February 14th, Valentines day. What would I be doing other than waking up early on a Sunday morning & spending a day recording a band in a studio!? Aside from the fact that any studio day is usually fun, it was nice to have something actually planned that day...
I woke up a little later that day, as there was no rush to set things up, given the fact we left all the gear there from the previous day. When the band showed up, it seemed we had all caught a cough overnight and were feeling a little ill, which wasn't the best of things for a recording day; but as the phrase goes, "the show must go on".
Guitars were the next in line to be tracked. The songs only had one rhythm section, with a few solos here and there, which made recording guitar a fairly fast process. He was playing into a Marshall JCM800 paired with a JCM900 4x12 cab, with a Boss SD-1, Phaser of some sort & Dunlop crybaby wah going into the input.
When it came to getting a tone, I was surprised to hear the guitarist saying that he set the amp on a fairly clean, quiet setting, adding most of the distortion using the SD-1. Given that it was an old school Marshall, which typically like being played loud, not just for the 'pushing air' factor that every amp benefits from but also playing the power tubes hard, it was surprising to see the amp set like that. I asked if I could mess around with the amp controls and ended up setting the preamp gain at 10:00 o'clock and the volume at 3:00 or so. By now the amp was sounding quite raspy, which suited the genre of songs being recorded, but also it was loud as hell at this point, which ticked both boxes in my opinion.
When I was happy with the sound in the room, I stuck my ears up against the speakers (for as little time as possible!) to work out what mic placement would work. I decided to stick up a microphone against all 4 and try out various combinations. I started off by putting a 414, MD421, SM57 & RE20 against the center of the cone, with another 414 about a meter or two away from the cab in figure of 8 pattern, to capture the room sound using a mid-side technique.
Pulling up the mics at the desk, I found the most obvious change was to cut the RE20 out entirely as it phased with any combination of the other mics I tried. The MD421 picked up a fair bit of low end and low mids, which I was happy with, as I would use this to support other brighter sounding mics. The 414 (against the grill) sounded really good, capturing a nice 'real' representation of how the guitars sounded to my ears in the room. The SM57 I wasn't too happy with, as it was way too bright and fizzy, even by a 57s standards. I moved it so it was off axis, pointing a couple of inches from the edge of the speaker. This improved it's tone drastically. It was still a very bright sound, but it had more high mids in it, which helped the presence of the guitar tone when combined with the MD421 & 414. The room mic worked nicely, capturing a quite big sounding tone, with no particular emphasis on any spectrum of the EQ.
I was surprised how quickly the setup went, with only one or two quick changes needing to be made.
Ttracking rhythm guitar went pretty smoothly, with only one or two hiccups, however the leads took a little longer, as the guitarist hadn't done a solo over one of the songs before, so was trying to figure out something in the studio. As they were only short takes, it wasn't an issue redoing the solo many times, however in the end, we ended up deciding to use two solos. One of them was much too short, however I liked the way it came in, and the other was much longer, however had a weird middle section where the wrong note was played. So I took the longer solo and cut it to just after the wrong note, then brought the other first solo in and found a point where they sounded like they were playing on the same scale. I left the mics exactly as they were for the lead as the high sustained notes sang nicely.
There were some other comps here and there that I did, which was mostly at the end of a few songs, because his guitar was a little bit faulty and the input jack crackled in the ringout.
To summarise, I was pretty happy how the guitars went. The tone was good & the recording went pretty smoothly.
A couple of the songs suited acoustic guitar, so we decided to track acoustic guitar, leaving whether it would be included in the final mixes till a later date.
I used a stereo pair of 184s in a method i've found has worked well for me in the last couple of sessions. I placed one facing the soundhole, with a 45 degree angle of the mic facing the upper end of the fretboard. The other mic I placed over the guitarists shoulder, pointing downwards towards the soundhole (no need to mention that they were placed equidistant to avoid phasing). I also tried a 414 in figure of 8 mode to try a mid-side technique, however found it phased out when combined with the 184s. I instead changed it to an omni polar pattern and put it a little distance out from the guitarist as a room mic.
The tracking took no time at all, as the parts were very simple and there weren't many tracks that needed acoustic guitar on them. While we had the acoustic mic'd up, I also quickly tracked an acoustic song that the guitarist was working on as a personal project.
Vocals were final piece of the jigsaw.
Once again, they were pretty simple to track, with only one vocal line, with no backing vocalists.
After we had finished with recording the guitars, I had a little while to setup a few microphones to test which would work best, while the guitarist/vocalist went outside for a smoke. I set up the C4000, AT4033 & 414, getting the vocalist to switch microphones when the song changed sections (e.g. verse went into a chorus). He came into the control room and we decided which microphone would be best for tracking. The AT4033 won out in the end, with the C4000 being bland & boring as I expected, however the 414 had fairly flat response that sounded good, but the AT4033 had a nice low end warmth that made it more pleasing to the ear than the 414. I've used the 4033 for a fair few projects now and as I mentioned in the last blog, it's always worked for any use I throw at it. In the back of my mind I expected that I would choose it over the other two mics, but testing different microphones and techniques out is great to do when you have the time.
Most songs only required one take to get right, so tracking didn't take long at all. There were a few hairy moments however, where I found the quiet sections of some songs metering healthily at around -12dB, then when louder passages came round, at times it metered at something close to -3dB, at which point I was slightly shitting myself, hoping it doesn't clip. Before the next vocal take, I attempted to hook up a compressor on the input path to sort out the volume difference, however after a while fiddling around with the compressors & patch bay, I gave up and decided that I would sort it out in the mix with automation & compression plugins. Massive difference in vocal volumes wasn't all bad however, I liked the dynamic range, despite the fact it would certainly have to be reduced a fair bit for the mix.
We finished at around 5:30, which meant that I had spent around 16 hours by myself tracking enough material to be the length of a short EP. I was pretty chuffed with how much we had accomplished in a relatively short amount of time. With that said, there is a little of work for me to do on the mixdowns, but nothing too time consuming.
I was pleased with how I handled the session, getting a fair bit of experimentation in without disrupting the session too much, with most mic testing ending up benefiting the end product. I had a few hiccups & made a few mistakes here and there, but over all, think I ran the weekend well.
I would like to thank Tom, Britt and Alex from Recluse for their time and I hope that I can provide some good mixes of the tracks for them. It has been a pleasure working with them!