At El Dorado Studios with Them Evils (Photo: @kaelanbarowsky)
Phil English is a British Engineer and Producer based in Los Angeles, California since 2013. Recording became a hobby after making demos on a Tascam 4 track tape machine for his early bands. After studying Music Technology in first Southampton and then Leicester at university, Phil went on to work at Great Linford Manor Studios where he worked with acts and producers such as Biffy Clyro, Feeder, The Coral, Tindersticks, Gil Norton, Chris Sheldon, Ian Caple and Hugh Jones. As a freelancer Phil has worked at many great studios including Abbey Road, Air, East West and Sphere LA. Phil spends the majority of his time at his home base of Eldorado Studios in Burbank, CA as well as continuing freelance work. Recent credits include Sabrina Carpenter, St Paul and the Broken Bones, Animals as Leaders, Them Evils and The Dukes.
Why do you make music?
Such a difficult question, as a youngster music was something that connected with me. The therapeutic qualities of music, both making music and listening to it are probably a huge part of why I got involved and passionate about it. Performance was not for me but when I first became involved in the recording process I found an area that really resonated with me.
What music do you make?
My world is mostly pop and rock music. As an engineer there is sometimes a call to do work in other genres but mostly my clients are in the 'traditional' pop areas.
How do you make music?
When I am engineering the music is made however the artist likes to work, and usually that is recording traditional instruments; guitars, drums, small string sections, pianos etc. There is often a synthesized element these days too, be that a modular synth or computer based. When I am co-writing or producing records I employ a lot of midi and sample based work, I am not a great theorist or particularly competent at a keyboard so I program parts in pro tools and use that to generate scores for performers.
Is any of your sound-based work not ‘music’ as such and, if not, what is it?
I do very little that is not music, there are sometimes soundscape type pieces on TV sessions but they are not treated any differently from the rest of the music.
How do you describe yourself (e.g. are you a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else) and why?
I am probably most comfortable with the engineer tag although I do play the producer role as well and that is something that I enjoy. My style of production is very much sonic rather than musical, not at the expense of musical input, but I do encourage the artist to come up with parts and changes that I feel are necessary rather than imposing my own style. When I am writing with people that is when I tend to pull all aspects together the most.
What is the cultural context for your work - how are you inﬂuenced by music from other cultures or the other arts?
Culturally much of the music I work with might be considered pulp but I like to take the view that as we are always generating new generations of listeners we have clean slate. Again, I look at the therapeutic impact music can have, the emotional impact on a listener... I am not particularly interested in complexity or difficulty. There are artists I work with who are extremely complex musically but in those instances I am going to be playing very much the engineering role!
What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a musician?
Patience and communication. I don't necessarily consider myself a true musician, I work with those guys and they are on a different level to me! The ability to keep sessions on track, to coach performances from people and to understand and communicate the aims of a performance are the real keys in my mind.
What advice do you have about mixing and mastering?
The obvious and easy answer in my position is of cause to say use a specialist! Mixing is my main passion personally. The real advice I have is to trust your ears. When an artist mixes their own music it can be great. They have the purest connection to the aim of the record. It can also be a disaster! An artist can also be too close to their own record and as such overthink what they do. There is a growing trend in some areas for artists to mix each other's records which I find odd, I also find that much of this stuff ends up sounding quite generic... maybe that is the idea, it is something I notice happening in genres that I do not work in often so I am on the outside of that conversation! Here are a few main things to remember: 1-The importance of any piece of equipment is over exaggerated. No matter what it is, you don’t need it to get a good result. 2- There are no magic boxes. It won't do it for you, no matter what it is! 3-Technique is irrelevant, result is everything.
How has digital technology changed recording techniques?
For me personally I grew up as an engineer using tape and analog consoles. ProTools was around but not the norm. Digital technology has put the studio into everyone's hands. I really don't do much differently when recording digitally rather than to tape. I like the discipline that limited track counts gave and tend to work largely in that way. I commit sounds to recordings. The convenience is hugely changed, the techniques are not. There is actually very much less that the recent digital revolution has made possible than people assume - but the ease in which things can be done is hugely improved, pitch correction, drum editing and sample replacement are the most obvious examples that we have done for a very long time but they used to be cumbersome procedures that are now easy... and of course the 'undo' button is a lovely safety net we didn't used to have!
Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a musician in the digital age?
For me the ability to work on a record in a number of locations and a number of records simultaneously is dependent on digital technology and is something that I do a lot. People very rarely have the ability to take three or six months straight to make a record so I am usually working on three or four projects simultaneously. Mixing is the area that has seen the biggest jump in my world in recent years - the ability to work simultaneous records and have near instant recall of versions and revisions is huge.