RECORDING TECHNIQUES WITH CHAD BLONDEL
EVER HEARD OF A STUDIO THAT CAN RUN WITHOUT STAFF? BY PETER ZALUZNY
Chad Blondel is a man of many talents. He’s worked with bands across almost every genre you can think of out of his studio in Perth; he’s worked out a few little tricks that can make a super shiny pop-rock guitar fill every inch of the mix, and he even knows a thing or two about recording to tape. But the most interesting item in his long list of accomplishments is his supplementary studio called Foxhole, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week... Oh yeah, and that’s without a single staff member. Foxhole studio is a really interesting concept. What was the idea and intention behind a 24-hour unmanned studio?
It borrows a little from the 24-hour gym concept, as well as the shared economy of Airbnb, to provide professional studios for members to start cutting records without the huge investment involved in hiring commercial studios, or setting up one of their own. Quite a few bands use it to track a record and then send it to me to mix, which gives them the freedom to experiment and take their time during the tracking phase. But we’ve had a lot of producers and engineers use the space to start tracking bands as well. As far as I can tell, there isn’t anything exactly like Foxhole in the world. The idea seems to really suit Perth’s eclectic music scene. There’s a little bit of everything in that city, so I imagine you’d need versatile gear. What kind of equipment is set up in the main studio where you work?
I track through API and Neve preamps, and with an outboard EQ rather than through the console. The API preamps are really versatile, but I particularly love how they capture rock music. They’re really fast, and you can push the input stage to dial in a little crunch. For the mix phase, we’ve set the console up in a Michael Brauer and CLA fashion, with the A, B, C and D mix busses going to outboard EQ and comp chains. And the Soundcraft 6000 [console] definitely adds some magic. I really love the routing capability, especially at 48 channels. You’ve got a two-track Otari MX5050 reel-to-reel machine in there as well. How often to bands ask to record to tape?
We use the tape machine quite a bit, but we usually end up sending audio out of Pro Tools into the tape machine, and then printing to a new track in Pro Tools. That way, we can control how hard we hit the tape if we want to EQ or comp the source before it hits, and we can monitor if we hit a dodgy bit of tape. The Otari has a gritty sound to it – it’s essentially a harmonic distortion tool that you can run really aggressively, or back it off for subtle enhancement. It’s also great for fattening up vocals and guitars. Also, running beats from hip-hop samples can be a great way to dirty up a loop and give it a less sterile feel. For people that can’t access the real deal, are tape emulators up to scratch these days?
I definitely prefer the hybrid situation we have today, working in a digital audio workstation and printing through outboard gear to get the mojo. Personally, I don’t think you can beat the real thing when it works the way you want it to – but tape, or at least my machine, is inconsistent and somewhat unrepeatable from day to day, so I use a lot of emulators too. The Kramer Tape plug is great, and from a tape harmonic distortion side, the Decimator from Sound Toys and iZotope’s Ozone are great tools. Amongst all the genres that make their way through your doors, your work with pop and pop-rock guitars is really impressive. How do you give something so bright and shiny presence and dynamics in the mix without overdoing it? Getting a guitar to sit in a mix starts with picking the right guitar and amp for the job, and then playing the part with intention. But a big ‘ah ha’ moment for me was realising that a good mix is not some magic combination of fader volumes, but that each track should have a relationship with the others. So the snare should effect the rhythm guitars, and the kick should effect the bass; the elements of the song should breathe together. Parallel, side chain compression and multi-buss compression is a big part of how we get the elements to sit together more cohesively and enhance their expression, especially in rock mixes. And how do you build that sound into something grand?
For me, if you want a big mix, you’re going to want a big room sound. The room breathing is what fills the gaps and makes it feels ‘bigger’ or more expressive. In the mix phase, I find that the multi-buss technique is crucial to pulling a big, aggressive and pumping sound. If your guitars are getting lost, send some to the drum buss so they crunch together. Vocals getting swamped? Send them to the bass buss or the drum slam buss. This is where the tracks start to effect each other via the compressor they’re running through. It’s an effect that can’t be achieved through balancing faders on their own.