"The son of the golden ears"
Fabrice Chantôme is a French audio engineer with a long experience of sound editing and mixing for TV. In his youth he was one of the very first user of the proprietary hard disk audio editing system Ams Neve Audio file at the end of the 80’s of which he became an expert. He has mixed classical music shows, popular adventure games such as Fort Boyard and Koh Lanta shot on location, some Disney Channel originals and a huge number of documentary films, talk shows and musical TV shows including the late French rock idol Johnny Halliday. Now he also does more “music only” projects on a wide variety of styles.
From jazz to blues and rock, classical piano recital, reggae and hip-hop, Fabrice is always happy to use his demanding craftman approach whatever the genre, in order to showcase the emotional aspect of the music. He is now working regularly with Caribbean rising star Lycinaïs Jean on her live and studio recordings and her latest album “Mèche reb’l” has been mixed using his favorite Babelson plugins, Becomp, C-78, H.L.S drive and FDN EQs.
Fabrice says: “These tools are a true revelation for me! They are easy to use, highly musical and have their own personality. I achieved results “In the box” with Babelson plugins I would not think would be possible. The latest addition to my toolbox is multiband compressor I-LA. I immediately fell in love with it and now I’m using it on all my mixing and mastering sessions“.
How did you start producing and what gave you the motivation to stay with it?
It was just a question of opportunities, meeting the right people at the right time. As I started working for TV and cinema, I met directors, score composers and they enjoyed the time we spent together at the re-recording stage… So they asked me to work on music only projects and introduced me to other musicians. But in the end, as music is so important in my life, I chose to collaborate with artists only when I enjoy their music or them, as human beings. Telling stories, creating emotions through music and sound is my passion. Making people emotional when they listen to a song or a soundtrack I’ve mixed is a wonderful reward. That motivates me every day.
What other producers, songwriters and/or artists do you see as your primary inspirations?
Legendary engineer Bruce Swedien has been my main inspiration since my youth. He was a true Master of the stereo space choosing the right reverbs and delays in order to make each part of the arrangement perfectly discernible. His use of true stereo recordings and early reflections is remarkable. So is his clever preservation of transients and dynamic in the music. He used to say with his deep low voice “compression is for kids!”. Otherwise, Prince is THE artist that changed my life when I was a teenager and I realize now what a musical genius he was. Listening to his huge discography taught me that the right attitude was more important than technical perfection.
How do you approach the sensitive task of discussing changes and rearrangements with artists?
Not always easily… because I’m giving so much personal involvement in every project. I always challenge myself to make it enjoyable when I’ll listen to it later and have no regrets. I try not to miss anything wrong and I’m proposing my vision of the sound for the track, based on the rough mix I’ve received and the talk I had with the artist. But in the end I don’t have the final cut, and that’s normal because it’s not my name on the cover of the record. Like in all human relationships, the form of the critiques is essential. I’m perfectly OK if somebody tells me that he had imagined something different if he (or she) asks kindly… especially if this serves the artistic aspect of the song. I also admire artists like Lycinaïs Jean who REALLY can listen. You can be sure that if she asks for tiny level or effects adjustments, 98% of the time the final product will sound better.
What is the one thing every song must have for it to be solid?
A beautiful melody. Not always sophisticated but elegant and timeless.
What other producers, songwriters and/or artists do you see as your primary inspirations?
On the British side, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush for their creativity and sense of innovation. In the USA, Quincy Jones of course, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the duet who made Janet Jackson shine and New Orleans prodigy Harry Connick Jr. He recorded his first album at 11! He can sing (almost) like Sinatra, he can play the piano, write big-band or strings arrangements and conduct the orchestra Live and in the studio. He can dance, he is a good actor…What a showman!
I have to mention the great Al Schmitt… like Bruce Swedien he deserves the title of “Master”. Many of his Diana Krall albums are absolute reference for me.
Can you describe, briefly, how the two of you work together on a musical project?
If you are talking about my son Joseph and I, I think we complement each other very well. He is a young but talented and hard worker multi instruments player and arranger. He has a more “musician” approach than me. He can say that sometimes, when a mix is not completely satisfying it might be because of a crowdie arrangement. So he will help me to make space for everything. On some big projects like a Live album we did last year he did all the tedious editing, subtle Melodyne corrections, additional percussions and bass recordings. He literally saved my life on this one! Many times now, we are asked to improve an existing song, make it more attractive and exciting. Our team works very well for this. Joseph will add some parts with an already great sound… I will premix this so when he comes back he will be able to hear better the strong and weak points of the song and improve it again. We do the final mix together and that’s really cool to share this.
What is the first thing you listen for when listening to a new recording?
Spectral balance, dynamic and stereo image.
Do you have a favorite musical project that you've worked on?
Lycinaïs Jean “Mèche reb’l” album because it was done over a year and we learned so much. We really improved our skills months after months and we also learned a lot about it each other. It’s good to be part of the family of such a talented artist and beautiful human being.
How did you build contacts and/or clients?
It’s essentially “word of mouth”. But of course when we had a hit single like “Au nom de l’amour” on summer 2020 that Lycinaïs wrote with an Haitian producer, it brought me many projects by Caribbean artists. And that’s cool because I’m half French, half Italian, I live in Paris, but I’ve got quite a Caribbean connection now! Music has no frontiers and unites people whatever their color or beliefs.
Is there an artist you want to work with that you have not yet had the opportunity to work with?
Prince but it won’t happen… No seriously, the new generation greatest artists like Jacob Collier or Janelle Monae already have very qualified people around them… so I’ll be very happy to help someone talented but unknown and make it happen for him (or her).
Do you have advice for young people who want to become a music producers?
Ask yourself if you could live without it. If yes, choose the other way because this one is really tough. DEDICATION is the key word.
What do you like to do for fun outside of working on music?
I truly love photography. I can walk anywhere and feel the need to take pictures because of a lovely light or beautiful shades. I love the graphic aspect of it.
If there was one word you could use to explain your experience so far while working as a music producer, what would it be?
Where there any past times you endure the most and why?
In 2001 I was a permanent mixing engineer in a Parisian re-recording mixing studio. Just a couple of days before summer holidays I was informed that my salary would not be paid and that the company would go bankrupt. As a legal battle would occur I could not get any money or work somewhere else for 6 months. I had a family with 3 children…
Have you ever embarrassed yourself? If so, how did you overcome the incident?
Probably many times when I was younger but my brains decided to discard these events!
There are times in a career when life isn’t going your way, how do you keep your mind on your work without losing focus?
I put myself in a mental bubble, like a shelter or a parallel universe.
Have there ever been a time where you haven’t gotten your work done on time? If so,how did you deal with it?
If this was going to happen I would not sleep and work till it’s done.
What goals did you have set before you started your career?
Absolutely no goals… I did not know where I was going! I only know that music and sound was essential to me.
What about Babelson Audio?
These tools literally changed my life! They brought attitude, excitement and fun into “In the box”mixing. I think that now I own 17 Babelson plugins and a year after my first purchase I’m still learning about each comp or Eq personality and behavior… though I think I know them quite well. It’s incredible what you can accomplish with just a few parameters…Within a few seconds I can feel this “wow factor” that makes me and my clients happy!