RISING STARS: Martin Swain

Studio engineer talks about drum recording, and reveals what he feels his main skills as an audio professional are.
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Audio Pro International’s focus on the best of the industry’s emerging audio professionals continues with the latest addition to our Rising Stars section.

Martin Swain is a recording engineer based in the UK's South West, who has already worked with numerous punk, rock and metal bands. In this article, Swain talks about drum recording, his main skills as an audio professional, and how he'd love to own his own studio one day or work overseas...

Where did you study?

The main bulk of my audio education has been at Weymouth College. I did my Foundation Degree there, and then did my top-up year at Southampton Solent where I got a 2:1 in Popular Music Production.

Where are you based?

In Dorset in a little town called Weymouth.

What made you decide to pursue a career in audio?

Well, I've been playing guitar for 12 years, and I was recording ideas through a cheap cassette deck. It got to the stage where I thought, 'I want to record these ideas properly, and maybe start a band.' I saved up some money and bought an original Tascam US-144 audio interface and a SM57.

Since then I've just been hooked, I read countless online articles on how to record and decided to take A-Level Music Tech at my local college. I gradually got more equipment and recorded my band's demo EP and some other local bands. Although the results were pretty awful, I knew I wanted to keep recording and pushed myself harder to get more knowledgeable about the subject.

Can you tell us about some of your recent projects?

A few months back I recorded a local band called Light Fire Down, who have just released their new EP and had it streamed on Punktastic, which was pretty cool. We recorded drums in the theatre where I work, which gave me the opportunity to experiment with room mics, and the rest was tracked in the studio. I also worked with a metalcore band called WeWhoDare. Again, drums were recorded in the theatre, and the rest of it was in our studio. I'm just a huge fan of tracking drums in a great sounding room.

What are you working on at the moment?

I'm working with a currently unnamed band. We recorded drums a few weeks back, and it's probably the best drum sound I've gotten. We recorded in the back room of a village hall. I was initially quite wary of the room, as it's long and narrow, and I thought it'd sound quite "boingy," but it sounds incredible. It's become my new favourite room to record drums in. Their guitarist also records, so they've taken the drum tracks away to record the other parts before sending them to me for mixing and mastering. I'm quite excited about this project.

What would you say your main strengths are as an engineer?

Tough one! As most of my work is mobile, I'd say that I can get studio-quality results in a less-than-ideal scenario under quite a strict timeframe. As we're hiring someone else's property a lot of the time, I really have to race the clock and get great results in the process.

I'd also like to say that I'm pretty good at mic choice and placement; I think I know what mics will yield the best results for the sonic signature the band are looking for. I'm not afraid to try out new mics on a source either, which I think some engineers fall into the trap of. I used an NT1-A on kick drum and Cascade Fathead II's on overheads in my last session. I think some engineers would be afraid to put a condenser in front of a kick drum and mics as delicate as ribbons on crashy overheads.

What is your favourite console?

I've not had a lot of a studio time on consoles, as I mainly use rack-mountable interfaces. Although, at uni they had an Audient ASP8024, which sounded great. The preamps are pretty clean, but the EQs are incredibly powerful and musical; you can really sculpt your sounds with them. The layout of the desk is nice as well and easy to follow.

Do you use any outboard FX/EQ? If so, what are they used on and why?

I find that you can get the musicality that a piece of hardware can give considerably well "in the box" these days, so I don't have any outboard effects or EQs. But I'm looking at getting a Warm Audio WA76 or two. From what I can tell, they're a great price considering the feature set. I currently own two Warm Audio WA12's, and they sound amazing. I use those on kick drums, toms and guitars, just because they add a lot of meat when you hit the tone button in.

If you could pick one artist/band to work with, who would it be?

Again, a tough one because there are quite a few! But I'd love to work with Blink-182, as they were a massive influence on my music taste growing up. I also think they'd make the sessions a lot more enjoyable with their type of humour.

Where do you hope to be in ten years?

I'd love to own my own studio and record great bands every day. I'd also love to be recognised for my work as well. Perhaps even move to a different country and record there.

Twitter: @martinswain
Website: Martin Swain Recording

To get involved in our Rising Stars column, whether you are an engineer who is new to the industry and would like to be featured, or an experienced engineer who would like to nominate a particular student/apprentice, please contact Audio Pro International editor Adam Savage on adam.savage@intentmedia.co.uk or +44 (0)1992 535646.

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