Meet the Team! Q&A with Austen Kilburn
Last but by no means least in our Meet the Team Q&A Series, we’re getting to know the legendary Austen Kilburn! This guy has years of experience and a seriously impressive catalogue of work behind him, including working on tracks with the likes of Ocean Colour Scene, UB40 and Robbie Williams, so let’s find out more…
- How did your career in music production begin?
I had a little 4-track cassette porta-studio when I was 13 with a couple of cheap mics. I’d record my friend’s bands for fun and it grew from there. 10 years later I became a tape op at UB40s Dep International Studios and then it got serious!
- How would you describe what you do to someone who knows nothing about sound engineering?
It varies depending on the type of project but I guess I’m there to worry about all the techy stuff . Artists and producers can’t afford to get bogged down with computers, mics and stuff if they want to remain at their creative best.
- What’s the most fundamental piece of advice you can offer to studio artists?
Don’t try to record all your songs in one go! Choose 1 or 2 really good ones and spend loads of time preparing them before you get anywhere near the studio. Also, enjoy it as much as you can, it always comes out in the finished product.
- What particular unique skills do you think you can offer?
It’s really, really hard to piss me off! Believe me, that’s important in a recording studio.
- What has been the proudest/most exciting moment in your career so far?
I think it’s rewarding when you hear your work played on national radio. Huw Stephens once played a track I’d recorded and mixed on Radio 1 and said it sounded “huge”. I was pretty stoked about that. Another album I mixed was album of the week on Radio 2 once. It’s funny hearing Ken Bruce introduce something you’ve slaved over.
- How do you achieve ‘the perfect track’? How would you describe the process?
Give me a good song idea, lots of preproduction, good musicians with decent instruments and a good vibe to put it all together in and I’ll give you the perfect track…well, as near as, dammit! It’s all about having enough time to do the job properly and being able to have the rock ‘n’ roll experience along the way.
- If you could work with any artist, who would it be?
Probably someone like M83. The first time I heard any of his stuff I thought it sounded just like the music I’d always wanted to make myself…only he’d already done it better than I ever could.
- What do you think makes Gospel Oak stand out from other studios?
It’s small, very friendly and well away from distractions. The console, mics and other gear are way,way better than you get in your typical ‘rehearsal complex” type studios despite it not costing that much more. All that and it’s got Baz and chickens!
- How do you think sound engineering has changed since you started? (technology etc.)
I started with tape machines, analog consoles, Atari ST computers and lots of MIDI gear. I’d spend most of my time crawling on the floor keeping it all working as part of a team. Now I often work alone, staring at Protools on a screen rather a lot. Things do get done quicker now though which is great for the artist. You just have to be careful not to give yourself too many options and waste all that time you’ve gained.
- What advice would you give to aspiring sound engineers?
Get a day job to buy some gear and set yourself up as a freelancer straight away. There isn’t a studio business to get into as there was when we started. Even the mighty Oak is a one man operation! Produce artists for free and see what happens. Don’t give your money to a college, just dive in and find out if you’ve got what it takes.
- Any experiences that stick out in your mind?
I blew up Tony Iommi’s Protools rig once whilst recording him in his home studio. Very Spinal Tap.
I also mocked up a studio session for a video for “The Gladiators.” It got so hot with all those muscle heads in there that the air con exploded and emptied water all over the live room.
- What are the biggest challenges you face as a sound engineer?
Getting enough paid work booked in so as not to need the aforementioned day-job!
- Do you have a favourite style of music to record?
I get rock work, I get Reggae work and I get a fair amount of Mod influenced indie stuff but I’m most at home marrying real instruments with electronic textures. I particularly love helping to create blissed out, psychedelic, shoe-gazy cathedrals of sound if you’ll let me.
- What was the most demanding or complex recording project you’ve engineered?
It was definitely tougher back in the days of keeping tape, computers and samplers all locked together. Back in this century though, I once engineered a charity record involving dozens of artists, some well known. We had one day and it was all being filmed and photographed. All I’ll say is, it was a circus….never again!
- What’s your favourite piece of equipment at Gospel Oak?
Their Prism converters are probably the best I’ve ever heard. When I track stuff at the Oak then take it to my little production room to finish it off, I often have to phone Baz up to tell him how amazing it sounds… He just pretends I’ve got the wrong number now…
To book studio time with Austen, or any of our super talented team for that matter, give us a tinkle on 01564 785 875 or drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.