Astar Studios Producer Andy Ross: Variety is the spice of life – you just need to season the music

As a producer it is important to be able to adapt to different types of music. Just ask Quincy Jones who turned his hand from producing jazz to working with the world’s biggest pop icon Michael Jackson. Yes, we all have our favourite genres but whether it’s pop, jazz, rap, blues, country etc, you have to be able to give the client what they are ultimately looking for. 

I always begin by looking at reference tracks with the artist whether it be off YouTube or Spotify to gauge an idea of the kind of sound they are looking to achieve. This is not with the deliberate view of copying anyone, but simply making sure the music heads in the right direction. I think about what instrumentation, musicians and mics I might use, specific to the sound I’m looking to achieve.

I grew up playing in a pop/rock band but had been exposed to a wide variety of styles through my family record collection and while studying music on the same college course as Ed Sheeran and Rita Ora.  Once I signed to an International Music Publisher, I soon found myself having to write in various styles to briefs that were provided to me for many artists. I would therefore have to write in those required styles with a view to getting my songs placed. 

 

At Astar Studios one of the first big successes was receiving a Mercury Prize Nomination for the album ‘Golden’ by The Kit Downes Trio

 

At Astar Studios one of the first big successes was receiving a Mercury Prize Nomination for the album ‘Golden’ by The Kit Downes Trio. A well-known up and coming star on the jazz circuit, Kit actually formed the trio in my studio, whilst recording a track with double bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer James Maddren for one of the highly successful Yamaha New Jazz Sessions Cd series that I produced for nearly a decade.

Featured each year on the front cover of the Christmas Edition of Europe’s best selling jazz magazine ‘Jazzwise’, it showcased the very best new jazz talent alongside established jazz luminaries such as Jason Rebello, Julian Joseph, Gwilym Simcock, Nigel Hitchcock, YolanDa Brown, Georgina Jackson, Clare Teal, Mica Paris, Arun Ghosh, Led Bib, Emma Smith, Gareth Williams, Ryan Quigley and Mica Paris. 

Recording jazz is different to any other style of music, in that it is so heavily improvised. Every take is different and ultimately about the performance and most importantly capturing and opting for feel over technical precision, when selecting which take to use. 

Many of the artists showcased including Elliot Galvin, Ashley Henry, Kit Downes, Utsav Lal, Chris Hyson (Snow Poet) and Ruby Wood (Submotion Orchestra), have since gone on to achieve highly deserved recognition and success.

After producing her second album ‘Paint A Brighter Day’, Pop/Gospel Artist Kristyna Myles was nominated for ‘Best Gospel Artist’ at the MOBO Awards. I had first met Kristyna when she was signed to Decca and got the opportunity to co- produce a cover of the Style Council classic ‘The Paris Match’ with the band’s original drummer Steve White, who has played with Paul Weller, The Who, Oasis, Jon Lord and Ian Dury to name a few.

The song was recorded as a single to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Style Council and included a huge string arrangement, beautiful piano accompaniment and a classic trumpet solo. Among the musicians in the studio, the recording  featured Steve White on drums and Damon Minchella (Ocean Colour Scene) on bass. Prior to release we needed to obtain the permission of Paul Weller, so I was both extremely proud and relieved when Paul described the version as ‘Absolutely Stunning!’ The track topped the iTunes charts and became one of the most played records on Radio 2 in its month of release.

Geko at Astar Studios

Next – from a beautifully iconic ballad to Rap. When Universal Music Group brought the prodigiously talented Manchester rapper Geko into Astar to record with me, I was excited as I had long been an admirer of his work. Once the music had been given a rough mix ready to lay down some vocals, and a beat had been settled upon, Geko discussed what he wanted the song to be about then simply walked into the live room and began to free style.

It was amazing to watch as Geko let out a performance full of swag and conviction so spontaneously. I have worked with many rappers but not many who have been able to freestyle with such extraordinary skill and emotion. Afterwards it was simply a case of adding a touch of delay and pitch correction to achieve that gliding effect rappers love to use.

This leads me on to creating beats. It is important for a producer today to be adept at programming. If an artist is looking for a specific style of beat then you need to be able to create it fast, adding current samples and giving it a unique edge. The Selling of beats online is now a big industry and something Astar is able to offer. From Rap, RnB, to Dubstep we have handled everything.

Last year I was delighted that Astar Studios was chosen to record country music album ‘Truth’ by renowned singer songwriter Chris Bannister, and I had the pleasure to collaborate with Nashville producer and keyboard player Chris Nole (Faith Hill, John Denver, Travis Tritt, The Oak Ridge Boys and Don Williams). Featuring outstanding musicianship, bouncing bass lines, slick slide guitar and strong harmonies, the vibe was incredible.

Country music is almost like pop in that the chorus has to have that big hook, catchy melody with strong vocals. This is definitely an expanding genre with a British sound/influence now in demand, which is opening up new opportunities for UK artists. 

At Astar I also co-wrote and produced ‘Honey Trap’ – the No.1 debut album by Pixie and The Gypsies whose music is best described as ‘Gypsy Jazz’. Combining a rhythmic acoustic jangly vibe, with moving bass lines and rolling drums, accompanied with some fine guitar solos, this album went down a storm with jazz audiences and media, and resulted in many high-profile gigs and festival appearances.

Funk is one of my favourite genres, whether it be old school like Chic or modern like Bruno Mars. Numerous Artists have recorded within this style at Astar, with strong brass arrangements, normally made up of Sax, trumpet and trombone, sometimes coupled with synth brass underneath to give it that extra edge.

Of course, Pop is a regular style recorded at any studio and Astar recorded the debut album ‘Imperfections’ by Ella Shaw who reached the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent and was described as “Super talented” by Simon Cowell.  The album varies from classic pop ballads to upbeat pop songs with strong musicality, interesting backing vocals and powerful lyrics. Ella has since made numerous TV and live performances including at Manchester Arena with a full Symphony Orchestra as part of ‘Young Voices’. 

With my roots being born within rock, working and nurturing bands is one of my great pleasures at Astar. I’m blessed to work with both up and coming bands who represent the future of the Music Industry, and leading band musicians such as Steve White (Paul Weller), Neil Fairclough (Queen with Adam Lambert), Simon Moore (Ian Brown), Damon Minchella (Ocean Colour Scene) and Simon Goulding (The Bee Gees). 

Being a guitarist, it helps me to gain a quick understanding of the types of sounds a band is looking to achieve and therefore I find it easy to adjust amp settings and add the required effects to make them happy. At the mix stage it is always making the end result sound as big as possible, but I never like to stray away from a band’s natural live sound but almost recreate and improve upon it.

At Astar we have also produced a series of Christmas adverts for Channel 4, carried out work for both the BBC and ITV and written and recorded the theme for a the Ultimate Boxxer Podcast. We have some very exciting podcasts coming up from Astar in the near future. We have also recorded strings for the ITV election theme, James Bond Computer Game and Ronan Keating Tour.

Most recent project out of Astar for release by late Summer 2021 is the debut album by Adelaide Taylor whose influences include Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Kate Bush. With amazing lyrics and beautifully written piano parts, the songs sound beyond stunning. The production incorporates modern sounds with classic influences to make it current but different. Featuring Neil Fairclough (Queen with Adam Lambert) on Bass and Bryan Hargreaves (John Legend) on Drums Adelaide is an artist to watch out for.

Hopefully, we will return to some kind of normal over the next year, especially once the vaccine is fully rolled out, and then artists will be able to do what they love most, which is to perform live. However, one thing that hasn’t changed is that the better the quality of your recordings, the better quality gigs you’ll get, the more fans you’ll attract and the better your chances will be to attract interest from the key movers and shakers in the industry.

Having toured with the likes of Ian Brown, performed for the Queen at Buckingham Palace and on TV with Madonna I can truly say anything is possible. When I opened Astar I never imagined I would receive nominations for a Mercury Prize and Best Studio at Europe’s most prestigious Pro Sound Awards. What I can say is that making music is about being open minded. Music will always be subjective but even in the songs we don’t necessarily like are often great ideas that just need improving. 

No matter what style I’m working with I always plan the arrangement and aim to record the parts as perfectly as possible. After that I use my ears, adding EQ’s and Effects to the mix in the same way a chef tastes what he is cooking and adds seasoning. In time and with experience you discover your go to solutions and techniques to get the sound you’re after.

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