Ali Staton, engineer & producer, talks to Create Pro about his workflow, mixing approach, production ethos, inspirations & more
We imagine that there aren’t many people on the planet who haven’t heard a track that our next Q&A subject has been involved in. UK based mix engineer and producer Ali Staton has a work history that reads like a who’s who of music. Some of the names Ali has worked with include Giorgio Moroder, Madonna, Seal, Razorlight & The Neptunes. If that isn’t an A-list list, I don’t know what is.
Check out Ali’s responses to our questions below.
You work as both a producer and mixing engineer, do you find that your knowledge of each discipline helps you with the other? If so, how?
Yes, my background is as a recording and mix engineer, so when producing I tend to keep a focus on what I want in front of me when I start the mix, where the arrangement and production is heading and what elements or options I want to have at my disposal.
Alongside musician & composer, James Eller, you are part of trnsmssn, and write and record bespoke music to accompany visuals. What parallels and differences are there between producing & engineering music with just the music in mind, and writing and recording to visuals? Does working with visuals provide any unique challenges that you didn’t expect?
They are very different challenges so it’s difficult to compare, providing music for visual media generally means you’re working on short pieces, usually 30 seconds to 1 minute long. You have to be very concise in your approach to the arrangement and impact you’re looking to achieve. I enjoy the challenge of working quite quickly to the given (often changing) brief.
Can you think of any specific tracks that have had a significant impact on your own production & mixing style? If so, how?
Scot Walker’s ’Tilt’ and Lewis Taylor’s eponymous debut. Both are challenging and inspiring records and showed a different perspective in their sound.
What is the biggest session you’ve ever worked with? Does working with especially large sessions, utilising lots of recordings, instruments & effects, present a challenge to yourself as well as your system?
I come from a background of working in analogue 24 track studios, so the discipline of limited track counts is still with me. I tend to make decisions early and bounce down tracks as I go, this makes it easier to navigate my sessions at the mix stage and obviously means they are less taxing on the system too.
What spec Mac Pro did you go for? Why did you choose this spec, and was it a big upgrade from your previous system?
I now have a 2010 Mac Pro 5,1 with a 2.66GHz 12-Core processor, 24GB of RAM, and a 512GB Angelbird SSD. I still have a HD3 system and wanted to have the option of upgrading to HDX in the near future.
What do you use your Mac Pro for? Which software do you run & how does the system handle it?
Pro Tools HD3 Accel with Pro Tools HD10, pretty well!
How integral is your system/software to your workflow? Do you see your reliance on your Mac/software increasing in the future?
I have used Pro Tools for recording and mixing fairly extensively for a while now, and have been a Mac user since 1991! So I don’t see either of those things changing in the foreseeable future.
Do you use any additional hardware in your workflow? What impact does this have on how you use your Mac Pro/software?
Yes, I have an Avid ICON 24 fader D-Command control surface, I couldn’t mix without it. I spent half my career working on large format analogue consoles such as Neves and SSLs so mixing with a mouse was never going to work for me.
Are you currently working on any projects using the Mac Pro? How does your workstation fit in with this project specifically?
Currently co-producing and mixing the upcoming 7th album for UK band Turin Brakes. Although the album was recorded on analogue tape, I will mix it using a combination of digital and analogue processing so the Mac Pro will get involved at some stage.
How important is your system’s performance to you? Does not having to worry about what your workstation can handle help you spend more time on being creative?
Yes absolutely, there’s nothing more irritating than a technical issue that distracts from the creative flow. The Mac Pro has allowed me to work without interruption and focus on the creativity.