I booked the SSL Studio for both Friday and Saturday in order to track five songs for the local rock band Audacity. Their live performance at the House of Blues for Tri-C’s High School Rock Off caught my attention, and after attending their subsequent recording session with Jim Stewart, I offered them recording time in Studio A as part of my Capstone.
Attending the Stewart session proved to be invaluable, as I was able to observe how they function best in the studio. This observation led me to make the decision to track the drums and bass live at the same time, because Holden (drums) and Garrett can really lock in the groove together. I walked around the room while striking a floor tom, in order to find the best sounding spot in the room in which to place the drum kit. I found a spot about 6 feet in front of the vintage keyboard room that yielded deeper low mid resonances, and punchier attack than any place in the room. I chose that spot to place the kick drum, and then assembled the kit around it. For this session, I used the school’s Pearl drum kit, however I had Holden bring a couple of his snare drums, and I chose to use his as it was the best sounding.
The microphone and preamp choices I made are as follows:
As the Yamaha subkick was not available, I improvised by using the Dr. Z amplifier’s Celestion speaker as a makeshift subkick transducer. A key feature of the Dr. Z is that the speaker is not hard-wired to the amplifier’s output, but rather it employs a 1/4″ ts jack for connectivity. This is extremely useful in this situation, as I plugged the 1/4″ ts angled male jack directly into a Countryman active DI box. The unavailability of the Yamaha subkick actually worked to my advantage, as it is only a 6″ NS-10 driver, and the Celestion speaker is double that diameter (12″), which gives it the ability to capture even lower frequency information in the audible spectrum. The Audix D6 was placed three inches inside the kick drum’s port, on axis with the shell of the drum, in order to capture the sound of the shell. The Shure SM57 was placed inside the drum port, one inch from the beater, directly on axis with the beater in order to capture the attack of the kick drum.
The snare was miked with a top/bottom combination, and a 57 was placed two inches above the rim, angled at 75 degrees to the plane of the batter head, with the center of the capsule directly above the edge of the drum hoop. Under the snare drum, a small diaphragm electret condenser (Audio Technica 4041) was placed two inches under the snares, 90 degrees perpendicular to the snare head. All toms were miked with Sennheiser MD421 large diaphragm dynamic mics, all angled 75 degrees to the batter heads, two inches above the heads, and one inch inside the hoop. Two overhead pairs were utilized in two different configurations. A spaced AB pair of Coles 4038 ribbons were placed 4 feet above the snare, with the left side above the hihats, and the right side above the ride cymbal. A coincident XY pair of Neumann KM184 small diaphragm condensers were positioned 4 feet directly above the middle of the kit using a Shure stereo bar, such that each mic was 45 degrees to the vertical plane that bifurcates the drum kit. A pair of DPA 4006 small diaphragm omnidirectional condenser mics were placed at the south wall of the studio, 4 feet above the floor, approximately 25 feet from the center of the kick drum. The pair were 12 feet apart, and arranged in a spaced AB configuration.
Photographic evidence follows:
The bass was tracked using a direct signal from a Countryman DI box, and was amplified to line level via the fourth channel of the Vintech 473 preamp unit. The first three channels of the Vintech 473 were used for the subkick, kick D6 and kick 57, respectively. The four API 512c lunchbox discrete preamplifiers were used for the snare top and bottom, and the Coles overhead pair. I chose the API preamps for the snare and overheads because I found that their transient response is the most ideal for the percussive elements that drive the tunes. Focusrite’s four channel Red preamp was used for the Neumann XY overhead pair and the DPA 4006 room pair. The channel strips of the SSL Duality console were used for the toms and hihat mics. The Steinway piano was used for three of the songs, and was miked with a spaced AB pair of Neumann U87s. The pair were 6 inches above the soundboard and 18 inches apart, parallel to the diagonal seam of the soundboard. The pair’s signals were brough to line level via the API 512c preamps, and then routed into Pro Tools via interface I/O channels 18 and 19. There were songs that required organ parts, so I felt that the best sounding organ in my arsenal at the time was the Hammond B3 with Leslie speaker combination. The Leslie was miked with an Electrovoice RE20 on the bottom, and a pair of Royer R121 ribbons on the top. A ribbon was placed on each side of the cabinet, as illustrated in the photograph below:
A mono DPA room mic was captured through the Focusrite Red pre, and the other three mics were routed to the Vintech 473 preamplifiers.
The guitars were tracked next, utilizing the Marshall JCM half stack miked with a combination of a 57 and a 121, with each mic on a different bottom celestion speaker. The mics were placed the same distance from each speaker as to prevent phase differentials and comb filtering between the pair, and were each 2 inches offset from the center dustcap of each speaker. The DI signal was captured as well, in case future re-amping was desired. All three signals were routed through API 512c preamps. Most rhythm parts were double tracked, and a handful were quad tracked, in order to provide a fullness to the mix at the sides.
Finally, the vocals were ready to be tracked, so a small booth was constructed by means of gobos. The double carpet gobo was placed directly behind the mic, as to absorb sound and prevent reflections from entering the mic. A Neumann U87 was the origin of a signal chain that included an API 512c preamp on its way into the DAW. Two 6′ X 12′ carpets were placed on the floor to further cut down any reflections, and the entire setup was placed under the absorptive overhang directly in front of the large window between the control room and the live room. This placement was chosen for two reasons, the first being that the overhang would absorb ceiling reflections, and of course the other reason was the necessity to have a sight line between the producer/engineer and the vocal talent.
Audacity has both a male and female vocalist (that are actually siblings, Garrett and Robin Tresch), and they have written some unique counter point melodies and a few awesome harmonies. Neither of them had ever recorded vocal doubles, and after I explained to them what the process was, they were both naturals at the technique! All of the musicians in this band have great musical chops, therefore I was able to track everything during a two day wrap-around session (all day Friday, 9 am to 10 pm, and Saturday 9 am to 4 pm). I knew that when I booked the time, we would be able to get everything tracked for a five song EP, and I based this calculation again off of my evaluation of their proficiency during the Jim Stewart session. The only thing we didn’t have time for was the guitar solos, which I will be booking a four hour block for in the near future. I’m planning on using the Dr. Z in order to get a different tone, to give the solos more separation from the rhythm tracks.