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Alan Moulder: Why Mentors Matter

Guide Parts By Sam Inglis
Published May 2024

Guide Parts

If there’s one thing that engineers and producers need above all, it’s a good mentor and role model — and they don’t come much better than MPG Icon Alan Moulder.

Alan Moulder has enjoyed a remarkable career as engineer, producer and studio owner, and a more fitting recipient of the 2024 Icon Award from the Music Producers Guild is hard to imagine. He and producer Flood recently stepped away from running Battery Studios in Willesden after more than 20 years. Now operating from a smaller space in North‑West London, Alan is still as busy as ever, these days concentrating mainly on mixing.

Alan’s industry recognition is, of course, largely down to his body of work, with an incredible list of credits that includes My Bloody Valentine, Nine Inch Nails, The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, Led Zeppelin and many, many more. However, the award also acknowledges another facet of his career: his role in mentoring newer stars such as Catherine Marks, Adam ‘Cecil’ Bartlett, Caesar Edmunds and Andy Savours.

The Golden Generation

Like most engineers and producers of his generation, Alan himself learned at the feet of established figures. “I started at Trident Studios in 1983,” he recalls. “The original Trident was owned by the Sheffield brothers and it was very posh. In the ’70s it did a lot of Bowie, Elton John and other big records. Then It was sold to one of the engineers, Stephen Stewart Short, and a guy called JP Iliesco, who was a publisher, and Rusty Egan, who was the drummer in Visage. Stephen was the engineer and he trained us, and he was probably the most naturally gifted engineer I’ve ever come across. But he was a taskmaster.

“I was there for four years, and at the time I was there, Flood was the head engineer, Spike Stent was there, Cenzo Townshend was there, Steve Osborne was there, a programmer called Andy Wright was there, Adrian Bushby was there. We’d all work together, but Stephen was the main guy who trained you. And it was a baptism of fire! If he saw any potential, he’d take you on to be his assistant, and then, a little later, his engineer. We used to call it tour of duty, because some didn’t come back!

“And it was long hours in those days. You’d work lots of 24, 48‑hour sessions. My first day, I turned up at nine o’clock in the morning and left nine o’clock in the morning. And it was tough, but it was really good fun. You could treat people a lot differently in those days, but I don’t regret any of it. It toughened me up.”

In At The Deep End

The training that Alan received at Trident wasn’t for the faint‑hearted, but it enabled him to move into the hot seat surprisingly quickly. “I engineered my first session after, I think, seven weeks, just because somebody turned up and didn’t have an engineer. I was then doing a freelance album after seven months. It was a jazz album, produced by Martin Hales. And the great thing was, Martin was a good engineer, so he really wanted a glorified assistant so he could listen. If I got into anything that was over my head he could help me out.

“Although it was very competitive, people were always very willing to help you out. Nobody would ever want to see you sink. If you made a mistake, it would travel around the studio like wildfire and everybody would be laughing at you — but they’d do anything they could to save it. And of course there was no Pro Tools, so when you were dropping in to record, if you didn’t get it right, there was no Apple+Z. It was gone. So, it was more nerve‑racking in that way, but also a lot simpler in that you didn’t have to do all the file backups and things like that.

“If you were working with one of the studio engineers then it was their job to train you. But if you were working with an outside engineer, a freelancer, it wasn’t their job to train you, so you’d have a different dynamic with them, and because they didn’t know the studio you would help them navigate their way around it. And some were helpful, some were brilliant, some were terrible. You could learn a lot from bad engineers how not to do things. You’d make mental notes: I’m never doing that! I can’t remember the names of any of the bad ones, but I remember I worked with an American mixer called John Potoker...

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