Andy Bradfield knows a thing or two about what a great reverb should sound like, having spent many years working at the iconic Townhouse Studios. It was in the live room at Townhouse where the now famous non-linear, or as some like to say, the 'Phil Collins' drum sound was born. He laughs as we talk about who may have created the sound, it seems several people want to lay claim to that story, although Andy is not one of them. For all his work in some of the top studios and with an impressive canon of work on over 270 projects that stretches back nearly thirty year, it would be forgivable if Andy wanted to boast, but that's not Bradfield's style, he is down to earth and chatty, a safe pair of hands - perhaps that's why he is trusted to mix the albums of many top producers.
The journey starts when Bradfield was given a mono tape recorder for Christmas aged just 11. "I went around recording everything, as you do at that age, and it kicked off a fascination. As luck would have it mum and dad saw this and encouraged me. I used to play keyboards a bit in a band at school and then this course came up at an Essex studio in the evening and I went on it and loved it. It was a hands on course – it didn’t teach me my job but gave me an impetus to carry on."
The Stone Room at The Townhouse - Image thanks to The Classic UK Recording Studios Resource
It wasn't long before Bradfield was encouraged to consider going to London to pursue a career in recording "The guy who ran the studio said I should get up to London. I must have written about 65 letters and only got 10 replies. One of them was ‘yes come and see us’ that was Redbus, the other was from the Townhouse saying ‘we’ll keep you on file’. So I began working at Red Bus, I was there for 10 months and I really enjoyed it. Then Townhouse wrote to me and said ‘come for an interview we’re opening a new facility called Olympic’ and I got offered a job. A lot of us employed as assistants at Townhouse ended up at Olympic as it was being finished and helping out which taught us a lot about how a studio is bolted together. It was literally all hands on deck and running late, as these things often do. Shortly after that Olympic opened and I started doing sessions, it was great I was working with everyone from Tom Lord Alge, Spike Stent and Bob Clearmountain. We worked on jingles, rock bands, films, mixing and recording – it was hard work but a good grounding in studio practices."
“We were working back to back – they worked you damn hard in those days as an assistant, if you weren’t working an 80 hour week you were a slacker”
In the early days of his career Bradfield was working with some iconic names "I remember I badgered the manageress at Olympic to work on the Queen album when I’d just started. I worked on the 'Miracle' album as an assistant for 3.5 months and it was fantastic. Freddie wasn’t very well during the recording, the line was that he had a liver complaint and amazingly it never hit the press that he was seriously ill until just before he died. I also did an album with Europe with Ron Nevison which was interesting. I did part of an album was Tom Lord Alge" We have to interrupt at this point suggesting that Andy is talking about the stuff of musical legends, but Bradfield puts it into perspective "We were working back to back – they worked you damn hard in those days as an assistant, if you weren’t working an 80 hour week you were a slacker. It was accepted that you’d be knackered all the time but we were young and able to do it"
Mixing With The Best
Fast forward to today and Andy Bradfield is called upon for his skill as a top mixer for both music and film scores. So on this role is he curating the work of the producer? "I wear both hats. I work with incredible people so often my role is to take what is given to me and run as far as I can with it and end up with something amazing. Also, sometimes when a track has been worked on for a long time then excessive overdubs can creep in, almost due to boredom, so my role as a mixer is to be objective and point out that some things aren’t necessary. I have no emotional baggage with the track and can point out the good and bad that may go unnoticed by those who’ve been listening to it for weeks." He continues "Direct input isn’t always possible but I try to get a good line of communication it is important to understand their expectations. I try not to tread on people’s toes and ask permission for various changes e.g. ‘can I change the drums or is that what you intended’? You don’t know how people will react. I try to have that conversation before or during the process so that, when they get the mix back, they know what to expect."
“There was a lot of reverb on tracks until the beginning of the 1990s then everything went bone dry.”
It was during his time at the Townhouse that Andy got to use some of the best reverbs in the world. ""It’s where my early love of all things Lexicon began because the Lexicon 480 was the staple of those studios. Reverbs in those days were 480, 224, and Yamaha Rev 7. I remember walking into the Townhouse as a new assistant as Mr Know-it all and said to the maintenance guys ‘you see that reverb there, couldn’t there be something underneath it?’ they said, ‘have you seen the reverb?’ You know the EMT250, I didn’t realise that it was made out of transistors and when they pulled this 18ft rack out of the wall it was basically mounted at waist height and goes all the way to the floor. There was a unit 3 or 4 foot high underneath it – quite staggering. It was before integrated circuits. There were 224Xs (the later ones) and Yamaha. Occasionally people would come in who would rent other things like the Quantel, it was quite popular. The AMS RX16 – another classic we used. These were the staples, we were a long way from plug-in reverbs, so what you had in the rack was all you had. They served the job very well for the most part."
The Role Of Reverb In A Mix
Being a mixer Bradfield must regard reverb as an essential part of his toolkit? "There was a lot of reverb on tracks until the beginning of the 1990s then everything went bone dry. It’s cyclic –they had gone as far as they could with using reverb and were bored of it. If you want tough music you use very short reverbs or none. For a while if you put reverb on a track that you could hear you were derided – it was a challenge to get the mix without any reverb. Then the fashion shifted again and music was becoming more reverb, like dance music. It’s partly a statement, partly a style."
Having used the best hardware reverbs over the last 30 years how did Bradfield feel when he discovered the Exponential Audio reverbs. "Before the Exponential Audio reverbs I was using some very well known models of plates like the EMT 250, but exponential has blown me away – no exaggeration. In terms of reverbs the Exponential reverbs are amazing. I’ve used it a lot on live projects over the last week as I’d been looking for an alternative sound reverb for a while and when I tried it I was astonished. What really stunned me was that the bottom end doesn’t get muddy but remains clear. They remind me of an old Neve console – impossible to make it sound bad."
However, even a great reverb in the wrong hands has the potential to make a mix sound bad, so we ask for mixing tips for those who want to follow the same path.
"Lines of communication – understand what the client or band want out of the mixing process. Secondly references are useful e.g. they might say to me 'we were listening a lot to Garbage while recording this track' – but I take that reference up to a point and then leave it behind and make the track work. Part of my job is to make people excited about what they’ve done and have a brilliant end product. People trust my instinct but if they don’t like something I’ve done then I’m prepared to do it again. It doesn't matter what work you've done before, you must always be prepared to do something again if the person you are mixing for isn't happy."
Those final words perhaps explain why so many people ask Andy Bradfield to mix their precious tracks... he's always listening.