While producer Tom Biller has worked out of nearly all of the big studios around Los Angeles in his career as both a producer and engineer, lately many of the most exciting sounds he is creating are coming out of his home studio in Echo Park.
To ensure depth and presence from his highly focused setup, Biller has recently turned to BAE Audio preamplifiers.
“I’m only really running 8 channels of input in the home studio, so it forces me to keep things simple,” Biller says. “You can do a lot with the right mics and the right signal chain without a high channel count.”
His new signal chain helped define the sound of the latest tracking sessions for his own psych-rock band EFG, who laid down a new EP that is due out in late June on Bodan Kuma records.
Biller was familiar with BAE Audio’s reputation from working with their locally hand-wired preamplifiers in many of the LA studios he has engineered in.
“Very often if I went into an unfamiliar studio and saw at least a couple channels of BAE I knew I would be ok,” he says. He decided to add BAE Audio lunchbox modules to his home studio setup to maximize what he could achieve with a more streamlined setup. Acquiring a BAE 1073MPL preamp as well as a pair of BAE 312A preamps, he expanded the range of sounds he could achieve. “They’re extremely versatile,” he says. “They both work really well with a variety of sources and are highly responsive to mic placement. They’re sensitive in a way that I can ‘EQ’ my signal by manipulating the mic with respect to the source.”
“With EFG, we try to take a fairly simple formula—a 3 piece rock band—and make it sound huge and interesting,” Biller says.
It was integral to him to capture the band’s unique energy in the recording process. “We knew right away that we wanted to track the whole band at once, do it quick and fresh, and get good vibes,” Biller says. He turned to the 312A to capture his bass guitar directly. “I love using the 312A to track a source that I want to be able to distort later, be it with pedals or plugins,” Biller explains. This tactic lent itself well to achieving the overdriven bass tones he favors with EFG. The Jensen input and output transformers in the 312A allow fast transient response to capture every nuance of Billers playing.
“It also works great on things like kick drum mics, but my favorite use might be pairing it with these weird old lo-fi ribbon microphones that I sometimes use as drum overheads. It’s got plenty of gain and it captures them in a way that is perfect for mangling with distortion later on.”
The 1073MPL was the choice for capturing the distinctive drawl of EFG singer Imaad Wasif.
“The 1703MPL does an incredible job at getting vocals to feel closer,” Biller says. “I’ve tried a lot of preamps to get vocals to jump out in a mix and the 1703MPL does that job better than anything else out there.” Sporting the same Carnhill St. Ives transformer as its larger cousins, Biller also appreciates the range of sounds you can get simply by adjust the input and output gains of the preamp. “There’s such a wide range of tones you can get with just those two knobs,” he says. “You really don’t need anything else.” Biller has also used the 1073MPL extensively with dynamic microphones for recording guitars and other instruments. “It’s bigger and clearer than an actual vintage preamp,” he says.
The simplified approach to tracking has helped streamline Biller’s work in the mix room.
“When you work out of bigger studios you tend to print tons of mics because you have them all right there, but when it comes time to mix you don’t use half of them,” he says. “At my home studio, I don’t have all those mics and channels, but I know what will work,” he says. “The BAE pres give me confidence in my ability to do more with less.”
Biller sees potential to bring his BAE preamps and stripped-down approach to other studio facilities he works out of. “I’m definitely going to apply these tools and this technique to larger rooms going forward,” he says. “The results speak for themselves.”
For Biller, verisimilitude to the vintage designs on which BAE preamps are based is less important that the quality of the sound overall. “I don’t really care about whether it sounds like a board from the 70s or 80s,” he says. “What matters is that BAE preamps just make my recordings sound better.”