There aren’t many areas of the music business Patrick Hamilton hasn’t plied his trade in. A classically trained musician, his first foray into the industry was as a session player with numerous Belgian artists in the early 1980s, before taking up residence more and more frequently behind the desk towards the end of the decade. After helming a number of hit singles as an engineer and/or producer, in 1994 he decided to launch his own facility in the form of The Roof, which dealt predominantly with musical and TV productions. Never one to stand still, Hamilton set up the Bruges-based The Globe studios in 2002, while also running The Globe Music Company’s Bromo Music Publishing operation.
Throughout his career, he has produced chart topping albums for the likes of Alfie Boe, Katherine Jenkins, Barry Mason and David Garrett, whilst also amassing a raft of producer, engineer and co-write credits with an assortment of international artists.
Here, Hamilton takes a look back at his career to date and ruminates on the challenges facing independent studios today…
What was it that first drew you to production and studio work?
When I was seven years old I wanted to be a professional musician (not a fireman or whatever) so my whole education was really focused on that. At 18 I worked for Hammond organs as a demonstrator and toured around Europe for them. Later on I became the keyboard player of a very well known band in Belgium, called the LSP-Band. A lot of Belgian artists began to ask me if I would play on their records, then they wanted me to produce and write songs for them, so bit by bit I rolled into it.
How did you learn your trade behind the desk? Were you formally trained or were your studio skills picked up on the job?
Pretty much hands-on and thrown into it, trusting my own ears. At the beginning when I was mixing I got frustrated frequently as I couldn’t get the mix sounding exactly as I wanted it to sound and how I heard the production in my head. I realised that was a job on its own, so I hired real engineers to do the job. I was attending a lot of the mix sessions so I had the opportunity to steal a lot with my eyes and ears.
Some years ago, my best friend and co-writer, Vincent Pierins, who’s obsessed by vintage analogue modular synths, made a record (Seqoia-M) and he asked me to produce it and forced me to mix it myself as he said that I totally understood this kind of music and knew how it had to sound. I got so many compliments with that record, that from that moment on I started mixing again. The guts came back and now I’m really enjoying it.
How beneficial is it as a producer to have experience on the other side of the glass as a musician?
For me I think that’s very important as I’m not a trained engineer and doing everything by ear. I am, what they call, an ‘old school’ producer working a lot with live musicians in combination with electronica etc, so you have to know how an instrument should sound. Music is an emotion, so I’m always trying to get the best performance out of my musicians and hope the listeners will feel it too and are touched by what they’re hearing.
Tell us about your studio. When did it open, what kind of projects you specialise in?
Back in the ‘80s I worked for several years in a recording studio owned by a Belgian record company. We did all kinds of styles there, from underground, new beat, dance to folk, pop. That was fun to do as we were very successful and as a producer I wasn’t pinned on one style of music, which I liked. Somewhere in the ‘90s (I think 1996), I started my own home studio on the top floor of my house back then called The Roof Studio based around a Mackie 32-24 console and Logic and Pro Tools. When my mother retired I thought the building where her shop was could be a perfect space for a recording studio. So I bought it and started building the studio in 2001. It took me a year as I did everything myself (never had a brick in my hands before that). It was reconstructed in 2006 and in 2008 I bought the neighbour’s place so there was more potential to grow. Since 2010 the complex houses four studios.
How do you manage your time between working as a musician and producer, as well as running a recording studio?
Working a lot to keep track of everything. In fact I’m not renting out my studios that much as I have so much going on as a producer that I’m my studio’s best client!
What are the biggest challenges facing independent studios today?
We live in a world where you can make your record on your laptop in your bedroom. So you only go to a studio for mixing or recording of what you can’t handle at home. I’m going to other studios for recordings I can’t do at my studios. If I need a big orchestra or big room I usually work at Abbey Road Studio 1 or 2 or Air for the great sound of their hall and of course for the vintage gear (if my recording budget allows it).
And the biggest opportunities?
In my case, it’s the combination of having all the recording possibilities at home.
What is your ideal recording set up?
For recording I really like Neve consoles as I like the preamps. For mixing I prefer SSL. The choice of monitors is a difficult one. They have to sound right in your environment and be comfortable to work on and at the same time be very detailed and honest. Before you buy you definitely have to try them out in your studio. I have Klein & Hummel (now called Neumann) KH 310A, Yamaha NS10, PMC IB1s & MB2s with Bryston amps I’m a big fan of the Telefunken 251E (the old one) and Neumann microphones. I used the U67 on all the vocal recordings for Katherine Jenkins.
Talk us through the equipment on offer at your studio?
Studio 1 houses an SSL 4048E, which I bought from Westside Studios in London back in 2002, with lots of outboard gear (Urei 1178, Neve 1073, Tube-Tech (CLA, CL-2A, SMC-2B), Thermionic Culture (The Phoenix, Culture Vulture), Lexicon 480L (2x), Bricasti Mè (x2),.all running through Pro Tools.
I used to have an SSL 4064G in studio 2 but I sold it two years ago as I was only using five or-six faders. I use studio 2 as my creative room for writing new songs, arranging and pre-productions through Logic X. Studio 3 and 4 are used by my assistants.
Tell us about some of the most memorable albums you’ve worked on during your career. What have been some of the highlights?
Most of my life I’ve been working within the Belgian market and had lots of No.1 or Top 10 hits. Through my network as a publisher (I own Bromo Music Publishing) I met my first manager who told me I had to work more in the US and UK. My first non-local artist was the Canadian singer Mark Masri. His album, which I arranged and produced, was one of the five nominated for ‘Best adult contemporary album of the year’ in Canada (amongst Celine Dion, Sarah McLaghlan). I was spotted by Decca Records UK and my first album for them went straight to No.1 on the Classical album charts in the UK (Katherine Jenkins, Home Sweet Home).
What was the most recent project you worked on?
I just finished the new album by Katherine Jenkins (Guiding Light), released through Decca on November 30. At the moment I’m working on the album by Branden & James (US) .
What’s in the pipeline?
When I finish this album I’m planning to work on my own project. - I’ve been saying this for years now but I think it will finally happen!. It involves new instrumental music through which I will be combining my old synths with an orchestra.
I have lots of ideas, mostly eight measures or even less, that I recorded on my i-phone while playing the piano that I’ll work out. I’m very much looking forward to starting work on it and experimenting.