Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, producer/engineer Chris Coady is known for bringing his world-class, big-studio chops to the world of indie music where he quickly raised the bar for what was sonically possible, working with iconic artists like Beach House, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV On The Radio and Slowdive, to name a few.

Chris now works out of his own studio in Los Angeles, and he sat down with us recently to talk about his career. Read on to find out more about his current studio setup, his early experiences with Vintage King, how he has adapted to the changing industry, and what he is looking forward to in his musical journey.

Tell us about setting up your own studio in LA–what was your goal for it?

Before I was here, I was at Sunset Sound in Hollywood, which is a great studio but the rent was very high and I found myself making records that I wasn't aesthetically moved by for the sake of just staying at the studio; there was a point where I was like, “Okay, I can pay the rent if I do these three records.” Then my manager, Kelle, said to me, “All of my other clients work out of houses–why don't you move all your gear into a house and do it like that?” I had worked hard to be at Sunset, I felt proud of that, and I really wanted to hang on to that address, so at first it seemed that I was downsizing, but the plan was really just to save money and get to a place where I can be more creative. 

I moved right in the middle of a project and I knew that all of the gear from my room at Sunset Sound could be picked up and dropped into another room, but I wasn't sure if the electricity coming out of the walls was going to be so different that maybe the mixes would sound different if I did a recall or the vocals would sound different, so I was nervous. 

Luckily I moved everything into this house, set it all up, recalled the mix, hit play, matched and compared it to the original, and it sounded exactly the same, which was a huge relief. Then, once COVID happened, which was only a month or two later, I felt like the luckiest person in the world being here instead of in Hollywood, where the rent is high and there are so many more people. There was a tragedy going on, but I was sort of in this tranquil studio and things were quite peaceful here. 

To get things going quickly, I threw all the equipment into an untreated control room–I've got two control rooms here, both of which are untreated–which was a risk because I invested a lot into room treatment at Sunset, getting it dialed in exactly right. Right off the bat, the mixes started feeling like they sounded better here; I was doing mixes that I felt were fuller-sounding. One thing that helped a lot was the Trinnov room tuning system, which really, really fixed the issues of this untreated room. 

So the initial goal was to save money and then it just kind of became my preferred place to work after I got over feeling like I was losing something by leaving a big Hollywood studio. Once I got set up here, I felt really good about it and I still do.

Photos by Boshra AlSaadi

You’ve worked with some great artists–is there something that stands out for you or is particularly memorable for you?

I'm really proud of all of it. Most of the time, when I'm done with an album, I never feel the need to listen to it ever again, but there's the occasional artist where I do go back and listen to it like music. I don't know if it's just something about the music, or maybe there was less baggage with the projects at the end when we said goodbye.

I love the first Porches album I worked on; I recently revisited the TV On The Radio records and was really into those, especially Dear Science which I think was the best thing we did together as a creative group; Slowdive is also a good one, and there’s a Hooray for Earth album called Racy which I'm really proud of. I really love them all and I'm incredibly proud of them; I don't feel like I have any favorites but there are some that I go back to and listen to as music without thinking about how it was made. 

How did you first become aware of Vintage King and what was your first experience working with us?

I think I first became aware of Vintage King when I was working at Quad Studios in New York with Michael Brauer. I think Mike Nehra supplied Michael with a lot of his gear and they also seemed to have a friendship, so Mike would come by and that's the first time I remember hearing about Vintage King.

When I first called Vintage King, the guy who answered the phone was Ryan McGuire–a lot of the gear that I've got here was bought through Ryan. He’s not really doing sales anymore–he’s leveled up in the company–so I don't work with him as much now, but Vintage King is the best place to go for your equipment. If I need any kind of thing, large or small, or I want to hear some speakers or something, I just drive over there and check it out.

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear that you have purchased from Vintage King? 

This is a little bit of a boring example, but probably my favorite thing that I bought recently is the Ethercon 3D measurement microphone for the Trinnov system, to tune this room, which was a big upgrade. It was a simple purchase, it’s not like buying a console, but it's a thing that made a bigger difference in my life than buying a console.

I bought four API 550s from Vintage King that were all consecutive serial numbers and that was really nice; my mix bus chain–which has changed a lot over the years–but for a while, I was mixing through the Shadow Hills Equinox and I got that from Vintage King. I don't have that anymore; I was thinking about getting it back, though, to have it as an option. 

Then there’s the Manley Vari MU, which is something I've used a lot over the years; the Fatso, my Lavry converters, the PMCs, and I think my Pro Tools system came from Vintage King as well–let me look around the studio…I feel like most of this stuff came from Vintage King.

How has Vintage King helped you with gear selection, purchasing, and servicing in the past?

If you want gear restored, sending something to Vintage King is worth it; if you want it repaired perfectly, it's definitely where you would go. I remember sending some DBXs there and they came back immaculately fixed. There are people around town that'll fix something and get it working but it seems like when stuff goes to Vintage King, it's more like getting the gear restored to its original condition.  

What sets Vintage King apart from other pro audio gear companies?

In the beginning, there used to be these other pro audio companies that were around at the same time as Vintage King, but they’re not around anymore. Those companies would always give me the runaround. I'd buy something and then they’d say, “Now the price is different”, and I had already paid! Or I’d be like, “Why haven't I got the thing? I paid for it three months ago.” I feel like Vintage King was always much more professional. 

I remember talking to Ryan McGuire and telling him I was thinking about changing my gear up, and he said, “Oh, I think what you've got is better than that. I think you should stay with what you've got for now.” He would give me advice not to buy stuff, which is probably why he went up the ranks there; I think it's because he was so good with that kind of stuff and also had an innate understanding of how the gear would work in a studio–he had his own studio where things were tried out. Sometimes he'd tell me “That's actually a bad product, don't get it.” I won't say what he said was a bad product, but it was. [Laughs] So there is a very high level of customer service. 

Also, they saw a value in good golden-age recording gear before the rest of the world did and they kind of got in. There was a period of time when, if you wanted a good Fairchild, you called Mike or Andrew Nehra. I remember Michael Brauer would call and say he was on the lookout for a pair of compressors that were unobtainable. Mike would call back a couple of months later and say, “Hey, I found them, here they are.” That's how the company was started, I think, with a lot of producers asking them to find stuff for them and they would.

And I think that kind of stuff trickles down–maybe the company was made for the right reasons; it’s kind of like when you're at a restaurant and everyone is nice, you're like, “Oh, they must have a nice boss. This must be a nice place to work.”

How has the industry changed since you first opened your doors and how has your studio adapted to those changes?

I'm definitely busier now than I've ever been, which I'm really grateful for. The workflow has changed. Everyone expects an infinite amount of recalls and the pace at which the artist wants to pull up a song has changed–being able to pull up a song in an hour is no longer acceptable, you need to pull up the song in 10 seconds. My job has switched from being able to get a song done on a console in one day, to having a recall session with an artist and being able to pull up 13 songs in one sitting and make changes on them. Then we put them all on Dropbox, they listen, write new notes, come back, and that's what mixing has become.

I do the hybrid thing so I can mix analog on a console–I have a small Neve console here and I have it calibrated so when I put up a Pro Tools session, all the levels are the same as where they were. So my whole system of mixing is now designed to get the best possible sound and to be able to open up a song quickly. The EQs stay flat–I do all the EQing on the computer. I'm constantly testing plug-ins to find out what is closest to the real thing and I'll tell you, the plug-ins that look like the Neve are often not the best for the job; some of the plug-ins that I've ended up relying on are the ones with the ugliest graphic user interface. [Laughs] But they sounded great.

Do I think there's something lacking in this way versus the old way? Not really. I mean, it was definitely more glorious–going into work and sitting down in front of a giant, million-dollar console and making that song happen was a good feeling and I did it thousands of times. Then things became more digital and Pro Tools came around and at first I was like, “Are we going to lose the sound quality? Is it going to sound worse?”

It's kind of like when you watch a show now on HBO that’s filmed entirely digital but it looks absolutely amazing? There was an awkward period where, if you wanted a movie to look good, you'd shoot it on film, and only soap operas or talk shows were made with digital video. I still love the way film looks, but sometimes I'll be watching something on HBO or a new movie–something that was filmed entirely on digital–and they make it look so good. I think the same has happened with Pro Tools, where you can get mixes out of Pro Tools that you just never could have out of tape and a console. So, while I sometimes miss the old days of sitting in front of the console and how much fun it was, I think the mixes sound a little better now. That's my opinion.

Also, there seems to be more music, but the value of music is lower–you can't make as much money with music as you used to be able to. Of course, we’re talking about your average record here; there are always those top 1% artists that do really well. When I started out, people were still buying CDs, you would make a record and that record would pay for itself and then some, even if it was an average record, or an indie record–they all paid themselves back and now it seems like less do, but the passion for making records is still there.

Looking back, what are you most proud of or excited about in terms of your history?

I’m probably most proud of the friends I've made along the way and the people I've met–I work with some of the most interesting, funny, intelligent people… That's really the thing I'm most proud of, the friendships I've made along the way.

I’m also really proud that I've been able to keep this going for as long as I have–there was a period of time where I felt like maybe I wanted to figure out something else to do in life and not just do the same job forever–I started out with this when I was a teenager, so I really haven't done much else–but around the time that I moved into this house and set up this new studio, I kind of fell in love with the job all over again.

I feel very, very grateful that I get to keep doing it and also, I love the new guard–the young artists and the young producers that I've been meeting and working with who are all around 18 and 20 years old. They're brilliant, they have all these new ideas and it's really exciting. So now my contribution is helping these people with these new ideas.

On the rare occasion that I do go back and listen to some of the music I’ve worked on, I feel like, “Wow, I can't believe that I got to be a part of something like this.” A lot of times I don't even remember making it! I mean, I know I did it but it's so long ago and it's such a blur that I've started to forget some of the details. [Laughs]

What are your plans for the future of your studio?

I'm going to get a proper patchbay made by a dear friend of mine, David Tolomei, who is really amazing at a lot of things, but one of his strengths is studio infrastructure; so he's remaking my whole patchbay and it seems like a boring thing to be excited about but once everything is fully accessible on a patchbay, that means that I can get really creative with effects and patching.

A good buddy of mine Stuart White has been experimenting with the Neumann monitors. I've been on PMCs now for about eight years and I know them very well but just to change things up and keep it interesting, I was thinking about getting some Neumanns. I also want to try out some different digital-to-analog converters and some different headphone amps, so that's up next.

Want to learn more about Chris Coady? Check out our 20 Questions interview!

Cody AngelIf you’re interested in purchasing gear for your studio contact a Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 866.644.0160.