The amount of live mixing consoles that don’t feature a decent de-esser astound me.

Q. What are the 4 words you’d chose to describe Aston, or your experience with the brand?
A. Quality, Affordable, Professional & Friendly!

Q. What was the first song that made you cry?
A. I think listening to Queen ’Too Much Love Will Kill You’ was a bit much for a 12-year old me. As a massive Queen fan at that age I had learnt about how Freddie had died from Aids, and how tough it must have been to be homosexual when he was growing up, and I think it’s around that age you start realising how dark the world can be. Obviously now I can listen back and it can feel a bit cheesy, but then It just seemed like the most tragic thing I had ever experienced.

Not that I’m any less prone to tears now. I cried at a bus stop listening to ’Stay Alive’ by Jose Gonzalez. I cried on the train listening to ‘To Build a Home’ by Cinematic Orchestra. Sampha’s ’No-one Knows Me (Like The Piano)’ was also a contender! 

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