Archive for the ‘Gear’ Category

I usually record bass guitar both through a DI and through an amp. The DI provides a lot of the weight and lower harmonics, and the amp adds low-mid punch and definition to the sound. I’ve been relatively happy using standard DI boxes (Whirlwind, Radial, etc.) through my rather strange but wonderful Peavey VMP-2 tube preamp.

Screenshot 2017-11-10 19.40.50

That monster is one great bass preamp. And between the two, the sound has been good.

But then I stumbled on this thing:

Screenshot 2017-11-10 19.27.16

The A-Designs Audio, Reddi Tube Direct Box. Quite simply put, this is an indispensable piece of studio gear for those who want rich, multi-harmonic bass sounds from an electric bass guitar in the recording studio. I auditioned one for a project and immediately went and bought one. It was that good. The direct sound I was able to get from my Fender American Deluxe P-Bass was ridiculous! So ridiculous that it gave me enough low-mid punch, along with lower harmonics, when tracked through my Focusrite ISA 430 Producer Pack Channel Strip (with very little eq), that I decided to go straight into the board without the amp for the bass on Mundo Brew’s latest CD. The sound was great, and the mixing simple – the bass sat in the mix like a champ!

Advertisements

2015 was a lot of fun in the studio. Although several smaller projects were completed this year, these three CD projects were capstone events at Jonymac Studio. All three projects were utterly different, presenting unique challenges for tracking, recording, mixing, and mastering. Although Sherry Cothran’s is still in the final stages of mixing and mastering, I’m mentioning it here because it captured a wonderful space in the studio “process” this year.

therev15

First, John Nelson (aka “The Rev”) came down again from Provincetown, Massachusetts with another great batch of songs. Our workflow was much improved this time around, and he hired the usual suspects for a first rate album project: Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Adam Steffey on mandolin, Randy Kohrs on resonator and electric slide guitar, and he flew Mark Hill in from New Jersey for electric guitar tracks. Andy Hull provided his usual outstanding drum and percussion work. We switched vocal microphones on him, tracking him with the Miktek CV4, a nice tube condenser mic, and switched preamps to the Focusrite ISA 430 mkII. We both agreed that this combination really helped his voice pop out of the mix.  Take a listen: The Rev, We Are Family.

1890489_10207472072781421_5304223207308146052_o

During the summer, Sherry Cothran began tracking her new project, funded by the a Louisville Institute Pastoral Study Grant. A theologian, pastor, songwriter and performer, Sherry put all of her gifts together beautifully with a collection of songs that capture the essence of several religious traditions of “wisdom literature.” The idea behind this CD was to use acoustic instruments in a minimalist way to create a light, spacious soundscape for Sherry’s voice. I focused on using very transparent preamps during the tracking of percussion and acoustic bass. Jeff Roach tracked and sent in digital files for synth-cello and keyboard tracks, and Conni Ellisor also tracked acoustic piano tracks at her home studio and sent them along. Toughest to track was Sherry’s acoustic guitar. While a lovely instrument, is is very forward in the midrange, and doesn’t sport the kind of large, open sound that might have been nice for this CD. It takes some mixing work to get it right! Luis Espaillat was tremendous on the bass, and Andy Hull was amazing, as usual, on drums and percussion. One of the finest tracks on the CD is a track co-written with Peter Mayer (of Jimmy Buffett’s band) entitled “Still.” His guitar work on that cut is worth the price of this CD alone. The artwork is done – and beautiful. A first printing of the CD mixed by me was pressed for a CD party in November in Louisville. A final mixdown is underway, under the skillful hand of expert Dave Schober.

mundobrew

Perhaps the most fun of all was the experience tracking Mundo Brew, a Brazilian style Americana group from Louisville, KY. The songs written by band leader Chris Elwood are full of wonderful Latin American jazz chords and changes. The fun, in this case, was the “old school” dynamic of completely tracking the entire CD in a four-day “live-in” experience. Chris (vocals and guitar) and Brad Wigger (percussion) lived at the house. Chris’ daughters, Isabelle and Josephine, drove down the final two days and stayed at a nearby hotel, tracking backup vocals. Likewise, Doug Yeager drove down to track flute and saxophone, and Burns Stanfield flew in from Massachusetts for a day and a half to track keyboards and trumpet. What a whirlwind! We worked late hours, and caught a wonderful “live” groove that gives the whole CD a lot of energy and spontaneity. Most of the CD was tracked in my large room, with a few gobos placed strategically. We let the room sound work for us, and it provided a nice glue for the mix. Take a listen: Mundo Brew: Love Force

The Rev (John Nelson) came down again from Provincetown, MA to record in January (drums and rhythm tracks), and again in May (backing, fills, vocals), 2013. The result is his best CD yet, Leavin’ Nashvegas. Take a listen to the title cut, Leavin’ Nashvegas. Nice!

CD COVER: THE REV, LEAVIN’ NASHVEGAS

Several changes were made when recording this album. First, I completely revised the way that the bass guitar was recorded.

IMG_0049

IMG_0039

IMG_0050I used a smaller amp and cab, a Markbass 12′. I miked it using an EV RE320 (on instrument setting), and took a parallel line into my LA610 MKII so that I could add a line source into the mix. On the Markbass, I used a slightly midrange setting, and ran the RE320 into my Peavey VMP-2 tube preamp (I love this pre for bass!). This gave me lots of options at mix down, and helped us to get a really solid and punchy bass sound this time around without it being too sub-gassy (the Rev is not a fan of low end).

The next change was in how the drums were recorded. I decided to use Auralex Promax baffles around the drum kit to control the room a little more, and I used a Cascade X-15 ribbon mic for overhead mic, to try to tame some of the highs from the kit, due to the low ceiling in my room.

IMG_0008

IMG_0005

I put a pair of MikTek C5s on the cymbals, in case I needed it in the mix, and I miked the underbelly of the snare with a Beyerdynamic M422N (C) – a great mic for taming high end rattle from snares. This gave me great options at mix down this time around and vastly improved what I was able to do with the drums, given the range of different kinds of songs The Rev has on this CD. When recording drums, I only use compression on the Kick, so I used my True Precision rack of 8 preamps for pretty much everything else. You can really hear the different on songs such as Sausage and Fries.

Oh, and in order to get the Cascade stereo ribbon mics “off the ground,” I used the greatest invention since peanut butter, the (stereo CL-2) Cloudlifter. Man, do I love this little toy!

IMG_0017IMG_0041

Another change this time around was getting Mark to use my ’72 Telecaster Thinline to track the lead guitar.

IMG_0389IMG_0397

He also used my pedalboard, adding in his own compressor. The Nick Greer Ghetto Stomp was great for John’s blues tunes! And my buddy Dave Perkins loaned us his vintage Cry Baby for the reggae tune, Prayers for Luna.

IMG_0379

Finally, the Rev. wasn’t going to get the CD mastered independently, so I was going to have to do it. Knowing this from the start, I used the Slate Virtual Console on this project, spreading the NEVE board emulation across the entire project, including mix busses. I also spread the Slate Virtual Tape Machine across all channels as well. I also used Izotope 5 (on the mix buss – only for small tweaks), and the Slate Virtual Mastering Processor to the mastering buss for the CD. I can’t say enough about how much these products have added to all of my recordings. Truly inspired emulations of analog equipment!

All in all, the CD turned out great, and John seems very happy with the end product. Check out the music at his website!

John Wiley Nelson (a.k.a. “The Rev”) is a retired Presbyterian (PCUSA) minister who lives in Provincetown, MA. In his retirement, he is the manager of the local public radio station, WOMR. The Rev writes mostly folk and/or Americana songs. He likes to use acoustic instruments, but with electric bass and drums – locating his sound somewhere between bluegrass and country. Although a minister, his music is not religious – though, at times, it shows the sensibilities and sensitivities of a theologian and pastor. There is a lot of fun in his music which is loaded with irony, double-entendre, and reversals of plot.

The Rev. likes quality of instrumentation. When he comes to town, he hires the best. In this case, he hired Grammy award winner Randy Kohrs on dobro and pedal steel. Kohrs was Dolly Parton’s dobro player for years, and has played on more than 500 albums, ranging from those by such legends as Hank Thompson and Jerry Reed to current chart-toppers Little Big Town, Dierks Bentley, Sara Evans and The Wreckers.  Among his accolades for such work is a 2009 Academy of Country Music Award nomination in the Top Specialty Instrumentalist category. Randy owns and operates his own recording studio called Slack Key Recording Studio. We sent him scratch tracks and he recorded his tracks in his own studio.

ImageO

On fiddle, the Rev brought in Stuart Duncan. Stuart can be seen and heard with The Nashville Bluegrass Band, where he’s been a contributing member since 1985.  The band has won two Grammies, multiple IBMA & SPBMA awards. Duncan has played with Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck, Yo Yo Ma, Alan Jackson, Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, and many others. He is a complete professional. Because he tracked after the dobro and mandolin were finished, he provided fills that weave all of the other tracks together in a beautiful way. He showed remarkable sensitivity also. When tracking “Ordinary Day”, a song with a verse about the death of the Rev’s son, he re-recorded his lead, working to make it match the tenor and feeling of that part of the song. I used a single MikTek C5 on his fiddle and it worked great. I let him find the sweet spot, and the tracks turned out great.

Image

The Rev hired Grammy award winner Adam Steffey to record mandolin tracks. Steffey has played with many of the bluegrass greats, including playing for seven years with Alison Krauss and Union Station, working regularly with the Dan Tyminski Band, and now playing with the Boxcars. Adam lives several hours away and had a friend, Ron Fonzerelli, record his tracks and send them in. Ron used API pres and a stereo pair of Neumann KM84s to record Adam. The tracks turned out really well in the mix.

Image

I used no eq or compression on the dobro, mando, or fiddle tracks. I used the same stereo buss for all three instruments in order to get them pretty much into the same sonic space in the mix.

Plugin Settings

That buss had a tiny bit of Softube “Focusing Eq“, (to add tape saturation – I love Softube saturation), URS API modeled eq. (a really smooth, natural sounding eq.), a very small bit of URS 70’s compression, and a tiny bit of IK Multimedia CSR Room reverb on it. That’s all.

The Rev. likes to mix genres on his CDs, and on this CD he had two great blues tunes. He flew Mark Hill in from New Jersey to track the lead  guitar parts. Mark played with Herd of Blues for years, and really has a nice feel for blues. He brought his Fender Nashville Telecaster and we recorded him through my Fender Princeton, using a single Shure SM57. He used my Nick Greer “Ghetto Stomp” to add grit to the sound. The result was great.

Mark Hill

Andy Hull produced some masterful drum and percussion tracks. Andy has drummed for Ty Herndon, Jamie O’Neal, Collin Raye, Joey and Rory, Lee Greenwood, and the Evinrudes. I tracked him in the larger room in the studio and, instead of overhead miking cymbals individually and using a room mix, I used a stereo pair of AT4041s, which are brighter than my MikTek C5s,  up and back over the kit to get the kit reflecting off the walls of the room. This would give us the option of picking up as much of the ambient wood in that room as we could as a part of the kit.

 

On the Rev’s vocals, we used the TLM 103 through my UA LA610-MKII. I used a tiny bit of limiting on the way in, but no compression. With vocal tracks I usually use a 4-buss setup. Buss 1 is for a touch of reverb, buss 2 is for a tiny bit of delay, buss 3 is for vocal thickening, and buss 4 is for widening. I find that the Logic Stereo Delay works fine for delay, timed to 1/8 notes and used very modestly. Izotope Alloy’s vocal preset for “Intimate Parallel” vocals is a nice place to start when tweaking a vocal thickening track. Logic’s analog tape compression combined with Logic’s Stereo Spreader produce a nice, adjustable spread. The IK Multimedia “Vocal Late Reverb” setting provided a good amount of reverb ambience.

Vocal Plugins

The Rev invited his daughter, Molly, to track vocals on three of the CD’s songs. She had a lovely, soft voice, and her pitch was perfect. I used the TLM 103 on her voice and a similar 4-buss palette.

The Rev asked me to record the bass tracks. I used my Fender American Deluxe P-Bass. I went direct, through the LA 610MKII. I then added the IK Multimedia Ampeg SVX plugin, splitting the sound between the DI and an emulated SVT-4 Pro. On the two blues songs, I used the back pickup (a Fender Jazz Pickup), and a bit more compression on the way in, to get a more mid-rangy “honkin blues” sound.

He also asked me to record some of the rhythm guitar tracks. Mark Hill recorded some of these also. He prefers these to be in the mix, but not prominent. I used my MikTek C5 stereo pair in a ORTF arrangement for these tracks.

He also had me record the keyboard tracks. I used Logic’s “Yamaha Studio” piano for the piano tracks, and used my Nord Electro 2 for the organ tracks.

The CD turned out great. Check it out at CD BABY.

Several years ago, when I was still living and recording music in Louisville, KY, I was contacted by a wonderful woman named Joyce Ochs about recording a CD to accompany a basic lesson book for the mountain dulcimer.

Joyce Ochs and her Dulcimers

The book was to be a part of the well-known and respected Mel Bay lesson series.

Mel Bay First Lessons: Dulcimer

She gave me a draft of the book, which indicated all of the places where we would need to record her voice and a music sample. She also asked me to accompany her on the guitar. I set her up in the studio, and, after trying a couple of microphones out, discovered that my Rode NT-2 gave just the right body and high end bite that was needed, in order for students to hear the notes and chords well. We used the Neumann TLM-103 for her spoken parts, and the AT4041s for my acoustic guitar.

As you can see from this screenshot of the index, we recorded a LOT of music! And she was kind enough to thank me in her acknowledgments.

Index of Joyce’s Dulcimer Book

We had a wonderful day in the studio, as Joyce demonstrated her outstanding talent for organizing lessons, articulating clearly her instructions, and performing beautifully what she was after. The result is a first rate set of lessons on the mountain dulcimer by the “first lady” of dulcimer music herself. Check it out!

Here’s my simple philosophy for keeping expenses down: CONTROL YOUR GEAR LUST!

The marketing gurus are after you! And they are always trying to sell you something you probably don’t need. To record with professional quality, however, you will need a few more items and a few better items than you need for just knocking around with a few garage quality demos. Here’s the recording/tracking chain:

1. Computer. You need a good computer – at least a dual core Intel machine. Two drives: one for your DAW software (Logic, Pro Tools, Cubase, etc.) and the other for your tracks. I’ll have more to say on this another time.

2. DA Converters. You need HIGH QUALITY analog to digital converters. This is one place not to scrimp! The biggest different in your sound happens here – with converters (and digital clock). I use the Apogee AD16x (I sometimes need 16 simultaneous tracks for live tracking) – now replaced by their Symphony system. In order to get the least possible latency, I use the Apogee Thunderbridge and X-symphony card in order to be able to use the thunderbolt in/out on my computer. Get something comparable (Lynx, or UA Apollo). You won’t regret it.

3. Preamps. Next in the food chain are your preamps. Here, the marketers go wild. Since preamps add color and texture to the sound on the way in, helping with the often brittle quality of digital recording, you’ll be tempted to get all kinds of preamps. What you NEED, however, is at least one really good clean or transparent preamp, and at least one more colored preamp (tube or heavy transformer based). You might also get two or three “channel strips”. A channel strip includes a good preamp, a good equalizer, and a good compressor/limiter. The ability to bypass the equalizer and/or compressor/limiter is an important feature. You won’t always want these in the chain.

For clean/transparent pre amplification, I like the True Precision preamps. I bought the True Precision 8, which includes 8 channels, since I sometimes record bands. It gives me 8 great channels for a drum kit, for instance, and at a good price point. Other great transparent preamps are Grace preamps, but they tend to be a little pricier per unit. A very nice, inexpensive tube pair of tube preamps, if you can find them, are the Peavey VM-P-2s. I got a pair used and love them. Another good set of used preamps is the Presonus MP-20. I get good workhorse time out of mine.

On the channel strip side, you might get a non-transformer strip, a good transformer-loaded strip, and a good tube strip. For a little tube flavor to warm things up, perhaps the best price for the money for a “money channel” is the Universal Audio LA 610 MKII. I use mine all the time, especially for vocals. Another good workhorse choice is the Avalon VT-737sp. For a good budget minded non-transformer channel strip, think about the Presonus Eureka. I use mine regularly. The preamp is fast and transparent, the compressor adequate for most projects, and the eq is very clean. For a transformer-based strip, you can’t do better than the Focusrite ISA 430 MKII. It takes a while to learn (due to its many, many options), but simply sounds fantastic on just about everything – especially bass! I use mine all the time.

4. Hardware compressor/limiters. If you are multi-tracking, you may never need these, but it is a good idea to have a couple on hand to tame transients on the way into the box. You could spend a bundle here, but I wouldn’t. I like the FMR audio RMC1773 “Really Nice” Compressor. Tremendous for the money, and I’ve never had a studio situation – drums, bass, BGVs, etc. where they didn’t do the trick if I needed them to tame a signal.

5. Microphones. Here again, the marketers will want to you spend, spend, spend. What you really need, however, are a few good mics in the following categories:

  • Large Diaphragm cardioid condenser. First, you need a good large diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone for capturing vocals, drum overhead, etc. How good? Well, despite what you might be led to believe, you can get good professional recordings with less than you think. I have come to love quality and versatility of the Neumann TLM 103. This is a very straight forward, quiet, clean microphone with tremendous handling of sound pressure levels (spls). There are lots of other great choices here that won’t break the bank. The Mojave MA-200, MikTek C7, Shure KSM44A, or AKG C414XLS will all do the trick for about the same price.
  • Stereo Pair – Small Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser. Second, you need a good stereo pair of small diaphragm cardioid condenser microphones for capturing a range of acoustic instruments – mandolin, fiddle, banjo, acoustic guitar, choirs, ensembles, etc. These are also good for cymbals. Many studios make use of the Neumann KM 184 matched pair. I find these to have a tiny bit too much of a high end spike for my taste, which doesn’t make them versatile enough to handle some instruments – like the fiddle. I now use the MikTek C5MP and love them. The high end is not brittle, but smooth and easy to eq. I also like supporting the local economy. These great sounding microphones are made in Nashville.
  • Dynamic Microphones. Third, you need a few workhorse dynamic microphones. These are especially good for recording drums and guitar amps and cabs. I grew up on Shure Sm-57s for these tasks, and I’d strongly recommend looking into the Shure DMK57-52 drum microphone kit. You’ll get three SM57s, and a Beta 52 for kick, along with a nice case and drum mounts. The Beta 52 is a great kick mic, and can also double when you multitrack the bass amp with good results, and does surprisingly well also on double bass. For bass amp miking and for some vocal applications, it is also good to have an Electrovoice EVRE320 on hand. A great mic for the money and a real workhorse.
  • A Ribbon Microphone. Finally, it is a good idea to have one ribbon mic in the closet. Some instruments and vocals just have too much high end bite, and only a ribbon mic can get them under control. And from time to time you’ll want to reach for a mic that will provide that dark vintage vibe. Also, ribbon mics have a figure 8 pattern, which can be helpful in many applications, especially when you want to capture room ambience. Typically these are expensive microphones. Its hard to beat a Royer R-121 for versatility. The AEA R84 is great. If I need one of this quality, I usually head downtown and rent one for the day (about 60 bucks). In my closet, however, I have the very affordable Cascade Fathead II. For most applications, it is more than adequate – great for the squeaking violin or the room mic. And a good guitar amp mic as well. For as often as you’ll probably need a ribbon, this should be enough. I also get great use out of my very affordable Cascade X-15 stereo ribbon mic. I have a very active sounding drum room, and this is a great room mic for stereo miking drums in such a room. It is also lovely on guitar in some applications.

Ok. Granted there are lots of other choices and occasional needs – omnidirectional, tube condenser, etc. And you can keep adding on. The basics, however, are mostly cardioid mics – condenser and dynamic, and the occasional ribbon.

Home recordists usually have room issues. These are often over-stated by product marketers, however. In today’s world, you’ll be doing a lot of close miking, and the room will not present huge issues. Even drum miking can be fairly well controlled in rooms that are not perfect. On the room-prep end, I’d recommend that you grab a closet and turn it into a vocal booth if you can. This will be your main need in terms of room issues. Here’s mine.

Vocal Booth in the Closet

And purchase one of several great new products for controlling room reflections. I use the SE Reflexion Filter when recording lots of instruments, and for some vocal applications – a first rate product. The Auralex ProMAX is also great and very versatile. Two of these will be all you’ll need to control most room issues.

That’s it for gear in the recording/tracking chain. You don’t need more than this to get professional quality recording going at home.

I’ll blog another time about studio monitoring equipment and recording software and plugins to consider. Again, the philosophy is, and will be, the same – Control Your Gear Lust!