2022 was quite the year for music artist Steve J Brown, who got himself an ASP4816 back in the spring. He spent a lot of time touring in both the UK and US with Corinne Bailey Rae as well as collaborating on a number of music projects.
Yet in between everything he’s managed to find time to get to know his new Audient mixing desk.
Describing his Leeds studio as a “creative workshop environment”, it’s here that he works on his own as well as Corinne’s projects, sometimes alongside a talented array of musicians, writers, producers and engineers.
ASP4816 functions as a hub for routing
His setup comprises a hybrid front end which feeds into either 16-track tape or digital – or both – with the ASP4816 functioning as a hub for routing, in tandem with a patchbay.
“I was looking for a mixer which could integrate the hardware so there’s less patching needed,” he explains, recalling his old setup, which needed everything patching individually. “It was super-flexible, but in practice it meant I would opt against experimenting in the flow of a tracking session.”
Nowadays he uses the 16-way bus routing system of the ASP4816 to route to a choice of hardwired chains of outboard EQ and compression. “I can track the chain and a clean, pre-processed direct out (via a track’s insert send) simultaneously. So I can really overcook the outboard knowing the pre-processed track is there if I went too far. This is helping me get to know the more extreme reaches of my gear in a real session environment.
Steve J Brown on ASP4816: “I love the flexibility”
“I love the flexibility of that routing. It’s just a button push to throw a track or group of tracks into a hardware chain and it comes up on its own fader and normals to a soundcard input.” This way of working draws on his years of trusting his creative flow.
“I’ve found that wherever I’m tracking – even through classic outboard in famous studios – unless the engineer knows exactly how that equipment will behave when pushed, then the tendency is to play safe and keep it clean, rather than push it and risk messing up a track. Often the vibe is in a more extreme place.”
Capturing the vibe
He laments the fact that opportunities to experiment in a well-equipped studio on live tracking with great players, are few and far between these days. “We have in the back of our minds that we can get into processing and get experimental in the safety of our own studio environment where time is ‘less expensive’. This works fine, but there’s a loss in that when the moment comes to make subjective decisions about what colour/tone or attitude you want a track/group of tracks to have. That original moment of performance, with all its magical collective courage, has passed.
“Routing via chains of outboard allows me to bring up a vibrant sound on first playback”
“Routing via chains of outboard allows me to bring up a vibrant sound on first playback. The players can hear their performance with some extra flavour,” he explains. “If you can keep the energy rising on playback it’s a virtuous cycle. We can be surprised how good something sounds and bring that confidence into the next performance.
“Tracking with the colour you know will bring out the flavour in the performance, has the extra benefit of getting you further towards the goal of a finished track and saves so much subjective decision-making down the line. Not just about sonics, but it also can counter the urge to reach for the editing tools.”
Steve is comfortable on both sides of the glass, ‘swapping hats’ between music production, writing/arranging, performance, engineering and mixing. “I’ve spent time in all these roles over the years and been inspired by some amazing people. Each role informs the others in useful ways,” he says. “Learning to cover many roles on a session opens up the freedom to work more experimentally and have more autonomy.”
ASP4816 “has been designed from an engineer’s perspective.”
Perpetually striving to be in his creative flow, he fully appreciates the fact that the desk “has been designed from an engineer’s perspective.” He uses the console EQ and preamps alongside outboard alternatives, and is very happy with the desk’s flexible monitoring as well as its routing. “I love that it doesn’t really have a sound. It’s clean across the frequency spectrum, very low noise and has fast transients with ample headroom.”
His console came with a specially ordered feature: a pair of John Hardy Op Amps on the master bus (now available as standard in the new ASP4816s, both Standard and Heritage Editions). “They are really fast and open, but start to sound punchy and add a little thickness when pushed. Even way into the red it never threatens to collapse,” says Steve, particularly impressed with the headroom.
Certainly not afraid of hard work, there’s a lot to look forward to. A residency he took up in a Chicago art space this year has sparked a collaboration between himself, Corinne and internationally acclaimed Manchester drummer Myke Wilson, which will culminate in an album due for release late summer 2023. “So I’m getting that record ready for mixing, developing other ongoing projects, setting up for a contemporary dance collaboration coming up soon and working on Corinne’s next album,” he says.
Happily the ASP4816 will be instrumental in at least some of those upcoming projects – Audient’s interest is definitely piqued! However, Steve is so involved in real life and work that he has never found time or inclination to get on socials to promote what he’s up to (imagine!) “I get tempted to jump in but I like an analogue life,” he quips.
Not to worry – Audient is pretty sure we will get to hear about it, one way or another…