Rising Stars: Stanley Gabriel

After a long search, the shortlist of nominees for the Rising Stars Award at this year’s Pro Sound Awards was revealed last week, and now it’s finalist Stanley Gabriel’s turn to tell us about his pro-audio journey so far.

Gabriel has gone from stints at Strongroom and Abbey Road to join Spitfire Audio, where he now holds the title of production director. Among a host of topics across his career, he chatted to us about working with Hans Zimmer, Kate Bush and some of rock music’s biggest drummers.

How did you start out and where did you study?

I first started getting into audio-related things around 14, with an old computer making bootlegs of various tracks; it seemed like the coolest thing in the world at the time! From then I started making my own music and creating sounds and samples was always part of the process. After looking into ways in which to make a living out of this, I realised I probably needed professional training rather than relying solely on luck and so went to University of Surrey and studied Music and Sound Recording (Tonmeister).

I started trying to get into the industry around 15 by offering my tea-making abilities to any studio that would take me. However my professional career properly took off when I was 20, with a year of working as a runner and assistant engineer at Abbey Road Studios. It’s where I really got my engineering chops from, and it was great to learn from all the hugely talented people both at Abbey and all the other people that came through the doors.

What made you want to work in pro-audio?

I’ve always been interested in audio and sounds, how they come together, and what makes them stand out. From this I’ve basically just been trying to make a living from it for the past six years! I’ve worked as an engineer, mixer, sound designer, music editor, songwriter and composer and it’s been great to work in so many different areas. I think what makes me want to continue to work in pro-audio is the variety it brings – no two projects are ever the same. 

Where are you based?

I live in Walthamstow with my fiance, and work out of Tileyard Studios in Kings Cross. There’s a great vibe there, with I think around 70 studios, all working in different areas of music. You’ll go down to the cafe on site for a little break, start chatting to someone, and then end up going back upstairs with more ideas than you came down with! 

Who would you say are your biggest influences?

I think stylistically my biggest Influences are drawn directly from people around me. Everything I have ever worked on and have been really proud or excited about has always started with working with someone you can bounce ideas off. With Spitfire Audio a huge amount of inspiration also comes from the musicians we use, and talking to them about interesting ways to use their instruments as a device to create new textures and sounds rather than just capturing the instrument itself. 

Do you have any achievements you are particularly proud of? What are the big landmarks of your career?

One of my career highlights happened straight out of university, where I got to work as mix assistant on Kate Bush’s last album 50 Words for Snow. It was a three-month-long mix session, working in minute detail on each track. Watching Kate and Stephen Tayler work was an incredible experience.

Since then there has been many with Spitfire Audio, most notably was The Grange. This is a drum sample library in Headley Grange, where Led Zeppelin recorded a huge amount of their catalogue. We setup the drum kit in the stairwell, which is the same spot where the famous drums for When The Levee Breaks were recorded and got drum gods Chad Smith, Roger Taylor and Andy Gangadeen to play for us. What some people don’t realise is that Headley Grange is a family home, not a studio, so we also had to set up a whole recording studio, complete with 2in tape machine. It was a great team there, and an honour to produce that library with Spitfire Audio. 

Can you tell us about any recent projects? What are you working on currently?

Recently with Spitfire I’ve been working on a number of projects, including a piano library with Hans Zimmer. It’s an incredible sound with it all recorded in the hall at AIR; I think we also had 48 microphones up by the end of it! I also run a small sample library company called Snug Audio, and we’re just putting the final touches together for the first couple of releases on this, and have started recording some awesome sounds for a circuit bent sampler instrument that should be quite fun to use. We’ve recorded various 20-second clips of circuit bent madness and cool sounds with the plan that the final product will randomly pick one of these, spread it across the keyboard and loop a section based on your host BPM. We’ve made a prototype and it’s really fun and inspiring to use. 

Can you tell us about some of your favourite gear? What do you find yourself relying on most?

When recording I can’t get enough of ribbon mics – we’ve got a pair of Royer R122v’s that just sound exceptional – especially on violins – and the Sontronics Sigma on cello is just incredible. Also i’m a massive advocate for 2in tape – getting the machine for The Grange was almost impossible, and we very nearly called it off, however on the day A/Bing between the two was like chalk and cheese.

In terms of sound design and sampling tools, the stuff I rely on the most is rather dull…keyboard maestro! The amount of time I save with keyboard shortcuts really helps me to focus on making everything sound the best it can, rather than constantly moving the mouse everywhere and clicking.

If you could work with one artist or group, who would it be and why?

Good question! I’ve always been a massive Basement Jaxx fan so collaborating with them on something would be fantastic. The production on their records has always intrigued me, and sonically it’s rather inspiring. Also I have no idea what we’d do together but i’d love to work with Jules Buckley – I’ve always loved all his arrangements and orchestrations. 

Where do you want to be in ten years?

As long as I’m still busy and working with sounds I’ll be happy!

To get involved in our Rising Stars column, whether you are an engineer who is new to the industry and would like to be featured, or an experienced engineer who would like to nominate a particular student/apprentice, please contact Audio Media International staff writer Matt Fellows on mfellows@nbmedia.com or +44 (0)20 7354 6001.