I specialise in playing trumpet and flugelhorn, sometimes combined with cutting-edge electronics. This can range from standard pop horn section work through to a much more distinctive and unusual sound. I have a very high spec studio with carefully-chosen bits of gear I know well, meaning my work is high quality in every sense. Let's get to work!
I run Hackney Colliery Band, 'one of the greatest live bands that we have in this country' (BBC Radio 2), and have been a session player since 2005.
My work has encompassed pop horn sections (Kelis, Damon Albarn), theatre (MD and trumpet at Shakespeare's Globe) and more unusual electric trumpet work (Paul Epworth).
For the latter, I specialise in combining organic trumpet sound with harmonisers, real tape delays and bespoke electronic processing. This sound has been used extensively in my work as a composer and producer, encompassing everything from scoring modern TV noir to adding unique sounds to an electro punk record.
Through my work with Hackney Colliery Band and others, I am able to organise and arrange/produce bespoke horn sections of any size for additional cost.
I have a full studio set up, and as well as using arguably the best classic ribbon mic for brass (Coles 4038), I make extensive use of the Townsend Labs Sphere, which can model all of the classic mics to an extraordinary degree of accuracy, giving you a huge tonal range for your mix.
Please note that I have a separate listing for my work as a composer, producer and mixing engineer, but can combine these for your production if needed.
Send me a note through the contact button above.
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Interview with Steve Pretty
Q: Tell us about a project you worked on you are especially proud of and why. What was your role?
A: I think the thing I'm most proud of in recent times is the 2019 Hackney Colliery Band album 'Collaborations: Volume One'. We worked with some absolutely incredible musicians from all over the world to make this record, and I loved producing, co-writing and playing on it so much. And the sell out launch show at Barbican Hall, London was probably the thing I'm proudest of so far in my musical career. Guests galore, inspiring visuals, a choir... What a privilege!
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: Writing music for the 6th Hackney Colliery Band album, writing music for TV and other media and much else besides. Always lots of fun projects on the go!
Q: Is there anyone on SoundBetter you know and would recommend to your clients?
A: Yes, lots! Especially horn players - it's always easy for me to book a horn section of any size. I know a lot of horn players!
Q: Analog or digital and why?
A: Both! Both have great merits. I am a strong advocate of a hybrid studio, pairing classic analog outboard (perhaps my favourite is my Thermionic Culture Rooster preamp/EQ) with cutting-edge digital technology (again, the Townsend Labs Sphere modelling mic is so incredibly useful and well-designed).
Q: What's your 'promise' to your clients?
A: That I will always be approachable, friendly and fun to work with.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: I feel so privileged to be able to do what I love for a living. It's not always easy, but being a musician has brought me so many extraordinary experiences, joys and friendships.
Q: What questions do customers most commonly ask you? What's your answer?
A: 'Are you able to turn this around quickly?' Provided the project is relatively straightforward, my answer is almost always 'yes, within 24 hrs'.
Q: What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
A: 'It must be easy, it's only 3 buttons'!
Q: What questions do you ask prospective clients?
A: Tech specs for the session - bit rate, etc. Have you got stems, or just a track to play with? If the latter, please provide a click too, or at least a tempo if it's not variable. Will you be looking for multiple tracks from me i.e. trumpet 1, trumpet 2 parts?
Q: What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
A: Clear, concise instructions about what you're after can really speed up the process. Unless, that is, it's more of a creative contribution you're after, in which case it's helpful if we establish an honest relationship as quickly as possible - no need for walking on eggshells for either of us!
Q: If you were on a desert island and could take just 5 pieces of gear, what would they be?
A: My Monette trumpet and mouthpiece. My Fender Rhodes mk2 electric piano My UAD Apollo Twin interface. My Townsend Labs Sphere modelling microphone so that I could record anything and everything on the island! A fully kitted out MacBook Pro with all the UAD, Eventide and Soundtoys plugins.
Q: What was your career path? How long have you been doing this?
A: I have been a full time professional since 2005. I started my full-time musical career playing in touring theatre shows, and still enjoy working in theatre a great deal, most recently as MD at Shakespeare's Globe in London. Jazz was my first real passion, and continues to inspire perhaps the majority of my work, especially with my band Hackney Colliery Band, which has now been running for 11 years. I am front man and bandleader of HCB, and we've played shows all over the world, including to an audience of up to 1 billion people at the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. I have been fortunate enough to work with some utterly extraordinary musicians along the way. Perhaps the thing I love most about music is that there is always so much to learn from every musician I work with, so it truly feels like a lifetime vocation!
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: I like to make bold creative choices. That might mean that in the same session, on one tune I play introspective, moody, quiet, minimal phrases, followed by a blaring, aggressive, powerful solo run through all manner of effects on the next tune.
Q: Which artist would you like to work with and why?
A: Sufjan Stevens. I'm a huge fan of his creative vision as a musician and a composer.
Q: Can you share one music production tip?
A: My number 1 tip for horn production is for the players to develop good mic technique. That often means not getting too close to the mic, but it can also mean understanding how the proximity effect of dynamic and ribbon microphones can radically alter your performance if you lean in, especially when muted. This becomes even more important when running the horn signal into effects, as I often do.
Q: What type of music do you usually work on?
A: All sorts - jazz, rock, punk, R&B, hip hop, afrobeat, trad jazz, occasionally classical, film and TV music...
Q: What's your strongest skill?
A: As a professional musician of 20 years, it goes without saying that my playing is of the highest professional standard. But above all, I pride myself on being nice to work with. It's one of the things that I value most when booking musicians for my own projects, and I truly believe that having a collaborative, positive attitude has served me almost as well as my playing over the years.
Q: What do you bring to a song?
A: I bring an ear for detail, nuance and above all, feel. I'm always very happy to play straightforward trumpet lines, but I am happiest when I can work creatively with clients to help realise their vision for the track, especially if I can put my extensive experience of working with trumpet and electronics to use in their work.
Q: What's your typical work process?
A: I ask clients to send me their track, click, BPM settings etc. and then load these into my DAW of choice. For simple trumpet recordings, this tends to be UAD Luna, since it integrates seamlessly with my Apollo interfaces and sounds amazing. If sheet music is available, then sending either just the relevant parts and/or the score is of course great. However, I can also transcribe parts from MIDI or even voice (singing a part into your phone, perhaps) for an extra fee. I can also write my own horn parts for additional fees, and am very happy to improvise a solo or fills as necessary. I tend to prefer to work in my own time, but for an extra fee I am happy to have clients in on a session remotely via Zoom or similar. In normal times, I can turn sessions around within 24 hrs.
Q: Tell us about your studio setup.
A: I have a very high spec hybrid studio with key pieces of analog outboard paired with vintage and modern classic microphones including the astonishing Townsend Labs Sphere modelling microphone. I find this especially useful for my own composition and production work, as it allows me to record anything very quickly and easily, and to tweak settings, even after the fact. It's also great for pulling together multitrack horn section stuff as I can record using a different trumpet/mouthpiece setup as well as changing the mic model, giving an authentic section sound with all of the nuances that different equipment can bring. I am most fluent in Pro Tools, where I mix, and Ableton, where I sketch my own composition ideas, but increasingly use UAD Luna for simple, amazing-sounding recording, and Logic for composing to picture.
Q: What other musicians or music production professionals inspire you?
A: So many! I particularly admire the work of musicians who strive to push themselves out of their comfort zones and embrace change, whether by straddling genres, working with new technology or seeking unusual collaborators. I strive to do all three.
Q: Describe the most common type of work you do for your clients.
A: Trumpet and flugel horn sessions for pop, jazz, TV and film, usually recorded in my high-spec home studio.