Featured Story - Steve Brown, Rumer
The traditional route to the top in the world of recording, mixing and production used to begin with generic duties as tea-boy, tape-op and runner, but with many of these roles dying out as studios get smaller it's sometimes puzzling where the big names of the future will come from. Brit award nominee Steve Brown's rise to the top of the charts, as producer of Rumer's debut album “Season's Of The Soul”, is in sharp contrast to this and should provide some relief for anyone looking for an alternative career path.
Steve's career began in TV, where he has been involved in writing and performing music for hit TV comedies, such as “Harry Hill's TV Burp”, “Spitting Image” and “Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge” – the latter of which he even appeared on, as Alan's gay bandleader, Glen Ponder. In addition to writing music for comedies, Steve has worked on music for a variety of kids TV shows, as well as adverts and has even written a couple of musicals, including the musical adaptation of “It's A Wonderful Life”.
Steve first met Rumer at an open-mic night at London's Cobden Club, “I had gone along to support my son, when she [Rumer] first got up she looked incredibly nervous, but as soon as she started singing she came alive, she's got a wonderful voice, and her own songs are fantastic. I chatted with her after the show and invited her to come over to my studio”. The initial recordings weren't a huge success, “her manager wasn't that keen for her to work with someone with my background, but a few weeks later she got back in touch, she wanted to come back into the studio to work on some new material.” Initially Steve and Rumer worked on a few covers, developing a sound. “I might not have had all that much experience producing pop artists, but I knew how to get all the sounds I needed from working on comedy parodies”. “Initially we started slowly, meeting up maybe once a week to work on a few covers before Rumer started bringing me songs that she'd written”.
The first album, 2010's “Seasons Of My Soul”, was recorded almost entirely at Steve's LA Sound studio once Rumer had parted ways with her management. “I recorded pretty much everything in here with the Røde NT2-A. I didn't really have anything else that sounded as good”. The Røde NT2-A is multi-pattern condenser microphone with dual one-inch capsules. The mic is a favourite with vocalists who benefit from the warm and silky tone reminiscent of vintage microphones that the NT2-A produces. One of Steve's neighbours in the studio complex had a decent mic collection, which he offered to lend Steve and Rumer for the recording, but Steve was happy with the results he was getting from the Røde NT2-A. “I don't know what it was, but he had this very-expensive, maybe £10,000 mic, which he said we could borrow, but I didn't hear that much difference between it [and the NT2-A]. Certainly nothing to justify the difference in cost, so we just kept using [the NT2-A]”. “Initially I setup the mic in the booth, but Rumer seemed happier singing in the control room, so I moved it and most of the recordings were just done in here. It's more important to me to get a great performance than to have the perfect recording”. Songs would come together slowly, from initial demos produced by Steve using virtual instruments, which the pair would overdub parts and vocals to, before later replacing the virtual instruments with real instruments in the studio. Again, the NT2-A was the key microphone whatever the instrument Steve and Rumer were recording, even on drums Steve would use the NT2-A, along with a small drum kit mic set that he had. “I'd just set up the drums myself in the booth, it's not the perfect room for drums, but I could get a nice dry sound out of them”.
Rumer's second album, “Boys Don't Cry”, goes back to the pairs roots, and is a collection of cover versions, including the single “P.F. Sloan” originally by Jimmy Webb, as well as songs by the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Todd Rundgren and Hall & Oates. For the second album Steve added a Røde K2 to his mic collection. The K2 is a valve microphone with dual one-inch condenser capsules, enabling it to achieve variable pickup patterns from omni to cardioid to figure-of-eight. Although similar to the NT2-A – both microphones use the same HF1 capsule – the K2 has a 6922 twin-triode valve stage, used for impedance conversion, which helps the microphone to produce a slightly smoother tonality, but still with plenty of vintage character. Despite having access to the K2, Steve and Rumer would still find use for their older NT2-A, “we would have the new mic [the K2] permanently setup in the booth, and the old [NT2-A] here in the control room with us. We still did a lot of the recording with the old mic, but we'd use the new mic for a lot of the lead vocals. I'm not a very technical engineer, or a gear snob, but I like what I hear when I use these microphones, I couldn't seem to get that character with anything else we tried”.
Shortly after Rumer's debut album was a success, Steve met Stuart Price (aka Jacques Le Cont, who had recently been producing Take That's album “Progress”). “Stuart was keen to see where the magic happens, so I took him to my studio. I think he was a little shocked at home small it all is, but he was very polite. I told him we'd recorded pretty much everything in this room, even the drums were recorded here in the booth”.
With Rumer's second album now available, Steve has discovered a new muse, Laura Mvula. “She's very different to Rumer, but she's got an incredible talent and a captivating voice”. As with Rumer, Steve has been producing Laura at his own LA Sound studio using the same simple setup with the two Røde mics again being the key to his recording chain. Laura's debut EP, “She” was released on November 19th, 2012, with the album “Sing To The Moon” released on 4th March, 2013.