After moving from Chelmsford in Essex to Reading, and finding a course in Sound Engineering, Neil Comber went on to do another course in London, which led to work experience as an assistant engineer, and then a job at The Strong Rooms. He played in some bands growing up, and really liked being involved in music, but hated being on stage, therefore strove to do something within the business that didn’t warrant performance, as such. As the music industry has changed so much since he started out, I ask Comber what changes have made the most difference to his day to day workflow.
“When I started at 18, it was the very end of there still being money in music, basically,” he says, with a smile. “People still made records in the traditional way, which now feels totally alien! Artists would make records Monday to Friday, nobody would be in the studios over the weekend, and everyone would get given champagne!
“It was a lovely way of working, and there was enough money for everything to function. But that’s just continued to decrease. Studios couldn’t afford to stay open anymore, and the studio roles became much more merged. Now, being an engineer is a near non-existent job. When I produce, I often engineer myself, and mixing is just me - and that’s a big change.”
After working at The Strong Rooms, Comber got a job at the legendary Olympic Studios.
“It was an unbelievably cool studio in West London - everyone recorded there: Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles. A friend of mine - someone I went to college with - was leaving his job as an assistant there, and on the way out, recommended me.”
It was there that Comber met MPG Award-winning producer and mix engineer, Cenzo Townshend.
“I started working for Cenzo full-time, and then, unfortunately, Olympic shut down,” Comber continues. I sense a pattern here! “So we moved to Metropolis Studios. I had a room there, and gradually, over time, I started working pretty much by myself.”
I ask Comber if he recalls any standout projects from that time?
“There have been some good ones,” he reflects. “But I guess you always feel like you should be doing better than you are doing; so you are always trying to make things better and better. So really, most of my old mixes I would just pick holes in now! [laughs] I guess the first M.I.A album, Matangi - that was a very proud moment. We spent about two-and-a-half-years on it, and went all over the world. She doesn’t really have a mixing process, so it was kind of recording and mixing; I was basically her engineer, so it was natural to mix as we went, and build lots of production."