Grammy-winner Cameron Craig learned his trade in Australia, before relocating to the UK where he has built a repertoire of record producer credits alongside the likes of U.N.K.L.E, Joe Strummer and Suzanne Vega for which he won the ‘Best Engineered’ Grammy. He has been in Miloco’s Pool and Engine Room studios recording and mixing sessions for Brett Anderson, The Enemy and Chris Difford. While he was here we got the chance to carry out the next episode of the popular Miloco producer interview series – the Cameron Craig Producer Interview. Here we ask him about his experience at Miloco, his opinions and preferences on the gear provided at our studios, plus some questions about his career to-date and his thoughts on the modern-day recording industry.
Hi Cameron, thanks for giving us your time. How are you and what have you been up to recently?
Fine thanks, I’ve been finishing up another Brigitte Fontaine album, been recording some tracks with The Enemy and recording of strange instruments in the Kent countryside.
You spent a lot of time last year in the pool and the engine room at Miloco’s Leroy street building. Starting with the pool, what is it about this studio which keeps you coming back?
The Pool is a great sounding space and with so much stuff about it becomes an amazingly creative environment to make records in. Gear-wise it was created the same way I like to record with lots of weird microphones and bits of outboard and all that adds up to being able to make unique sounding records. This was especially useful on the Brigitte Fontaine and Brett Anderson records.
How do you feel musicians can benefit from working within The Pool’s unique tracking space? And has it yielded any unexpected results?
It can take the players into areas were they would normally think to go – ideas like a bit of timpani, vibes or a strange synth can be tried without any fuss. You don’t have to convince a manger or record company that they have to spend a little more money on hire because “this timpani idea is going to be great” and if it’s not working its no big deal, nobody’s thinking “oh god we hired in all this gear we have to make it work”, which frees up everyone’s thinking and turns most ideas into “yeah let’s try it” situations.
Having worked in there a lot now, would you have any suggestions to how you would like to see the room improved / modified in the future?
Don’t you dare change it!!
Are there any particular favourite pieces of kit in there which you use the most, and if so what is it about the gear that you like so much?
I’m having most fun with the mics. The Lomo 19a19’s are getting a lot of work. I can’t really remember the names of the others. There are a lot of “you know the Russian one with the chrome bit on top” type conversations with assistants at The Pool, likewise in the control room there is a lot of “lets try that green thing and see what that does”. I’m still finding interesting bits I haven’t used yet.
You have a large collection of vintage microphones you’ve amassed over the years. Are there any particular flavours of the month which you’ve had particular joy with on your recent sessions?
The RCA BX44 is always a favourite, STC 4035 is getting a bit of a workout at the moment, The Turner 22x gets used pretty much every session as does the U47. There are too many really, you can’t have favourites.
You also have a great collection of mic pres. Do you like being able to mix and match or do you like to use the same pres when tracking a band much like using a console to keep a more consistent sound?
It’s more that most of the older mics don’t like modern pre amps that much, so it grew out of needing to get the best out of old mics at every session. So a lot of it is matching the mic to the pre and then choosing the most suitable combination for a particular instrument, so I’m more likely to change the combination than say just change the preamp.
Towards the end of 2010 you used The Engine Room this time mixing the forthcoming Brett Anderson record. What do you feel are the main strengths about this mix room?
The outboard list is great, the desk is in good shape, and the monitoring is good. It just allowed me to get on with the mix without even having to think about the room really, which is a good thing; it should all be about the music by that stage.
You are experienced with working on all sorts of different types of projects – from setting up home studios to recording vast string sections in large tracking spaces. Is there any one particular type of project that you look forward to working on the most?
I like recording orchestras and have a group of clients that like what I do in that department. As long as things are technically challenging and/or socially interesting I’m happy. I seem to get the call for things that can be a bit tricky or require something out of the ordinary, which is fine by me. I guess that knowledge translates setting up temporary and home studios, which I’m happy to do for the people I work with.
You have formed strong working relationship with producer Leo Abrahams – the latest project you’ve been working on together in The Pool is The Enemy. What do you think is the key to the success of this partnership?
I’ve worked with Leo for quite a while now mainly with him as a guitarist. The last year or two he’s moved into producing, which has been great. He’s also into making things sonically interesting and likes to work quickly so we complement each other quite well. He’s an immense musical talent and very easy to be around which makes my job easy really.
You learned your trade in your native Australia, and it is well documented how you upped roots and moved to the UK in the ’90s. What was behind your decision to re-locate?
I don’t know that it’s well documented! I’d had a bit of success but taken things as far as I could and was feeling a bit stale. A few of the big studios were closing down and the UK seemed to be a positive place to be so I packed my bags. In hindsight it was a bit of a crazy thing to do, it took a few years to find my feet but slowly I found people who thought like I did about recording and liked what I did. Now that group of like-minded people is much larger than it could have ever been in Australia and the records go out to a much wider audience.
Now in the UK working as a producer and engineer, you are probably in a position to compare differences and similarities between how the new generation of young engineers and assistants are being brought up here, to your own training back in Oz.
Well I had it pretty easy really. I was very much taught by my boss and mentor Ern Rose and came up though the ranks pretty quickly. My first solo session was only a few months after I started, I had no idea what I was doing and was purely copying what Ern did but I managed to record and mix 6 songs over a weekend. Monday morning Ern was on the phone trying to get a record deal for it so I guess it wasn’t too bad. For a few years we were a very tight unit, he’d explain why he was doing things and show me the difference, which made a huge impact on my knowledge. He also managed the studio and had to deal with that a lot. As soon as he got up to take a call I’d jump into the chair, and after a while he just stayed on the phone happy to let me get on with it. I went freelance at 21 and never really got to work with many other good engineers but it’s kept me in good stead so I’d say it was quite a good way of learning.
I think assistants have it quite hard now with dwindling studio numbers, freelance engineers coming and going, being freelance themselves or maybe that good training for what the industry is going to become. Miloco assistants are all great so you must be doing something right.
And what’s the best piece of advice you could give to any young and aspiring recording engineer?
Just to learn the trade thoroughly, don’t just learn what to do, learn why you need to do certain things as well. That knowledge will transfer to wherever or whatever you’re working on.
We often like to ask producers and engineers on their thoughts towards the progressive transition towards computers in the studio. You have the benefit of using the best both mediums have to offer. Have you personally found the rise of digital technologies in studios has affected the way you like to work?
Well for a while there I avoided technology that got in the way of what I wanted to achieve. If the technology gave me what I wanted I happily used it. If the technology was driving the results I avoided it. I happily used Soundtools to mixdown to from about 1990 because it helped with editing and it sounded as good as the DAT players of the time, but when it went to Protools and multitrack I needed to wait because it didn’t sound as good as it should. Then again one producer I worked with loved the sound of his 16bit 888’s – it gave him the crunchy sound he was after and if it’s getting what you need then it’s in. Personally I didn’t like it.
We cant help but notice you are one of the few producers who sometimes uses protools and other times logic. How easy do you find changing between two very different platforms?
I’m coming to terms with using Logic as a front end now. There are still a few trust issues when recording a full band but I’m working on that. When mixing it’s now getting to the point where if switching a complex session from Logic to Protools is too much of a pain then I’ll just stay in Logic but I do prefer to work in Protools when ever possible.
Do you feel the rise of digital audio is having an effect on the overall quality of recorded music, and are you fussy about using particular convertors in the studio?
With software we have the tools to do almost anything we want, you just need to choose the right tools for the job and no more. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have to, a lack of restraint or knowledge is probably the biggest cause of a drop in quality. If putting a load of plugins makes your audio sound bad then don’t, go out and change your mics or do what ever you have to to fix it. If a load of plugins makes it sound like you wanted it to then great but unfortunately most of the time I’d say people will put a load of plugins on because their source isn’t right – maybe they don’t know how to fix it or worse they can’t be bothered to. Nobody should blame the digital for their bad choices. Most of the pro converts sound pretty good nowadays, they all have their own sound and you just need to match the converter to the type of sound your trying to achieve. There are some great 2 track converters, using the Lavry in the Engine room was quite a revaluation, absolutely perfect for what I wanted.
And how about the demise of analogue tape? Do you ever feel like dusting off the tape machine?
It gets dusted off every now and then for artists that really need that sound. I really like recording to tape – it’s a very different way of recording though.
What do you think could or indeed should be done to improve the current state of the recording industry?
I think about that everyday, I’m yet to come up with any great answers. The recording industry can’t just be expected to make records for nothing because there isn’t as much money in selling the physical record anymore. If there is to be a music business artists are going to need songs recorded. For some they may be able to make money from it but for others it may be a promotional tool for other activities. Either way songs still need to be recorded. If they can’t afford to pay for recording from sales alone maybe they need to look at the bigger picture, look at what they can afford from all their income and figure out what a record is worth to them and spend accordingly. Much like any business would approach its advertising budget, just don’t expect your Pearl & Dean cinema slide budget to come out like a Lexus car ad though.
You’ve worked with a catalogue of diverse and fantastic artists throughout your career so far. Are there any standout sessions which you look back to with the fondest memories?
Recording Sly and Robbie, Brian Eno, Don E, Adam Green and Leo Abrahams for Grace Jones in a small programming room. Doing a large string session for The Hours in Studio 2 at Abbey road with Flood producing and wearing a “The Beatles are Shit” t-shirt… these are the sort of sessions I moved to the UK for.
And what about the rest of 2011… are there any projects in the pipeline you can let us know about?
There are some more Enemy sessions coming up, a few tracks with a new band called Foreign Office who are great, a live orchestral recording. You know, the usual.
Cameron Craig was talking to Miloco in March 2011.