STUDIO FOCUS: UNDERGROUND AUDIO
Chris Brownbill has so helplessly succumbed to the audio bug that he’s now working three jobs to lease a space near central Brisbane, just because it’s a great room for tracking drums.
Growing up in Brisbane, Chris ran a DIY community recording space for a few years. After it was shut down by the council, he freelanced for a while with his eyes peeled (ears, actually) for a spot that would produce a magical drum sound. Brisbane doesn’t have a shortage of commercial recording spaces, but they can often fall out of the average indie artist’s reach. Especially if their music appeals to a very narrow audience — precisely the type of artists Chris works with.
One day he lugged his gear into a small space near central Brisbane to track drums, and was delighted to discover the spot he had been waiting for. The lease was “almost affordable”, so he took the plunge and leased it on a shoestring budget. Acousticians and scientific remedial tactics weren’t a part of the fitout exercise. Instead, Chris got a mate to bang drums around the room, found where it sounded best, and chucked up some panels to optimise it. The same approach was repeated with different instruments until there were happy ears all round.
Underground Audio, as it became known, is an analogue recording haven. An Ampex 24-track tape machine is fed by an Amek Einstein Super E 32-channel console. Having picked up a few things from Steve Albini at a Mix With The Masters course in France, the analogue recording workflow has become second nature to Chris, and he’d have it no other way. In fact, his time with Albini was what sparked the idea to go ‘all-in’ and lease a recording space, with little to no thought of making it profitable. The tape machine feeds into a Pro Tools rig, which functions as a digital recorder and not much more. Mixing involves little more than level balancing and the odd touch of processing. Chris is a minimalist.
While Chris produces and engineers 90% of recordings at Underground Audio, the studio space is available for freelance engineers to man their own sessions. You won’t find a wall full of outboard in the control room because Chris’s philosophy is all about getting it to tape with as little hindrance as possible.
The Underground approach is to make the recording sound like the band in the tracking room. Chris doesn’t care for polish and commercial sheen as much as authenticity and honest reproduction. He’d also rather get out of the way of the music than for Underground Audio to have a distinguishable ‘sound’. You might’ve guessed — his stuff doesn’t get much radio play. Underground’s bread and butter genres are far afield — stuff like black metal, punk and other classifications that are an acquired taste.
Not long ago the studio was filled with over 60 punters who were there to watch some local bands record and film the process. The event was put on by West End Festival, a celebration of local music in the same suburb as Underground Audio.
24-track Ampex MM1200 two-inch tape machine
32-channel AMEK Einstein Super E console
Pro Tools 10
SSL Alpha-Link conversion