Working with the likes of The Kooks, Plan B, Marmozets and currently Catfish and The Bottlemen, Russ Tite is a music industry pro both in the studio and in front of the stage. He answers some questions for us below on technology, mixing and how he hates being cold.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO ENGINEERING?
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I left school. I didn’t really get into music seriously until I was about 14 and I had started playing guitar about the same time. There was a sound engineering course at Sandwell College literally a five minutes’ walk from where I had moved to after I left school. My options were an apprenticeship at the Midlands Electricity or with British Telecom. I didn’t want to start working yet, so I thought I’d give Sandwell a go. The work was mostly studio related and minimal live teaching.
Whilst I was studying, I got a house gig in my home town at a small venue called The Rugeley Red Rose Theatre. Punk and metal bands playing every Friday, which got me into the live side of music. I was paid about £15 for a 12-hour day. I remember not going near any noise gates or compressors until about the third gig. I would be running around trying to sound check four bands to get them all sorted on time for doors.
YOU’VE WORKED WITH A VARIETY OF ARTISTS/BANDS AS A LIVE SOUND ENGINEER. DO YOU HAVE SEPARATE APPROACH FOR MIXING DIFFERENT GENRES OF MUSIC.
Not particularly, obviously you don’t go for a raging ‘clicky’ kick drum sound if you’re working with someone like Billy Ocean, as opposed to a rock band. The main thing about mixing FOH revolves around making things louder and making their sound work in the space you are in. I might have a preconceived idea of how I’d like a guitar to sound, but if it’s not what’s happening onstage then you’re not going to get there. It’s very important that the sounds are correct at source as the whole mix will sound wrong if it sounds wrong on stage.
I would recommend walking in with a completely blank page and work it out as you’re hearing sounds in the first line/sound check.
When possible, always try to listen to the band’s pre-recorded music to see what they are about, but, again, that’s only going to give you a rough guide. Sounds and the actual performance from the band onstage are different; they are generally a lot rawer and more full on (which I do enjoy).
WHEN YOU ARE MIXING OUTDOOR FESTIVALS AND VENUES IS YOUR APPROACH DIFFERENT TO INDOOR EVENTS? WHICH DO YOU PREFER
The main difference to think of beforehand normally is, will there be a sound limit? You aren’t just gonna ‘go for it’ but if you do, you’re going to get told to turn it down very quickly. Generally, it’s better mixing outdoors, as you’re not dealing with room reflections and you have greater control. With festivals, you get the adrenaline rush that comes when your sound check is replaced by a line check on headphones, and the first time you actually hear anything through the PA is when the band strolls on and go for it, which I quite enjoy.
They both have their pros and cons, but I’d probably choose outdoor gigs when it’s pretty warm and not windy, which doesn’t happen most of the time. Indoor is a little more consistent and you can rock it out a bit more.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE VENUE TO MIX IN, AND WHY?
Brixton Academy is a particular favourite. It always sounds like Brixton, and that is good! The atmosphere and vibe there is just fantastic. I’ve also had very good fun in the O2 in London. It sounds rockin’ in there for a big room. The 9:30 club in Washington is generally an all-round crew favourite.
YOU ARE A RECORDING / MIX ENGINEER AT BLUE WHALE STUDIOS IN BIRMINGHAM. HOW DOES WORKING IN A STUDIO DIFFER FROM MIXING A LIVE GIG?
You have a fixed level that you can mix to in a recording studio, as opposed to just being able to grab the master fader and turn it up in a live scenario. You need to use a completely different set of frequencies (normally ones you’d try and pull out live), and although things need to happen speedily (as studio time isn’t cheap) you get a lot more time to get things how you would like them at the source.
HOW HAS TECHNOLOGY CHANGED THE WAY YOU WORK OVER THE LAST 5-10 YEARS?
The main difference is using a digital desk, as opposed to a good old analogue console. Everything is built in and, logistically, it is far easier and lighter on the bands touring budget than carrying around a big analogue desk and lots of nice outboard gear. Whether that is better or not is open for debate.
If you’ve got a really tight band who have their sound down, and if budgets aren’t an issue, I’d probably choose a Midas XL4 analogue desk and some nice outboard toys. Also, PA systems have come a long way – the analysis and designing software available nowadays is invaluable.
Other than that, I probably still use all the same microphones that I always have. The only regular new one on me is the KSM8. I’d been a Beta 58A man for years. Van (lead singer of Catfish and the Bottlemen) was already using a Beta 57A when I joined them.
The KSM8 was mind blowing from the first moment he sang into it. It has really good solid low end, and when you add top end it handles it really well without sounding brittle.
The off axis bleed that you get from the KSM8 sounds much better than other mics I have used. When the singer comments on how ‘ace’ or ‘class’ the mic sounds in most sound checks I reckon you’re onto a winner. I’ve never really noted a singer to comment on a mic that much before so I think that says it all.
WHAT EQUIPMENT COULD YOU NOT LIVE WITHOUT IN 2017 THAT YOU DIDN’T NEED OR MIGHT NOT HAVE EXISTED 5-10 YEARS AGO?
Probably the KSM8 and Midas Pro Series digital consoles. Digital desks make production managers happier (because they weigh less for shipping costs) and Midas have nailed the sound of their digital desks very well. Although I may be slightly biased as their analogue desks were my favourite.
AS A SEASONED TRAVELLER WHAT 2 ITEMS CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT ON THE ROAD?
Skype to keep in touch back home. A warm coat because I hate being cold.