THE QUICK MIX: JAMES BARTON
James ‘Jimbo’ Barton
When did your audio engineering career begin?
I have been engineering and producing for 30 plus years! Bill Armstrong (AAV/Armstrong Studios Melbourne) hired myself, Quintin Rosario and Demo Karabatakis to work in his ethnic radio stations 3EA and 2EA. It was a great learning process but I found myself constantly sneaking around to the music studios every spare moment I had. I eventually begged Roger Savage (Bill’s partner and my mentor) to let me transfer to the music studios. He told me it would be hard work, long hours and no social life, but he did say yes. It quickly became everything he said it would be, but I was surrounded by amazing teachers; Roger, Ernie Rose, Ian Mackenzie, Ross Cockle and a host of incredible musicians, writers, producers and bands. I ended up doing midnight to dawn sessions with Mushroom Records bands, and that was the start.
In 1982, after working with Australian artists such as the Little River Band, Skyhooks, Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons, The Sports, Split Enz, The Models, Paul Kelly & The Dots, Mondo Rock, Cold Chisel, Australian Crawl, Jimmy & The Boys, I moved to London and worked at Sarm Studios with Trevor Horn and Peter Collins before relocating to the USA in 1991.
Where are you currently working and what is your current method of recording/mixing?
I live and mainly work in Los Angeles, but I still travel quite a bit for projects abroad and my preferred recording platform is Pro Tools. If I’m tracking drums I like to use East West Studios in Hollywood. I externally compress and EQ (1176 and Neve) the signal on the way in. I’ve recorded many projects on their beautiful old Neve. The post process is arranged according to budget.
Out of the box, it’s usually at Reel Music Studios in Marina Del Rey, which belongs to my partner and long-time friend J.J. Farris. He has a full 72-channel SSL 6000E console in his downstairs guest house, that just happens to boast a pool right through the double French doors of the control room, and a panoramic ocean view. It’s a tough hang!
For mixing in the box I use a studio close to home downtown, Silverlake Pro, run by another good friend, Chad Gendason. He has an SSL Sigma rack mount. I use an SSL compressor and an NTI EQ3 over the stereo bus in either situation and mainly use SSL G EQ plug-ins.
I was apprehensive mixing in the box at first, but I’ve since mixed many projects at Silverlake Pro. The incredibly talented and dear friend, Cliff Maag, who designed and built the original NTI EQ3, has now become Maag Audio, and has a wealth of other amazing toys. I’d used Cliff’s EQ for over 20 years before we finally met.
What are some of the projects you’ve worked on in the last 12 months?
The last two years or so I’ve moved more toward sound design for film. This year, indie films Breakfast With Curtis, City Tears, A Southern Tale and a series of trailers for the forthcoming Bourne Identity movie with Matt Damon, which I mixed at Michael McGlynn’s Vienna People studio in Annandale, Sydney. I’ve produced a Matchbox 20 DVD, a Queensryche album and some 30 Seconds to Mars surround mixes.
What are some of the bands you have worked with, or projects you have worked on in the past?
Credits vary a lot and too numerous to list all here. Earlier projects in London were Kate Bush, Garry Moore and Phil Lynott. Later came Freddy Mercury, Eric Clapton, Enya, Phil Collins, Rush, John Lydon (PIL), David Bowie, Thomas Dolby, Howard Jones, Voice of the Beehive, Gene Loves Jezebel.
What’s your ideal recording space and method?
I don’t really have one. I walk into a room and roll with whatever equipment they have. I think it helps make every project have its own sound. Having said that, I do need a pair of Neves, the NTI equaliser and an SSL compressor.
Favourite microphone or any other pieces of kit that are indispensable to you?
I’m a Neumann dude, but I do keep a bunch of Shure SM57s and Sennheiser 421s around.
In the last 20 years, what are three pieces of gear that have been game changers for you?
NTI products, Pro Tools, plug-ins and keyboard instruments. There is so much great stuff out there, I can’t really list my faves.
How have your working methods changed over the last 20 years?
Outside of incredible equipment transitions, not much at all. When I walk into pre-production with a band, I already hear the final mix in my head.
Most memorable session or career highlight?
Ironically, some of my best memories are my early years in Oz. Mondo Rock, Split Enz/Crowded House, The Sports, Jo Jo Zep, The Models, Hunters & Collectors, etc. It was a really exciting time in Oz music, but I would have to say that Freddy Mercury made an indelible impression on me. The single most creative musician and accomplished vocalist I’ve ever been lucky enough to work with. When we finished the project I was invited to Paris for the opening show of Queen’s Magic tour. Freddy was an incredibly generous man and they’re amazing memories.
Any tips/words of wisdom for someone starting out?
If there were no such thing as illegal downloads, I would say learn your craft well, but at this point, save your parent’s money and stay in college! Sad but true.