In a world where almost everyone is mixing ‘in the box’, Mark Ralph and Clean Bandit have gone the other way.
A wave of UK artists are achieving global success by combining American urban, R&B, trap and rap influences with a British pop sensibility and more traditional musical styles. The likes of Jax Jones, Hot Chip, Years & Years, Rudimental, Jess Glynne and Clean Bandit all tend to work with a mixture of electronic programming and ‘real’ instruments — and they all work with British producer and mix engineer Mark Ralph.
Ralph was the 2016 winner in the Producer of the Year category at the UK A&R Awards in London, and is one of the hottest UK producers of the moment. He’s built his entire career on mixing things up, starting out in 1993 by filling in for Nile Rodgers on a Sister Sledge remake of their 1978 hit ‘We Are Family’. Ralph went on to become a successful session guitarist, working with everyone from Natalie Imbruglia to Tom Jones, and also managed to get himself signed as an artist. After being dropped by his label in 1998, he worked for a while at a London equipment hire company, Tickle Music Hire, and during this century got increasingly involved in writing and production. He eventually got signed again, and had his last stab at being an artist in 2009, as one third of the synth-pop band Filthy Dukes.
“When I came out of that,” recalls Ralph, “I said, ‘No more being an artist, let’s just concentrate on producing people and on learning how to mix.’ It takes time to get good at anything, and I think everything I have ever done has been of use in terms of experience. When I worked at the hire company, I thought it was the end of my music career, but actually, I learned how each piece of equipment worked and how to install it and it taught me many studio skills. Also, getting signed to a label is the most elated feeling you will ever have, and getting dropped again is the most horrible feeling, the lowest of the low. But it helped me to take the rough with the smooth, and to manage the rollercoaster ride that is a career in the music industry. I’ve had 26 years of excitement and disappointment, and while I may be riding a wave at the moment, I know that in five years’ time it may be different. So I don’t get overly affected any more about either the highs or the lows.”
Ralph’s decision to focus on production and mixing has paid off in spectacular fashion. In addition to the above-mentioned names, he has also worked with everyone from Franz Ferdinand to Jessie Ware to Take That, with his credits including writing, engineering, mixing and production. He’s also built his own studio, twice, and currently has a multi-room facility close to Queen’s Park in London, called Club Ralph.
“My niche has always been to combine organic sounds with electronic music,” says Ralph. “I have been in lots of bands, and written songs in traditional ways. I was in a rock band, played Latin music, soul and funk and disco. But I don’t have a fascination for purely organic music, and never have done. For music to prick my interest, it has always had to have a synthetic element, mixed in with organic sounds. That point between the organic and the electronic is...
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