Rising Stars: Tony Draper

Audio Pro International’s focus on the best of the industry’s up-and-coming audio technicians continues this week with the latest addition to our Rising Stars section.

This week we chat to engineer Tony Draper…

Where did you study?
At LIPA, on the Sound Technology degree. Often it seems that academic qualifications in sound get a really bad rap, especially from a lot of the people who came up through the traditional studio hierarchy and often I think it can be a little unfounded. We got an extremely thorough grounding in a lot of the theoretical principles and a really high level of trust in the studios; they’re open 24/7 so there was massive scope for gaining pressure-free experience. I think I made somewhere in the region of 40 records on my own time during my three years there, in various roles. It got me pretty used to sleepless nights and 18-hour sessions too.

Which band/project are you currently working on?
Currently there are quite a few on the boil. I’m just finishing up a new single for one of my favourite bands, At Any Time, from Norway, and I’m in the mixing phase for Always The Quiet Ones, who got their first Q and Kerrang radio plays last month. Doppelgänger just got a Radio 1 play and have rebooked for another EP, and I’m off to South Africa for three weeks in April to produce and engineer an album for The James Whitehouse Band. There are a couple of other mixing bits going on too – Synne Eileen & The Sunbeams and Hedda Aronssen, both Norwegian – and I’ll be in the studio doing an album with local Liverpool star Esco Williams in May, who just won a MOBO Unsung award. Also an EP I engineered and mixed for a long-time client Tom Speight is being released on the 26th March, which was a milestone record for me as it was produced by Jesse Quin from Keane and Andy Dunlop from Travis, so there were some incredible ears involved! Finally I’ve been helping build an incredible new studio called Analogue Baby, which is aimed mainly at surround score mixing. I’ve been involved for roughly nine months so I’ve seen it grow from the architectural shell to very nearly the completed article, which has been an awesome experience.

Where are you based at the moment?
I’m in Liverpool. Having spent so much time gaining contacts during Uni it seemed the logical choice! I was lucky enough to start working at Parr Street Studios and The Motor Museum for Mike Crossey while I was studying so I had a bit of a leg-up. I really can’t thank either Mike nor Rich and Chris at Parr Street enough – they did a lot for me when I started to venture out into the freelance world, especially the Parr Street guys, who made the studios available to me at amazing rates so I could bring my own projects in. Massive kudos! What they’re doing there is a very cool thing.

Which audio console are you currently using? And how many channels?
Currently I do the most tracking on a 60-channel Neve VR in Parr Street studio 1. I’ve always loved the sound of Neve since working on an AMEK 2520 and we recently got it recapped, calibrated and the Flying Faders going. It’s either that, the Neve 8232 at the Motor Museum or the 24-channel Audient ASP8024 in Parr 3. I love those Audients – they’re so quick to use and they sound awesome – buckets of clean headroom but it’s not at all lifeless. I can always seem to tie a mix together when it comes off one of those.

What decision process was behind the choice of these consoles?
The studios I use have them… that’s it! It’s usually a budget thing, and it’s more about the space and live rooms than the consoles. Alas, I don’t own a console of my own. However, in the process of building Analogue Baby we’ve bought a Neve 88RS with the SP2 and stem maker, so I’ve got to go to the AMS Neve factory a few times and see it all come together. The console was chosen as the facility is mainly aimed at score mixing and is 5.1 from the ground up architecturally, so we wanted a desk that can do everything a score mixer wants to do while staying in the analogue domain – and one that can also do rock and roll on downtime.

Do you use any outboard effects/EQ, and if so, what are they used on and why?
I try to track complete sounds and commit, rather than recording thinking "well in the mix I’ll compress that this way, and saturate it that way", so often I’ll use nice outboard for that when it’s available to me. For the same reason, I tend to EQ on the way in. I think important elements like the vocal really do benefit from outboard compression so when I have the right outboard tool to hand I’ll print it. I recently bought a Distressor which I just love and it seems to me that you can hit outboard compression a little harder without it getting as fatiguing as plugs. I also still think that hardware reverbs sound superior – the Bricasti and the 960L offer more than a plugin can, I think, though software is catching up and I use a lot of convolution reverb. Given all that, though, I mix virtually in the box, so I’m by no means a gear snob and some of the plugs now sound utterly awesome.

What is your console of choice?
If I were to buy a new console today, I think I’d be pretty stuck for the choice. I adore the saturation and low end of a Neve, but I love the precision and midrange of mixing on an SSL, especially the 4k. I do a lot of rock though, so API would probably suit my sonic tastes too! I think the Neve Genesys is an awesome desk for the money… I guess I’ll have to get back to you on that.

If you could tour with any band/artist who would it be?
Oh boy… it used to be Oscar Peterson. He was my musical hero from the age of 10 or so – I always aspired to play like him. Unfortunately he died a few years ago leaving my dream of meeting and playing with him unfulfilled. I think Rival Sons would be a great band to work with, purely for the love of their music, or BigBang for that matter. Or Björk, for the technical challenge. Again, I might have to get back to you on that.

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 Pro International editor Daniel Gumble on daniel.gumble@intentmedia.co.uk or 01992 535646.