Toronto, ON – March 2018… Derek Brin is living a producer’s dream. At his home base at Toronto’s Post Office Sound, he composes music for mixed media, television, film, and commercials by day, and in the evenings he produces pop/urban and Caribbean records. But the Toronto native, who also runs the Fierce Music Group, spends much of his time jetting back and forth to the Caribbean, developing artists and recording on location in hotels and resorts across the Virgin Islands, Barbados, Anguilla, Cuba, and other tropical islands.
Like most dream jobs, Brin’s is built on decades of hard work. He began his music career as a keyboard player and evolved into writing and eventually producing, spending years in Los Angeles programming for legendary songwriter Diane Warren and super-producer Guy Roche; his credits with them include the first Pokémon soundtrack.
Increasingly, Brin began to take on location recording work, bringing along racks of outboard gear wherever he went. “We used to do songwriting camps in L.A. and different places for the record labels, and for Canadian Idol,” he says. “The vibe was nice, and we wanted to make those recordings real, because I’m tracking and mixing on the go.”
These days, when Brin records in the Caribbean, where emerging artists operate on very limited budgets, he travels ultra-light, opting for a minimalist setup based around a Manley Reference C cardioid tube mic: “My mobile rig started as four huge Clydesdale racks custom made to slide into my truck; now I basically bring my laptop, interface, and a Reference C and a mic shield. And a number of hard drives.”
A majority of Brin’s location work is recording vocals, and as he pared down his portable studio, he found himself gravitating toward the Reference C, “just because of the clarity,” making a few mods to tailor its sound to his taste: “Out of the factory, it comes out sounding amazing,” he says. “I went through the process of experimenting with a bunch of different tubes; I did some homework and I found out the original Reference C came out with a 6072 tube, and I checked that out,” he explains, adding that he doesn’t want to give away too many secrets about his process but he’s definitely thrilled with the end result: “My vocals sit nice and bright and up front in the mix, and that's what I really wanted. To me, the top end is smooth and airy, with that Manley warm tonality that I really like.”
Brin’s back-to-basics rig supports his no-nonsense production approach on location. “When you're developing an artist that just has an amazing talent but maybe not the resources to get into a proper studio, we say, "Okay, let's just go. We can't get into a studio, but we can all rent a room and knock it out.”
When we caught up with Brin, he was about to embark on just such a project, writing and recording in Cuba with Fierce artists Los Kabbiociles. “For all the songs, this is the mic that we use,” he says. “I have a three-foot mic stand and I set it up on the table with the mic reflector and knock out our records in the hotel room.”
Ultimately, the Manley Reference C provides a sonic constant that lets Brin keep his rig lean and mean no matter where his recording projects take him. “I love great gear, and I’m a gear snob,” he says, “but I'm also West Indian, and we know how to make things work with what's around us. That's my philosophy. I'll go to Cuba and I'll put up a microphone in a bedroom to record a record. But I'll put up a $2,700 microphone. I take it with me everywhere I go.”