Nathan Boddy

Looking at, and listening to, U.K.-based mixer Nathan Boddy’s seemingly endless credit list puts him at the top of this game. He’s mixed everyone from Gary Numan [Tape Op #125] to Celeste to James Blake to Mura Masa to Dua Lipa. His technical chops are pristine, and, as you’ll read below, his outlook and philosophy is masterful and brilliant.

Where in the U.K. are you from? How did you come into this field?

I’m originally from Derby in the Midlands. My pathway into this wasn’t that unusual. I started as an engineer in a local studio, whilst I started by making my own music under various guises. Nottingham was just down the road, and it had a great electronic music and band scene when I was growing up. There was a regional sound to what was coming out of the middle/north of the U.K. at the time and I was drawn into that. I felt very much the youngster, coming in at the tail end of the club and free party heyday that was so defining of that time. I then moved down to London about 15 years ago. I used to make my tracks relatively quickly, but I then spent ages fiddling with them, trying to get them sounding right – I liked that process of refining. I eventually started helping out friends to finish or record their music, and that’s where the attraction to the mixing and producing process began. Over time this built outward from electronic music to working with more bands and songs. It’s been a long, progressive process, to the point where now there’s a more defined role of how I work with people.

Do you consider yourself more of a mixer or a tracker?

Mixer. Increasingly, I do find mixing and production are ever evolving and the roles often overlap slightly. Yes, I’m primarily a mixer, and also sometimes a finisher. I’m honestly not too concerned by what the title is. I generally come onboard towards the end of the process and try to see what I can do to push it on. I try not to be too rigid-minded with what I can and can’t do, because every mix is different. I can imagine it was more defined in the past when songs were recorded to tape, and then the tapes went over to a room with an automated console to be mixed. But [now] it’s often a much more fluid process. Parts can change along the way; arrangements, etc. A lot of what I get to work on sounds really defined at the point I get them. My role then is to finesse and refine. There are other projects where there’s scope to make much broader strokes and help develop the whole aesthetic. Sometimes, if everyone is on board and it’s what’s needed, that might mean editing, adding, removing, or replacing parts.

Right. I guess in the “finishing mode,” you would take part in the mastering process if you can?

Sometimes. It’s not uncommon that we’ll end up using my master. That’s not to say that I’d want to stand up and call myself a mastering engineer. I do always like the perspective of work going to a trusted mastering engineer; it’s good to have that final filter. But there are some records where we’re working in such minutia that there’s not much room to manoeuvre once we sign off on the mix. I suppose I have a view never to intentionally leave anything to be fixed in mastering. As a side point, on an album I might have tracks from three or four different mixers. It’s a vital process to have someone bring it all together with the mastering in that situation.

There were about 26 songs you pointed me to on your Spotify playlist. Would you say you have a certain genre and/or certain types of musicians who seek you out to work with more than others?

That’s a good question. I’m not sure I’d want to pin myself down to a certain genre. And genres are always constantly evolving into different things anyway.

Nathan Boddy

I got a modern yet futurist R&B type of thing. Not so much hip-hop, but like Mura Masa and Slowthai.

I loved working on that whole album [R.Y.C.] with Mura Masa – Alex [Crossan, a.k.a Mura Masa] is a phenomenally talented producer. He’s quite a good example, in that I work with quite a few producer/artists making their own records from start to finish. Perhaps that’s partly because I come from making my own music. I don’t know. But it can be quite collaborative when we’re trying to pin down and strive for a sound, and I welcome that. I don’t want mixing to feel like a transaction. So, to answer your question, it’s not a genre but I perhaps gravitate towards working with artists who use the sound as part of that art alongside the composition, if that makes sense? But it’s not exclusively that, at all. I enjoy the variety.

Right. Like Gary Numan, for example?

Exactly.

You seem to catch his mood or his content. He said your mixing style was done very “epically” in reference to his Savage (Songs from a Broken World) record. Do you emotionally size out what you’re going to work on?

Thank you. Absolutely; I have to be moved by or understand what the context of what I’m working on is, otherwise I’d be going through the motions. I also don’t want to take too much credit here. Gary and Ade [Fenton, Tape Op #125] create such amazing cinematic textures, as well as a dynamic within the production. I’ve been working with them for a very long time now, so I have a good idea before I even start on what we’re aiming for. They’re also very good at expressing what they’re after from the sonics.

Definitely. You keep it layered but clear.

I’ve been experimenting with higher resolutions a lot recently. I will often up-sample what’s been delivered to me in order to mix at a higher resolution, partly because it’s going to be converted from digital to analog as it runs out to the console, so I’m trying to best maintain the integrity of the audio. With higher resolution, I’m trying to work out, “Does it sound better? Do I prefer it?” My conclusion is that it feels subtly different to work on. For example, when I’m pushing in top end EQ it feels more open, like I have more space to manoeuvre. But whether I prefer it is quite dependent on the material. Sometimes I prefer the higher-resolution file, and sometimes I prefer 44 kHz. I don’t want to go as far as to call it “44 kHz glue,” but there’s something there. I do think, overall, we’re still led by technological limitations. It’s much easier to be mixing at a high resolution than it is to be writing and producing, using loads of processor-hungry virtual instruments and the like. Especially when there’s such brilliant creative flexibility to the way music is written and produced nowadays, often on laptops moving between bedrooms, Airbnbs, and studios. My overall feeling is that it’s good that productions are moving toward high-res. It can only be a good thing that there’s a strive towards preservation of the audio, right through to the listener.

Sometimes when you hear electronic music mastered at 96 kHz, it’s too clear and separated, whereas 44.1 kHz is a nice “smear of sound.”

Yes! Do you remember when Star Wars was first released for Blu-ray in HD? Suddenly the Death Star didn’t look as good, because you could see all the flaws in the model. Related to this, I think volume normalisation on streaming platforms has the potential for a bigger development in the fidelity of what we’re listening to than high-res. By removing the necessity for music to be loud [in order] to sit competitively, it opens up the opportunity for more dynamics within recordings. It’s interesting to me, because limiting is so much a part of the sound that we’re used to listening to. I actively choose different limiters on and within mixes to obtain a certain sound or control. Contemporary music can start quickly sounding very flat without it. But normalisation does open a door to the fidelity of records evolving over the next decade. It will be interesting to see if it trends towards being a bit more dynamic. There are some artists who have been quite brave with that.

Would 24-bit recording be responsible for songs these days with heavy low end??

I’m not sure I’d attribute it to 24-bit. It’s probably primarily that [Roland TR-]808s feature in such a high proportion of records now. That, combined with the trend towards a heavier low (end in) in music and refinement in the DSP [Digital Signal Processing] technology.

Do you have a preference where bass sits in your mix?

I do probably err towards a bass-heavier feel. I prefer the energy to come from the ground, rather than the top wherever possible. But I could equally contradict myself. There is such a wide range of places you can go with bass. There are some records that breath better without the weight in the low end, and inversely you have some rap that has so much bass, harmonic-rich sub that it’s a feat of engineering. Then there are questions about translation. It’s all well and good feeling 35 Hz shaking me in the studio on my mains, but realistically most people aren’t going to be listening in that context. So, it’s about creating the feeling of that bass, but pushed into a more audible range. It’s almost a paradox of making [tracks] sound better. I know it’s a subject that’s been well covered by the internet! But there are a whole raft of techniques with 808s, pushing distortion and harmonics so that they’re audible on a tiny pair of earbuds. But, again, so much of that is led by the song and production in the first place. For me, that’s the first process; listening to the ref mix, chatting to the artist, and working out what the intention is.

Nathan Boddy

Yeah. It’s always about the song.

Of course. With all the technology available to clean things up, it’s all too easy to homogenise music with processing. It’s so important to try and maintain the individual personality of a track. Often the magic lies within the imperfections.

Do you have a rig with a DAW and converters that you typically use?

I generally mix in my own room. There are enough variables to take into account as it is. But I love going to record elsewhere, when the opportunities arise. I’m mixing from [Apple] Logic into an SSL AWS 948 Delta console. I do the majority of the actual mixing on there, but I’m still working in quite a hybrid way. I’ve got a bunch of outboard gear, as well. But, by no means do I see myself as some analogue evangelist. The biggest thing I get out of working on the console is a workflow. I do love the sound of it, but, ultimately, I’m using the desk because it’s putting the emphasis on listening, rather than looking. It gives me a dexterity over what’s happening. From that perspective it’s enormously important to me. In terms of equipment, I like being able to pick and choose where I want analogue and where I want digital. When I was younger, I was much more drawn to all the mysticism about classic gear, plug-ins, outboard, etc. But being completely honest, as time goes on, I find all of this plug-in emulation of old classic compressors and stuff a bit boring. There’s some amazing innovation going on; tools that allow you to do things that were never possible before, and that’s great. But more than anything, I’m now trying to declutter the process and take away superfluous options, rather than adding to them. Someone said, “Making a record is 100,000 small decisions.” I believe the set up and environment that you’ve got leads directly into your decision-making process. I think I gained a confidence from using the same mixing board over and over. I started doing more by feel.

Yeah. How many songs do you think you have mixed?

Honestly, I haven’t got a clue how many tracks I’ve worked on. The workflow is quite non-linear, working between singles, EPs, and albums. One day I might send a mix, and we’re all happy on the first pass. But sometimes I might be going back to it several times before we get it to a point where I’m hitting what the artist has in mind. I appreciate that process of honing it in, as well as finding that certain ratio between what’s technically working and what exemplifies the song.

Can you talk about anything in any way of working on Gary Numan’s recent album, Intruder?

The biggest difference was that everything was worked out remotely this time, due to COVID. Savage was finished with Gary, Ade, and myself sitting in my studio through the night, into the day of mastering. And then sending updates to mastering on the day while Gary and Ade were sat with [mastering engineer] Matt Colton. This time we did a lot of the feedback via streaming and lots of notes. I think that going through Splinter [(Songs from a Broken Mind)], we had worked out a lot of the vocabulary we now had to work with on this album. Me and Ade have been working together for so long now. I think we understand and push each other in what we’re trying to do. I started working with Ade when I was still an overconfident teenager. Working between Ade and Gary, their thoughts and working together for a while, the record has its own ambition and sounds exciting in different ways. This time we’re all in different parts of the world, so we’ve been streaming mix tweaks live. There’s a lot of collaboration through talking and sending notes back and forth. It worked out really well. That’s been a big change this past year, in general, for me. Being able to collaborate remotely, in a real-time way, where people can evaluate what I’m doing in their own listening environment is a big step forward.

Nathan Boddy

You’ve worked with Celeste, James Blake, Mura Masa, and London Grammar. What projects stick out for you?

Working with James Blake on his Assume Form album is something that I’m quite proud of. The Mura Masa album you mentioned, I enjoyed the bold aesthetics and extremities within that record. I suppose they’re both artists who, in their own way, use their sonics as part of their artistry. It’s a thrill to work on those kinds of records. I’m not comparing it to other music, because they’re doing something new. Working with Shame on Songs of Praise is another one I feel somewhat sentimental towards. I produced it with Dan Foat over at Rockfield Studios. To lock down without the distractions of the outside world like that to make a record, you capture a moment. There’s some kind of magic to that studio, warts and all.

The Celeste number, with vocals and piano, was an interesting composition of combining the “old sounding” and very modern.

Yeah. “I Can See the Change” is the track you’re talking about. Celeste is such a gifted artist and songwriter. That track was produced by Finneas [Baird O’Connell], no less. I’m being given something world-class to work with in the first place. That track had an intimate atmosphere to it, but much of that was presented inherently in the performance and musical arrangement. Hopefully I helped to realise it a little more, but, ultimately, I started with a brilliant song.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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