Rising Stars: Robin Ball

Dublin-based engineer and drummer talks about his recent work with Irish four-piece Root Cellar and electro group Tomboy.
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We've found another worthy subject for the APIRising Stars section, our regular focus on the best young industry talent from around the world.

This week, engineer, producer, mixer and drummer Robin Ball reveals how a positive first experience in the studio inspired him to get into audio, and lists some of his recent projects, which include mixing four-piece Irish band Root Cellar and New York-based electro group Tomboy...

Where did you study?

I studied at SAE London and also Berklee College of Music in Boston. As well as being an engineer I'm also a drummer; I find it helps me enormously in the studio. After I finished at SAE I was lucky enough to land an intern position at the Works studio in Dublin. I learnt a lot there and gained much experience.

Where are you based?

Currently I'm based in Dublin, but I'm just back from a spell in New York City. There's a vibrant music community in both cities – Ireland seems to have far more than its fair share of songwriters and musicians, and they are pretty high quality too.

Why made you decide to pursue a career in audio?

It seems that audio chose me! I have been in bands as long as I can remember. The first recording experience I ever had was a total thrill – I was playing drums on Nina Hynes' This Magic Stuff and it was to tape, so it had to be done in one go. Luckily I had prepared well, although one particular ride pattern was difficult to execute.

The day flew by, and all I wanted to do was get back in and see the rest of the recording happen, but I was only a 'hired gun' so couldn't really manage it. I then went in to another session with a different band, and thought that it went well, but was later disappointed with the mix. I thought that the drums lacked body, and although it was a major studio, it didn't quite deliver. I decided then that I would find my own way.

From then it's been a journey of discovery. The audio game always keeps me on my toes; I like the pressure of things hinging on me. I have a good problem solving mind, and with gear that really helps.

Can you tell us about some of your recent projects?

I have done many recently, but my favourite (and one that I'm most proud of) is the new album by Root Cellar, which will be out soon (watch out for it at rootcellar.tv) I had a few roles in that project: drummer, engineer, producer and mixer.

I had thought long and hard during the rehearsals about the sound that would suit best – drums, head choices, sticks, cymbals. I managed to source a 1974 British Vox AC30 amp and a '60s Gibson 347, which feature heavily on the album. The musicians on the album were a joy to work with, and that is really what the studio is about for me – working with great people, and making great music.

What are you up to at the moment?

I have just finished mixing Root Cellar – it's now in mastering – and I have now moved onto a New York band called Tomboy, beginning work on their new album. They're a female-led electro outfit, with really beautiful vocals.

I have also been in the studio recording samples for my first drum library for other engineers to use for drum replacement. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, there are loads already out there! Well, there are, but I have used many samples to help with not-so-great drum tracks, and I have always felt that I could add something to the mix that people would find useful. I haven't quite figured out what to call the company yet, but if anyone has any ideas you can hit me up on @mixermanhattan.

You say you once assisted on a U2 record. What did that involve exactly?

That involved taking extensive notes on everything that they played, what they used, and basically anything that was relevant to the take. They might ask three weeks later "I played a part on that track a few weeks ago that went like this…" and you're expected to be able to find it. That was a serious experience.

What is your favourite console?

My favourite console is currently installed in Flux studios in NYC – it's a vintage Neve that came out of NBC. It's a no-fuss console with smooth EQs and simple routing options. I believe that things shouldn't get in the way too much when you're tracking/mixing. It's always good to be in a creative state as much as possible during anything to do with music.

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

At the moment I'm almost totally in the box, except for a Roland R-880 & Eventide Harmonizer. I also recently bought the LX480 from Relab and am very happy with that, as well as the VintageVerb from Vallhalla. I use the Eventide because no one else can do what Eventide does. For the kind of sound in my head these units help me realise it in the mix.

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

That would probably be Tears For Fears. Their arrangement and production just fascinates me to this day. Amazing.

Where do you hope to be in ten years?

I hope to be a multiple Grammy Award winner, working with great artists both in front of and behind the glass. Watch this space.

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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