JLife catches up with Mercury Prize nominated producer, Andy Ross, to discuss a musical career spanning from playing to The Queen to founding one of Europe’s top-ranked recording studios in the Northern Quarter.
So Andy, how did you wind up with your own music studio?
I started playing the guitar from the age of 10 and quickly set-up my own small pop band called Alive with my friends from the age of 15. Before I knew it, I was playing on the National Lottery show with Madonna to 20 million people.
In fact, we featured three times on the show, even pressing the button to release the balls! Our biggest achievement was without doubt being asked to perform at Prince Charles’s 50th birthday party at Buckingham Palace which led us to be featured in every national newspaper and TV show imaginable. The story was so big we even did a live broadcast over to Canada. This was an amazing time in my musical career as a performer.
After undertaking degrees in music and naturally getting older (as we all do!) we changed style and moved from pop to rock, supporting Ian Brown on his UK tour. I then got a publishing deal with Clippers Music based in Barcelona and have written songs for a number of Spanish artists and TV shows. Having also written for a number of artists in the UK too from a small home set-up and hired studios, I decided it was time for a more professional approach, and in 2008, Astar Studios was born.
Tell our music buffs about some of your kit!
Having had both good and bad experiences in a vast number of studios from the age of 15, I knew exactly what I wanted to bring to Astar – a great atmosphere, solid reputation and to work with quality artists. All the equipment was carefully chosen to create the best possible sound. I use beautiful-sounding Neve pre-amps, Neumann U87 mics and the best instruments possible, from Les Paul to Fender, paired with Ashdown and Marshall Anniversary amplifiers.
How can individual qualities of a studio affect the sound of a recording?
Every studio will have their own respective ideas of how a recording space should sound. As a producer, I look to be creative and get the best possible performance out of the people I’m working with. The sound I go for is always dependent on the style of music I’m working on, so you have to be adaptable.
Our live room is acoustically treated not to be a dead space, but to date back to that retro era, where live rooms had that great sonic personality to them, allowing you to capture the sound you’re looking for at source. It’s been designed with a unique system whereby you can make it sound bigger or smaller dependent on the type of music you are recording. We have people coming from all over the country to use the room for this very reason.
Have many notable artists recorded there?
Over the years we’ve welcomed a number of renowned musicians including Neil Fairclough [Queen], Steve White [The Who], Simon Goulding [The Bee Gees], Bryan Hargreaves [Brian May] and Lea Mullen [George Michael] to name a few.
A great moment was when I produced a cover of a Style Council song ‘The Paris Match’ with the band’s original drummer, Steve White and a singer called Kristyna Myles. Before it could be released, Paul Weller had to personally approve it. It was a great relief and pleasure when he approved it and kindly gave us two words we could use to promote it: “absolutely stunning!” The record went on to top the iTunes charts and I was asked to produce Kristyna’s album that won her a MOBO nomination.
You’ve been very successful, what does it take to engineer a Mercury-shortlisted record?
I was delighted as you can imagine when I got shortlisted for the Album of the Year back in 2010 for producing Kit Downes Trio’s debut album, Golden. The advice I can give to others looking to achieve the same is be dedicated, work hard and understand the music you are working on. Home recording has given a false impression of today’s industry in that everyone with a computer suddenly calls themselves a producer, but to really make a professional record you need to enter a professional studio.
What’s the secret to getting the mix right?
The most important factor is allowing yourself enough time. It’s imperative to make sure everything on the track is played or performed to the best standard it can possibly be. I don’t go overboard with plugins, but simply add exactly what the track needs. I would always advise someone to keep away from generic presets and study how to use plugins yourself properly along with equalising effectively to remove any unwanted frequencies in the track.
Hard, but your career highlights so far?
My career highlights so far have to be Astar being selected as joint runner-up for Best Studio and Studio of The Year in successive years, plus receiving the award for Rising Star Producer at the prestigious Pro Sound Awards – the equivalent of The BRIT Awards for music production across the whole of Europe.
Are you looking to release any more music, maybe on your own label?
I don’t currently have my own label, but a company is already formed for this purpose and I have plans to do so in the near future – so watch this space!