You are here

Talkback: Shuta Shinoda


Engineer Shuta Shinoda discovered his knack for sound while in London as a 19 year‑old, having initially come to the city from Tokyo to study English. Returning to Japan for a brief spell to work in Tokyo’s now‑closed Sunrise Studio, it wasn’t long before he was back in the UK studying audio engineering at SAE. “I always wanted to come back to London again,” he says. “It’s just much more fun!”

Now Shinoda is based at London’s highly respected Hackney Road Studios, where he has been since 2010. There he has engineered acclaimed albums for the likes of Hot Chip, Ghostpoet and Anna Meredith — who you may remember singing Shinoda’s praises in our feature on her album FIBS. Here, Shinoda takes us through the importance of maintaining momentum through a session, why you should always have good monitors, and his fondness for Bruce Swedien’s work on ‘Billie Jean’.

At the moment I can’t stop listening to

I don’t really have one song at the moment. But an album I’ve enjoyed recently is Bonobo’s new album. That doesn’t mean I can’t stop listening to it! But I like it a lot. It’s really got a nice flow from beginning to end. As a whole album, it’s complete. It’s so relaxing, listening to it from top to bottom.

Since I’m recording music day‑to‑day, I don’t really listen to music that sounds bad, to be honest. Otherwise I feel I’m lowering my hearing skill. I just don’t want to hear shit‑sounding recordings all the time and for my threshold to get lower. I want to keep listening to a high quality of recording and production so that I know what’s good and what’s bad. If you just listen to OK‑sounding images, you can’t really tell the difference between what’s good and what’s bad, you know?

When listening to music, my habit is to listen really deeply, carefully. Analysing what’s really happening. That’s what I enjoy about listening to music. Good‑quality music. Also, the possibility of discovering new techniques; I can try and guess what technique they used to get that drum sound, or whatever.

The project I’m most proud of

I think Ghostpoet. The latest album, I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep. Partly because I was involved from day one until the end of the mix. I did everything, basically! And Obaro [aka Ghostpoet], he listened to my suggestions. So while I wouldn’t say it was co‑produced, I gave him ideas. From the first day of recording I had a sound image in my head, a picture of what kind of sound this album should have. So I shaped it from the very beginning. I think he let me do what I wanted to do, and I managed to translate the image I had from the beginning to the final output mix. I’m happy with how smoothly it went as well! It wasn’t the first time I’d worked with him; I did the album Shedding Skin as well, two albums before. That was Mercury‑nominated, I think.

The first thing I look for in a studio

Monitors. And how the control room sounds. To me, that’s the most important thing. Because I need to be able to listen to what’s really happening in the live room, how instruments sound. And if the monitors are bad, I can’t really judge. But if the monitors sound reasonable — or sound good — I can work around whatever they have. Like, the microphones or equipment could all be shit, but I can use shit in creative ways! I’m good at solving problems — turning problems into positive things, I think. I can work around whatever they have, I can make creative decisions using a shit live room, or whatever. But it’s crucial that I’m in control. Otherwise you can’t use your creativity. At Hackney Road we’ve got ATC 100A monitors, and ATC SCM 20SLs in the middle. And I have ATCs at home as well. I’m used to using ATCs!

The person I would consider my mentor

When I was at the studio in Japan, one of my colleagues was maybe 10 years older than me. He looked after me very well. Even if I missed the last train home, he would give me a lift or sometimes let me stay at his place. And he just taught me how to behave as an assistant or as a tape op in a studio. I would say he was my first very first mentor, both technically and more philosophically. Someone who I haven’t met, if I’m allowed to say, would be the engineer Bruce Swedien. He passed away recently. Yeah, I like the general balance that he achieves. It’s a really classic thing to say, but ‘Billie Jean’ is just perfect. For me, it’s just a perfect balance, you know?

My go‑to reference track or album

‘Billie Jean’! But I also use Beck’s Sea Change album. Nigel Godrich worked on it, it’s got really nice acoustic sounds but still has a really big bottom end. The kick is massive. It’s nice to check how the bottom end sounds in the room. It’s good. When I start work with artists, I always ask them to send me a couple of reference tracks that they’re listening to so I can get an idea what they’re trying to achieve.

Shuta Shinoda: "Don’t say no to an artist. Even if I know an idea of theirs isn’t working, I’ll have to at least try it so I can prove that."

My top tip for a successful session

That’s interesting... Just don’t say no to an artist. Even if I know an idea of theirs isn’t working, I’ll have to at least try it so I can prove that. And then we could say, ‘OK, this is not working, let’s try another way.’ So, just keep saying yes. Also — and this is part of my production method actually — I always make commitments as I go. I don’t really like the idea of sorting something out at mixing stage. I think it means you lose the momentum of what’s happening in the studio. I always want to get the sound right with the artist, together in in the studio, and when everyone’s happy we can just move on. At the end of the day the song sounds already mixed, basically. I do this partly because if we agree on a sound then they can’t complain later! It’s just a classic way of recording, to be honest. I think it’s better than tweaking knobs later, on my own. It’s just different. I’d rather work with artists, because I’m working on their song and not on my song. Yeah. Capturing momentum in the studio is my tip.

The studio session I wish I’d witnessed

I like the Flaming Lips’ albums in general. They’re so crazy! And I like the producer, Dave Fridmann. Really creative. I like the way he records drums, I think he used weird techniques — you know, recording through a wall or whatever. I would like to see how they do it.

The producer I’d most like to work with

Interesting... well, again, Dave Fridmann, I like him! Also, Flood. When I worked with Jenny Beth from Savages on a couple of songs for her album, she had been working with Flood. She said he hears things quite differently. I can’t explain it… It was as if he screwed up her song, but that he knew what was really happening. What would happen eventually. And the output was really good. I haven’t seen how he works, so I can’t really explain to you clearly why, but I think that’s really interesting, how he hears sound in his head when he’s producing. Jenny was telling me about how he brings weird noises in on different faders and mixes it in with the actual track, balancing the noise. She said that in the beginning there were some weird things going on! But it turned out to be a really nice balance, with the noise and the actual songs married together. This guy knows!

The advice I’d give myself of 10 years ago

When I decided to study audio engineering, I thought I would have to sacrifice everything else. That’s partly because I’m not a multitasking person at all. I can’t do two things at the same time, I have to focus on one thing. The advice I’d give myself of 10 years ago is, don’t sacrifice your friendships, or family or partner. Otherwise you’ll be living on your own with a cat in the middle of nowhere!