Say the name ‘Gary Barlow’ to anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last twenty years and you will usually get an instant reaction, everyone seems to think they know everything there is to know about Gary…
What we do all know is that he is a singer-songwriter, pianist, record producer and the front man in one of the UK’s most successful Pop Music acts ever, Take That have sold over 45 million records worldwide, he is also a six time recipient of the Ivor Novello Award.
Since 2011 he has been the Head Judge on the X-Factor TV series, in 2012 he was the driving force behind the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert, he was awarded an OBE and is probably about as close to a ‘National Treasure’ as we get in the UK.
What most people don’t know of is ‘Future Studios’; Gary’s London based Recording Studio and Ryan Carline, his Programmer, Engineer, Co-Producer and all round ‘Right-Hand-Man’ when it comes to his Music Recording work.
MediaPros recently spent some time with Ryan and spoke to him about what goes on at ‘Future Studios’ and what it’s like to work with the busiest man in show business.
Q) How long have you worked with Gary and how did the job come about?
A) 11 years so far. I was working with my sister Ava Leigh and other songwriters in the early days, one writer knew Eliot Kennedy who I was a huge fan of, and so I got in touch with him. I went over to his place one day to buy some synths he was selling and played him some stuff I’d been working on in the bedroom.
We kept in touch, and shortly after the catch-up, Eliot set up a writing / production company with Gary called The True North Music Company. I started working there while still working nights at the post office, maintaining the studios, keeping the sample libraries fresh, sending out things to record companies, making drinks etc.; it was a dream come true for me, being in the thick of it making records with such amazing songwriters.
A few months in, they gave me a go at programming up some songs for a Donny Osmond album, which I ended up working on all the way through. Gary would pick me up from the train station before I could drive, I’ll never forget that day we approaching the studio gates and Gary said to me “so when are you going to leave the post office”
Q) What projects have you worked on together?
A) We’ve worked on a lot of pop projects over the years, from artists like Blue, Atomic Kitten and Delta Goodrem to multi million selling international soprano Lara Fabian, Take That and more recently, X Factor.
Q) You’ve installed a 32-fader Avid ICON D-Control console in your London based studio – why did you choose ICON?
A) When we moved to our new studio, there was already a big SSL 4064 E series console in there, which I loved and was very used to working on. We’ll very often have several songs on the go at varying stages of completion, and tend to produce, record and mix as we go along.
We decided to make the switch to ICON because I’d be mixing a song on the SSL, and Gary might come in and want to change a lyric or a few chords in a song we were working on several weeks back. I need to then continue mixing the other song and have everything come back exactly the way I left it. Quite often we’ll write at other studios around the world too with instrumental ideas already in Pro Tools, it’s so important for us to have this instant recall, so we can spend more time on the writing process.
One of the things I love about working on a console is the ability to have things in familiar places. The D-Control let’s me do things spontaneously in the heat of the moment without having to hunt around the mixer window to adjust say, the level of the bass guitar in the drummers cue mix. This makes our workflow so much smoother especially when tracking and mixing, letting us focus more on the creative side and less on the technical.
Q) I believe you had a couple of one-to-one demos with the guys from Avid at Pinewood, did you take much convincing?
A) Not really. I already knew what we were looking for, it was more a confirmation that the D-Control would do everything we needed it to do, it was a lovely day out in the country for us too.
Q) What factors made you decide to move away from working with a traditional analogue console to working “in the box” with Pro Tools and ICON?
A) Working “in the box” wouldn’t have been an option for us in the past, but things have come a long way in recent years. It was the speed of getting from initial idea to finished mix though that did it for us, giving us more time to spend on the musical parts and the recording, and less time recalling mixes and solving technical issues. There’s also the convenience of being able to open a session from a while back, make a few subtle tweaks and upload it to a client minutes later.
Q) You also upgraded your Pro Tools|HD systems to the new HDX spec very soon after the HDX product range was released, how has that worked out for you?
A) Really well. Before HDX came out, we were running a system with 6 HD Accel cards in a chassis. I was surprised just how well sessions that were maxing out our HD6 ran so effortlessly on our new HDX 2 system. I’m loving the new Channel Strip too; I’m able to use the AAX DSP version of it in the monitor path with no latency problems.
Q) Any specific things you like about the new HDX system?
A) The best thing for me is being able to run 512 tracks reliably with a rock solid DSP mixer, and still have plenty of resources available for plugins and processing. We have a lot of vintage outboard, and I have a template set up making full use of our 72 channels of HD/IO. I have all of my favourite outboard hardware inserted and pre mic’ed instruments ready to record. Opening up old sessions from our HD6 system has been really smooth too, there are more AAX plugins starting to surface now, we’ve just updated our Sonnox, DUY and Crane Song plugins to AAX DSP and as of yet, I’ve not come close to maxing out one of our 2 HDX cards.
Q) Any specific things you’d like to mention that you like about working with the ICON?
A) For me, the ICON is a great workflow tool that helps me to work fast and put all of my focus on what I’m hearing. My favorite feature is the custom faders mode, which allows me to map selections of tracks in the Pro Tools mixer to where ever I like. I then store these custom fader groups so that at the touch of a button, the vocals are to my left and my masters are to my right, while I’m sat right between the speakers.
These custom fader groups are saved in the ProTools session, so if I load up my mix in another ICON equipped studio, they’re just the way I left them.
Q) All your audio interfaces are all the latest Avid HD I/O series spec, have you noticed much difference with these over the older HD series interfaces?
A) When we got them in to try, I spent some time comparing them with the original 192’s which we still using up until that day with the SSL. I started by recalling a mix I’d just spent a while doing and immediately wanted to adjust things I hadn’t noticed before. That week, I tried recording through them too and noticed that everything sounded more open, punchy and natural to me. They’re also extremely reliable, and give me the lowest possible throughput latency, which is paramount for me now that we’re working this way. As an added bonus, we’ve managed to free up 2u of valuable rack space in the machine room as each one handles 16 ins and outs.
Q) I believe Gary composes in Logic and you then bring the sessions into Pro Tools and use that effectively as your studio, is this a typical way for you to work?
A) Yeah, for a long time we worked exclusively in Logic with the TDM hardware, but we moved away from that way of working as it became unstable, and now run the two separately with Logic running on a MacBook Pro.
Gary needs to be able to write from anywhere as he travels about so much. It became a problem keeping the desktop Logic rig in sync with his laptop system, as he will often buy and install new software instruments and sounds. We no longer have to worry about the machines not having all the same software installed and authorisations on several machines this way either.
He’ll start songs from wherever happens to be at the time, the laptop is always with him wherever he goes, he’ll even use the QWERTY keyboard to play in parts if he doesn’t have a MIDI controller to hand.
I’ll take these logic project from him, exporting the audio, and import the song into my Pro Tools template, ready to start tracking various instruments and vocals, followed by editing, production, and final mix.
Q) You have recently worked on a project for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, what did this involve and did you use the ICON on this project?
A) We recorded a song called ‘Sing’, which Gary wrote with Andrew Lloyd Webber. This involved Gary doing a lot of traveling around the commonwealth, recording with his MacBook.
At the end of each day, he’d send me the parts he recorded to be comped and edited in Pro Tools. We’d only just got our D-Control, and it was a great time for me to experiment with different workflow methods.
The first session I used it on was the tracking of the drums, where I forced myself to use it on the job to figure out how best to use it in that situation. By the time we came to mix the track, I had it set up in such a way that was saving me time, and I felt like I was working on an analog console. I now mix a lot with the Pro Tools display switched off, which allows me to focus more on the music and not be influenced or distracted by what’s on screen.
Q) Any comments you’d like to make on the service you receive from MediaPros?
A) First class as ever, they’re all very well informed and always go the extra mile for us whenever we need something.