Cameron Craig has worked in the UK since the 1990s, when he moved from Australia to pursue his dream of working in the then-burgeoning Brit-pop scene.
There, he moved up the ladder in the music industry, developing the connections that led him to work with artists including Adele, Amy Winehouse, UNKLE and eventually, earn himself two GRAMMY Awards.
Since more and more mixing takes place on the computer nowadays, Craig has adapted his workflow from a reliance on big analog consoles to the in-the-box and hybrid approaches he uses today.
When we spoke, he outlined his approach to 21st century mixing, from his thoughts on mix templates to the importance of understanding the emotion the artist wants to get across in their work.
Craig is also is heavily involved with the Music Producers Guild, an organization producers can turn to for a variety of issues, and shared what he believes to be some of their most important initiatives.
I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did, and am certain that you will find some useful ideas that you can apply to your own work.
You moved to the UK in the 90s from Australia. What were some of your biggest struggles getting started in the music business in the UK?
It was quite hard, I didn’t know anyone. I had a very good run in Australia, but the Brit-pop scene that was happening at the time seemed very exciting. I would read articles with English producers thinking that their thought process for making records was so similar to mine and I wanted to be a part of it, so decided to move.
Not for one second did it dawn on me that I wasn’t English! When I got here I would be talking with people and I always got the same question, “Have you worked with Kylie?…No“, “Have you worked with Nick Cave?…No“, “Have you worked with INXS?…No” and that was usually the end of the conversation.
How did you make some of your first breakthroughs there?
When I came over to the UK, a friend of mine from Australia, who was also in England at the time, had a manager and they had organized some studio time for him, which I engineered.
When I went back to collect the tapes, the owner was there and we got into a conversation. That led to me working there as a freelance in-house engineer.
They also did a lot of work for Island Records which led to filling in at the Fallout Shelter Studio. Through the same management, I met someone that was connected with Chiswick Reach Studios, which was this little valve studio in Chiswick.
There, I had to rethink how I recorded things as it was a very different approach but I got to meet a lot of like-minded people. This was the place where I first started working with James Lavelle which got things moving for my career and a 20-year working relationship with James.
The next step came from a company that was moving studio gear around. One of the drivers, whose band I was recording at the time, told me about this studio called 2kHz which had an EMI TG desk. I had hired the EMI TG desk to use at Milo Studios through a Chiswick Reach client and I thought it was—and still do—one of the best desks so I went to check it out.
I think I was one of the first sessions there. They were still putting the finishing touches on the place and on that first session there was still fiberglass in the corridor we had to jump over to get into the live room. I loved it. Met loads of people and made some great records there.
After that initial session, the manager got me in for what started as, “Can you record some drums for a few hours?” That turned into a relationship that is still going today.
What’s the biggest difference in the recording industry between then and now?
It’s very different, but also the same.
Then, you would start a project and see them through over a longer period of time. As soon as computers came into the equation, it started getting broken up into smaller bits.
Its to the point now where I will do a tracking session and it will go off to its respective places where people will work on it a little bit more. After that, it will come back to me for mixing and I will sit in a room like this on my own to mix it.
Even a lot of my local clients don’t bother to come in for mixing anymore. It’s not that they don’t care, they just don’t have to anymore.
How would you have done it in the past?
In the past, if you were mixing a track you would have to get it done that day. You would go to the studio and start mixing, and by the end of the day, you would be done. Any changes afterwards would mean a re-call, so it was a much bigger and longer process.
The last big analog mixes for me were in the mid-2000s, but then sessions could take forever, because once we all agreed it was great, it took another day to put it down, make stems and all the things that needed doing.
It was usually too expensive to have to come back to it, spend 3 hours or so recalling it, make your changes and reprint it all over again. It made you a better engineer, but I’m not sure that it ultimately led to better mixes in a way because you had to get it done. You didn’t really get a chance to come back to things that often, and things were often left a little bit unfinished-sounding to me.
I’m glad I started in that world and have that knowledge to draw from. But now, with the sort of clients I have, you can make sure that it’s right before it goes out which is a much better scenario for me.
You’ve gone on to work with a lot of bigger artists. Can you tell us how you developed those connections?
A lot of it was through those original connections, where a group of friends went on to become very successful. Jimmy Hogarth, who did the Amy Winehouse track, [“Help Yourself”], shared studio space with me, so I ended up mixing it.
It was just one of those tracks where he asked, “Do you want to mix this?”, “Yeah, alright”. So we mixed it. Did half in my room and finished it off in his room. We were literally 15 feet apart. I still work with Jimmy to this day.
The first Grammy was for Suzanne Vega [Beauty & Crime] which Jimmy produced as well. Sam Dixon, who wrote and played bass on the Sia record, also produced by Jimmy, went off to tour with Adele and wrote a track that ended up on her album 25. That’s how I ended up working on that album.
Annie Lennox was through State of the Ark Studios, which recommended me to producer Mike Stevens. Unfortunately, we lost out to Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett at the GRAMMYs with that one.