When Adam Lasus decided to partner up with Joe Rogers and Scott Porter at the new Room 17 in Brooklyn, it was something of a homecoming. Until high rents and new opportunities convinced him and his wife to move to LA in 2006, Lasus had run his Fireproof Recording Studio Ghostbusters-style, out of a converted 19th century firehouse in Red Hook. Between that space and an even earlier studio in Philly, Lasus had worked with a long line of indie rock artists like Helium, Yo La Tengo, Ben Harper, Dawn Landes, Matt Keating, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
Although his own personal studio and Neotek Elan console still live on the West Coast, Lasus seems thrilled to be commuting back east, sometimes staying for a week or more in order to work on projects in this new room. When we met, he was in town to record a new solo album for a songwriter named Aaron Lee Tasjan. “In L.A. there are maybe 20, 30 really awesome indie bands doing great things,” Lasus says. “Here in Brooklyn there are that many on this block.”
Lasus is a youthful-seeming 44. He’s ginger-haired and gregarious, with a charming, almost boyish sense of enthusiasm for both his tools and for the people he records with. One of those people is Joe Rogers, a young label-owner, songwriter, and a former client who now runs day-to-day operations at Room 17 and engineers the bulk of the sessions. Rogers started putting out records over 10 years ago, working out of a makeshift studio in the Bronx, and has recorded with artists like The Shivers and Kelli Scarr.
The two of them sit together for an extended interview in a cavernous yet surprisingly well-controlled mix room, and occasionally finish each other’s thoughts and sentences. They share some central ideas: That trust and camaraderie are the most important aspects of the client/engineer relationship; That digital is fine but tape is more fun; And that smashing mic signals through cheap old transistor stereos is a badass thing to do.
Unable to make this meeting is a third partner, the musician and investor Scott Porter. Like Rogers, he’s a close friend and former client of Lasus’, who has made the transition from performer to producer/engineer in his own right.
Room 17 sits on a revitalizing Bushwick block, part of a once-industrial strip close to the border of East Williamsburg. The studio is located just down the street from local “DIY” venue The House of Yes, and not far from 3rd Ward, Shea Stadium, The Sweatshop, and essentially, the whole burgeoning Bushwick art and music scene.
As I walk toward their building, I pass an old minibus, parked about dozen yards from their door. It’s spray-painted in technicolor graffiti and stuffed full of the Brooklyn equivalent of hippies (presumably psych-folk fans) brandishing iPhones and acoustic guitars. They’re perhaps indicative of this new Bushwick, although by no means emblematic of it.
As austere and industrial as the area might seem to the outside eye, the three studio partners still had a hell of a time finding a 10 year lease here (perhaps one of the only arrangements that really makes sense for a fairly high-cost, low-profit business like an affordable music studio.) New York landlords know the deal: Once the artists start moving in, residential rents start going up, and soon after, commercial rents will follow. In real life, just as in the online world, art and culture are perhaps among the biggest drivers of perceived value and economic growth. (If only more artists knew how to capitalize on that).
The inside of the studio mirrors the area itself. It’s a large warehouse space that blends thrifty professionalism with a sensible minimalist build. Rather than re-imagining the concrete raw space, the studio instead re-purposes it, keeping much of the site’s lofty, wide-open appeal intact.
Each of the rooms is huge, and somewhat spare, with stone floors and a few strategically placed carpets. But they are also unexpectedly well-balanced. There’s barely a parallel wall in the whole place, and the 14-foot-high ceilings are stuffed full of 6-12 inches of insulation, practically eliminating the need for additional trapping. Otherwise all that’s there is cement, glass and drywall, allowing the space to retain some subtle reflections that make the room sound airy and alive.
The main tracking space is enormous on its own, and it connects to two ample iso booths that are larger than some other studios’ live rooms. Even the control room by itself is bigger than many Brooklyn apartments. All these spaces are linked by immense glass doors, and downstairs there’s a makeshift echo chamber that sometimes doubles as an additional live room. Put together, it’s well over 3,000 square feet of recording space.
Gear at Room 17 is as distinctive as the space. The console is a rare Trident – an early 80 series refurbed with a newly upgraded master section. The main recorder is an equally unusual 2” Otari, once property of Manhattan’s legendary Unique Recording Studios, and it comes equipped with both the 24- and 16-track headstacks.
Naturally, there’s also a Pro Tools HD rig, and an island of rack gear is stuffed with some interesting and esoteric pieces from Valley People, Manley, ADR, TapCo, Focusrite, MXR, Allison Research and Symetrix. The mic locker is full of vibey old dynamics and some great-sounding, cost-effective mics from Peluso, Gefell, AKG, Oktava, Michael Joly Engineering and Mojave.
The idea here is to keep things affordable while offering a larger, less intimidating space that bands might otherwise find in a similar price bracket. To Lasus, one of the few challenges is helping the kinds of bands he loves working with understand that they can afford to work with him:
“A lot of bands will see something like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on my discography and just assume we’re going to be too expensive,” he says when the subject of rates comes up. But what they tend to forget is that when Lasus recorded them, CYHSY were just like so many other Brooklyn bands: unknown and inexperienced weekend warriors, uncertain about just what to expect from some of their first real studio dates.
Lasus recalls giving their drummer Sean Greenhalgh a beer early on in their first session. They had been nervous about playing earlier in the day than usual, and that move seemed to set him at ease.
It was a way of communicating something Lasus tries to make clear in every session, one way or the other: Getting great recordings isn’t about judging the artists. It’s about understanding them. It’s about making them feel relaxed and capturing them in their most natural and un-reflexive state.
If there’s some deeper purpose to all Lasus’ high-spirited chatter and convivial energy, it’s probably that.
Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn-based audio engineer, college professor, and journalist. He records and mixes all over NYC, masters at JLM, teaches at CUNY, is a regular contributor to SonicScoop, and edits the music blog Trust Me, I’m A Scientist.
This week, AKG introduced a newly designed version of its classic D12!
The new D12 VR large-diaphragm cardioid microphone has been rebuilt specifically for kick drum recording and live applications.
According to AKG…
The D12 VR (vintage sound re-issue) offers a thin diaphragm within its newly designed capsule, which enhances low-frequency performance. With phantom power disabled, the D12 delivers accurate, pure character from the sound source. With phantom power enabled, one of three switchable active-filter presets can be used to quickly adapt the mic’s response to suit the user’s desired kick drum.
The “vintage-style” premium bass microphone offers three active sound shapes for recording: open kick drum, closed kick drum and vintage sound. D12 is manufactured with the original AKG C414 transformer from the 1970s.
The AKG D12 was originally introduced in 1953 – the world’s first dynamic cardioid mic with a unidirectional design. The AKG D12 VR is expected to retail for around $560 and to ship in October 2012.Click for more details!
Both the Anniversary Edition C451 microphone and K702 headphones are available for 599 Euro, or $766 at today’s exchange rates. They are now available globally.
Since it’s AKG’s big day, we’ll let them do the talking – here’s all of the details from AKG on their latest launch:
AKG’s C451 65th Anniversary Edition condenser embodies sound from the legendary C451 EB with the CK1 capsule delivering stunning quality and precision accuracy. Since its introduction in 1969, the C451 has been continuously improved and has demonstrated its durability under the harshest onstage environments. The C451’s transformer-less preamp enables high sound pressure capability, allowing for close miking of high-energy sound sources up to 155 dB SPL without distortion.
The reference small-diaphragm is an excellent tool for capturing the smallest details of any instrument due to its lightweight membrane and sophisticated acoustic design, which makes it the perfect choice for accurately capturing drums, percussion, acoustic guitar and overhead miking.
The K702 Anniversary Edition headphones bring a new level of precision to the line with newly designed genuine leather headband and soft velour ear pads for maximum comfort during long recording or listening sessions. With its patented Varimotion two-layer diaphragm and revolutionary flat-wire voice coil, K702 delivers pristine sound with incredible impulse and treble response.
K702’s reference-style headphones boast an over-ear, open-back design, with extremely accurate response. Its sophisticated technology allows for spacious and airy sound without compromise.
AKG’s C451 and K702 65th Anniversary Limited Edition sets both stun with a new Titan semi-gloss finish.”
Here’s what AKG had to say about each of their new headphone offerings – prices have not yet been announced:
“The over-ear, semi-closed design of the K44 Perception provides a powerful low end and clean highs for an excellent sound, ranging from project studios to home recording.
The K77 Perception is an over-ear, semi-closed headphone with powerful and convincing sound at an amazing value – ready to use for home or project studios.
Both products include comfortable leatherette ear pads and a self-adjusting headband for extended wear, without discomfort and a 3-meter fixed, straight cable and convertible jack.
K99’s high-performance, over-ear, semi-open headphones combine excellent sound quality with an astounding price-to-performance ratio. Its large, 40mm speakers provide a natural, uncoloured sound, ideal for the studio. K99 Perception is lightweight and self-adjusting for a pleasant fit for long sessions.”
Last week, we covered some of the best large diaphragm condenser mics around at an entry-level price of $300. This time, we’ll move up a bracket to review some of the most useful condensers available from $500 to $1,500 new.
Keep in mind that this list is no way conclusive. It only promises to offer a proven handful of options that I’ve used time and again, and which have consistently performed as some of the best in their class.
Also remember that this list focuses only on new condenser mics, and does not include ribbons, dynamics, or a whole array of used and vintage microphones that can be equally good options.
With that out of the way, here’s the roundup:
The Workhorse LDCs
AT4050 ($700 street)
As we mentioned last week, Audio-Technica was among the first companies to make condenser mics ubiquitous with their AT4033. They would ultimately take what they learned from the success of that mic and apply it to the slightly more expensive, significantly more well-rounded AT4050.
This is a mic that repeatedly fails to sound bad. It may never have the shimmer of a C12, the body of a U47, or velvety response of a U67, but it was never intended to. The 4050 was designed as an affordable, transparent, swiss-army knife and at that, it succeeds without question.
It’s a workhorse of a microphone that’s become a staple at pragmatic studios, where it’s routinely used on percussion, voice and acoustic instruments. It now occupies a niche once monopolized by the AKG C-414, and although it’s a mic may not always dazzle, it will never disappoint.
AT4047 ($700 street)
Eventually, Audio-Technica decided to build a condenser mic that would offer a little more character and attitude than the decidedly neutral AT4050.
The resulting AT4047 is a design that’s loosely based around Neumann’s classic FET 47. This mic has a bit more midrange “push” than the 4050, and I like mine on kick drums, bass amps and guitar cabs. It also suits plenty of male vocals, especially when a little body and edge are called for.
C-414 ($800-$950 street)
There may be more distinct versions of the AKG C-414 than any other major microphone in history.
For those of you who are confused by all the models, I recommend the audio history of the C414 I wrote for Trust Me, I’m a Scientist. And for those of you who are in the market for a new mic, just know that there are currently two versions of the 414 available: the relatively flat XLS and the intentionally brighter XL-II.
I’m still a fan of my vintage versions of this mic, but the newest models are well-built, and address some issues I had with the original pattern switches. Their self noise has also been brought down significantly.
To my ear, these new versions sound a little leaner and tighter than some of the originals, but this might be well suited to modern tastes. It’s also worth remembering that the differences can sound slight to some ears.
However your tastes run, the 414 has been a studio staple since it was first introduced, and it’s still a natural choice on drum overheads, stringed acoustic instruments, horns, pianos, amps, and just about anything you can throw at it. I tend to like the brighter “II” versions on acoustic guitars and voice.
Sputnik ($700-800 street)
The Sputnik is a funny-looking, affordable tube microphone that’s much better than I expected. According to its product literature, it was designed to sound like a hybrid of two of the most classic mics in history, and aims to deliver the upper midrange bump of the U47 and the high-end lift of a C12.
This can be a recipe for disaster in most inexpensive mics, but somehow the Sputnik pulls it off. It has a sound that’s forward and clear with just a bit of attitude and tube grit. It may not a great choice on already bright-sounding instruments, but the Sputnik can add life to dull-sounding tracks without taking them into the realm of irritation.
The Sputnik is a good character condenser for a mic locker in need of some zest on the cheap. It sounds more balanced than many affordable, bright condenser mics and there a closeout deals on this now-discontinued model at several dealers.
C 451 B ($580 Street)
For some reason, people seem to have forgotten all about the AKG C 451 B. It’s a small-diaphragm design that hasn’t changed too much over the years. At one time it was one of the best bets in small diaphragm condenser mics. Today, it still delivers a sound that’s pretty, clean, and crisp, and still does well on acoustic stringed instruments and in all sorts of tight places. The price hasn’t risen too much over the years, either.
MK-012 ($380+ street)
The Oktava MK-012 has become one of the most popular small diaphragm condensers of the past ten years, thanks in part to rave reviews in Tape Op Magazine and online. These mics are affordable, versatile and a great deal when purchased in pairs.
To my ears, the sound of the MK012s is a bit more broad and “throaty” than some of the other popular SDCs on the market. I like them on hi-hats, toms, and on sensitive acoustic instruments that don’t agree with brighter-sounding condensers.
KM-184 ($850 street)
Neumann makes a few mics for under $1,500, but the one I think deserves serious consideration at most studios is the KM-184.
Detractors say that this mic isn’t as silky or smooth as the original KM84. That’s true, and by design, the KM-184 offers a bit more presence than the originals. This seems to be a general trend across microphone brands, and some engineers argue that using a slightly brighter mic saves them from applying the equalizers they’d reach for otherwise.
Despite the changes over the years, the KM-184 remains a well-balanced mic that can be great on acoustic guitars, string instruments, snare drums and others. If you can find an original at a good price – then yes – those are definitely nice too.
The “Blue Collar Boutiques”
195 ($1,000 street)
The Bock Audio 195 is a big, clean-sounding mic with a special “fat” switch designed to deliver extra heft. It’s a good deal on a good FET condenser from one of the best makers of high-end boutique microphones in the world.
MA-200 ($1000 street)
Want a bright, airy, affordable microphone that sounds really good? The MA-200 has one tube, one polar pattern and one sound that works especially well on voice. This mic has quite a bit of lift in the high band, but it never sounds sizzly, spitty or harsh.
The MA-200′s silky, enhanced top-end is what I often want a mic to sound like when I’m done EQing it. It’s not always the right mic, but when it is, it can be the perfect mic. Try it on voice, overheads and acoustic guitar.
22 251 and 2247 ($1,300 street)
Peluso makes excellent re-interpretations of the classic Neumann U47, AKG C12, and others for a fraction of the price. Models start at a list price of around $1,500 and go up from there. In a similar vein, Lawson and Telefunken are also worth a look, although both companies tend toward at a higher price-point.
That’s it from us from now. Stay tuned for future roundups featuring favorite dynamics and ribbons. And as the economy continues to improve, don’t be surprised to see us run features on some of the most coveted condensers around.
In the meantime, feel free to share your own favorites in the comments section below.
I started working as an audio engineer just as the home studio market began to blossom into what it is today.
This means that throughout my career, I’ve been as much of a counselor as a craftsperson, because so many of my clients spend nearly as much time recording at home as they do working with me in conventional studios.
I get calls every week for help with everything from key commands to console routing, but out of all the advice I’m asked for, the number one question might be: “I’m just starting to record at home. I have X dollars to spend and want a Y-style microphone. Which one should I buy?”
Category #1: The $300 Condenser
One of the most common requests from musicians just beginning to self record is for a recommendation of an entry level large-diaphragm condenser, at price of about $300.
I’m not sure why this is such a popular request, and my first instinct is usually to ask why they’re so sure they want an LDC, and why at that price.
For about the same amount, some of the best dynamic mics ever made are viable choices for many voices and instruments. And for just a bit more, there are a slew of small and large diaphragm condensers that would be a welcome addition to any commercial studio.
But that’s a topic for a whole separate article. The question of the $300 condenser comes up a lot, and it deserves a straight answer. It’s true that a home recordist with an inexpensive dynamic mic, an affordable condenser, and a halfway decent interface can cover a lot of ground – given patience, taste, some kickass music and maybe just a little bit of help now and then.
Here are few of the low-priced condensers I’ve encountered several times without developing the urge to throw them out a window.
Audio-Technica 4040 ($300 Street)
In the early 90s, Audio-Technica helped revolutionize the microphone market forever by introducing the AT4033. At the time, it was one of a small handful of reliable LDC microphones available for under $1,000.
Since then, the company has improved its designs, releasing now-classic affordable workhorse LDCs like the AT4050 [enter to win one here!], 4060 and 4047. Like many other manufacturers, they’ve gotten better at making mics cheaper too, and have had some great success with the AT4040.
While the 4040 resembles a single-pattern version of the more expensive 4050, it has a sound of its own. On paper, the 4040 has a bit more of an upper midrange “push” than the 4050,with a soft peak around 6-7 kHz and then another, slight high-frequency lift around 10 kHz.
In practice, the 4040 sounds just a little bit “tighter” and “leaner” than the 4050 to my ears. At best, the 4040 leaves out some of the boxiness of the 4050 – At worst, it misses out on some of its big brother’s body and realism. But at half the price, it’s a great design from a reliable manufacturer, and one of the better bets in its price bracket.
For $300, the 4040 is a remarkably neutral and well-balanced microphone. Like the 4050, it’s the kind of workhorse that’s unlikely to disappoint on most sources – Even if it sometimes fails to dazzle.
Rode NT-1000 ($300 Street)
20 years ago, Rode rose to become one of the first names in affordable large-diaphragm condensers right alongside Audio-Technica. They set their aim at a slightly lower price point and effectively dominated the entry-level condenser market for a decade. Their NT1A was a bestseller then, and with a street price under $250 it still remains one of the most popular mics in its class even now.
Rode’s designs sometimes catch flak for being overly bright, even harsh in the top end. There’s some truth to those claims – A few of the company’s most popular early designs including the NT2 and the NTK could sound airy and articulate at best or sizzly and thin at worst – But with the NT-1000, the company took a different tack.
The 1000 is easily one of the smoothest and roundest sounding of Rode’s less expensive designs, and compared to the rest of their line, it’s a real sleeper and unfortunately under-recognized as the solid all-around performer it is.
The NT1000 can be flattering without sounding hyped, and sound natural without being clinical. For $300, you could do a lot worse.
M-Audio Luna and Solaris ($300 Street)
In contrast to the fairly neutral AT4040 and the relatively smooth NT-1000, these M-Audio mics have a tone that’s more “forward” and maybe even a bit edgy.
I once mixed a record where the band completed many of their overdubs at home on a Solaris, and was surprised to find the tracks were pretty easy to work with. I found myself using tricks to take a little bit of the edge off here and there, but the tracks had attitude and presented few problems for that production. Of course, it didn’t hurt that their performances were great – That can have the effect of saving almost any tone.
The AKG C3000 series seems to get mixed reviews, which may be why this line can be such a steal on the used market. Like any of the mics on this list, the 3000 may not be perfect, but it can sound as good as anything in the right context. I once mixed a few tracks where the artist had used a C3000B as a primary mic, and found that while it was a little bland, the sound was well-balanced and never offensive in the top end.
The Sennheiser company is responsible for designing a few of the best dynamic microphones of all time: The MD-421, the 441 and the 409. Now, after distributing Neumann for more than 20 years, Sennheiser has jumped into the low-priced condenser market with the MK-4. It’s a mic designed for the project studio, and has a slight high frequency tilt from 3kHz all the way through 10kHz and above. I’ve yet to try a review unit of my own, but the mic seems to be getting high marks from consumers who have decided to take a stab on this new design.
Studio Projects, sE, MXL (various models)
Although I’ve never had a personal experience with any of these mics that made me think twice about them, there are other engineers I respect who have vouched for them. sE, and Studio Projects seem to have loyal followings, and some of MXL‘s designs have developed their own cults of mod-happy evangelists.
Choosing Your Mic
As always the best thing to do is to try some mics for yourself and to base your decisions on your own idiosyncratic tastes.
Any of the microphones we’ve covered today could be a good call for home recordists eager to pick up acoustic instruments or voices with a bit more detail on a tight budget. But before jumping to purchase any of these models, know that for recording voice, horns and amplified or percussive instruments, there are dynamic moving-coil microphones in the same price range that are among the best in their class. And for recording acoustic instruments and voice with great detail, an investment of just a couple hundred dollars more can begin to afford any one of an array of workhorse condenser mics that often see a lifetime in rotation at conventional studios.
Look for recommendations in both of these categories in a future issue.
HARLEM, MANHATTAN: You don’t have to imagine what’s like to be in the head of La Dispute. Everything about this intensely emotional rock band – their lyrics, their message, their music, and even the way it’s recorded – is about removing the mystery.
It’s all obvious from the moment that you hear the band’s singer, Jordan Dreyer, pushing it out in “a Departure,” the opening track from their arresting new album Wildlife. Don’t wait around for the raw energy of this Michigan five-piece to let up either, because the artfully charging guitars, rhythmic explorations, and intimate space of their post-hardcore screamo/progressive rock songs just keep on coming at you.
The recording team of producer Andrew Everding (Thursday) and engineer Joe Pedulla (Swizz Beatz, Thurday, Patent Pending) arrived at an early self-imposed challenge while working with this uniquely inspired group: no artificial reverb allowed. Whether it was plates or Lexicon PCMs, all ambience not imposed by the band’s actual surroundings was banished on Wildlife – instead, only the natural sound of the rooms at NYC’s Stadium Red and Chicago’s Drasik Studios were allowed to influence the sonic sense of space.
Like many feats of engineering, the “no reverb” rule came not by design but as a matter of natural course, starting at the initial sessions in Chicago. “We had miked the drums in the live room, and the room mics that were in there were set up for talkback,” Pedulla recalls. “Then the guitarist was in there to be next to his amp, and we started realizing, ‘This sounds cool.’ The parts needed this ambience, and sounded really good with that sound that you don’t get from close mics.
“So we started printing more and more room mics,” Pedulla continues, “and we realized early on the importance of that way of working. Collectively, we started printing everything by having a ribbon mic in the center of the room. Midway through the record, we made it official: Shoot for no digital reverb, and bash away in a way that you can’t do in a basement studio. Obviously, it’s a digital album to begin with, recorded entirely into Pro Tools, so we did what we could from there to remain in the natural era of recording. It was a fun science experiment for us to do.”
AMPED UP WITHOUT REVERB
After recording six of Wildlife’s 14 songs in Chicago (without vocals), the scene shifted to NYC, where the rest of the album was tracked in the spacious complex of Stadium Red uptown. As Everding, Pedulla, and La Dispute — Dreyer, drummer Brad Vanger Lugt, guitarists Chad Sterenburg and Kevin Whittemore, and bassist Adam Vass – progressed, they got an increasing feel for the appeal of the real reverb that they were cultivating.
“We were just trying to capture what it would be like for an audience member sitting and listening to a guitar in a room,” says Pedulla. “There was something natural about it — no one ever listens to a guitar with their ear right against the speaker. Whenever someone is in their bedroom or basement playing guitar there’s a natural ambience to it, so we wanted to put that down and get the big parts to sound really big, and really ambient.
“The singer, Jordan Dreyer, has this crazy dynamic range – a 20dB swing from how loud and quiet he gets. So there are some vocal parts with no resonance at all, where he’s speaking/singing softly, the room is not echoing, and he sounds close and in-your-face. Then the dynamic swing happens, and we would see how big it can get.”
At Stadium Red, where Pedulla frequently works, the team took full advantage of the versatile, 1,000 sq. ft. Studio A. “I love that room for its flexibility,” Pedulla says. “It’s got gobos and a throw rug to emulate the size of different rooms, and with the small (300 sq. ft.) drum room, leaving the door full or partially open makes a difference. You can really have everything sound intimate with close mics, or you can open your room mics and get the long throw on it.”
To record the drums at Stadium Red, Pedulla first put a combination of close mics and boundary mics on the kit. Leaving the drum room’s sliding door open, he then miked the large live room purely to pick up the drums’ resonance. “We did a couple of different setups,” says the engineer. “We had a Royer 121 as our mono room mic, and a pair of AKG 414’s as the stereo-pair room mics, or two of the Audio Technica3060 tube condenser mics, which they don’t make anymore.
“There was another mono room mic from the ‘50’s or ‘60’s, the STC 4021 that I know as a ‘ball and basket.’ It’s a really cool, dark-sounding ribbon mic. Ribbon mics on rooms are king, and that’s what we used for our vocal room mic as well — there’s something about the way a ribbon mic chops off the top end, and makes it kind of smooth. Using a ribbon for the room on drums you don’t get too much of a cymbal bang, it’s not harsh, with a really solid top end and it gives you the mid range you need to capture that natural, resonating snare reverb.”
Dreyer’s close vocal mic was the Bock Audio 151 tube microphone, going into an Amek 9098 preamp, then tamed by an Empirical Labs Distressor. “We printed room mics on the vocals as well the whole album through, except for one song because of scheduling we had to record in Stadium Red’s C room,” Pedulla notes. “So for that, while I was mixing I took a Genelec 1031 speaker and placed it in the vocal booth in the exact spot that Jordan was standing. Then I placed the STC 4012 ribbon mic in the center of the live room and ‘reamped’ the vocals.”
When miking guitars, Pedulla looked to a Shure SM57 and a Royer 121 for close mikes, and a Neumann TLM 103 for the room. “There’s something cool about that, from 6’ to 25’ back from the amp. You can put it right in front of the amp and still get the ambience, or put it all the way at the end and really have it sounding big.”
Those listening even semi-carefully will hear some artificial wash on the guitar part for the song “a Poem.” “We used an analog spring reverb, the Sound Workshop 262 Stereo Spring Reverb, on one guitar part there on input,” concedes Pedulla. “The guitarist, Chad insisted on using it — he used it sort of as you would a pedal into his guitar amp. We were using it as an effect, by picking up and actually dropping the 2U box. Rest assured, this was accompanied by a room mic for more reverb.”
StadiumRed’s SSL G+also helped shape and tame the sound. “We had a 26” kick drum, and that went straight into the SSL,” Pedulla says. “Those drums were so big, and there was something about the kick that I hated at first, but Andrew and I reduced 15 dB at 120Hz – that solved the problem of the kick drum, getting rid of the low-mid garbage we didn’t need. The flexibility of that EQ and that one cut alone saved the drum kit – to me, cutting is just as important as boosting, if not more.”
MAKING IT WORK IN THE MIX
Knowing that Studio A and the SSL G+ were booked up, Pedulla executed the Wildlife mix in the box. “I really liked using HEAT in Pro Tools|HD on this album,” he notes. “For a raw-sounding rock band like La Dispute are, I really liked overcompressing at times and then hearing the harmonic character of the HEAT distortion. I summed through the SSL, with two faders up to unity gain – the SSL 2-buss compressor combined with HEAT was really important to the glue of the mix.”
While temptation ran rampant, Pedulla was able to keep his hands off any and all reverb – hardware or plugins. “It was always in the back of my mind, but I was on this mission to make the record happen without it,” states Pedulla. “Even if it was sounding weird, and the room mic wasn’t able to give me what I wanted to throw in the mix, I just did what I could to make it work. We agreed on it, that’s what it is, and we accepted that fact. Even if it was a little bizarre or not quite perfect, that’s what it was going to be, regardless of the character.”
BEAR-HUGGING THE LIMITATIONS
For Pedulla, Everding, and the brave souls of La Dispute, the self-imposed restrictions of Wildlife were well worth the pain. “You kind of get painted into a corner sometimes, and you need to know how to dig yourself out,” Pedulla says. “The limitations are fun. It’s the challenge of engineering. Some days you’ll say, ‘I have to focus on compression and making this sit well,’ realizing the dynamic and importance of it for the band.
“One of the big lessons I learned from this project is the importance of room mics, and that I shouldn’t neglect them when recording. Even if the fader is at -25 dB, there’s still a little ambience in there, so it can sit in the mix a bit better. And now I know there are some things you can do with room mics that you can’t do with digital reverb — that’s for damn sure!”
– David Weiss
The New Velvet is now available on iTunes and all other digital outlets.
The NYC-based Pageot (Aretha Franklin, Snoop Dogg, Talib Kweli, MTV) is an expert multi-instrumentalist on guitar, piano and jazz flute, playing and engineering/producing in multiple genres from classical to hip-hop. Pageot makes frequent use of the AKG P820 tube microphone for recording vocals and instruments.
Learn more about Steve Pageot and his recording techniques here.
Facility Name: EastSide Sound
Location: Lower East Side of New York, since 1972!
Neighborhood Advantages: The LES is the heart of live music; there are musicians everywhere, rehearsal spaces, venues etc so musicians are very familiar with the area and feel right at home… no uptown traffic hell and office scene…plus EastSide Sound is in on the ground floor and right in front of a park so you can avoid elevator gear load ins and you can go take a break surrounded by greenery, shoot some hoops, throw a football or kick a soccer ball in the nearby courts.
Date of Birth: We’ve been in business since 1972 when Lou Holtzman opened the original EastSide Sound on Allen St. In 2001 Lou Holtzman partnered up with Fran Cathcart and we moved to Forsyth St, just a few blocks away.
Facility Focus: We are primarily a tracking and mixing facility although we occasionally do mastering sessions and we do have a production suite often used as a writing room. We are also set up for audio post and to sync audio to video for film/TV work.
Mission Statement: EastSide Sound believes that your music and your vision come first and we are committed to working hard until you are satisfied with the results. Many Gold, Platinum and Grammy award winning records have come out of EastSide Sound which shows how many artists have made EastSide Sound their home.
Clients/Credits: Gold and Platinum records, 5 Grammy Awards; clients include Les Paul, Lou Reed, John Zorn, Santana, Sting, Joss Stone, Eric Clapton, Pat Metheny, Jeff Beck, Laurie Anderson, Luther Vandross, Sevendust, Mariah Carey, Cindy Lauper, John Leguizamo, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Buddy Guy, Keith Richards, Joe Perry, Goo Goo Dolls, Edgar Winter, Chico Freeman, Peter Frampton, Beyonce, Herbie Hancock, Toni Braxton, Hanson, MeShell Ndegeocello, Joe Claussel, Steve Torre, Robin Eubanks, Isaac Mizrahi, Randy Brecker, Frank London, Violent Femmes, Twisted Sister, Gravity Kills, System of a Down, Leela James, Lila Downs, Estelle, MTV, VH1, HBO, BBC, Comedy Central, Target, Grupo Latin Vibe and many, many more.
Key Personnel: Lou Holtzman (owner/engineer/the oracle), Grammy-winning Fran Cathcart (owner/producer/engineer), Grammy-winning Marc Urselli (producer/chief engineer/studio manager), Eric Elterman (producer/engineer/multi-instrumentalist)
System Highlights: EastSide Sound is the perfect hybrid between analog and digital. We believe in and offer the best of both worlds. We have a fantastic Harrison Series Ten B board, a warm and punchy sounding 96 channel true analog board with total digital recall and full automation (no converters, the sound stays analog but you can automate anything and everything: faders, EQs, sends, inserts etc). The Harrison is complemented by a 64 output Pro Tools HD system and by a vast amount of analog outboard gear (LA2, LA3, LA4, 1176, Altec’s etc) and pre-amps (API, Neve, Trident, Ampex, Universal Audio, TF Pro, Summit, Altec’s etc).
Is this a trick question? Of course I will risk my life throwing water, milk, coffee and juices at the fire to save everything! …but if in the fire I were to spot a wild dragon running at me I guess I’ll grab the hard drives with all the sessions and get the hell out!
Rave Reviews: When people keep coming back, record after record, it must mean something, right? John Zorn has made hundreds of records and the last 30 or so were done at EastSide Sound. He also said that his records have never sounded so good, and others have said the same thing.
Everyone that comes by EastSide Sound always comments on what a cozy and relaxed vibe there is and everyone that records at EastSide comes back for more. They love the ability to choose between recording in the same space or being isolated in different booths so that they can later edit all the tracks without leakage. They love the ability to have total recall to instantly continue working on something unfinished a month later, with no downtime. They also love our professional, award-winning, cool and down to earth staff. And last but not least they LOVE the sound we get!
Most Memorable Session Ever: Too many… but one I recall is when Les Paul was over for some tracking and we were about to order in some pizza and he said something like “1947, Corona NY, First Pizza: I was there!”
Session You’d Like to Forget: The no-shows, the guys that think they own the world and arrive 4 hours late, the singers who can’t sing for the life of them but think that Autotune and capable audio engineers are an excuse for them to attempt a career in music anyway!
Dream Session (if you could host ANY session with any client, living or dead, what would it be?): Some of my personal favorite sessions are the ones with John Zorn, an incredible composer, genius and fantastic personality. Every session is always populated with incredible musicians.
Living or Dead? Would love to have worked with Hendrix, The Beatles and a… how about a Led Zeppelin reunion? But I guess we can’t complain considering many of the other giants have worked here (Les Paul, Eric Clapton, Sting, Lou Reed and many others). – Marc Urselli
Visit www.eastsidesound.com for more information and to get in touch!
Matt McCorkle of EqualSonics.com brings you a day in the life of a New York City recording engineer.
The Mission: A String Tracking Session At Tainted Blue Studio NYC
Producer Andrew Koss, owner of Tainted Blue Studio, requested my services tracking string overdubs for Maxine Linehan‘s version of the Leslie Gore hit “You Don’t Own Me” for her new album release, dropping near the end of this year. The session called for overdubbing a string trio on to pre-existing tracks.
Tainted Blue Studio is an amazing facility for tracking strings, with its all wood live room and tasty microphone collection. It’s a playground for engineers, producers and musicians alike.
String recording can be a tricky and challenging process. The goal is to capture the instruments in their purest form, highlighting each instrument’s sonic range while avoiding the masking of individual instruments. To ensure that the players sound good in the room together, you can “acoustically mix” just by moving a couple of chairs and players around in the physical room.
Patience and listening to various microphone placements are key to a good recording. If you’re unsure about how your microphone placement will sound, listen to it! Poor string recordings come from microphone phase cancellation at certain frequencies and ugly reflections from various surfaces. I enjoy the challenge string recordings bring, as the approach for this type of recording is much different than any other instrument.
Once at the studio, I began examining the tracks in Pro Tools listening for how to blend these string overdubs together. Then I approached the producer, Andrew Koss, inquiring into the type of sound he was looking to capture with today’s string tracking. “Intimate and warm,” was the answer.
My plan was to mike the instruments individually, to get the warmth. To get the intimacy, I planned to use an XY stereo configuration to capture the instruments playing together in their natural environment of the live room.
The Quest for Intimacy
First, I positioned three seats equally apart from one another, in a semi-circle facing the glass in the live room. Next, I picked two AKG 414′s to be used in my XY stereo configuration. Also, I wanted to make sure that the cellist will be in the center of my XY stereo configuration, as to not throw off either side of the stereo spectrum later on in the mix.
Then I proceeded to make the angle at which the microphone capsules will be positioned to form the XY configuration. My focus here was to make sure that both the violin and the viola would be in the pickup zone of their respective 414, which were both set in cardioid polar pattern. My goal with the XY setup is to have the violin to the left, the cello in the center, and the viola to the right in the stereo spectrum.
The Quest for Warmth
Warmth! The second half of the producer’s request. This called for getting up close and personal with each instrument. I began with the cello, and chose a Royer 122 for this task, a phantom-powered ribbon microphone.
It’s strange because when I was first learning audio the golden rule was “Never apply phantom power to ribbon microphones!” This is because applying 48 volts to a ribbon microphone will normally blow up the ribbon element. But, what am I doing today? Applying phantom power to ribbon microphones!
There are exceptions to rules and the Royer 122 is one of those exceptions. This ribbon microphone has an amazing tone and accepts phantom power to enable a much higher output gain.
I listened to the cellist play her instrument for a few minutes. After listening carefully to the way this particular cello acts and responds to her bowing, I grabbed my mic and went to work.
I positioned the Royer just above the bridge of the cello pointing near the body and the F Hole. This was to capture the bowing of the strings and body of the cello. However, I had a problem with this microphone placement – not enough low end was going to be captured. I remedied this with a large capsule dynamic Audix D6 microphone. (What a mouthful!) I directed this microphone towards the body of the cello pointed around the F Hole. These two microphones together will produce a full-bodied cello while capturing the players’ nuances.
Next up for treatment, the viola. This instrument sits between the cello and the violin in the sonic spectrum. Listening for a microphone placement, too close to the body will produce too much low end that will compete with the cello for sonic space. Too far away from the body will make the instrument sound thin. The viola can be a tricky placement as you want to make sure it doesn’t compete with either the cello or the violin.
I choose a Royer 122 for this instrument as well. I had the violist play some of the chorus for me as I leaned over the instrument to have a listen, and sure enough found my spot for the microphone placement! I positioned the microphone over the viola about 15 inches, encompassing the instrument in the microphones entire pickup pattern. The Royer 122 is a slim, elongated microphone so I was able to position it parallel with the viola to get a warm, natural sound. Along the way, I was primarily focused on picking up the strings and body of this instrument.
Finally… the violin. I took the same approach with the violin that I had with the viola. However, I opted for a switch in microphones, choosing to go with a Neumann U87. I like the voicing of this microphone as it tends to be nice and pleasant on the violin, bringing its high-mid frequency nuances to life. This microphone choice also helps out the stereo panorama later in the mix, as it will provide a different texture from the Royers when the close mics are mixed together with the 414′s in their XY stereo configuration.
Hear “You Don’t Own Me” and witness the behind the scenes video (complete with string session footage) right here:
Did You Double Check?
After wrapping up my microphone placements, I made sure that all my stands were tight, the cables were looking neat and secure, and the artists were comfortable. My assistant, Michael Thurber, was finished getting every artist their own cue mixer and cans – this was so each player could personalize their own cue mixes while tracking. With one quick glance around the live room to make sure all was well, we headed to the control room.
What do You Know of Signal Flow?
In the control room I went to the patchbay to start my signal flow. First up to get piped through some TT cables were the 414′s into an Avalon 2022, a stereo pre-amp. These two play very nice together, as they produce a nice smooth top end that is very appealing for strings. The 414′s as drum overheads coupled with the Avalon 2022 is simply amazing as well!
The two Royer 122s and the Neumann U87 were sent through a Grace 801 unit – I was very confident in my microphone placement and was not looking for much coloration on the pre-amp side of my signal flow.
Lastly, I patched up the Audix D6 through a vintage Neve 1073 pre-amp to pump it full of low-mid silkiness to give the cello a smooth and rich body. After my pre-amp patching I patched the line level signals straight into the studio’s Apogee converters, which are directly linked to Pro Tools HD. We were ready to set pre-amp gain levels!
How Healthy Are Your Levels?
I kindly asked each player to give me a range of expressions on their instrument, adjusting the close microphone pre-amp’s gain accordingly. After I was satisfied with my close microphones’ pre-amp levels, I had them play together as a trio. I then set the gain levels on the Avalon 2022 for the 414′s XY stereo configuration.
With the pre-amp gain levels set, I panned my channels corresponding to the string players’ placement in the live room and then made some quick monitoring level adjustments.
Time to begin tracking!
The Moment You’ve Been Waiting For!
The producer, who also created this amazing string arrangement, started speaking with the musicians prepping them for various parts in the song.
We took a pass from start to finish. After some kinks were worked out and the musicians felt comfortable, we started taking full passes at the song, layering. Layered a few passes of the string section on top of each other to get a nice, full sound. After the initial layering we went on to add accent tracks of various expressions throughout the track, with the trio still playing together.
The producer had some final parts for each instrument to add depth and nuance to the string section. To accomplish this we had each player take individual passes in various parts of the song. (This was the only time each instrument was playing solo.)
The Final Touches
My assistant went to begin breaking down the live room, waiting for the capacitors in the condenser microphones to dissipate their 48 volts. If one were to disconnect the microphone cable immediately after turning off phantom power, damage could occur to the condenser microphone. This is extremely important, and forgetting this is a sure way to get fired on your first assisting gig! Wait a few minutes, to be safe, if you are not sure of how long your particular condenser microphone takes to discharge its capacitors.
While the live room breakdown was being completed, I began to listen back to the recorded tracks in order to start making a quick, rough mix. Then printed the rough mix, labeled our session, backed up our file and gathered our notes.
The arrangement was beautiful and the string tracks came out wonderfully. For the main, accent and individual passes the mixer will have plenty of choices on which microphone tracks to use. They could use the XY stereo configuration, just the close microphones, or a mixture of both depending on what sound they are trying to achieve at that particular moment in the mix.
It was a successful tracking session at Tainted Blue Studio. It’s always a pleasure to track great musicians, in a great room, with great a big selection of audio toys.
As the owner and operator of his own mobile recording studio, Matt McCorkle of EqualSonics.com is capable of bringing professional audio to anyone, anywhere, anytime. His expertise involves acoustic instrumental recordings, vocal productions, live tracking sessions, electronic music production and mixing. Whether in the studio or out in the field, Matt’s goal is simple: To create new music and sounds with passionate artists. To contact Matt please visit EqualSonics.com.