Paul is an engineer, producer, composer and musician who these days spends a large portion of his working life mixing FOH sound either on tour or in-house at London venues – including the legendary 100 Club.
His studio credits include Lucky Soul, The Hope Rebellion and Nick Evans and he tours with Various Cruelties, Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed & ZZ Ward mixing FOH. He’s also performed on stages around the world and on many recording sessions over the last 20 something years.
Howdy from sunny London. Every month I’ll be sharing my audio adventures and interviewing some of the people I’ve either worked with, worked for or once shared an interesting conversation about music technology with in the last 25 years.
This month I caught up with freelance audio engineer, producer and musician Sonny Flint. Some of his clients include Maverick Sabre, Imelda May and The Blockheads. Recent work includes touring as FOH engineer with electronic outfit Is Tropical and recording an intimate session for Blues journeyman Seasick Steve in a shop basement. He took time out from his busy schedule to sit down long enough to answer my questions about his work.
You’re currently doing a mixture of live sound, recording and producing, which did you start doing first and do you have a preference?
“I first had an interest in recording as a kid. In the early 80′s as a teenager, my friend and I would get these 70′s tape recorders, the ones when you press play and record, you can record using the in built condenser mic. With two of these devices you could double track over what you just did. That was how we made our first demo tapes before we got hold of the first commercially available 4 track recorders. They were rough as hell but exciting. I didn’t start doing live sound until about 2000. I started out as a stage hand while studying Sound Technology. I soon got the hang of how it all works. I don’t really have a preference between Live, Recording or Producing. It’s all relative to how good the band is or if their music is your bag. If you have amateur musicians, bad songs, egotistical or annoying musicians it can be dull to work. On the other end, if you get a great band, it’s the best job in the world.”
Producer Kevin ‘Caveman’ Shirley once said in an interview that producing ‘is like being a house painter. If someone says to me ‘paint my house pink’, it might not be my color of choice , but I’ll do everything I can to make it the best pink house in the neighbor hood. Do you pick and choose your work or are you a house painter?
“I do try and get the sound how the band want it of course, but sometimes you have to use your own judgement. I recently recorded an EP for a young band and they just keep telling you they want each instrument louder. They don’t really have a great concept of how frequencies and volumes can play against or for each other. So then you have to take the reins a bit. When I worked with The Blockheads on a live album, all the instruments just found their place naturally within the mix because they are such excellent players. So then it’s just tweaking this and that. Getting the source sound/recording and arrangement right is very important, otherwise you can spend hours editing.”
Your arsenal of equipment includes the Toft ATC2. How did it catch your ear?
“I was looking for a quality dual Pre Amp/Compressor with phantom power and EQ. With any piece of kit you get what you pay for. I had a budget, so looked at a few makes and came across The Toft ATC-2 designed by Malcolm Toft who’s background is that of a hands on audio engineer who has worked on songs with Marc Bolan & T Rex, The Beatles “Hey Jude” and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” with Tony Visconti. I figured this man knows his compressors so I took a risk and bought an ATC-2. I find it great for recording vocals in live and studio applications. Being a FET compressor I find it precise, clean and more musical than some VCA compressors. The stereo link does not act as most dual compressors and can take some time to align up.”Tell us about recording Seasick Steve, how did that come about?
“It is basically a promotional concept by All Saints Clothing Ltd. They had the idea to film and record artists to play two songs in the basement of their Spittlefields branch in London. This has become a success and so continue to do more and more. I get asked occasionally to record the audio for these sessions. Seasick Steve was a pleasure to work with. He was in and out within an hour and I spent an afternoon mixing. I recently did an All Saints session with Maverick Sabre which is now up to view on YouTube.”
Live sound desks: Digital or analogue and why?
“For practical purposes, storing and saving shows, digital desks come thumbs up. My preferences are the Soundcraft Vi6, Midas Pro Series, Digidesign and Allen and Heath iLive for ease of use and sonic quality. Some cheaper/other makes can be fiddly and too clinical sounding. Technology has moved so far now that you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between analogue and digital with your eyes shut. I am happy to mix on quality analogue desks, and don’t mind to spend time to write my settings down on a recall sheet old school style.”
Are their any pieces of equipment, plug ins or techniques that you’ve stumbled upon recently which have blown your mind?
“A tip I have when recording, I use a condenser mic with compression far back in the room to capture the ambience of the room. Use this very subtly with your mix and you can get the natural reverb of the room without relying too much with artificial reverb plug in’s. I recently went on a Midas Pro series course. That blew my mind!”
Do you use the room mic when recording a band playing in one room or on certain instruments when tracking?
“I would use the room microphone when recording drums on their own. I also had a room mic when recording a an acoustic guitar and a vocalist, Maverick Sabre playing live together in a room. You have to try it with different applications as recording is different every time with different rooms.
“I got the idea from a friend of mine Gareth Parton who is a studio engineer /producer who now lives in Australia. He has worked with amongst many other bands -The Go! Team, The Breeders and The Foals. He always insisted on having a highly compressed condenser microphone far back in the room when recording drums. The result was huge sounding drums which, blended with the other drum microphones would give you some real depth.”
You record live gigs as well as bands in a studio setting all performing together. How does your approach vary for these similar scenario?
“I prefer the results from live recording because you capture the moment. The musicians are in full swing and probably not thinking about the recording too much. Of course musicians can make mistakes playing live but there are ways of fixing things even with live recordings. With “30 Live At The Electric Ballroom” by The Blockheads, there is a song where Norman Watt-Roy’s Trace Elliott packed in through a whole verse of a song. I went to the second verse and cut, copied and pasted each bass note to the first verse. Very time consuming, but you couldn’t tell he didn’t play it on that verse, and believe me Norman’s bass playing is not simple! I treat recording bands live in a concert and live in a studio the same, although with a concert scenario I put out a couple of condenser microphones to capture audience applause and ambience of the space.”
Thanks to Sonny for taking the time to answer my questions. You can catch up with his adventures on his facebook page Sonny-Flints-Recordings.