By Michael Raine
In the McCambridge family , playing an instrument was just what you did . And so , with little fanfare , future producerengineer-mixer Ryan McCambridge picked up the guitar at age 12 . It was his work as an adolescent recording engineer , though , where he discovered his talents .
“[ I ] got into recording , solely as a means of capturing the ( very bad ) songs I was writing . I had a couple stereos with record functions built into them and I would chain them together to multitrack stuff . I thought I was a genius — why hadn ’ t anyone else ever thought of this ?!” he laughs .“ But I graduated to a Tascam four-track , then started assisting in small studios when I was about 15 , and my cousin , who had also worked as an audio engineer , took me under his wing . Getting an early start was really helpful . I started buying equipment early on and recording anyone that I could . That pretty much started my career , even though it was never really meant to be a career .”
Regardless of intent , he now has one hell of a career . His list of credits as an engineer / mixer are enviable , featuring such artists as Metric and Crown Lands and a gold record for his mixing work on Rush ’ s R40 live album and concert film , plus a Grammy nomination for his work with Mastodon . It ’ s a testament to his versatile skill set that McCambridge can go from working with heavy metal icons to being the Atmos re-recording mixer for HBO ’ s Sex and the City and sound design for a phone commercial .
“ I ’ m intensely curious , so I was motivated by the need to understand the mechanics of how records were made . What made that sound ? Why did this record sound different from some other record ? Why didn ’ t my recordings sound like that ? It was , and still is , a never-ending puzzle with endless possibilities and that really appeals to my sensibilities ,” he explains , thinking back to his formative years .“ I did a lot of assisting when I was a teenager and then after university I started working nights at Brian Moncarz ’ s studio , which at the time was in MCS Studios in Toronto . I would start at the end of a normal workday and spend nights editing , recording indie bands , doing voice over gigs , low-budget Canadian TV , etc . By then I had an ADAT rig , which I then upgraded to a Pro Tools mix system , so Brian and I decided to move to a studio that had two control rooms and things just kicked off from there .”
One of the most lasting and important partnerships he ’ s formed is with renowned Canadian producer David Bottrill ( Tool , Peter Gabriel , The Smashing Pumpkins , etc .). For the last decade or so , the pair have worked closely on a wide array of albums , including McCambridge ’ s own musical project , A Calmer Collision .
“ Aside from becoming one of my closest friends , he pulled me in on projects with much bigger artists . The Rush R40 album and concert film got us U . S . gold records . We did a live album for Metric , as well , called Dreams So Real , which was really cool . Both of those actually exercised my audio postproduction knowledge . I also absolutely love the Birds of Tokyo album we did called Brace , as well as the IAMX album Echo Echo . But last year we did the most recent Mastodon double album , Hushed and Grim , which I ’ m really proud of .”
As McCambridge explains it , working in music and post-production just “ really aligns with how my brain is wired .” It ’ s the fact that “ it takes a lot of technical knowledge and understanding of immensely esoteric concepts , while needing to be creative and open-minded .” It also offers the right combination of independence and collaboration .
“ I love working with people and helping artists realize their vision . I went to art school and that ultimately instilled me with a sense of responsibility for the ‘ content ’ that I put into the world , so I truly value being involved with an artist ’ s legacy . Artists , and creators at large , are incredible people . They ’ re dreamers that work to defy all odds , just because they ’ re impassioned and have something to say . It ’ s quite beautiful and I ’ m honoured that I get to be a part of that .”
That is why , having been fortunate to establish a highly successful and sustained career , McCambridge values being able to choose projects based on their artistic merit . “ At this point in my career , I just want to work with artists that inspire me and I don ’ t really care how established they are ,
so long as they ’ re committed to their art . My goal is , and has always been , working on projects that move me enough to make me believe in the artist . That , to me , is the most worthwhile goal .”
One of his other focuses these days is building relationships within his home music and audio communities . Though always based in Toronto , much of McCambridge ’ s work has been with international artists and on productions around the globe . “ I do so much international work , I don ’ t feel overly integrated into the Canadian music scene . This is something that I ’ m actively trying to change , though , because I ’ d really like to do more work in Canada going forward .”
Outside the studio , McCambridge credits his dog , Finnegan , for forcing him to see the sun once in a while . “ I am a complete workaholic so my life outside the studio is actually quite limited ,” he says , noting with a laugh that he got Finnegan after realizing one winter day that he couldn ’ t remember when he was last outside . “ I recognized that probably wasn ’ t healthy . So , now Finnegan has a bed in my studio and is oddly comfortable with all of the bizarre noises that I make throughout the day , sleeping pretty much non-stop . But he ’ s also very good about letting me know when it ’ s time to punch the clock at the end of the day and leave the factory . He knows when he ’ s put in an honest day ’ s work [ laughs ].”
Michael Raine is the Editor-in-Chief of Professional Sound .
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