Engineer Focus Chopper Bradley – Headliner Magazine.
CHARLES BRADLEY: MONITOR MAN
It was the early ‘90s when Charles ‘Chopper’ Bradley first got into the audio biz. Originally, he wanted to work in either film or TV, but he got the bug for audio after working club nights with live bands. The rest, as they say, is history. We sit down with Chopper to talk mixing dos and don’ts, industry sticking points, and how to keep one of the world’s most notable touring bands happy for a decade and more.
“It was always going to be film or TV production, for me, and I actually went to a TV production school for a while, but having dabbled in it, I found it really boring, and realised it wasn’t really what I was looking for,” opens Chopper. “I had worked in a night club that had live bands play every night while at college, and one of the guys there used to tour in the ‘60s and ‘70s, so basically brought me the core skills there. is was 1992, and I guess that’s what hooked me into the life of rock and roll, and wanting to see the world.” says Chopper.
It’s been a fascinating journey for Chopper, and touring life seems to have been good
to him over the years. I ask him what the standout moments have been so far.
“it’s a tricky one,” he admits. “When I got the Massive Attack tour, that was very special; it was the first time I had a major client that I was a huge fan of prior to getting the gig. I guess then I would have to say mixing someone like Annie Lenox was very special – and then you have the crazy shows in weird or special places, so Buckingham Palace, for example, or on a Caribbean Island, or the mega-yachts…”
A hard life, eh? One of Chopper’s long- term gigs is Duran Duran: 11 years and counting, and it’s still as strong a show as ever.
“the Duran guys are all about moving with the times, as you will see from the decades
of music they have made,” Chopper explains. “From a live perspective, they have always been good with, and encouraged the use of new technology – anything that improves the show, be it audio, lighting, whatever.
“When I first started with Duran back
in 2006, they were on a mixture of IEM and wedges; we mixed a few odd shows like that, but when the time for a new tour came around, I had a chat with everyone, and persuaded them to all try giving IEMs a try, and we honestly have never looked back.”
“We altered a lot of things for the last Duran world tour: we updated our backline, moved from the original ‘80s keyboards (which
were always causing grief ), and re-sampled everything, and now we use MIDI controllers on stage,” he says. “It’s actually more authentic to the records now than it ever was. We also moved over to the new Avid S6 console, which again was a huge step in audio quality.
“I’d talked to JH Audio a few times over the years about using their products, and as it happens, while we were talking about all the changes and upgrades we wanted to make for the upcoming tour,
Kevin Glendinning,[artist relations for JH Audio] called me, and said, ‘hey buddy, how about you give our new Roxannes a go?’
“We had been pretty happy with what we were using before, to be honest, but Kevin dropped me a demo pair, and I was simply blown away; Roxanne was everything I’d been hoping for. We are always striving to improve, so when looking at a new ear piece, it needs to be good. Clarity, depth, and punch in the lows, and all the other things we want.
“The sound is very physical with the Roxanne, and the clarity in the high end is amazing…”,
Simon Le Bon, (Duran Duran frontman) was an instant convert, and the rest of the band loved them too, so we went ahead and had some custom sets made, and the results were even better with the custom fit. e sound is very physical: the lows, and even subs, are very obvious, and the high end is amazing.”
Another big thing is the width and depth you can achieve in your mix using Roxanne, Chopper says:
“Again, this comes from the quality of the drivers and crossovers; it’s the amazing detail you get, and how things just sit a little better in the stereo field without getting lost in some midrange mush. e ability to change the ‘sub’ crossover went down well with the band, too; and when you listen to the production on their records, you will know why. [Bassist] John Taylor was over the moon! His first comment was: ‘it’s like having a PA in the room; if I didn’t know better, I would swear we had sidefills in here!”
High praise, indeed. So at this point, Chopper and the band have the big three components perfectly in place: an upgraded backline; upgraded console and preamps; and the final piece of the audio jigsaw, the introduction of the new IEMs.
“It’s given us a really huge step up in our onstage experience,” he confirms.
So what about do’s and don’ts in terms of working monitors. Any tips for any budding Chopper in the making?
“Creating a great IEM mix is about understanding a bunch of different things. What happens to the audio when it leaves the desk is key; it gets squashed, transmitted, and then expanded again at the pack, so when you’re building a mix, gain structure is important, along with understanding where to place things in a mix for them to be both heard and perceived,” Chopper insists. “A simple thing like panning a BV or second guitar slightly further round can give more clarity without it being turned up; of course, EQ plays a part here, too. But always, always monitor from a pack, never from the headphone output on the desk, otherwise you really are not hearing what the band will ultimately hear. Again, with the Roxanne, the separation and clarity really gives us another level in the mixes onstage.”
And any do nots?
“I guess never presume anything,” he smiles
“You learn on the road that something can and will always break or not work at some point, no matter how careful you are, or how many times you check it. So have spares ready: packs, IEMs, not just a spare vocal mic. I use a couple of matrix mixes on the desk into two ‘spare’ mixes; this enables me to send anyone’s mix from stage to a totally new pack on a new frequency. So if we are having trouble during a show, you are killing two possible faults in one go. Sometimes it’s hard to know what is wrong when the artist’s signalling to you, so you need a fast fix.”
And finally, if you could change one thing about this industry, what would it be?
“I wish people would go back to buying records, and supporting the artists they
enjoy listening to,” Chopper says. Hear, hear! “Without an income, artists can’t create new product, especially new and emerging bands. I think the days are gone of a band who tours for 40 years, unfortunately; we seam to be in a disposable society where an artist’s shelf-life is measured in near months, sometimes.”
Food for thought, indeed. Keep an eye out for Chopper in the coming months, where he’ll be mixing for Harry Styles’ debut tour 2017/18.
Thanks to Headliner Magazine