Steve Belgrave Interview:

"I was asked my first and only question of the meeting. From a sound perspective, what might attract me to this new
coffee machine...." 

Talking to Steve Belgrave about the tools, habits and techniques of a sound designer, about Steve's unusual collaboration with Morgan Freeman, working with The Rolling Stones, about summing mixers, favorite plugins, including Lime and Ivory from Acustica Audio. Also about his unusual collaboration with Costa Coffee, who asked Steve to help define the technology, customer experience and branding for their unique coffee machine, including the sound design and UX/UI for the machine's 28′′ capacitive touchscreen.

Steve Belgrave is an award winning sound designer and creative audio director. From composition to digital audio production, from VR/AR/MR to digital devices and automotive, Steve works with leading songwriters, brands and products, advertising, film and TV.

 

Steve has worked with artists, including The Rolling Stones, U2 and Noel Gallagher (Beady Eye) and as a sound designer and freelance creative audio director for the BBC, ABC, Discovery Channel and Channel 4. For commercial clients, Steve leads and develops sound design for enhanced brand engagement. He created the sound design for Costa’s award winning coffee machines and has completed successful projects for DreamWorks, Honda, Honor, Tesco, Sennheiser, Huawei and Nekton, along with sound design for installation and exhibitions, including at Silverstone.

 

As a director for Method Design, London, Steve led the projects for Sky (Now TV), ING (Online Banking Portal) and a host of major blue-chip clients.

 

Steve is an engaging and inspirational speaker at audio and sound design events. He is also a passionate supporter of the independent music and audio development community.

He's a man who in an extraordinary way combines a mathematical mind and fantasy, who in his work
is not afraid of challenges and often reaches for unusual, uncommon solutions.
He experiments, creates and explores....

 

The interview you're about to read will be a journey through his extraordinary career, a journey through which you will learn other shades of working with sound. I strongly believe that this conversation will not only give you a different and very fresh perspective. It will be like a colorful book full of travels and adventures. The way Steve talks about his studio philosophy, the moments when he goes back to the days that shaped his sensitivity, all the memories that he decided to share are not only moving,

they also draw attention to what is important. They help us to understand what qualities should to be developed before we decide to equip ourselves with plugins and equipment....

 

We will talk about modern tools used in sound design. We'll talk about whether summing mixers are still irreplaceable today and about plugins promising true non-linear analog summing. We look behind the scenes of working on the sound design of a unique coffee machine. We’ll also talk about shaping the sound of an electric car and how to actually start creating its signature sound. We will talk about how important this process is for building the brand image, which translates directly into the popularity and identity of the product, and thus also the length of its life in the market....

 

We will talk about working with The Rolling Stones, about Steve's unusual collaboration with Morgan Freeman. We will talk about his favorite plugins and find out why, among many Acustica Audio plugins
he chose Lime and Ivory and what made them some of his basic tools in his daily work with sound....

Adrian Lucas Witaszczyk: Hi Steve, thank you for agreeing to meet!

 

Steve Belgrave: Oh, thank you for having me Adrian! It's great to talk to you!

 

Steve, your professional path is very interesting. You are a very interesting man too. You seem to be an individualist with a strict mathematical mind and great imagination and fantasy. So you seem to combine seemingly conflicting qualities in your daily work. Which of these qualities are most useful to you in your career?

 

I’d say it has to be the meld of imagination and fantasy. Everything I value in life and in my career stems and flows
from this. The 'mathematical side’ feeds the literal and pragmatic part of me and provides the anchor. It grounds me
and forms patterns and paths to new creativity.

You're a sound designer, songwriter, as well as producer and engineer. It's a very broad spectrum, so I can't help but ask, how would you describe the way you receive the sound and the music? You're the type of guy who perceives it in the form of pictures, I mean the visual things? You know, do you trigger memories, feelings, or do you perceive it in the form of frequencies and technical things?

I’ve discussed this many times with other producers and artists. They’d say how do you do that, come up with that melody, that lick or line. From as far back as I can remember, music always presented itself to me literally. My mother would hum a tune and I’d hear it like a predictive live feed in my head. Other melodies would flow and in no time it was joined by either a chorus of other voices, other kids and adults and/or other people playing instruments. It’s like something out of a fantasy story. There was so much light and so much joy in it. Even today when it happens, it still takes my breath away.

As a kid, I thought everyone experienced it as I did. As a grown man, there’s a different and deeper level of appreciation.

A humility folded deep within that is ever grateful for what music has given me and what I’ve been able to share with others.

As I was saying, I always struggled to explain it as a kid and still do now really. I saw a movie a while back, it just happened to be on TV while taking some time out. If I’m remembering this correctly I think it starred Mark Ruffalo and the film was called 'Begin Again’. There’s a scene in it at the bar / music venue where I think he’s kinda kind of drowning his sorrows

(I’m prone to not remembering stuff right - that's the fantasy bit of my brain kicking in). An artist, the lead character, gets up on stage, just her voice and her rickety acoustic guitar and starts her song. He’s intrigued, it’s a catchy tune.

He stands up and walks a little closer to the stage, as you do when drawn to something that moves you. A few seconds later she’s joined (in his head) by another musician and as the song progresses, she’s joined by several others.

 

In no time at all, a full band is playing and connecting like they’ve been together forever. As quickly as the imagined
band appears, one by one they fade away and the scene finishes with just her, alone on the stage again. Still a pretty song, but the magic is unmistakable. Just like anything of beauty that’s brought into the world, that you’re lucky enough to experience, it opens you up and pours out as much, if not more, than you take in.

Let's stop by the Sound Designer's shoes for a while. Not many of my guests are in this business.... How would you characterize this profession? What is the difference between a sound/mixing engineer and a sound designer?

There’s a pretty standard definition for this profession, but in my own words I describe it as a creative process.
One where you are asked to represent the world laid out before you in the context of sound. A composition, musical
and non musical, based around variations of the real and the surreal. In terms of difference, to me in practice they are
quite similar. Sound design leans to being more on the creative side, accompanied by a keen understanding of sound synthesis. One imagines a sound and then creates it, either by recording it live or through the layering of sounds,

real and/or synthetic. Though, I really don’t feel I could achieve one without the skill set of the other. A bit of a chicken and egg scenario. It’s the engineering skills I have that help me in sound design and sound design that helps to push my limits
in audio engineering.

What qualities should a sound designer have?

Patience :) A passion for trial and error that more than often leads to either a planned destination or a happy accident.
It could take you a minute or several days to find that sound you’re after. I spend a lot of time listening to my environment.

It’s amazing, how when I started really listening, how weird everything sounded; the details your mind blocks out or fills in.

There’s a never ending symphony out there and it’s simply incredible. A few years back I was knocked to the ground by a Toyota Prius, cruising silently in electric mode. Not the driver’s fault, the audio cues I was used to, just weren’t there.

It happened on a quiet street. About a week later I started researching the future sound of motor vehicles in the
context of the growing market in electric cars. A year later I was giving lectures at design studios working with motor
manufacturers based around identity and safety. From an identity, branding perspective, take Ferrari for instance.

 

A simple question. What should an electric Ferrari sound like? If it sounds no different to a VW Golf then, apart from a
body shape which anyone can copy, where does the essence of its identity lie? It turns out it’s something they are all
now considering, as sound design for cars has long been part of their remit, but with electric cars a new frontier is
being explored, where the possibilities are literally endless. The safety aspect is a major consideration and will be for
generations to come until new audio cues other than the sound of an engine become ingrained in our psyche.
I find it infinitely fascinating.

Yes indeed, it's very fascinating! Very interesting answer, thank you! So, how does sound designer differ from
let's say, a composer?

They are the same thing to me but with different processes and varying toolsets. As a sound designer you can create
something out of the same tools a composer would use. Both require you to search for sound and feeling that fully
represent the desired outcome.

When and how did you discover in yourself the predispositions for this profession?

I’m reliably informed by my family that it started when I was about 6. I’d hear a song for the first time and would be
singing along and creating melodies. I’d try to mimic the tones, it was the same with all kinds of sounds around me.
My father decided I might be a good choice for our local choir so he took me for an interview when I was about 7 or 8.
I had to stand by the choir master while he played a selection of melodies. I thought this is all quite fun, but he got
more and more frustrated as he played increasingly complex lead lines and I kept singing them back to him.

 

I remember finishing the last one and then adding my own resolve. He made me lead choir boy on the spot and that
started another magical journey into melody and multipart vocal harmonies that would sustain me in awe until I
reached about fifteen years old and discovered ‘the guitar’. Moving on, I joined several bands and was fortunate to
work with truly great musicians early on such as Ash Soan, Keith Pryor, Sam Burgess, Adam Phillips, Matt Clifford
and others who, through either writing or being in a band with them, helped me realise that as much as I loved being
on the performer’s side of the glass, I was much happier behind the mixing desk.

You also work as Creative Audio Director, as far as I know, with a lot of success, you had the pleasure of working
with the BBC, Dreamworks, ABC, Discovery Channel and Channel 4, I'm interested in the moment when you decided to go that way, remember that moment? What made you decide that?

Like everything, and I do mean literally everything, working in these variants of the profession, just seemed to happen.

I’ve discussed this at lectures in the past and always struggled to find a comprehensive answer as to the practical
decisions behind moving from this to that in the world of music. So I kind of dodge these questions because, sure
there’s a practical route into most fields within the various audio professions, but that’s not what’s going to keep you there. So I choose to answer this question with another. What would I be doing if I was making no money out of doing
whatever in music? Well, the answer is a slam dunk simple one for me. I’d simply continue to make no money out of
making music and find something else to pay the bills, which are what I've done over the years, but now do out of
choice rather than by necessity. It’s this approach that gave me the freedom to experiment and try out new things.

What do you think is crucial for the listener to perceive the song with all his senses? To be really involved and, most importantly, to want to come back to the song?


I think you should focus on what moves you. My world is all about emotion, so every aspect of the delivery has to
literally grab you, lift you and without any barriers speak to your inner self. It’s been my whole experience with music.
It can be a particular sound, riff or a lyric line and the integrity of its delivery. What you should aim for in a song is all
three of course. Space is also key. The mind can only focus on so much at once and for so long, so allow it to breathe.

So let's talk about sound designing.... What do you use in your studio, what instruments, plugins, do you use for
sound design?

 

I play guitar, bass, drums, piano, synths etc and some percussion. I have a portable recording setup where I’ll record
objects or atmospheric sounds that have caught my ear. I have libraries of sounds recorded over the years.

Then I’ll use a range of tools like Halion to synthesise the sound into what I imagined. Once I’ve fine tuned my sound,

it usually only requires some shaping eq and compression. I never bake in things like reverb or delay as I always want
dynamic control over it in the mix. The eq’s on AA’s Lime come into their own here for me and also more recently with
their Coffee plugin. The sweet low end you can so easily eek out of them both is something quite special!

 

You mentioned that you don't use too many reverbs and delays, but when we talked about your profession and about how you perceive the sound, I immediately thought about plugins like, Altiverb and Indoor, for a sound designer they are probably useful tools?

 

Altiverb is most certainly on my go-to list. I’m a huge fan of it for its meticulously sampled spaces, including their range of classic and rare studio gear. Reverb is an essential part of the mixing process, though I generally use it quite sparingly. Interestingly, I’ve worked with quite a few artists who stated right at the start that they didn’t want reverb on their voices,
and when I’d play the recorded take back to them, they’d say to me how much better it sounded without reverb,
at which point I’d say, but there is reverb on it. That’s the thing, when most people think of reverb, I think they think of something like

a long vocal plate placing you in an obviously reverberant space. For me, that’s not it at all, it’s about giving the part, or parts, exactly what they need to suit the production. Most of the time its something very subtle. Enough to give it life and sense of space to breathe, using it to define placement and depth.

It's interesting that you mentioned Lime, I think it's still a pretty underrated plugin when it comes to Acustica Audio and their Aqua series, I remember I've been waiting hard to check it out! When it came out, it was right after Sand,

it was the fastest AA plugin I downloaded and tested at the time, not counting the Nebula, which is amazing to me, and I think it's also very useful when it comes to Sound Design....

 

Since you mentioned Acustica Audio, what did they give you that you didn't find from other plugin manufacturers?

AA plugins have come the closest I’ve heard to date in emulating the complexities and that highly sought after depth I’ve only found in the much lauded analog gear. They’re at a point now from a sonic and software development perspective where they are close to taking the top mantle. I like their approach and like what they’re considering on the horizon. Importantly, I’m happy to invest in their products, expecting many more years of great releases and support for existing products to come; the bedrock of any good company.

Remember the day you first came across the name Acustica Audio? How did you discover this Company?

This was quite a few years ago. I think I found out about them on an audio forum, and gave them a shot and had my
breath taken away, at the time, not believing that such a great sound could come from a plugin. Sadly though, the early technical difficulties made it impractical for me to use as a day to day tool until more recently for me. I use Steinberg’s Wavelab Pro for editing, batch processing and mastering. There were too many glitches in the early days to make it one of my staples, which bothered me because I loved the sonics. I had faith that the team was onto something and that it was

just simply a matter of time until the software matured and the bugs that stopped me using it in my DAWs and file editors of choice were ironed out, which for the most part they now have been.

So, give me the name of the first AA plugin that blew you away....

It was a similar experience to yours. By that I mean Nebula was the first, but it took receiving Lime and Ivory as complete plugins in their own right for me to really appreciate how far they’d come. AA really have stepped out into the major league phonically.

You also mentioned AA Coffee, which, because in various ways we are going to talk about coffee today, was on the
list of my questions, I understand that you had the opportunity to test it?

I have now lol. But there’s a good reason. You never know what you’re missing until you’re missing it. Right now I don’t feel like I’m missing anything but I know what’ll happen, though I don’t get too many surprises these days. I’ll be at a studio,

a plugin will be loaded up and suddenly there'll be that eyes wide open, jaw hits the floor moment and I’ll be falling over myself, ripping my wallet open to get it. That’s kind of what I wait for these days. There’s so much marketing hype out there for genuinely amazing gear, it all gets a little much, so it’s when you’re with people you know and trust, they pull something up, the trust is already there, and it’s like BAM! So after being asked to do the interview I downloaded it, listened for an hour or on a project I was working on and well, totally blown away!

What did Lime charm you with? Why reach for it and not for Gold or Navy?


I’ve never tried Gold or Navy, just Lime and Ivory and now Coffee. With Lime, I knew what it was based on and once I’d heard it in action, it was the flavour of the eq’s that won me over. Ivory is probably one of my favorite mastering eq’s to date, it’s easy to dial in warmth and sheen without the cloud you get from some plugins. I must get around to trialling the new stuff, but I get so used to the tools I have that there’s a sort of love attached to them, more so with hardware. Currently,

they provide me with all the sonic wonder I crave. I remember the days of trialling everything I could get hold of, the fascination with all these sonic variances and possibilities. I had way too much, so some of the great tools just got buried in perilously huge menus and forgotten. In the end I painstakingly whittled it all down to my “absolutely cannot live without”, and now have a simplified great combo of tone bending and precision gear that covers all bases, which I can view in one simple menu. It’s heaven!

 

Which Lime equalizer do you prefer A or B?


Depends on the project. I used to believe I had favourites, like the variations in my outboard pre’s. This Neve 1073 sounds better than that Neve 1073. But on a different project or with a different artist, it all gets switched around. Even the sonic nuances you think would define it, get remade in the glorious soup that is tone. So, you love it for how it develops a personality, which could be dependent on the source, the day, the temp, which coffee I’m drinking. It gets a little existential sometimes and I have to go and take a lie down, lol.

How do you approach questions like, do you know what specific equipment, what specific console was used to emulate this or that plugin, and do you do endless comparisons between hardware and software in general? 

In general I don’t do comparisons. I personally find no value in it when the development has deviated from a direct emulation approach including visuals. I’m tired of hearing that it's an emulation of this and that. In my early days we had no screens to look at, we were just focused on the sound. That’s all I really care about. Some of the gear we used didn’t have brand names on it and were likely one off handmade products. It’s a given that you can expect a certain quality in the hardware from a well known brand like for example Neve. But the brand, its emulation, means very little to me when considering sonics in the world of digital. If I pull up a plugin and I like how it sounds and the ease at which I can get my desired result, then that’s good enough for me.

On a practical level of course it’s different. If I go on location to record something I need to be nimble. I’ll take along my Apollo interface and load up 8 of their Neve Unison pre’s and away I go. Sonically superb with each one reacting differently to the source as you’d expect. In that scenario, in an attempt to mimic my studio, it’s very handy indeed.

Great answer Steve, I have exactly the same approach to these issues, it is best and most healthy to treat today's
plugins in the same way as hardware, as self-sufficient products, not as just emulations. But still, I'm curious to know if you've never really been tempted to compare Lime to the hardware equalizers from VR and RS series consoles? If you like this plugin so much, it must have gone through your mind....

 

I’ve worked in studios with RS consoles and various other consoles and never thought to do a direct comparison.
Strangely though, I did consider this after a session at Abbey Road, where I was mixing back in my own space after a
day of recording. Call me crazy, but these days, session allowing, I always record everything direct, as well as through

the consoles pres. Why? With the options we have today, being able to run the tracks through a different array of pres,

real or digital as an option is a part of the over reaching sound designer geek in me. It has proved useful on more than

one occasion.

Do you had a chance to use Lime2, with it’s new, third C equalizer?

Yes, only recently and it’s a great addition. I do love simplicity coupled with great sound. Overall the plugin feels

snappier too.

What about the other plugins? Do you use any other plugins besides Acustica Audio? Any special task plugins?

Yes, Yes, was an early adopter to the UAD club. I own pretty much all of their plugins, though now only a small useful selection gets used. I also own plugs by Fabfilter, Soundtoys and Softube. A range of synths - inc my favourite Halion which can go so deep, you’re likely to never return.​

In a biographical note on your website there is information about your collaboration with The Rolling Stones. I can't help but ask for details of this collaboration.... Can you tell me more about it, give me some technical details?


The Rolling Stones. I worked on the 50 year anniversary tour. It was an audio post project for the opening sequence editing and mixing of archive Stones material plus VO’s from actors and artists such as Johnny Depp, Iggy Pop, Martin Scorsese, Elton John and Pete Townshend, Cate Blanchett amongst others. It was a big job and was aired at the London Hyde Park shows (where Mick turned 70) and New York shows before the band came on stage. It was a great project.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mick prior to the project at a bar in London after a launch party for 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest’ then starring Christian Slater. I was working at the time with Matt Clifford, keyboard player for the Stones and Mick’s producer on previous solo records. It was a lot of fun.

You created and produced the sound design for Nekton's 'Mission II' promotional video, working with Morgan Freeman on the voice over. Say a few words about how this collaboration came about, and of course, say something about the work itself and the process of creating this project....


As with most things that come my way these days, it was through someone who over the years had become a good
friend and who happened to be the founder and CEO of Nekton. I was involved in Nekton in its very early days,
helping out with branding and fundraising. When my friend had raised enough funds to hire a ship, a submarine and
most of the world’s top ocean scientists, in an effort to start mapping the oceans to help protect them, it had got to the
point where everyone wanted to be involved. We've talked about putting on concerts, which will no doubt happen in
due course. It was great when Morgan Freeman became available for the voice over. I idolise that voice from a sound
design perspective, so rich and full of such character. To be able to record it was, well, that’s another one off my bucket list!

How did you start to develop the concept and what was the work on it?

 

You take a voice like Morgan’s and it’s easy to conjure up all kinds of things. It’s a voice that works on just about anything and requires very little, except a good recording. The project was a promo for a deep exploration science event and required both music composition and sound design. Basically a sound designer’s dream, well that’s how I saw it.

The visual mood created had an almost science fiction angle to it, basically my kind of heaven. Projects like this are the best, as they allow for no holds barred creativity, just like game audio design. It demands that you dig deep for new sounds and that’s not me being over dramatic. The deep ocean, sonically speaking, is mostly unknown territory. So the ‘sky’s’, or should I say the ‘deeps’, the limit!

 

Regarding the process for the project, it was combo of recording various sounds in various locations and manipulating them in Steinberg’s Halion. I compose pretty much everything these days in Steinberg’s Nuendo and I’m starting to mix more in it too. Though I’m not wedded to any one DAW as some offer toolsets that others don’t, I still mostly rely on Pro Tools for a majority of regular mix projects that come my way.

 

I also know that you worked with Costa Coffee, who asked you to help define the technology, customer experience and branding for their unique coffee machine, including sound design and UX/UI for the machine's 28′′ capacitive touchscreen. Sounds very serious, it looks like a big project....


It was a great challenge which yielded amazing results. The guy running the project approached me and asked if I would attend a meeting in Kensington, London at their offices to discuss the project and to see if I might be a good fit.

It was typically corporate and there was just him, Eric Achtmann, and one other guy Christian Miccio. I didn’t really have a clue who they were. Anyway, Eric didn’t waste any time, he told me what they were looking to build and then I was asked my first and only question of the meeting. He asked me, from a sound perspective, what might attract me to this new coffee machine. Just like I’ve been doing since I was a kid, I closed my eyes and zoned in on the visual side, placing myself at London Bridge tube station, packed in the morning as usual with the steady, thick stream of people. I focused on the usual sounds, footsteps, the city hum, people talking etc and then one stood out, something simple but unmistakable. The sound of a spoon clinking against the edge of a cup followed by the sonics of the high pressure steam from the coffee machine.

I was talking this through as I was seeing it. Before I could get any further Eric shouted, “Eurika, you’re hired!”

He explained he’d never seen anyone do that and Christian just stood there grinning. What transpired was a 12 month adventure that would take me to several countries, to develop the sounds and an unexpected requirement that came shortly after, which was to design the audio hardware for the machine. Not too tricky you might think. Inside the machine is a fridge, a boiler, coffee, sugar and all the coffee making machinery etc and, as is the norm in our world, no one put too much thought into the hardware that would play this yet to be created soundscape. In order to achieve the effect I was after,

a sub was needed. Working with the team to design around all the other hardware so that we could include a powerful and sonically balanced sound system was a treasure indeed.

 

It filled all the needs of my audio and tech geek side. Not a single bolt or screw on the machine came from some warehouse of pre made gear. Everything was designed and made from scratch. We produced over 120 plus patents and completed in record time. To mark this and so no one could take credit for our work, Eric arranged for all our names to be pressed into the moulding and chassis designed by Pininfarina. It won many awards and as I smile a little now in saying this (something I would never have imagined 20 years ago) creating sound for an albeit very stylish ‘vending’ machine, had never been on my must do before I die list. I just love surprises: a project I’m extremely proud to have been a part of. The team called itself Marlow and several years later after a completion celebration at OktoberFest, we’re all still in contact and working together. What a pleasure it was to find out early on that Christian was one of the co creators of Shazam. We continue to this day to geek out and discuss technology in the wonderful world of audio.

Wow, for stories like this, I decided to create this portal! Amazing thing, thank you for sharing it with me!

My pleasure, thank you for asking Adrian!

Tell me about the beginnings of the Emixpro studio. Why is it worth choosing you?

Emixpro was initially set up back in 2011 to serve the amazing community of unsigned artists with a range of services
including audio production, mixing, editing and mastering services. As things got busier, I brought in other skilled and
multi talented mix engineers who share a similar mindset to me, like Stuart Dixon, sensitive and open to the needs of
artists. People who understand that artists live through their music. Someone who understands that to work with them, you’ve got to get to know them a little. I’ve had artists pick up a guitar and deliver a performance right in front of me,
just playing their song for me to get an idea, and literally been on my knees by the time they’re finished. Others pour
their heart out, tears, joy, happiness etc it all comes out and my job, with the artists permission, is to capture it all.

 

I chose this way of working after an experience I had in my early years when asked to do some voluntary work by Sony

for some kids in Notting Hill. I didn't really know what to expect, but I turned up with guitar, amp, mic and mic stand to this hall on the Portobello Road. I forget its name now. There were about 15 kids, all girls waiting with their teacher/warden,
I couldn’t quite figure out which. I introduced myself and set about setting up. The girls were restless and already
appeared to me to be ready to create havoc. So, I raised my voice above theirs while tuning my guitar and said a warm hello.

They responded with an almost predictable, ‘Oh yeah, who the ‘f’ are you’ look and I followed with, “So I hear you all want

to be singers, songwriters”. To which I got back from most of them, “Yeah, that’s right, I’m going to be famous”.
Their guardian (a better description) looked at me slightly embarrassed but I thought it was really funny. I found their
confidence encouraging even if a little cheeky. I felt it a good idea to test the water, so I asked, using their own words,
“So who really wants to be famous?” Again several replied and to the most outspoken of them I said, “Awesome”,
then turned on the microphone, took a step back, pointed to the mic and said to her, “Ok, sing!”. I’ll never forget that
kid's face, the look of horror coupled with that ‘OMG/WTF do I do now’ look was priceless. It broke the ice with us and
I immediately started on showing them methods of songwriting.

 

So here’s the bit that defined how I’d work with artists from that moment on. We were discussing framing the song and that we’d create it around a narrative, something common the girls could agree on. I suggested it be something personal because the expression of something you’ve experienced can be magnified through music for both yourself and the listener if the true intent is to share. It can be liberating and enlightening. Paper was handed out and they all started scribbling down notes and in no time they had it. The collective narrative the girls came up with was RESPECT!

We spent the remaining time crafting the song parts and when it was done, I was floored by the quality of what they came

up with. Part melody and part Rap we performed the song and had a great time. The focus they gave to it and clearly their appreciation of it stayed with me. Although I cannot remember the song. I remember them, I remember how it started and how it ended, with a group photograph, a lot of smiles and a promise to myself that when it comes to artists and their creativity, it is crucial to nurture it, step aside where necessary and help it into the light. We love having fun with artists who take their art seriously. They put all into it and expect everyone around them to do the same.

Tell me about your studio, about your environment....Tell me more about acoustic adaptation, listening system (main monitors; their strong points, other loudspeakers) and gear.


I do all my editing and mostly mixing and mastering at my home studio these days and record in a few choice studios which include Abbey Road, Metropolis, Real World and several others to help match independent artist budgets etc.

My mix room is based around Pro Tools and Nuendo with a range of outboard and tape. It’s a fully treated room with HEDD Type 20’s, Avantones and various other device monitors. A majority of mixes I do now are ITB with analog summing and to tape where appropriate. The new additions are the HEDDs. For me a wonderfully sonically balanced monitor from which I experience no fatigue over long periods. Long periods for me can mean 18 hours when in the creative zone.

I met their creator Klaus Heinz while on a project, a truly impressive guy who did great work while at Adam Audio before setting out on his own.

 

I was using the Adam S3X-H, larger 4 way monitor until I was sent a pair of the smaller 3 way Type 20’s to try.

I had them for less than a week before I put the Adams up for sale. Amazing that that was all it took. Never regretted it since. Monitors are a personal thing and when you find some that work for you, well that’s it really.

What is the true about analog summing? Some people say that this type of device is not needed today - even if you
are one hundred percent In The Box, others swear that without this type of device it is impossible to achieve true
warm, width, separation or a wide round lows and silk high end….

I still think it has a place but for how long? Who can really tell. I have recently been playing with Luna, Universal
Audio's new DAW. Although still very much in development re its functionality, its analog style workflow and summing
capabilities are very impressive and encouraging. We’re getting closer to the point where many will wonder whether
an analogue summing box is indeed required anymore and whether we’re getting to the point where, 'You say tomato
and I say tomato’, at which point, one could argue it’ll be no more than personal preference in terms of workflow and
maybe nostalgia etc.

 

Full disclosure though, I’m not an analog junkie. I’d love to be able to be totally ‘in the box’ one day. Not wedded to a
static somewhat sedentary lifestyle. Why can’t I take my setup with me wherever I go? I’d love to decide to spend the
next month mixing a client project sitting on the edge of a lake or up into mountains looking down on that lake in

Northern Italy. Not just because it’s a wonderful, if somewhat dreamy, idea or that it would certainly mean that I’d get
out more. But just like when I mix or record in different studios, there’s always something unexpected about the way you think about things when in a different environment. I remember being in a hotel in NY with my laptop and headphones,
assembling a 300 plus track project and being able to partially mix it. It was great to be able to do that, the environment made me approach things differently, unthinkable in my early years as an engineer. It’s good to be out of your comfort

zone or find a different comfort zone every now and then.

Many of my readers are interested in this type of device, So, now let's talk about plugins promising non-linear analog summing... Waves have their NLS, Steven Slate has VCC, there is Acustica Audio and Nebula, which seems to be the most analogue of all the plugins listed here….

The world of software summing is really beginning to open up. The plugins you’ve mentioned all have their place and
you can get great results from all of them, with Acustica Audio being the clear winner for me in that group.

But I’d also add to that list UAD's Neve summing in their new DAW, Luna. Probably the most impressive ‘In The Box’ summing I’ve heard to date, but not so far ahead of the competition. Which is more analog sounding? Well I’m getting

to the point where the whole analog and digital discussion is becoming a moot point, or rather its evolving to one that’s

more about how good does it sound and what that summing or process is adding, or even how it's making mixing in the box that much easier as a consequence of what its adding. Interestingly, just like in the pre digital analog domain.

The most valuable advice? The most valuable lesson you got in the studio?


Have no fear, trust what you feel, trust what you hear. When you’re moved, you’re on the right track.
Oh, yes, very important - as nature would have it you’re always going to come up with the best stuff when you’re least
prepared, so always have a means to record nearby. Record everything when you’re in the studio, even when you’re
just relaxing and talking over stuff with the artist. Listen back, something said or sung that no one noticed at the time
could become the soul of everything.

The artist you dream of working with?


Simply cannot just choose one and it’s always changing over time so for today, here goes, I’m going to cheat and
pick a few. Nick Cave, Natalie Merchant, Carole King, Melody Gardot. Those that were permanently on my list but

have sadly passed on are Aretha Franklin and Leonard Cohen.

A few words to my readers? Any tips, tricks?


Yes, no rules, there’s simply no rules. Don’t box yourself into any particular way of doing things. Keep experimenting.
So much of my time is spent experimenting with the same tools that I have either for creating, recording and mixing.
Sure, there are tried and tested ways of getting a great result and there are technical considerations you just can’t
avoid, so work with them, not against them, no point in pushing water uphill. I regularly marvel at what digital brings
to our world of sound. It can go places analog can’t; frees us at another level. It’s all there, just for the reaching.

Thank you very much, Steve. That was an extraordinary conversation!

Thank you too Adrian! I really enjoyed the chat.

 

For more information about Steve Belgrave and Emixpro studio please go to:

www.stevebelgrave.com

www.emixpro.com

 

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