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Tony Doogan and Cubase: Doomed to Success

Scottish producer Tony Doogan has been one of the creative forces behind the independent music movement that saw Glasgow blossom into one of the world’s commercial and artistic hotbeds for indie music. Making his name through long-term collaborations with Scottish indie artists like Mogwai, The Delgados and Belle and Sebastian, Tony also contributed to the 2007 hit album by Dirty Pretty Things. His latest work has been with indie newcomers The Young Knives on their eagerly awaited sophomore album released earlier this year. Taking some time off from production work at the custom-built Castle of Doom studio in Glasgow, Tony talked to us about his use of Cubase, his love for early Neil Young records and his hesitation in replacing all his much-cherished analog gear.

Tony, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. What were your earliest experiences making music? Did you play in a band before your recording career?

I used to play in school bands. I always had a very keen interest in music

What was it that got you interested in working on the recording/engineering/production side of the glass?

The recoding thing kicked off when I was about 14. There was various amateur dramatic shows going on at a local church and I helped the PA guy. This really got me interested in sound in particular. I went to collage to learn about it and landed a job as a ‘tape op’ at a studio in Glasgow. It kind of went from there.

You’ve been one of the people who have shaped the sound of albums that have helped establish Glasgow as one of the most important cities in Europe for independent music. Is it important to you to be working with Scottish bands and musicians?

Yes, those bands are really what kick started my career in production. I was very lucky to work on many albums by those Scottish bands.

You’ve worked with indie legend Dave Fridmann whose credits include Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Jane’s Addiction, Sparklehorse and Low among many others at his Tarbox studio. Has he been an influence for you?

I met Dave what seems like a long time ago working on The Delgados ‘The Great Eastern’ since then he’s remained a good friend and we occasionally do some projects together. He really made me think about what I was doing in those early days with regard to giving things a sonic signature. He also introduced me to my manager which has been a great help for me personally.

What are your favorite albums from the point of view of a fan?

Well I like a lot of things but if I were to say want was my favorite albums I’d probably say Neil Young’s early records. I always really love Stina Nordestan’s records. Her voice blows me away always. Oh and then there’s all that Prog stuff. Great!

Are there any albums that you admire for their production qualities or that have inspired you particularly as a producer? Are there any records that you wished you had produced?

I don’t really wish there were albums I had produced because they would be different. Maybe worse maybe better. I like things for what they are. I thought when I heard The Soft Bulletin [by Flaming Lips] it was maybe time to think again. It’s just crazy. Some of the Trent Reznor stuff is also great.

Is it true that you were a big Grateful Dead fan?

Well, yes but not in a mental way.

Producers can define the creative role of the producer differently. In your production work, how much of a creative role is needed/viable for a producer as far as shaping the recording’s sound and influencing the songs is concerned?

Influencing the songs is very important. Lots of time bands come to you with the bare bones of a song that they have worked on in the rehearsal room. It’s missing hooks, harmony and is a bit long winded and so on. That needs to be dealt with especially now when you get maybe 12 seconds at the start of a song to hook people in. Sonically I try to achieve an overall ‘sound’ which is brash and bold (when needed) but very much in tune with what the band are. I don’t think I’ve ever made a ‘Tony Doogan’ sounding record, hopefully I have made the record the artists have hoped for.

You’ve also worked on soundtrack projects both as a producer and as a composer. Do you approach working on soundtracks differently to producing an album?

Not really. It’s maybe technically a little more challenging hitting all the right spots and still having something sound like a good tune but then you also have the pictures to help you out. Music for film can be a lot simpler than a stand alone song.

What first got you looking into Cubase?

Cubase was the first computer program I ever really learned, that is if we don’t include Basic on the ZX81. It’s what we were using in the studio at the time, on Atari ST’s. It was great for quick simple programming. It was also pretty stable. People used to have crazy amounts of programming stuff hanging of the MIDI ports on those ST’s.

Please tell us a bit more about the exact nature of the role Cubase plays for you, both as a producer and as a composer.

I run Cubase alongside another recording system, which I use to record audio, and program in Cubase. The MIDI implementation in Cubase is far beter and the virtual instruments are pretty much second to none.

What virtual instruments and plug-in effects do you commonly use?

I have HALion as my sampler. It’s so easy to use. I have a huge sound bank for it I can just carry around on a little hard drive. I like Groove Agent for quick and dirty drum ideas.

You’ve been using digital components for many years including computers, software, Euphonix digital mixing consoles and plug-ins. Is there any analogue studio or recording equipment which you would not replace with a digital counterpart on an album?

Yes. Compressors and distortion. I used both digital versions and analog versions of both and they both have strengths and weaknesses but there’s just no beating running the drums through a pair of analog distressors or vocals through 1176’s. For the digital versions, maybe soon but not quite yet.

Tony’s full bio and contact details are on his manager’s website.

Tony’s album production credits include:

  • Belle and Sebastian Tigermilk, The Boy With The Arab Strap, If You’re Feeling Sinister, Dear Catastrophe Waitress, The Life Pursuit
  • Mogwai Rock Action, Happy Songs For Happy People, Mr Beast,
  • The Delgados Hate, The Great Eastern, Universal Audio
  • Dirty Pretty Things Waterloo To Anywhere
  • Malcolm Middleton A Brighter Beat
  • The Young Knives Superabundance
  • Modern Dog That Song
  • Speedstar
  • Super Furry Animals Phantom Power
  • Art School
  • Teenage Fanclub
  • Mojave 3
  • Quruli
  • Hefner

Soundtracks as composer and/or producer:

  • Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (with Mogwai)
  • The Fountain (with Mogwai)
  • Storytelling (with Belle and Sebastian)
  • Young Adam (with David Byrne)