Dan Gautreau chooses SSL AWS 948 for first cut music
Wed, 08 Nov 2017 10:34
Dan Gautreau is a writer, producer and mixer who’s work extends across TV, film and radio. Dan’s private facility, First Cut Music, in rural Leicestershire has at its heart the Solid State Logic AWS 948 äelta hybrid analogue console. The AWS 948 enables Dan to enjoy the best of both worlds: World-class analogue sound for tracking and mixing coupled with DAW control and DAW-based automation.
Dan Gautreau is an in-demand producer dividing his time between the UK and Los Angeles, often working on high-end production music projects as well as various sync and artist projects. In the US his work has featured in big Hollywood productions like Vince Vaughan’s Delivery Man and a long list of TV regulars from Saturday Night Live (NBC) to Melrose Place (Fox). In the UK, Gautreau has contributed music to British hits like The Inbetweeners Movie (Sony Pictures) and TV favourites from Top Gear (BBC) to Made In Chelsea (E4). Dan also has major credits under his belt with artists like Ben Howard and Paulo Nutini.
Pop is where Dan began, as an assistant engineer at London’s legendary Sarm West Studios, training under the watchful eye of super-producer Trevor Horn. While at Sarm, Dan worked on sessions for George Michael, Alicia Keys, and Seal, amongst others, and got his first exposure to SSL consoles in the form of Sarm’s SSL J and G Series consoles. In 2004 Dan expanded his engineering role to programming and began to develop his love for production and writing.
When it came time for Dan to build the First Cut Music studio, he turned to SSL and an AWS 948. His rationale for the choice is all about the end product. “In most of my projects, a client won’t care about time and costs within a studio; they simply judge the end product. The level of production music in TV and film now is so high, you’re essentially delivering commercial records; if you want to be pitching at that level, you need to have the industry standard tools. The choice of SSL was absolutely a no-brainer for me. When you get that extra few percent in detail, it makes the difference between getting the commission and not. When it comes to the artists and writers who are coming through here, they are the ones who get excited about the console. They’re coming in and hearing better and punchier recordings, and experiencing a faster tracking and mixing workflow. That’s where it counts, I think.”
One of the key drivers behind the purchase of the AWS 948 was the desire to take the mix out of the DAW box. “We all know that a majority of people have moved to working in the box and the standard is incredibly high, but I still feel that some mixes can get choked in the box and really benefit from being spread over an analogue board. That’s when you get the pay-offs of the headroom and great buss processing - of analogue mixing on top of all these extra workflow bonuses. There's something magical about mixing on the board, the sum of all these elements, the absolute control, along with not having to stare at a computer screen 100% of the time.”
These days the choice between digital and analogue workflows is a complex one. “I didn’t want an extension of a mouse; it had to be an analogue path. And for me trust is important - trust in a brand like SSL; one that’s been part of my working life since the beginning, really. When I spread the track across the board, and I start working on the detail of say, a vocal, I often find it will just sound a little better simply passing through the channel and EQ of the SSL, and I’m doing less de-essing and less surgical work because of it.”
Dan’s mixing workflow is to bring everything on to the board. “I focus on the main meat of the track. I’ll always spread the drums and vocals out as far as possible. Then I’ll stem out bass, guitars, lead guitars, synths, pads and effects etc. We all know that vocals and drums make or break a song these days and I want as much control of those key elements as possible.”
While talking about drum kit recording setups, it becomes clear Dan is a fan of ribbon mics. “It’s like cheating really, using the ribbons. They just capture the natural tone of an instrument and room really nicely, and luckily the live room here has a lovely sound. I use the SSL preamps a lot when tracking. They have great headroom, so they handle ribbon mics with ease. I do have a few other preamps available at the studio for specific colours.”
For mixing, Gautreau has found SSL’s äelta -Control technology to be a creative boon as well as a practical one. Essentially it allows the console’s analogue fader automation to be stored, read, and edited in DAW plug-in automation lanes. “I find that at critical stages it is amazing,” Gautreau explains. “I’m doing rides and pushes that I would never have done in the box. I’ll listen to the results and find there are a lot more dynamics and a lot more punch. Without the limitations of being tied to the screen – you have the freedom to commit to what you hear. It’s one of those things that make the board a musical instrument in the studio. And then you get the recall with the session – open it up, and it’s all there. I primarily work on Logic Pro X as my writing and production tool, and Delta-Control works flawlessly.”
The final choice of the AWS 948 was driven mostly by the number of inputs required at mixdown. “The decision was based on flexibility at the mixing stage. I knew that I would run out with twenty-four, but with forty-eight I never do. Also, for stem mixing, the 948 is designed for that. Everything stereo in the computer can go straight into stereo channels, and printing final stems (which is otherwise a laborious process) is sped up significantly because you have stereo outs on every channel. I can just print all of those channels in one pass if I choose to, which would be two hours work without the board.”
In the final analysis, the choice of the AWS 948 was not about one particular feature but a compelling medley of solutions. “It is so broad, I can cover everything I need to. It’s a huge console but all within an arm’s reach. It’s everything from analogue tracking and mixing to DAW controller, all in one solution, and each aspect of it is world-class.”