Another productive Sunday afternoon recording with DOLOR at Tony's place, tracking vocals and solo guitar parts. Todd brought a Fender Deluxe Reverb amp to use on the solo for "American Life". We wanted a real southern blues sound for the solo. Todd played his modified Telecaster with no pedals and the amp turned up to 10, and the tone worked great in the track. I placed a Shure SM57 in front of the grill and my Altec 693 Ribbon behind the open-back cab; both pre-amp'd with the Vintech Dual 72. Todd’s solo work was awesome. Then, for the intro we tried the same sound but it wasn't quite distinctive enough on it's own, we wanted something more unique. Todd pulled out this little 9-volt powered "Smokey Amp", a practice-amp housed in a cigarette box. It's 2" speaker sounded pretty narley, but it also had a speaker output. I was amazed to find out that this thing could actually drive a 4x12 cab! A surprisingly loud 0.5-watt output actually sounded really good!!! I placed both the SM57 and the Altec Ribbon in front of Todd's 4x12 Sunn cab and we tweaked the levels from the two microphones to taste. A couple of takes through and a few more tweaks and we had what we were looking for. I was totally amazed by the Smokey Amp. Visit their website: www.smokeyamps.com. After the guitar over-dubs were done we took a break to eat, then Mike Hamel arrived. We set up the AKG 414 and makeshift vocal booth and Mike did a very strong performance on the vocals for the same song, "American Life". That's three "in the can" and three to go.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Sunday, November 5, 2006
Sunday I brought my iBook / Mbox rig over to Tony's house to track vocals with Mike Hamel of DOLOR. I had recently gotten my iBook back from repair. As it turns out my computer's problems qualified it for Apple's "iBook Logic Board Repair Extension Program" and so Apple fixed it for free. It was nice not to have to lug a big CPU and monitors for a change. I did haul over a few Auralex acoustic panels to create a suitable vocal booth. Russ and I propped them up in a corner of the living room, which was already a nice soft acoustic space to work in. I set up the computer in the dining room again, along with my Presonus Eureka channel strip, which I used to pre-amp and compressed the signal from the AKG 414 Mike sang through. We all monitored through headphones. Mike belted out excellent takes of two songs, "Deadened" and "Live Or Die". Good work Mike! And kudos to Chris Bittner of APPLEHEAD for telling me about Apple's repair extention program!
Saturday, October 28, 2006
This weekend I recorded CHAOS at LEOPARD STUDIO in Stone Ridge NY. CHAOS recorded six original songs and one cover, tracking all the basic rhythm tracks, drums, bass, guitars and leads. This session was the bands second studio project with me. The last session was almost exactly one year ago, at The Barn in Cold Spring. That session at The Barn was basically a live recording. This time we did layered tracking; with Brittany recording all of her drum parts first while they rest of the band played scratch tracks direct through the board. Then we mic'd up each amp one at a time and over-dubbed all the bass and guitar parts. All the members of CHAOS were well rehearsed and did excellent work. As always it was a pleasure to be working at LEOPARD because the studio is well equipped, the vibe is really laid back and owner Jimmy Lonesome Goodman is always such a pleasant host.
Jimmy spent Saturday morning helping me get the rather extensive drum mic-ing set up. We used two Sennheiser MD-421s in the two kick drums, and those ran through my new Vintech Dual 72 pre-amps and then were each compressed with DBX-160As. The snare drum was mic'd with an SM-57, which we tracked through Jimmy's Avalon 737 with compression and some EQ. We put SM-57s on all six of the toms, summing them through the Soundcraft mixing console and then routing them to a stereo track via an Avalon 747, also with some compression and EQ. On the high-hat I used an SM-81 through a channel of API 312, and I used a pair of Rode NTK Tube Condenser Mics through API 312s for the overheads. I also used Jimmy's U47 through an API 312 pre-amp for the room mic. For the boys tracking direct I set up my Line-6 POD and Jimmy's MXR Distortion Pedal for guitarists Chris and Joe, while Bassist Carl played direct through my Presonus Eureka.
Having returned the Royer R-121 Ribbon back to Alto Music, I decided to try out one of my old Altec 639 "Birdcage" mics on the guitar cabs. To my delight the Altec sounded really good and I ended up using it for the bulk of the guitar sounds, blending it with an SM-57 and MD-421 in various amounts, mostly favoring the Altec and Sennheiser. I also used the Altec to mic up Jimmy's Ampeg B-15 bass amp, which we used not for bass but for clean guitar tracks, all of which we double-tracked. For Carl's Bass amp I used an Electrovoice ND-868 on the bottom cab, a Sennheiser MD-421 on the top, pre-amplified through the Vintech 72 and DBX-160As, and he also ran direct through the Avalon 737. I blended the mic combinations through aux channels in ProTools so each mic combo only used one track. Over all the session ran really well and we achieved all our objectives for the weekend. We plan to return to Leopard in a few weeks for another round of basic tracking.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Sunday afternoon I was back at Tony's house to track guitars with DOLOR rhythm guitarist Mike Duffy. Because his amp head, a Peavey 5150, is notoriously noisy we borrowed a Mesa Boogie F-50 single 12 combo-amp from Alto. Patched through Mike's Mesa 4x12 cab it had that thick Mesa Boogie crunch tone which complimented Todd's more mid-range tone very nicely. The amp also provided excellent clean and slightly over-driven tones, variations of which we dialed in to taste for each of the songs. Mike Duffy's "crunch" parts were tracked first, which really filled out the over-all tone of the basic rhythm guitar parts. "Clean" parts were over-dubbed next. Mike played all his parts on his Paul Reed Smith guitar.
My microphone set-up was the same as the previous guitar tracking session, with a Shure SM-57 and Sennheiser MD-421 through Vintech 1272s and that lovely Royer R121 through the Presonus Eureka. This time, however, we opted for the Sennheiser MD-421 and Royer R121 combination because the Sennheiser sounded much thicker than the Shure 57. My placement was different too, with the 421 placed off-axis and the Royer a few feet back from the cab. I stuck with this placement throughout the session.
After Mike Duffy was done with his parts Mike Hamel stepped in to play all the guitar parts for the song "Live Or Die" which included an over-driven rhythm part, which we doubled, and acoustic guitar which we double-tracked with both 6-string and 12-string guitars. With all the instrumentation done we'll be on to Mike Hamel's vocal tracks next.
Monday, October 16, 2006
We actually had considered using the scratch tracks that lead vocalist and bass player Mike Hamel had laid down in pre-production because the takes were so solid. Mike had tracked direct through a Focusrite Twin Track, which sounded real good, but I wanted that tube amp sound. Instead of Re-amping we decided to re-cut the parts with both his amp and the Focusrite as DI. We lugged his amp upstairs and set it up in the jam room where we had recorded guitars. As soon as we plugged in his bass I knew there was a problem. Even at a lower volume the low frequencies from the cab caused a rattle throughout the room, mostly from the baseboard heating system. I placed an Electrovoice RE-20 right in front of the cab and hoped that the rattling wouldn't get picked up but it did. So into a closet full of cloths went the amp. We put a foam mattress liner in front of the bi-fold door, closed the door and fired it up. The rig sounded great in there. Mike played his Warwick bass through the amp and DI to separate tracks, and the blend sounded huge. He cut his tracks for all six songs in just a few hours. Next week we'll do another Guitar tracking day with guitarist Mike Duffy.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
On Saturday I went to where DOLOR rehearses, at their friend Tony's house, to do guitar-tracking overdubs with lead guitarist Todd Mihan. We set up our makeshift control room in the dining area downstairs and ran a snake upstairs to the "jam room". The ProTools rig is my old Mac G3 "blue & white" and Digidesign 001 interface. I brought 2 computer monitors so I could view mix and edit windows simultaneously. We monitored audio through headphones, and some M-Audio BX5s that Todd brought . For mic preamps Todd brought his Vintech Neve 1272 (I've got to get me one of these!) and I brought my Presonus Eureka, and Rolls RP-220 Tube Preamp. I also brought two DBX 160A compressors. Todd brought several guitars including his favorite, a modified Fender Telecaster, his Sunn guitar amp and a Line-6 POD. I had asked him to bring the POD because I wanted to use it's sound to blend with the sound from the amp.
Upstairs in the jam room we positioned the Sunn amp and 4x12 cab in a corner of the room near the door, and as far from the drum kit as possible. We covered the drums with blankets to keep their sympathetic vibration to a minimum. In front of the cab I set up three microphones, a Sennheiser MD-421, a Shure SM-57 and the Royer R121 that I still have on loan from Alto Music. The two dynamic mics, 421 & 57, were positioned right on the grill and patched through the Vintech 1272 mic preamps and then compressed with the DBX 160As. The Royer was patched through the Presonus Eureka with some mild compression and no EQ. I tried several placements of the Royer ribbon mic before finally arriving at a close mic placement, which I had read about on the Royer Labs web site. This type of placement has been used by producer/engineer Ross Hogarth for heavy guitars, and uses the Royer for the "meat" of the sound and then blends the dynamic mics for variation "to taste". We ended up using very little of the Sennheiser, because Todd said he "wasn't feeling" that one. The Shure SM-57 was cranked for lead parts to give them a bit more bite and gain. I used Aux input channels in ProTools to sum the mic signals along with the signal from the Line-6 POD and this blend produced an aggressive and meaty crunch guitar sound.
Once we started tracking guitars we discovered a strange problem. Each time Todd did a stop/mute type part there was a strange ringing sound that lingered after the mute. At first I thought it was something vibrating sympathetically in the room, but after going up there to listen to the amp sound in the room we determined that it wasn't anything in the room, it was indeed coming from the guitar. We wondered if it could be caused by the mirrored pick-guard on Todd's Telecaster, but that wasn't the culprit either. Finally we figured out that the strings between the nut and the tuning pegs were causing the ringing. A paper towel stuffed under the strings on the headstock kept the ringing under control. Todd proceeded to knock out all his rhythm guitar crunch tracks and all of his leads, tracking both the Telecaster and Les Paul for rhythm parts and mostly playing the Les Paul for lead parts.
Sunday, October 8, 2006
I began a recording project this weekend with a band called DOLOR. I've known these guys for a while now and we've been discussing doing a project together for almost a year. Our discussions began with the idea that I might mix down some songs they had already recorded at a small studio in Brooklyn. I listened to the tracks and agreed that they needed a proper mix. Unfortunately the raw tracks were not accessible due to some contractual agreements. After months of negotiations they finally received the masters, but by this time they had decided they would prefer to start fresh, since they had some new material and were not completely happy with the tracks they had done in Brooklyn. So we tossed around dates and locations for another few months before finally deciding to begin the project with a drum tracking session at APPLEHEAD. The weekend session there yielded fantastic results, and we tracked the drums for six songs.
We arrived at APPLEHEAD with some pre-production scratch and click tracks, which Mike Hamel, the lead vocalist and bass player, had pre-recorded at home. Drummer Russ Scavelli set up his drums in the main tracking room, which is a glorious acoustic space, and his kit sounded great in that room. Engineer Chris Bittner and I set up mics around the kit and room. As usual I focused first on getting a good room sound and after experimenting with some mic placements I decided to go with my standard "X-Y" in the center of the room. At Chris's recommendation we used 2 of the studio's Geffel UM70s, which I set to the cardioids pattern. I have found that this type of placement always gives me a really nice live stereo image of the recording space. We also placed a FET-47 in the hallway outside the main tracking room as an extra ambient mic and ran that through a Tube-Tech CL1A compressor. All these were pre-amped with the studio's API console.
Next we set up a Royer R121 Ribbon mic as a center overhead above the kit. I had borrowed it from ALTO MUSIC for evaluation and so far I am quite impressed with it's sound. The R121 has a very full sound without seeming muddy. Though somewhat dark as ribbon mics usually are it maintains an excellent clarity and even responce, and it has considerably more output gain than any ribbon I have ever worked with. The true test of this mic will be on guitar cabs, but that will come later. As a center overhead it worked great. For stereo overheads Chris sugjested these crazy looking russian tube microphones called "Lomo"s. These gave a great presence to the cymbals without sounding harsh in the high frequencies. They were very smooth and pleasent. The rest of the drums sounded great through them too. We used NEVE pre-amps for the LOMO overheads as well as all the rest of the close mics on the kit.
In the kick drum I placed my new Electrovoice ND-868, off-axis, just inside the front head. This gave me a punchy sound with plenty of attack. I had to aggressively EQ it on the NEVE to get the sound I wanted but that EQ section made it pretty easy to dial up the sound. For the snare we used the studio's Beyer Dynamic 201 on top and a B&K 4011 condenser underneath, EQ'd and summed at the NEVE. Both kick and snare went to disc compressed through EL8 Distressors. Hat and ride cymbals were both mic'd with Shure SM-81s but we didn't end up using the ride mic because Russ' ride cymbal was plenty loud enough through all the other mics. On all four toms we used Sennheiser MD-421s. For the additional "popcorn" snare a good old SM-57 was just the thing. Russ wore AKG headphones, which are open-back and let a lot of room sound in. He's a really hard-hitting drummer so he also wore earplugs underneath the headphones because it was so loud.
Guitarist Todd Mihan played live scratch tracks through a Line6 pod, which we patched through APPLEHEAD's new (vintage) TRIDENT console. This helped give Russ a more "live feel" even though he was playing along to pre-recorded bass, vocal and click tracks. The sound of that TRIDENT is very aggressive. I'd live to track a punk band through it. On the first day of tracking Russ tracked four of the six songs we set out to do. On day two he finished out the set and by early afternoon Chris began to tackle the digital editing, using ProTools' Beat Detective to smooth out the few small tempo fluctuations that had slipped by us during tracking. Having Chris Bittner there to handle the lion’s share of engineering left me free to focus on parts, performance issues and shaping the sonic character of the recording. Beyond all the great gear he's my number one reason for bringing projects to APPLEHEAD.
To finish out our Sunday session I zeroed out all the monitor faders and did a fresh rough mix of the drums, which we bounced down to a stereo track for the purpose of using during our upcoming guitar, bass and vocal overdub sessions. I mixed the drums on the API console and compressed the 2-track mix with an API 2500 compressor. We listened back a low volume through Yamaha NS-10s and at high volume through the studio mains. Everyone seemed pleased. I was elated. I think this is one of the best drum tracking sessions I have ever done. From here the plan is to overdub using our personal rigs at the band's rehearsal spot. I have no reason to doubt that it will go well there too, despite the change in venue. I've got some great mics, Todd has a Vintech Neve 1272, mic pre-amp which I'm quite fond of for guitar, and I've still got that Royer R121 to play with. Besides, tone isn't in the gear; it's in the player! Thanks to all! More to come!
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Another session in what has become a series of live recordings took place on this day at The Barn in Cold Spring. Billed as "An Afternoon Of Post-Apocalyptic Music And Art For A World Without Power" I gathered my growing collection of battery-operated toy "mini-organs" and practice amps, my "not so portable" Pro Tools rig and some microphones, and met friends at The Barn early in the afternoon. The idea was to have an "electronic music" jam without electricity.
In attendance were some of the same people that were involved with the "Splurge 25th Anniversary" session; The Anderson Brothers Em, Fred and Sean, the Umour Ritual Specialists; Loudmouth Bill, Kane and myself, as well as some other friends; Joe Kelly (of Provan) Ron Labreche (of A Bitter Mahn) and Royce Stubbs (of Admit One).
I set up the Pro Tools rig out of sight up in the "hay-loft" so as not to disturb the "Without Power" vibe. The only clue to it's presence were the three microphones I used. In the center of the room, over a large table where I had placed all the toys, was a single AKG C414. Also in place were two Shure SM81's, mounted as usual on the wall below the hay-loft.
The Andersons brought many fun instruments as well. Sean had his woodwinds, and Fred had a huge duffle-bag of drums and percussion instruments. Em brought some goofy electronic children's toys that spoke simple words and made some beeps and bleeps.
We jammed all day and into the evening, finally giving way to hunger and the impending darkness. The result was 230 minutes of recorded material which has been aptly described as "fabulously bleak". Editing of this material will be a long term project.
Tuesday, June 6, 2006
Few things bother me more than projects that go unfinished. I understand that sometime things come up, plans change and stuff happens. So we adapt and work through the changes. My project with COLDSHOT has presented some of these types of challenges and I've really tried to roll with the punches. Hopefully, despite some major set-backs we'll still be able to complete the project at some point in the future even though the band has re-located to Florida. Until then all I can do is reflect on the hurtles we faced and how to avoid them in future projects.
With the basic tracking done we set out to begin recording vocals at the bands rehearsal space in the basement below The Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie. As usual I brought my Mbox/iBook rig and a choice of mics. Someone brought coffee and doughnuts and I neglected to advise the band's two singers to avoid the milk. Once we got the gear set up I asked which song they wanted to start with.We began with the only song for which they had actually nailed down their final parts for. The opening lines of the song was a screaming part. Nailing the scream part proved next to impossible with the milk-coated throats. So we moved on to other parts of the song, but with voices already strained we were compromising every step of the way. Then by mid afternoon we began hearing noise from upstairs. As it turns out there was an all ages matinee of bands beginning at 4:00 upstairs at The Chance so we had to call it quits.
The following week my Apple iBook called it quits.
The next vocal session we scheduled to have at one of the singers' home. Lacking the funds to purchase a new laptop I opted to bring my older Mac G3 "Blue & White" desktop computer to the session. A much slower machine than my iBook had been but certainly able to get the job of vocal overdubs done, although somewhat cumbersome to move. We avoided dairy products and got some good vocal takes that day from one of the band's singers. The new location seemed to be working out so we scheduled the next session to be held there as well. That following vocal session was attended by the entire band including both vocalists. The dynamic between these two very different style of singers is one of the qualities which makes COLDSHOT unique but that quality does come at a price it seemed, because there was considerable discussion and sometimes disagreement between them over each other's parts. Adding to that the presence of everyone else offering their opinion created a situation where there was a lot more talking than singing going on. Then when the girlfriend of the singer who's house we were in came home from work to find a house full of people the session was over.
The next session at the singer's house went really well for the first half of the day and we got most of the first singers parts done. After waiting a couple of hours for the second singer to arrive we finally heard from him and he was still hours away so we called it a day.
Now all throughout this project we were working under the specter of the bands impending re-location to Florida. The move date was pushed back several times but finally they all moved down there with the project unfinished. The plan is for each of them to get settled in to their new lives in Florida, then pick up where we left off. This could mean air travel for me, or them, or sending DVD back-up files down for them to complete the project on their own or with someone else. In the meanwhile here are some tips to avoid some of these problems in the future:
1) No Dunkin Donuts light & sweet coffee before vocal sessions.
2) Don't let the singer warm up with a scream.
3) The Chance Theatre is a good place to see a band, not a good place for a vocal session.
4) Technology is a tool which can never, never, never be trusted.
5) It's always easier to record singers who's words have been written down and agreed upon in advance.
6) A 1,400 mile long microphone cable is impractical.
Sunday, April 9, 2006
After taking some time off from studio work these past couple of months I'm back at Leopard with COLDSHOT. With a large local following here in the Mid Hudson valley COLDSHOT is laying down six of their most popular tracks. We spent 2 days this past weekend tracking drums, bass and guitars for 5 heavy numbers one acoustic ballad. It's a lot to acomplish in just 2 days but we did it. I was too busy recording to shoot any pics so here's a promo picture I lifted from their website. More to come as the project progresses.
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
Just got back the final reference CD from Precision Mastering in LA. Tom Baker did a fantastic job and gave the ORSUS project a real sonic ass-kicking. With artwork almost ready, pressing will soon be under way. watch their site and (myspace page) for release and release party dates!