Just finished recording John Nelson (the Rev) with his new bluegrass project. Man does he ever roll with some great artists! Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Adam Steffey on mandolin, Randy Kohrs on resonator and electric slide guitar, and for this CD he brought in Kenny and Amanda Smith. Kenny played acoustic guitar and they both sang backup vocals. Check out this great CD today!

Here’s a link to the entire CD on Youtube.

Here’s a link to one of the songs:

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Mundo Brew: Consolation Cafe

Posted: November 10, 2017 in Recent Projects

 

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Just finished! Mundo Brew’s amazing new CD Consolation Cafe. Its always great fun tracking Mundo Brew, a Brazilian style Americana group from Louisville, KY. The songs written by band leader Chris Elwood with Latin American jazz chords and changes. Once again, the session was “old school”  –  completely tracked in a four-day marathon “live-in” experience. Chris (vocals and guitar) and Brad Wigger (percussion) lived at the house. Chris’ daughters, Isabelle and Josephine, drove down and stayed at a nearby hotel, tracking backup vocals. Flutist Doug Yeager drove down to track flute and harmonica, and Burns and Lorraine Stanfield flew in from Massachusetts for a day and a half to track keyboards and trumpet and sing backup vocals. Kim Cabrera drove down for Kentucky and tracked saxophone, and Nashville great Jeff Byrd came by and tracked a few more saxophone parts as well – an amazing addition on the song “Wrong Way.” The CD has a lot of live feel and energy and tons of great spontaneity. I’d say it is the perfect antidote to the crazy political climate today. Check it out and pre-order your copy now!

So, as a project studio, owned by someone who records, mixes, and masters “on the side,” I’m often approached by artists who are looking for a deal – which sometimes means they expect free service. In many instances, these are friends, or friends of friends, and in some instances they are really good artists – the kind I’d love working with! There is a part of me that would love to do this free of charge. I love what I do, and I love helping others achieve their musical goals. Early on, as I was “working on my chops” I did a few free projects – which took some of the pressure off and helped. When I listen back to some of those projects, I’m glad I didn’t charge!

As I got better, I found myself 50-75 hours into a project, listening to an artist ask me to “tweak” something (which sometimes would take several hours) and saying to myself: “I’d feel a lot better about this is I were getting paid!” True enough.

The fact is that many artists are unaware of the amount of time it takes, beyond tracking time, to get a project mixed and finished – even if it’s just vocals and guitar, or a few tracks of audio. Tracks have to be cleaned (gated or “stripped” of noise between clips of audio), de-essed, de-breathed (fixing loud breaths), equalized, sometimes compressed, automated as needed (louder in some spots, softer in others), run to busses, etc. etc. And even if a song is recorded in series with nothing changed, all of this has to be done differently for each song. In other words, a separate file has to be created for each song – and all of these steps done for each song. All of this adds up to TIME.

So about 10 years ago I started charging for my services. In my humble opinion, I’m still “a steal” if you compare my work to comparable work. And at this time I mostly charge by the project, rather than by the hour, which allows me to be the laid back guy that I like to be in the studio – and not to worry when I’m a little slower than some (perfectionist that I am).

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My friend Roger Conner is a first rate wood-worker and just finished designing and creating an incredible guitar stand for the studio. I have admired his work for some time and so one day I told him I needed a stand for the studio, but that I didn’t like the clunky “Crackerbarrel-looking” stands that are on the market. He said he’d be glad to try to design one to my specs, and so he drew a few pictures of what he heard me asking for – sleek lines, not to much of a “slant” in order to save space, not clunky, curves, easy to disassemble for moving, and quality hardwood (preferably mahogany and/or maple).

I went to his shop to see an early mockup prototype, and he was off and running, working in his incredible, careful, meticulous fashion. 

Then, last week, he tells me it’s pretty much done, except for the final coats of polyurethane. When he brought it in, i was stunned. Absolutely perfect! 

Hand-laminated mahogany and maple for strength, elegant curves, sleek – perfect! I (almost) hate to put my guitar cases on it, it is so elegant. I decided to find a space in the control room with good light, and with great sight-lines for those entering. Roger credits his mentor Brian Oleksa as the primary inspiration and guide for the design in its final form. Roger has decided to add this to his product-line, so if you want one, contact him at: rogerconnertn@gmail.com. All proceeds go to a great NYC Rock Camp his daughter is part of, an organization that increases access to musical instruction for kids in Brooklyn, New York. Current (early bird) price: $200 solid wood; $250 laminate like mine. 

At a CD release party last month, Sherry Cothran not only performed songs from her wonderful new CD, tracked here at the studio, but she featured a showing of the video for the song Tending Angels.

The video highlights the plight of the homeless in Nashville and the nation while telling the story of Sherry’s encounters of working with homeless on a daily basis at her first appointment as pastor of West Nashville United Methodist Church.

Cothran is an award-winning singer/songwriter and United Methodist minister, former member of Downtown Presbyterian Church during her days as the lead singer for the popular rock band, The Evinrudes. The film was directed by Tracy Facelli and funded by one of the Lilly Foundation’s Louisville Institute Grants.

For more about Sherry go to her website

To listen to tracks from this CD, go to this page

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Loved tracking I. C. Will’s great CD, Sorry Been Busy, and I’m thrilled to see its success. Hope he’ll pop down from NYC and record again sometime. Here’s the video:

I.C. Will Video BORED OF EDUCATION

Leslie Rodriguez, Back Home to You (CD Baby)

So a few years ago, my daughter Leslie Rodriguez (then Leslie McClure) recorded her second CD in the studio. We did it before I had installed the vocal booth in the studio. I was trying some new tricks for that CD, focusing on a very “Americana” sound, but with a very soft, almost airy, and very open sound palette. We also scaled down the instrumentation to a minimum – so that the song, and her voice would be central.

I enjoy reading the mixing reviews in Recording Magazine, just to see what other studios are producing, and what other well-known studio engineers think of these mixes. I decided that I’d send one of Leslie’s songs, Meu Lindo to have reviewed. I never thought of it again. Then, a couple of months ago, I was reading the “review” section, and there it was! A very complimentary review of the recording. Here’s the link. Check it out.

Of course! They would pick up on the “room ambience” issue – pretty smart. If the vocal booth had been finished, this would not have been an issue.

In case you’re interested, Leslie now sings with the band Humming House.

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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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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!

Ok. A small post about my mixing philosophy. Pretty simple – I’m not a mastering engineer. Every time I go into my  brother’s audiophile listening room, with its $70,000 worth of speakers, preamps, amps, acoustic treatment, etc., I realize that mastering is not the first element in my game. I don’t have the rig. Its a different art entirely from mixing. That doesn’t mean that I don’t do it! I’ve got good software for it, and what I believe is a good ear for the job. But I’m not going to tell you that I can do what a boutique mastering house can do with several hundred thousand dollars worth of gear.

Whether I’m mixing for my own mastering, or someone else’s, here’s the plan:

1. Whether I’m mastering or sending it out, I provide a final mix that is mastering friendly. Even if the client is not going to pay for mastering, I don’t just assume that I should slap a mastering plugin onto the mix and pump it up. I’d rather that the client listen to a well mixed CD than one that is sloppily mastered, or crammed into the Procrustean bed of someone else’s mastering “preset.” That doesn’t mean I don’t use mastering plugins – but I use them to achieve mixing ends – centering bass frequencies on live mixes, multi-pressing frequencies to add more punch or presence, etc.

2. I try to listen to my final mixes on lots of equipment – car speakers, mid-field monitors, near-field monitors, 2.1 computer speakers, etc. I figure if my mix translates pretty well, then if the client doesn’t pay to have it professionally mastered, at least it will sound good in lots of contexts.

3. I try to listen to my final mixes (and masters) on at least one audiophile system – just to tweak it with all the audio information I can, and with the best soundstage possible. My brother lives in Denver – and I have been known to haul my computer and Apogee Mini-Dac into his listening room when visiting him, spending a few hours with whatever projects I have going. It helps. I have a couple of other options nearby.

Near my home, a new listening room has just been installed at The University of the South, Sewanee, TN. It’s called the Ralston Listening Library. The guy who runs it is Tam Carlson, one of my English Professors when I was a student there years ago. He’s a music lover. When I was a student in the 70’s we used to go to his home and listen to old Toscanini vinyl albums on his electrostatic speakers. Amazing! Last time I was up there, he told me he’ll log me a few hours in the room if I call ahead. He might do the same for you. Here is a picture of Tam hanging out in this amazing room.

Ralston Listening Library, Sewanee, TN

For a great article about this listening room, and more great pictures, check out Stereophile.

4. Finally, I leave as much space in the mix as I can. By this I mean that I don’t hyper-compress the audio – even if it is Heavy Metal. When I bounce the final mix, I don’t want my gain structure and compression to leave the transients looking flat as a doornail. I leave at least 3 db. of headroom overall, and work for clean gain throughout the chain, with no tracks overly compressed or pumping. I focus on building a luxurious stereo soundstage and on getting the kind of sonic palette that works best for the project. In the end, however, I want a good mastering engineer to have something he or she can work with, adding the kinds of finishing touches that only they can add. If I squash out all of the gain, or over-compress, there’s nothing a mastering engineer can do.

What I’m trying to say is this: “to thine own self be true.” I’m a recording and mixing engineer. And I mix in a way that lets the mastering engineer do his job (even if that happens to be ME).