We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: New Jersey is the cradle of audio engineering.
Formerly known as Menlo Park, the New Jersey township of Edison, NJ changed its name in 1954 to honor the inventor Thomas A. Edison, who set up his groundbreaking research laboratory there in 1876. By the time of his passing 55 years later, Edison had earned a record 1,093 patents for creations including the phonograph, a stock ticker, the motion-picture camera, the incandescent lightbulb, a mechanical vote counter, the alkaline storage battery including one for an electric car, and the first commercial electric light.
Edison had maximum personal fondness for his phonograph. He was pleasantly surprised in 1877 when his very first attempt at the tin foil phono worked, a moment that led to him eventually founding one of the earliest record labels ever, with the National Phonograph Company. On Edison cylinders and discs, NPC released selections in instrumental, vocal, spoken word, spoken comedy, foreign language and ethnic, religious, opera and concert recordings.
This is where recorded music, as we now know it, comes from.
Acutely tuned to this is Stephen DeAcutis, Founder of the Edison, NJ-based recording facility Sound Spa Productions. A mixing, tracking, and production studio in operation since 1990, it counts John Mayer, Corey Glover (Living Color), Joe Lynn Turner, and even the late great Laura Brannigan as its clients.
No doubt, the Neve 5088 32 channel frame console with Martin Sound Flying Faders 2 is a draw, as are MCI and Studer tape machines, and expressive analog outboard including a Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor, Cranesong Ibis EQ, and Audio Technologies Tube Link tube compressor. Two live rooms, one sufficiently sizable for cutting drums, add appeal.
But another draw is DeAcutis, whose passion for his craft is tangible at first contact. He’s a true pro who’s proud of his room, but you can tell he’d prefer that his studio do the talking.
Facility Name: Sound Spa Productions
Location: Edison NJ — Home of The invention of recorded sound
Neighborhood Advantages: Close to malls trains and starbux/Dunkin D’s and lots of wilderness
Date of Birth: 1990
Facility Focus: Mixing, Production, Tracking
Mission Statement: To capture as honest a representation of the artists vision whether it be from a performance or mixing standpoint.
Clients/Credits: John Mayer, Corey Glover(Living Color) Laura Brannigan, Mike Ciro (Alejandro Sanz},Bobby Bandiero(Bonlovi), Joe Lynn Turner, Demi Lavato, Gad Elbaz, Glen Burtnik, Bebe Buell, Nir Z (drummer for Chris Cornell)
Key Personnel: Stephen DeAcutis — Founder; Nejat Bakin, Lenny Grasso, Steve Sadler — techs
System Highlights: Neve 5088 32 Channel frame (11 stereo) 58 channels at mixdown, and 41 of Martin Sound Flying Faders 2.
MCI 16-24 2” tape and Studer A-80 half-inch mixdown machines
36 channels I/O of Apogee/Crane Song AD-DA
Nuendo and Pro Tools
I describe the Neve as very deep and wide sonically, with a large-format console feel — very solid. It has a real high resolution feel, combined with the weight and size you need for the aggressive stuff.
It will sonically optimize any style at the highest level. You can really feel the iron that is incorporated in the design of this console.
I can accurately achieve a final mix that needs very little, if any, 2-mix processing — which is the purist way to optimize the quality of the 5088.
I recently installed the board, so the few clients that have had the pleasure of taking mixes home have been really pleased. Comments like “amazing” and “didn’t think your mixes could get any better” have been spoken.
And an extensive outboard/hardware collection (to much to list) making Sound Spa a very powerful mixing and tracking room.
I have so many wonderful boxes that it is very hard to single out any one of them, as I love them all for different reasons. Not to mention the guys making these boxes all deserve to get the props for the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into these things. All these guys are having to follow some pretty hard acts and industry standard pieces, and are doing a great job to say the least.
The Shadow Hills Mastering Compresser is a great piece for the 2 buss, as it adds width/size and a sonic character that takes an already balanced and musical mix, and adds a wonderful polish that can be a subtle boost in presence or a very noticeable VCA-style smack without losing your overall frequency intensions.
The Crane Song Ibis is a very powerful program EQ that I use daily on the 2-buss. I like it for adding urgency and presence, and a little goes a long way. Very quiet unit as well. I do not like to add noise to the program. If a processor is going to introduce any noise at all, I’d just as soon bypass it.
I have a unit called the Audio Technologies “Tube Link” which is one of the most quiet and transparent tube comps you will ever hear.
I went to AES a few years back looking for a new compressor (when I was obsessed with compression). I brought a rough mix of a rock joint I did with Corey Glover, and I stumbled upon the AL.so Dynax2. I ran the mix through this box and the urgency and aggression it added got my attention fast. Its living on the drum buss at the moment, but that could change any day.
Sony C-800 and Neuman U-47 among 2 of the many mic choices
Distinguishing Characteristics: My ability to navigate Sound Spa to accomplish every task in the process of making a great recording from the ground up to the finished master.
The live room is 10′ by 20′ with an adjacent room that is about 12’ by 20’, that I use primarily for the room mics when cutting drums.
I can track 4 and 5 piece bands comfortably and the intimacy of the room can actually be of an advantage in terms of the musicians feeling like they are in a rehearsal environment.
The room has a nice contained and open sound and when combined with the room mics, usually large diaphgragm condensers in the adjacent room, the end result is very pleasing. It’s not that far removed from the size and depth of a larger space, and when putting a couple EL-8′s on the room mics in Nuclear mode I can get airplane hangar bombastics quickly and realistically.
Also the aux outs on the Neve are gorgeous sounding and transformer-balanced, which when combined with the Crown amps make the headphone mixes a joy to listen to and track with. That is exciting.
The building is on fire, you only have time to grab ONE thing to save, what is it?
Larry my cat and my 1980 BC Rich Bich.
Rave Reviews: The sound. That clients feel very relaxed and are able to create without any pressure.
Most Memorable Session Ever: Tracking Core Glover on a song I wrote for my mom.
Session You’d Like to Forget: The session I had to cancel on 9/11/2001.
Dream Session: To record a song/album with the Beatles, tracked and mixed.
– Stephen DeAcutis, Founder, Sound Spa
CLINTON HILL, BROOKLYN: If there’s one thing New York City needs more of, it’s gardens.
Just the word itself has a therapeutic effect, invoking a harmonious convergence of beauty and order. So it’s no wonder that stepping into the Clinton Hill studio that calls itself The Garden evokes a similar feeling.
A place where new sounds and creative relationships are actively nurtured, The Garden is more than just a facility – this is a collective that aspires to combine artists and music possibilities in an inspiring way. Founded by the highly experienced drummer/engineer/studio designer Drew Vogelman, its arrival represents an exciting new audio option for composers, mixers and producers in search of a different Brooklyn vibe.
Vogelman’s colorful career in the entertainment industry has included everything from drumming for comedian/intellectual-turned-Senator Al Franken and Matthew Sweet to designing audio & VFX post facilities such as JWTwo for J.Walter Thompson and K5 Productions for BBDO. He took a decade-plus break from studio proprietorship after owning Dessau Studios, a well-equipped audio outpost in the Financial District. But after he and his family occupied a Brooklyn brownstone, the opportunity to build out the 1,400 sq. ft. space, including the namesake outdoor garden, was too tantalizing to ignore.
The result is The Garden, where an SSL AWS 900 SE+ console and an extremely expansive selection of analog outboard meld seamlessly with digital tools and humans – the more of the latter, the better. “People are stimulated by other people,” Vogelman says. “When you get into a room with other people and you start bouncing ideas off of each other, or just intuitively/ instinctively reacting, that’s when the most interesting stuff happens.
“As people get to know this space, they always react positively to it,” he continues. “It’s really comfortable, really private, and there’s good equipment. I hope that, as people get to know that this is here, they’ll feel comfortable and know that the idea is one of collaboration – social and creative.”
True to form, word is starting to get around, and the group around the garden is growing larger. The varied clientele includes Producer/Engineers Ben Kane (D’Angelo), Tony Fennell (Ultravox, Edwin Starr), and Russell Elevado (Jay-Z, The Roots, Alicia Keys); and artists including jazz/hip hop drummer Chris Daddy Dave, Chicago neo-soul artist Wendell Ray, R&B singer/songwriter Emily King, Dutch R&B artist Alain Clark, and even sound artists Kristen Oppenheim (check out her piece in the current New Museum show “Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star”) and Bruce Pearson.
Deep Design and Inventory
Situated on one of those pastoral Brooklyn blocks, The Garden is on the bleeding edge between Clinton Hill and the Brooklyn Navy Yards, a stone’s throw from Pratt Institute. While engineers and producers definitely have personal spots nearby, Vogelman’s facility occupies a zone not yet saturated with commercial studios. With the artistic beehive nearby, The Garden’s location is a double bonus.
Upon arrival, those visiting The Garden instantly enter a calming but creative headspace. Pass by the small-but-mighty drum room on the left, and you’ll find yourself in The Garden’s extremely well-equipped control/mix room.
Designed with the help of Vogelman’s friend, the legendary Al Fierstein, the spacious suite is appointed with maple parquet floors below and a birch ceiling above. A marble and walnut fireplace adds to the ambience, as does the exposed brick rear wall, and the vintage armoire which holds The Garden’s sharp mic collection.
While engineers, producers and artists may feel the vibe, what they’ll see – and then hear – is the gear. Acquired over the course of his multiple decades in audio, Vogelman currently sports seven full racks of mic pres, dynamics, EQs, effects and converters ranging from classic to cutting-edge. Far too numerous to list, highlights include rack units and 500 modules from Neve, API, Shep, EMI, GML, Langevin, Theremonic Culture, Langevin, Helios, and Burl.
Across the room, the lucky Gardener tending to all this bounty pilots the aforementioned SSL AWS900E + v4 with AFADA automation. Pro Tools 10, Logic, & Ableton are on hand, and there’s plenty more in the box, with soft synths such as NI Komplete 7, Arturia Omnisphere and Trillian, and plugins including Sound Toys, the Waves Platinum bundle, Massey, Sonnox, Melodyne, Kontact 4/5. An unusually deep sound sample library is also available, collected over the years while working with producers like Fred Mahr, Mike Thorne, Alan Friedman, Dave Sardy and others – including the Mellotron from Sear Sound, various grand pianos, even drums thru the PA at CBGBs.
All the better to listen to via a selection of monitors that includes Barefoot Sound MM35’s, Genelec 1030A’s, Yamaha NS10M’s powered by B&K 442 200w per side twin mono-block with Dynaudio M9 sub woofer, and Avantone mix cubes. Lust for tape? Studer A80 MKII, Studer A810, Studer A807, and Revox PR99HS machines are all available.
Should inspiration be sought, the instrument list will get you started. Drew’s three personal Gretsch drum kits, including one from 1959, and 12 snares are there, as are guitars and basses from Martin Acoustics, Fender, Stratocaster, Telecaster, a Gibson Les Paul Gold Top and Les Paul custom, plus Fender Twin, Blues Jr, Bassman, Marshall amps, GK amps, and a Leslie cabinet.
Vintage keys include Arp Solina Strings, Wurlitzer, and Clavinet Duo, along with more synthetic goodies such as the Korg M-1, Korg MS2000, Korg Triton, Korg Wavestation, Yamaha Piano, Sherman Filterbank 2, Dave Smith Mopho & Tetra, and the Analogue Solutions’ Station X & Y.
Cultivating a Hybrid Approach
If you don’t know whether to start with The Garden’s plethora of real-world instruments and analog gear, or go for the comprehensive collection of soft synths and plugins first, don’t worry.
“It’s not about analog versus digital, it’s about analog with digital,” Vogelman says of his studio. “I think the two of them combined are more powerful than either of them apart. The SSL AWS 900 is the perfect template: They took the sound of an SSL analog console, and then put the power of digital into it. I see the studio as the same idea.
“What you can do with sound in a computer is phenomenal,” he adds. “Some music records beautifully strictly to digital, and how you can manipulate it is just amazing. Being a drummer, I think there’s nothing like playing real drums with good mics, good pres, and capturing to a DAW – I don’t miss the hiss, that’s for sure. But what’s the most fun for me is looking at how you take all that digital capability, integrate it with the old analog, and make it so they work seamlessly.”
While artists and audio pros of all stripes can find a use for The Garden, Vogelman sees composers and mixers especially benefitting from what the studio has to offer. “Most bands won’t have a budget to record and they end up recording some in a studio and a lot on their own,” he says.
“Bringing those tracks to a place like this to mix can have a huge impact on the finished record; you can really bring those tracks to life.”
As for composers, “From a compositional standpoint, it’s like a playground between the effects and the synthesizers,” he states. “We have a lot of modules that everyone loves to play with, whether it’s the Rodec Sherman Restyler, or the Korg M-1, and all the pedals that we have. You can play with sound in a way that’s fantastic.”
Mixers working in stereo or 5.1 Surround will definitely appreciate the acoustics a la Fierstein, which created a space that is flat across the frequency spectrum. From there, Vogelman’s insistence on a seamless workflow between his analog and digital gear lets a mixer take their session any place that they can imagine.
“You have a lot of mix options with your DAW session, regardless of how many tracks,” he explains. “What I find myself doing a lot now when mixing is looking at everything in stereo pairs. For example, you can take your drums as a whole stereo group or even stereo groups within the drums, group the guitars, the piano and keys, basically grouping all of the tracks in the DAW session- and bring it out onto the SSL- and then run them through our various hardware compressors, EQs, and tubes. As you’re doing this, you start removing the plug-ins and using the hardware across the groups and the whole song starts to come alive more dynamically. Some plugs stay, like de-essers and delays- or if a really particular sound was achieved- but the hardware compressors & EQs breathe air and dynamic excitement into the tracks.
“It becomes really interesting because you’re actually working in this way where you’re balancing things compositionally as you mix. And then you have the ability to automate both in the DAW and analog on the console- but both happen right in front of you on the AWS faders at the flick of a button, which is fantastic. It turns into a performance, which is really great. A lot of times I find myself standing up – bouncing or dancing – at the console.
“Not to repeat myself, but it’s all about, ‘How do you take the digital and analog side, and make it limitless in how you can find the sound that you’re trying to achieve?’ Maybe it’s overdriving the heck out of some preamp to get distortion, or slamming it to one of the tape machines. I feel like the equipment, the technology, and even the space all speak to you in a way that says, ‘What do you want to do? How are you going to make this special? Anybody can make a record – but how are we going to make a GREAT record!’”
[Be sure to check out the Wendell Ray track "Penny for Your Thoughts" directly following the article to hear a mix executed at The Garden, along with in-depth commentary from Drew Vogelman.]
Drew Do Drums
For a relatively small studio, The Garden has a sizable specialty in its ability to record drums extremely well. Vogelman’s decades of experience as a drummer and studio designer especially come into play in the compact but comfortable drum room, which yields surprisingly spacious and full-frequency results on playback.
“Drums are really dynamic,” states Vogelman. “How do you capture the sound of the drums in a way that conveys the energy of the instrument? So I chose to build it strictly out of wood first off, and then I crafted the walls to a density that would absorb some of the impact of the lower midrange.
“What I wanted to do was basically take a small room, and turn it into a high-energy sound-box, almost like the way the body of a guitar amplifies or resonates the sound,” he adds. “I spent many hours playing around with different microphone setups, diffusion and absorption. There’s a lot of tube and ribbon microphones here and I tend to track everything through transformers. Otherwise it feels a little too edgy and bright.”
Sewing Sonic Seeds
Drew Vogelman can geek out on equipment all day with the best of them – a mindset he consciously avoids getting locked into when it comes to The Garden. Instead, he wants to make it crystal clear that if what you just read appeals to you on any level, then getting in touch and paying a visit is strongly encouraged. It’s not all about selling studio time, either – it’s about growing something new from NYC’s fertile soil, tilling it together.
“The studio is not about gear,” he stresses of his blooming collective. “The studio is about putting creative tools in the hands of creative people. I really hope that when people call here, they realize that we’re here to help. If you need time & creative tools, if you’re looking for a place where you can make something interesting & original; or you want to try and push the boundaries of what you’re doing — then you should reach out.
“I’ve made a lot of records from both sides of the glass; most I’ve never listened to again. I don’t just want an artist to make a record- everyone can make a record these days. I want them to make a compelling record that you want to listen to over and over; I want them to make the next great record. That’s what this place is here for.”
- David Weiss
Sound Cloud track: ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’
Track by: Chicago neo-soul artist Wendell Ray; produced by Tony Fennell; Mixed at The Garden by Drew Vogelman.
Drew Vogelman explains the mix techniques: “We just finished mixing this on Tuesday and it’s a great example of what The Garden is ideal for. They tracked the band live to Pro Tools last month at a private studio in Chicago with Tony producing. When he showed up at The Garden, he had this killer old-school urban soul track. We focused on keeping the band sounding authentic but also creating a modern edge to it.
“I wanted Wendell’s voice to be forward but smooth so after trying different compressors, we settled on a vintage blue stripe 1176 into an LA3A with a Pultec. The old blue stripes have a grittiness that when solo’d sounds biting, but in the track lifts the voice in a natural sounding way. Then I did the same thing I spoke of, running a lot of stereo groups out through the SSL and into the analog compressors and EQs we have, peeling back the plugs as we went. The track really came alive and opened up dynamically- then we added the modern digital touches like the Virus and stabs that only digital brings- and overdubbed the harp solo in two takes with Wendell. The 2-mix went thru the Fairchild with a touch of GML EQ – and the producer ended up liking the sound of tape – in this case, the Studer A807 at 30ips.
“Most mixers would agree that by the time you’re usually finished mixing a song, you almost never want to hear it again – but this track just keeps on giving between the subtleties of the playing & the overall sound of the mix.”
The Garden is on SonicSearch.
Special thanks to Eyal Marcovici for helping to make this article possible!
Instant classics are hard to come by. That’s what explains all the excitement around David Bowie’s new album, The Next Day.
When was the last time in music history that a record has earned so much global adulation – before it’s even been released? But the record is a thrilling listen for rock listeners the world over, because one of the craft’s most experienced practitioners has pioneered even further.
A big part of Bowie’s accomplishment was enabled by his devoted band and production/engineering team, all of whom sacredly respected a vow of secrecy about the album’s creation. Amazingly, word never leaked about its recording – a process that unfolded over two years, with three different in-studio bands.
SoHo’s Magic Shop was the proud audio HQ for The Next Day, an artful and driving record that provides the unique feeling that David Bowie alone can deliver. As Bowie’s first studio record since 2003’s Reality – and the 30th of his career – this album was going to have to be special.
No surprise then, that Magic Shop was host not just to Bowie and his world-class bands of musicians, but to the famed Tony Visconti, who’s been the producer on many of Bowie’s landmark works. The pair’s collaboration starts with 1969’s Space Oddity, and goes on to include The Man Who Sold the World (1970), David Live (1974), Diamond Dogs (1974), Young Americans (1975), Low (1977), Heroes (1977), Lodger (1979), Scary Monsters (1980), Heathen (2002), and Reality (2003), among them.
But of course, David Bowie’s right-hand man needs a right-hand man himself, and that distinction goes to the NYC-based engineer Mario J. McNulty. In addition to engineering for Visconti for the past 11 years, McNulty has built up a GRAMMY-winning career nailing down sounds for artists including Prince, Laurie Anderson, Angelique Kidjo, Lou Reed, Nine Inch Nails, Imelda May, Manic Street Preachers, Kashmir, Anti-Flag, Alejandro Escovedo, and Lucy Woodward.
McNulty earned the extreme privilege of being onsite for the recording of The Next Day at the Magic Shop. But more than just bearing witness, McNulty – along with Magic Shop engineer Brian Thorn and project manager Kabir Hermon — was a critical vessel for Bowie and Visconti’s audio vision, swiftly putting their plans into action so the masters could make music.
“It’s been a dream come true to work with David in my career,” says McNulty. “He’s my biggest influence, so being in the studio with him and Tony is fantastic every time. David is so charismatic, and also so extremely smart, that working with him is always a fulfilling situation for me.
“There’s something exciting about David’s songwriting,” McNulty continues, “whether he’s playing riffs on a keyboard or a guitar, that’s unmistakably the sound of David. It’s a little abstract, but you know it when you hear it. Every day was fantastic, and it just doesn’t get better than that, working in a studio with an artist like him. That’s what we all want to do when we’re making records, is work with somebody of that caliber.
“When you’re working with a producer like Tony Visconti who’s obviously a veteran, an icon like David, and his band is a supergroup of some of the best players in the world, your job is not to just get the right sounds to tape, but make it seamless and easy. People have to come into the studio and not worry – instead get to their station, put the headphones on, and just create in a very comfortable fashion. You also have to know how to get sounds extremely fast. That’s probably the most important part of all in making a record like this.”
Between the ultra-secret nature of the Next Day sessions, and the fact that Tony Visconti generally prefers to keep his hard-earned engineering techniques to himself, the inside audio story of David Bowie’s latest album would seem pretty hard to come by. Fortunately, McNulty was willing to provide an engineer’s perspective on how the unmistakable sounds of Bowie’s latest/greatest came together.
Read on for our Q&A with McNulty, and discover some invaluable in-studio information that you’ll only find on SonicScoop:
How would you describe David and Tony’s working relationship – what makes them a high-functioning artist/producer team, in your opinion?
David and Tony have been working together for so long and know each other so well, that the work in the studio is very natural, never forced or tense. Tony is used to what David will expect in most situations, so I think that saves an immense amount of time.
Is there a way to characterize the sound that Tony Visconti wants to achieve when he’s recording David Bowie?
That’s a hard question to answer. Usually there’s a process in which I am recording in the way Tony is happy with and gives him enough options to work with, but also not going crazy so he doesn’t have to make too many decisions when it’s time to mix.
David and Tony both want the recording to sound like a record on playback, so dynamics go to tape all the time. There are times when a special sound is called for — if so then we will talk about it and change what might be my usual approach. Mostly though, it’s about not missing anything and getting all the performances to tape.
How would you describe the working relationship you have with Tony — how do you approach getting him the sounds that he wants in the studio?
I’ll always have a conversation with Tony about the sound of the record before we start, sometimes weeks or months before. Sometimes the artist or band might call for a traditional sound, but of course there are other times when a very specific technique is needed. I’ll have game plan in advance every time.
Be prepared! Next, tell us about the Magic Shop live room – what made this a good setting acoustically to capture Bowie and his bands?
The Magic Shop live room is what I would consider a medium-sized recording room. The room is treated so the reflections aren’t too crazy, plus the tall ceilings help. There were never any strange frequency pockets in the room that I had to worry about.
For many of the songs there were five people performing live in the room at once, that also changes the sound of the room a bit. I used Magic Shop’s two isolation cabinets for guitar amps and the bass cabinet, but even with those cabinets you have to deal with the small amount of bleed.
Because of this bleed and the fact that the performances were captured live, this might be a nightmare for many bands… but this band was incredible. When a group plays together that well you can record this way.
David finished lyrics after the basic tracking was done so there were no issues with keeping the scratch vocal. There were lots of overdubs of course, but all the live takes were kept and that’s what’s on the record.
You mentioned to me that David Bowie had a “recording station” – what was it equipped with, and how was it ergonomically laid out to allow him maximum creativity?
David’s station was laid out around the Baldwin piano. I made sure there was plenty of room for him to move about and also take notes if he needed to.
In addition David had his Trinity keyboard workstation, and acoustic 6-string and 12-string, a tambourine, and a digital mixer which he had some recordings on for reference. I had an SM7 for his live vocal takes going through the Neve, and hitting an LA-2A very softly.
The band was tracked through the fabulous Neve at Magic Shop, using EQ on each channel and additional compression for some microphones…A little compression for kicks, snares, bass guitar, and electric guitar.
There were three distinct groups in the studio with David Bowie, at different times. Band One was (guitars) Gerry Leonard and David Torn, (bass) Gail Ann Dorsey, (drums) Zack Alford; Band Two was (guitar) Gerry Leonard, (bass) Tony Levin, (drums) Zach Alford; Band Three was (guitar) Earl Slick, (bass) Tony Visconti, (drums) Sterling Campbell. Was there a difference in the overall recording approach to each of these different bands?
There was actually an effort to make a similar-sounding recording for each band, and that was one of Tony’s requests. I would have our assistant Brian Thorn recall everything for every song, and Brian did so in great detail. I could always reference an EQ setting from a previous month, for example.
Can you go into detail on some of the guitar recording signal paths/techniques?
The guitar setups were different for each player.
Gerry Leonard had two cabinet dual mono setup with his vast array of pedals. Gerry normally had a rhythm guitar to one cab, and FX to the other. I used an SM57 for the main cab and a Royer 122 on the FX cab, and using the Neve as front-end with each source discreetly hitting an LA-3A, which is my all time favorite electric guitar compressor.
Gerry also had this amazing white Synthi Hi Fli [synth/multi FX processor] which sounded insane in the best way.
For David Torn, his setup is quite complex, but all of his sounds end up going to three outputs/cabs. It’s an L-C-R rig: Dry guitar in the center, and ambience going to the left and right cabs. I had a SM57 for the center and AKG 414s for the left and right, with the Neve as the front end again with no compression to tape for Torn.
Slick’s setup was the rock and roll setup, it was a real no-brainer. Slick has this awesome-sounding Orange 2×12 with an AD30 head. It’s no nonsense: Slick plugs in, and it sounds HUGE. I used two mics both going to the Neve — an SM57 on one speaker, and a M160 ribbon on the other off-axis.
Tell us about recording the bass.
The bass rigs for Gail Ann Dorsey, Tony Levin, and Tony Visconti I kept the same, except for the gain stages. A great-sounding Music Valve tube DI, and an Ampeg B15 which sounded fantastic. I used a Neumann U67 for the cab, and both went to UREI 1176 compressors.
Now let’s give the drummer some…
Again with the drums, I tried to take a similar approach for both Sterling Campbell and Zach Alford.
All microphones going through the Neve, with a three-mic setup for kick drum which is pretty normal for me… D112, U47 — a couple feet back with a pop screen, and an NS-10 sub kick. I would normally use a FET47 for the kick, but used this U47 in this instance.
Three mics for the snare: SM57 top and bottom, plus an additional AKG 451, padded, on the top. The top two had some Distressors and dbx compression going on. For some songs Tony wanted to hear an old 441 on the snare, and that was what I used for some of the tracks Sterling played on.
Toms had both top and bottom mics as well, with Sennheiser 421′s on top for the classic rock sound, and my own Sennheiser e904 on the bottom. AKG 451′s again for rides and Hi Hats. KM84s for Zach’s overheads, and 414s for Sterling’s overheads. Room mics were 414′s hitting a Chandler EMI TG1 Limiter. I also used just s very slight amount of Neve 33609 compression on the overheads.
The drums themselves were an assortment… Zach playing mostly birch Yamaha drums and Sterling playing mostly maple GMS drums. We would swap out kick drums and snares for each song, so there was a variety to choose from there. Same situation with the cymbals, lots of choices from dark to bright, but only Zildjian cymbals were used. I also brought my own cymbals — I have a huge collection — and some snares to throw into the mix in case we needed any options for a particular song.
So backing off from the tech talk, what was a “Holy Sh*t!” point in the studio that you remember as an epic engineering moment?
I do remember a great moment — there are many with David — but there was one part he played on the bridge in, I believe, “Love Is Lost” that made me shiver.
The chord progression came out of nowhere when David put it down on the Trinity, it was pure magic. It wasn’t so much an engineering moment, but a musical one. I did say ‘Holy sh*t’ to myself!
Anything else you can tell us about this latest Bowie + Visconti experience?
I can only add that this record is one for the history books, I can’t ever see an artist like David with his status pulling off a secret album like this again. It’s an amazing record, and I am so lucky and honored have been involved.
– David Weiss
How does a producer get to grow along with an artist, when they work together on consecutive albums? As it turns out, the return experience can be enormously enlightening for parties on both sides of the glass. That’s certainly true of NYC’s The NowhereNauts, which have blasted off 2013 with their intense sophomore release on Club Rock Records, Warned You.
It’s equally valid for producer Kevin March, who made his name drumming for the likes of Guided By Voices, Shudder to Think, The Dambuilders, A Camp, The Rentals, and many more. March has been along for the ride with the NYC four piece – vocalist Sofie Kapur, bassist/vocalist Anders Kapur, guitarist Hunter Lombard, and drummer Tony Franco — since the start, helping to form the band of NYU students as part of an academic experiment gone terribly right.
After producing the band’s 2011 self-titled debut in bang-bang fashion from the drum throne, March was able to take time with his young charges for Warned You. Pre-production, tracking, and mixing took place over the course of several weeks at Stratosphere Studios (RIP) and Avatar, instead of just a few days. Just as importantly, two-time GRAMMY-winning engineer Carl Glanville
(U2, Billy Joel, Jason Mraz, Counting Crows) came on to co-produce, bringing a wealth of experience to the art of bringing the band’s best out.
As a result the band’s distinct rock sound — a soaring attack of gorgeous vocals and harmonies, driving guitars, and ballistic drums – come rushing out of the speakers on Warned You. It’s a major evolution from the relatively raw record that precedes it, and stands to win the young band a much wider audience if it can break through.
To understand the benefits that unfold when a producer and band maintain continuity — and learn a huge boatload of studio techniques that you’ll want to apply to your next production – do NOT miss this in-depth interview with March and Glanville. Read the whole thing, or if your time is short, jump to your top topics.
Take a look and listen to the title track:
PRODUCER AND ARTIST: ESTABLISHING A RELATIONSHIP
Kevin, how did you originally get introduced to the NowhereNauts, and why were they a band you wanted to work with?
KM: I first met Anders, Hunter and Sofie in 2006 at a music school in NYC that I was running, and later left. Then in 2008 I was given an amazing opportunity to bring them together to take part in a music educational experiment to see what would happen if musicians were given an authentic, professional, original band experience by writing, recording, rehearsing and performing together as a band in professional recording studios, professional rehearsal studios, venues, etc…
Well, it worked! So we kept going and The NowhereNauts were formed through that experience and turned into a full-on ROCK band. So, in short I brought them together and introduced them to their own talents by producing, co-writing, mentoring, educating and really pushing them to be the best professional musicians they could possibly be.
I really wanted to work with them because Sofie has an amazing, reedy, dynamic, expressive voice, and the band started writing these really great songs, plus they have a unique original sound, especially Hunter’s guitar sounds, which really stand out on this album. Tony was brought in after Album one (The NowhereNauts, 2011) was recorded and the band chemistry was complete! He has known Sofie and Anders most of his life, and he is a great drummer and prolific songwriter.
They embody everything I love about playing music and why I wanted to be a musician, especially when I was drumming for Guided By Voices, Shudder To Think and The Dambuilders. I really wanted to pass along my experiences and also share the mistakes I made, so they could hopefully avoid them and allow for an open road to success. And that is where The NowhereNauts are headed.
Kevin, what did you learn about the NowhereNauts in the course of making Album 1 – what did you see were there strengths as a band?
KM: I learned that when a band is prepared and rehearsed prior to entering a studio, as The NowhereNauts were, they can record and album really fast!
We recorded and mixed Album 1 (the self-titled debut) over two weekends; four days! That’s about four hours per song including mixing– crazy! The great, very patient and enthusiastic Ted Young was the engineer at The Magic Shop for these sessions — he made the sessions enjoyable and spirited. I played drums on the album out of necessity and for efficiency, so I essentially produced the basic tracks from the drum stool.
Their strengths were writing great songs, with great melodies and hooks, with my assistance co-writing the songs and bringing them into fruition as fully-realized pop songs.
One thing I want to point out is that they all play very well and naturally to click tracks; this skill was developed through many, many hours rehearsing live during the educational early days working with them to prepare going into the studio for the first time, which was at The Magic Shop with Ted Young engineering then too.
KEYS TO WORKING WITH CLICK TRACKS
Why is it so important that they work well with a click track?
KM: I believe everyone in a band, including the lead vocalist, need to understand the relationship to time — exact time that is — by rehearsing and recording with click tracks, so when you’re in the recording studio it is not a foreign sound or distraction-creating anxiety: It is your “friend” just hanging out telling you exactly where the pulse is, allowing for a great band track with a solid great “feel”-not stiff and uninspired.
Album 1 was recorded live with very few overdubs. A lot of the lead vocals were from the basic track recordings, because Sofie is that good, and those were the most inspired and “in the pocket”!
Also, what did you about the band that they could improve on for Warned You?
KM: Areas of improvement I would say: back up vocals from Hunter and Anders, a better understanding of how the instruments are played and attacked to give more character to their individual overall sound and to produce more mature sounding performances.
Learning to play TO the microphones is something that they all needed work on so we focused on that too, and that comes from a better understanding of how the different microphones all work. It is really important to record rehearsals and listen back with a critical, objective ear to what can be improved upon. We’ve been doing that since the beginning.
THE BENEFITS OF CONTINUITY: KEEPING THE PRODUCER AND ARTIST TOGETHER ALBUM-TO-ALBUM
Kevin, how was the decision arrived at that you would also produce Warned You? What was the creative opportunity you saw by returning as producer?
KM: Because I have worked with the band since its inception there was never any question that I would produce Album Two; I’m not finished with them just yet, so not so fast!
The creative opportunity I saw was to encourage them to write better songs, capture better performances, to produce better sounds. I really wanted to fully realize their potential, and I don’t think any other producer would have that ability, especially at this point in their development. I’m the only one who could do that. Warned You is really a culmination of five years of working very closely together, educating, producing, and knowing everyone’s personalities, and knowing how to efficiently and effectively push them to get great performances, and at the same time knowing when to pull back and let them shine.
I also wanted to produce an album that could compete with the mainstream music market to prove to all of us The NowhereNauts were capable, and that I could produce an album that I could step back from and say “It can’t get any better than that. There is nothing I want to change.” Warned You is THAT album to me. I’m not sure I can say that about a lot of the records I’ve made in the past.
ADDING A CO-PRODUCER
That’s a great place to be with your latest work. So how did you start to map out a plan that would ensure the band took things to the next level with this record?
KM: I’m very proud to have produced this album along with Carl Glanville, with a band who’s individuals’ potential I saw many years prior, and I have to say, reaching the goal of what Warned You is –eleven great, original songs that capture a moment in time and five years of hard, hard work — has to be one of my all-time greatest achievements.
I wanted to produce this album with Carl Glanville to take things to the next level. Carl and I have known each other for almost twenty years — he first recorded me drumming on Nathan Larson’s song “I Want Someone Badly” that the late Jeff Buckley sang. We also co-produced, along with Craig Wedren, Craig Wedren’s solo album Lapland. We have a great working relationship and mutual respect for each other’s talents, and he’s a phenomenal engineer!
I wanted to capture the best performances with the best possible sounds. We also brought in Nathan Larson, a great friend, amazing guitarists, and an expert guitar tone wizard to help Hunter and Anders get unique, proper recordable tones. We supplied Hunter with a ton of pedals, and had a pedal board built to allow us to really shape her tones and get those awesome sounds on Warned You.
We worked closely with Sofie on how best to get her completely comfortable in the studio environment so we could produce her vocals, not just record a performance. So we had to figure out how to make the studio environment a pleasant one: Do we dim lights? Light candles? Build a room so no one can see her?
None of the above, it was to record her in the control room, directly behind Carl and me, singing while listening to the band mixes coming through the speakers — the same mix Carl and I were hearing. It was so easy to communicate amongst the three of us allowing Sofie to confidently record the best possible performances. No one from the band was allowed in the control room or even at the studio for that matter.
Sometimes it can be very challenging to communicate through thick glass wall using mics and headphones, so we removed those somewhat distracting elements to record Sofie’s vocals.
Carl, what made you feel this was a project that would be a good fit for you?
CG: Kevin introduced me to the band four or more years ago, around the start of 2009 I think, when they were very young. We did a one-day recording session at Sear Sound – Kevin wanted them to experience a professional session with top-notch gear, facility, and engineer etc.., so I attended pre-recording rehearsal sessions at SIR, then we did the actual session one weekend day. I was very impressed with the potential the band had, and Kevin just kept me in the loop with their development over the years: I would go to shows and see them get better and better.
I mixed some singles for them after their first album, the recording of which was done very quickly and not by myself, and with I suppose you could say a less-sophisticated approach to the production.
After that we started talking about the possibility of a second album that would have both myself and Kevin producing, and take on a much higher-end approach to the production and recording, with a proper amount of time being made available to allow us to achieve that goal. We did a quick demo recording at a non-air conditioned, extremely humid, middle of the New York summer, ridiculously hot, rehearsal space out in Brooklyn, just to see what the dynamic of the band was like and how well they worked to a click etc… which also gave me a chance to record the band’s new drummer, Tony.
That turned out well, so I think we moved forward with the idea to do the album at that point. The “good fit” kind of just naturally emerged out of previous experiences, and my being so encouraged to see how fast and how much the band was maturing, both in their playing abilities and their song writing.
MAKING BETTER DEMOS IN PRE PRODUCTION
Why was it particularly important for you to take the additional time for “proper demos” on Warned You?
CG: As I mentioned earlier, we had very quickly recorded two songs as demos out in Brooklyn in the summer prior to the Album’s recording, and then Kevin made a point of recording all of the SIR rehearsal sessions, with just a single mic in the room. He also recorded live shows, but again just with a room mic or board mix, no multitracks. Kevin’s recordings essentially made up the first set of demos, and they become our reference point.
Because of everyone’s schedules we had originally planned on recording two songs (including the overdubs) per weekend for six weekends, with rehearsal sessions in the evenings prior to the recordings where pre-production work would take place. So the idea was that we would basically “demo” and make ready two songs during the week, then record them at the weekend. But our initial schedule for recording suddenly changed after our first “proper album session” and we had to totally rethink our plan for the recording.
During this time I found myself wanting to have more sophisticated demos to work with so that I could, if I wanted to, take multitracks into my studio prior to the actual recording and work on the songs, maybe trying out edits or re-arranging parts etc…
I needed a multitrack so I could mute vocals and/or extend musical sections. Having multitrack demos meant that we could also immediately record basic overdub ideas, so Hunter could do an entire track of rhythm guitar, then add a solo or counter part that would allow me and the rest of us to get a much clearer sense of where the song was headed, and at least get fundamental parts down in demo form.
Backing vocals and harmonies were also added to help flesh out the song more, so we could get a sense of its production potential. I haven’t really worked on an album before where there weren’t demos that had at least a couple of overdubs on them, so one can see where things are headed musically, so I felt it was a necessity.
Because the band was so well-rehearsed at this point, we recorded demos for 13 or 14 songs in two days over a weekend, overdubs included. Among other things, we were able to sort out tempos and which songs worked best with a click track and which worked without. The demos turned out really great, and really helped give a clear picture of where we were headed.
KM: Because we were going to be recording in expensive recording studios I did not want to waste time while in the studio — we wanted everyone in the band to know exactly what they were going to play so they/we could properly prepare prior to going into the studio.
We recorded the whole album in demo form over three days at SIR studios where the band rehearses, overdubbing guitar parts, vocals, percussion, everything. It was really a quick runthrough of exactly what we were going to record. After the demos were recorded we knew we were ready to go record the album.
We did have a false start with the first studio we entered due to some technical problems, and we weren’t satisfied with the drum sounds. So Carl and I had an emergency discussion with my partner, Paul Kerwin, at Club Rock Records and it was decided that we would go to world-renowned Avatar Studios to record the basics in the legendary Studio A. Over a very cold, two-day weekend session last February, we recorded the basic tracks to thirteen songs with Sofie singing on every take!
You referred to that as a “Magical Weekend”…
Everything sounded great and the band was on fire, and that’s why Warned Youis such a great, dynamic album! I know it was because of recording the demos that we were able to capture The NowhereNauts performing fully focused on these songs.
I also conducted the band while in the live room with them and with Carl in the control room, and it worked great! Being in the live room is how I prefer to produce so I can feel the band vibe of the takes, and that’s also the perspective I’m used to from being a recording session drummer.
Can you point to a song on the album that really grew and improved as a result of the thorough demo process this time around?
KM: I would say “Warned You” and “Wave Me Out” are the two songs that really improved after the demo process. I was really looking forward to using the studio to magnify the space and sonic density I heard in the demos in both of those songs. Carl did an amazing job putting all of those sonic pieces together once in the studio. Because we properly demoed them beforehand I was able to really hear how to approach them in the studio.
Carl then totally took “Warned You” to a whole other level during the mixing process. I actually got quite emotional the first time I heard the final mix of the song — I couldn’t turn around to look at Carl until I composed myself…it was that good and after all this time preparing it was kind of overwhelming to listen to and digest.
DRUM PRE PRODUCTION, MIKING, AND MIXING
The drums sound outstanding on Warned You. What gave you increased confidence this time around to use band member Tony Franco in the studio? Kevin, how did you use your experience to coach him and get maximum results?
CG: Tony is a relatively new addition to the band and I had not worked with him before, so there was no “this time around” as far as I was concerned.
Both Kevin and I discussed very early on the fact that we would have to have Kevin play drums for the album if Tony couldn’t cut it. But I am very happy to report that Tony blew us all away with his great playing – he is totally rock solid and plays to a click like a total pro. When we did the hot summer demos, that was the first time I recorded Tony to a click and I was concerned as to how it was going to turn out, but within 16 bars of him playing I turned to Kevin and smiled because I knew we weren’t going to have any problems in that department. In fact, the drum takes on this album have little or no edits in them at all.
With the band so well-rehearsed and so familiar with what they were playing, we were able to go into the studio and record all the basic tracks for the entire album, plus a couple of extra songs, in just two days. The basic tracks of drums, bass and guitars for many of the songs are exactly what was played live in the studio. It was really pretty thrilling to record basic tracks for a whole album that quickly, the performances were so solid and one really feels it in the finished versions of the songs – the band’s chemistry is cemented in the basic tracks, then the overdubs hang off of that foundation.
KM: Well, Tony is The NowhereNauts drummer so I really wanted him to be the drummer on the album. I knew it was going to be a lot of work to get him up to the performance level necessary for what we wanted from this album.
So I started working with Tony in my rehearsal space in Williamsburg teaching him technique — Joe Morello’s natural technique to be exact — playing to click tracks and solidifying his parts, and most of all pushing him to deliver the best-sounding, dynamic, performance he was capable of recording. I discussed with Tony that “I will be ready and prepared to play the drums on this album, but our goal is for you to play drums on the album, and in order to do that you are going to have to perform in the studio at a much higher level than you are right now during the rehearsals.”
In other words I wanted to push him to be the best drummer to record these songs, if I had to threaten to take away recording drums on the album to get a better drummer, well, that’s what had to be done.
In the end he worked really, really hard and recorded some of the most solid, inspired drum tracks I’ve heard in a long time. He delivered! He is an incredible drummer and one to keep an eye and ear on in the future.
The drums also sound amazing on this album because we used a Craviotto drum set made out of walnut. It is one of the most amazing drum kits I ever recorded!!
Geek out! Give us some pointers on how the drums were miked/and or mixed.
CG: The basic tracks were recorded in Avatar Studio A — without a doubt, one of the best-sounding rooms for drums in the world. So right off the bat we had a great acoustic space to work with.
We found the sweet spot in the room and then set up the kit and miked it in a relatively traditional way: D112/47 on the Kick, 57/441 on the snare, 421 on the toms. I used KM86 mics for the overheads – those were new to me – Avatar has tons of them and they sounded great. Then, because of the room being what it is, I really wanted some extra coverage, so I set up three pairs of room mics at various distances and heights, plus the stereo pair that Avatar has mounted in the ceiling.
It’s a little overkill, but I really wanted the option to increase the size and depth of the room in the mix later, should the song benefit from it. Plus, recording to Pro Tools meant we didn’t have to worry about track counts. During the mix I played with various combinations of all the mics, ultimately using whichever best suited the song.
VOCAL PRODUCTION PROBLEM-SOLVING, TRACKING, AND MIXING
On that tip, please tell us how you approached arranging and recording the vocals – they really soar on Warned You.
CG: Recording the final vocals was interesting. We had a guide vocal for each song and used that during overdubs, then when each song was ready for the final vocal Sofie would come in, usually in the early evening, we would choose two or three songs to work on and record a complete vocal take three to six times, and maybe do a few punch ins for certain phrases.
We wanted to keep the flow going, so didn’t really interrupt her too much and I knew it would be much easier for me to just make sure I had all that I needed performance-wise, then comp between the takes later.
Interestingly, we found that Sofie was far more comfortable singing in the control room rather than out in the studio. Before recording, we would listen back to the song with just Sofie, Kevin and myself in the room and Sofie would sing along as we were listening, and she sounded great — very natural and comfortable — but then when she went into the studio and put the headphones on, something changed. She didn’t seem as comfortable, the performance wasn’t quite as engaging, almost like she was overthinking it perhaps.
Behind-the-scenes video of the recording of “Insomnia” at Avatar:
So as a test we had her come back into the control room, asked how she felt about singing in here without headphones, just like the run-through. She was totally up for the idea, so we set up the mic and recorded using the U 47 and the control room speakers for monitors — no headphones.
I rode the control room speaker level for when the song got really loud or quiet to minimize leakage in to the 47. This method worked out great for us and all the lead vocals were recorded that way. The background vocals were done in the usual way. We double tracked the lead vocal for almost every song as Sofie tracks herself so well, but then during the mix I would work out exactly where it should be used, if at all. Because Hunter and Anders supply a lot of background harmonies and parts (which we would also double track) it was sometimes unnecessary to have the double tracked lead vocal in there as well.
I spent a fair amount of time working on a sound for the lead vocal, not because there was anything wrong with what had been recorded, I just wanted to give it something extra; a special character. I recorded it with a great vintage U 47 and through the Neve 8078 desk at Stratosphere Studios with a Blue Stripe Urei 1176. Then for the mix I used the UAD 1176AE plugin from the Universal Audio Classic Limiter plugin collection to give me the special character I was looking for.
KM: We took a lot more time recording the vocals on Warned You than we did on the first album. Sofie had about 30 minutes per song on album 1 to record a vocal and she had several hours per song on Warned You. Plus, Sofie was much more comfortable and experienced on Warned You than on the first record.
Carl, you mixed the album at your midtown facility, Radio City Music Studios: What was your mixing approach?
CG: The source material was very different from anything I have had from NowhereNauts before, in that I was the one recording the band this time, so I was able to get the sound I wanted coming out of the speakers at the moment it was being recorded.
I EQ’d and compressed things as they went down, so the sound of the vintage gear was locked into the recording of each track.
I have always recorded using EQ and processing, so that when it comes to mixing the sounds are already 90% of the way there (hopefully!). Why miss the opportunity of recording through all the great analogue gear that was at our disposal?!
When it came to mixing I already had great-sounding tracks to start with, and then it was just a case of sonically shaping things and being creative rather than having to “fix” bad-sounding things. Mixing is a lot easier if the mix is being built as the overdubs are being recorded — that’s something else I tend to do — I want the song to sound as finished as possible as we are recording it.
Then as each overdub gets added, it finds its place in the mix automatically, and if the overdub doesn’t seem to be working then it probably shouldn’t be there, or else something else has be taken away. Making decisions along the way while recording makes mixing a whole lot easier.
That was something Kevin and I were able to do: Prior to the final mix I would work on a few songs by myself, maybe add a keyboard part, or mute some guitars to create a dynamic build etc…, and then ask Kevin in to get his thoughts on the options I presented him, then we’d decide what was working and what was not, and move on.
That’s a sharp workflow. What’s the setup you use at Radio City to mix with?
For the final mix I mixed in Pro Tools using my C24 controller, monitoring through my Adam S3X-H and mainly used my Universal Audio UAD 2 plugins. I have loved their plugins since the UAD 1, and with the UAD 2 things really stepped up several notches — I find myself being able to emulate the signal path and effects I grew up with back in the all-analog days: EMT Plate reverbs, 224 reverbs, tape delays, mixing to an ATR tape machine, SSL mix bus compression, Neve compressors, DBX 160 etc…, plus being able to access the 8068 EQ that I recorded the album through, in plugin format, so I can keep the continuity where needed.
I actually did a little test where I recorded the drum overheads through the Avatar 33609 and then also recorded them simultaneously without compression on different tracks. Once back at my studio I used the UAD 33609 on the unprocessed tracks and A/B’d between the original and the plugin — I was stunned how close they were. So the UAD plugins have become my first choice when mixing, and I think really helped keep the organic sound of this NowhereNauts album.
MASTERING WITH GREG CALBI
CG: I have worked with Greg since the 1990′s and I love his approach to modern mastering issues, such as how loud mastered material should be.
I absolutely hate how loud most things are. It’s so fatiguing to listen to and just makes me want to turn things off — I just don’t get any enjoyment out of the overloud mastering that has progressively poisoned audio over the last 15 years or so. Greg has a very musical way of getting a very contemporary sound without compromising the integrity of the mix or reducing dynamic range to the point of fatigue. So he was my first choice, and we were lucky to get him.
KM: We used Greg Calbi because he is one of the best mastering engineers in the world, especially for this type of dynamic rock music. We wanted his touch on this album and he delivered, we couldn’t be happier with the results.
I also worked with Greg when he mastered a band called Death of Fashion I produced with John Agnello, and he did a superb job!
This has been an incredible amount of useful information about the recording process. Pulling back, why do you feel it’s beneficial for artists and producers to do multiple album projects together — how do these pairings know when its right to do a return trip together, and how do they know when it’s time to move on?
CG: In some respects making an album is a bit of a strange experience: You have a band, a producer and an engineer, and all these people need to almost become an instant family and get along very well, very quickly. You are all working together for maybe 50 days or so and are expected to produce something at that end of that time that represents everything the band is trying to say as an artist, to make it accessible and appreciated by as many people as possible and have it be a success.
If after the first album together you succeed at that, and the process was enjoyable for all, it seems logical that if the opportunity to work together again arises, then it would make sense to give it another go and see what happens. The second time around everyone already knows each other, so things can often move a lot more swiftly and creatively as one can bypass the “treading carefully” part of working with someone new, and just get down to the business of making a great album.
Some artists like to change things up with each and every album, working on purpose with different producers and engineers so things don’t get stale. Some artists respond well to that challenge, but others love the comfort of knowing that their producer and engineer knows what they do and don’t like and that their aesthetic does not need explaining — the artist can sometimes feel more free to experiment with new ideas comfortable with the knowledge that their tried-and-tested team has got their back in the way they want, without having to say anything. Again, you can just get on with it and have a good time.
It’s time to move on when the fun has stopped entirely!
KM: I think it’s beneficial for artists and producers to work on multiple albums because only over time do the artists and producers really learn and understand how to communicate to create and produce great music. Those relationships take time, sometimes years to develop, and when they work great it only makes sense to continue working together.
I think of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanios working with U2. They developed a sound together that has worked over many albums, and that is what I have created with The NowherNauts over multiple recordings and the writing of many songs together.
I think it’s time to move on when great music is not being created and no one is pushing to make it better. Or when the pairing becomes complacent, or when the band and support to make great music comes to an end.
Those are some great insights. Lastly, let’s put the spotlight on what the producer/engineer gets out of it — how did your personal growth as producers intersect with the band’s growth as artists on this project?
CG: I think that Kevin had spent such a long time – years — developing the band and did their first album by himself, but realized that to take it to the next level for the second album, he was going to need the help of someone like me who with my experience could help facilitate the vision he had.
I don’t have the same experience that Kevin has when it comes to songwriting and band development, so for me to sit in on pre production rehearsals and learn things from him was as rewarding as him watching what I do in the studio — it was a very complementary growth for us both, I think.
That it added to the band’s growth as artists was great — they were starting to write more and more sophisticated songs, becoming better and better musicians and even during the recording of the album I could see them becoming interested in new things, exposed to new instruments and techniques which I’m sure will make themselves evident in future songs and recordings. The timing of us all coming together could not have been better.
KM: My personal growth as a producer developed alongside the band’s growth as songwriters and performers, beginning when we initially brought them together five years ago. Our knowledge and abilities grew together over the many recording sessions, rehearsals, shows, and songwriting we have done together over the last five years.
– David Weiss
Kevin March, firstname.lastname@example.org
Carl Glanville, email@example.com
GREENWICH VILLAGE, MANHATTAN: Earlier this year, one of NYC’s top session and touring drummers, Rich Pagano, shared some of his studio expertise in an intensive way.
His academic vehicle? A six-part hands-on course he lead at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music entitled “The Art of Recording Classic Drums.” Attendees — engineers, producers, and drummers who were serious about advancing their drum-recording abilities — got to work in close quarters with Pagano, a member of the Fab Faux who also sports countless records and network TV credits, along with his status as founder of New Calcutta Studios in the garment district.
A hands-on course, “The Art of Recording Classic Drums” provided some priceless advice, covering techniques of instrument and head selection, miking, tuning, and recording the “classic” drum sounds typified by some truly classic drummers and producers: Ringo Starr, Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound (courtesy of Hal Blaine), Rudy Van Gelder’s jazz sound ( as exemplified by Miles Davis), Keith Moon, late ‘70’s Charlie Watts, Motown, Nigel Olsson (early Elton John), drum sounds of the early 70s and John Bonham.
Pagano recently made some of the recordings from the workshop, complete with session notes, available to SonicScoop. For an intensive drum tip fix, listen, read, and learn from these sharply performed and tracked SoundCloud files, accompanied with detailed information on the recording techniques that were applied.
A new course in the series has also just been announced. To register for the next edition of “The Art of Recording Classic Drums”, starting January 7th, visit here.
Get a visual taste of the action, then be sure to check out all the SoundCloud files and session notes that follow, below.
SoundCloud Set One: ” ’70′s Drum Day”
#1 — Final “All Mics”
“DIARY: 70s Drum Sounds – Class started by listening to Al Green, Don Henley (Eagles), Nigel Olsson, Fleetwod Mac, Mott The Hoople, The Carpenters and Phil Collins (creativity through audio gates). Note: This particular class was filmed for a documentary. We talked about single headed drums, type of heads, baffling a room and surrounding the drum set with hung packing blankets (we did this). We then set out to manipulate an early 70s Ludwig Vistalite (red). We did not A/B the records with our drum sound since we wanted to make a bit of a hybrid of all sounds listened to.
Drums: 22×14, 8×12, 9×13, 10×14, 16×16, 5 1/4×14 snare (chrome) this was the only kit used at the classes with clear heads and all bottom heads were removed except for the floor tom. Kick was tuned and packed tight but still with some low thud tone, toms were taped up at the top of the head with some paper towels being used and tuned low-ish. Floor tom was also taped and paper toweled on top and a bit on the bottom. Snare had an O-ring plus ‘taped on’ paper towel. Much time and care was taken to make sure that the tone of each tom was consistent with the other.
Mics: Toms: Senn 421s at the bottom of the shells and just outside , Kick close Senn E902, Kick far Senn 441 (drums were facing a corner so that we could use the space in front of the bass drum for kick drum air and low end). Bass drum mics were then covered with a moving blanket draped over chairs. Snare top and bottom 57s, overheads 57s right on the cymbals, room mics 87s from behind the kit. Kick close was pushed into a REAL (hardware) 1176. Much care was put into checking phase. I performed a bit and we then mixed it all in stereo into an 1176 plug in and a Focusrite 6 band EQ plug in to trim some bottom off, fatten low mids and add some overall top. Kick and snare were gated at this stage and a slap delay was added to the tom bus master (also gated). A touch of plug in reverb (EQ’d) on the snare too.”
#2 — “Close Mics”
#3 — “Overhead & Room”
Set Two: “Glyn Johns Day”
#1 — Final “All Mics”
“DIARY: Glyn Johns Day’s drum sound (and Eddie Kramer too) arrived through tangible info and hypothesis. We looked at photos (Bonham, Watts), talked about my conversations with Chris Huston (Led Zep 2) and Henry Hirsh (Lenny Kravitz) and listened to Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones. We turned the music off, tuned the kit and started to create a drum sound – never A/Bing the source again so that we could have a bit of our own personality in the sound.
Kit: 24 x 16 (forgot to use a wood beater ala, Bonham), 9 x13, 16 x 16, 14 x 7 snare. I did not list mics used but remember that we had an 87 as a single overhead and a Schoeps cardiod behind the kit and near the floor tom, Snare top only (57), kick front (no hole in the head) Beyer M88, behind the kick is a Sennheiser 441 (about one foot behind the thone, 2 ft off the ground).
Room mics were Coles mics and were about 12 – 15 ft in front of the kit and placed wide. Every mic was strategically placed for optimum tone and impact. I performed the drumming and then we mixed it all in mono except for a slight pan on the rooms. All mics were bussed to an 1176 type plug in and with a little bit of high and low pass EQ also on the bus. Reverb was added through a plug in and EQ’d to sound vintage (lots of low pass filter manipulation). See other stems for isolated mics on this kit.”
#2 — “Room Mics Only”
Set Three: “Geoff Emerick Day”
#1 — Final “All Mics”
“Diary: Geoff Emerick Day (Ringo Blond Kit). We started by listening to Abbey Road and looking at ‘confirmed’ studio photos. I talked at length about what I learned from doing a session with Geoff and how forthcoming he was with recording info. We then set out to tune, baffle and ‘tea towel’ the drums (early ’60s Ludwig). We did not A/B the records to our sounds since we wanted a bit of the room’s personality in the end.
Drums: 22×14, 9×13 (didn’t have a 12″ available), 9×13, 16×16, 5 1/4×14 snare (chrome-only choice we had). Snare and floor were totally dampened, rack toms were taped slightly to emulate calf skin heads, floor and kick were with only a single head. Snare was miced with a Scheops cardiod from the BOTTOM ONLY. Single overhead was an 87. Double headed rack toms were miced at the ‘bottom of the shells at the head’ and the floor was miced from below (Scheops), just outside of the open shell. Much time and care was taken to get the mics and phase correct.
Room mics were Coles. I performed a bit and then we mixed it quasi-mono (panned left) into a Fairchild compressor plug in and a high pass filter plug in but with a bit of the rooms peeking through on the right to get a bit of the ‘The End’ sound (drums were in stereo). Snare sound takes on more of a Revolver/Sgt Pepper period sound – not as tightly baffled as ’69 but still with lots of ‘chick.’ Note: Close mics stem has a nice Ringo option too.”
#2 — “Overhead and Room Mics”
#3 — “Close Mics”
Set Four: “Rudy Van Gelder Blue Note Day”
“Diary: Rudy Van Gelder Jazz drum sound. We listened to John Coltrane, Jimmy Smith and talked about the shroud of secrecy surrounding the RVG sound. I had found some hypothesis online that seemed to be right but the rest was nothing more than guesses after listening to source audio. We set out to the live room (we did not A/B the records beyond this point, going for what the room is telling us) to an early ’60s ludwig kit.
Drums: 14×22, 9×13, 16×16, 5 1/4×14 chrome snare. Drums were tune high and with lots of resonance.
Mics: Overhead Brauner VM1(?) Large diaphram condenser, snare Scheops hyper cardioid, rack tom 87 (not used here), floor 87, room Coles (mono). The over head was way up in the ceiling (the sweet spot for this sound), the floor mic was way back and the room mic was 20 ft. in front of the kit, swiveled around and facing the control room glass with the protective Coles glove left on the mic to round off and muffle the sound – a lot. NY drummer Neil Nunziato played on this one. Mix was in mono and bussed to a Fairchild plug in and a low pass filter to make it all sound that much more vintage. Reverb (EQ’d) was also added.”
Set Five: “Rudy Van Gelder Day as an R&B/Motown Sound”
“Diary: The Van Gelder sound lent itself to a decent R&B sound. Most of the Motown drummers were jazz drummers first and tuned their drums as such. The micing hadn’t changed from the VGelder sound but we did pull the room levels down, brought the rack tom 87 mic into the mix (it was not used for the ‘jazz’ sound) and baffled the front kick head a bit more (no hole) to give it more punch (we pushed a packing blanket up against the head). I played the drums and then went into the control room to mix – in mono. Verb and low pass filter is at the same settings as the jazz sound. See above info for the mics used.”
– David Weiss
ELTINGVILLE, STATEN ISLAND: For recording artists, a stay at a destination studio has long stood as the ultimate arrival.
Designed to support creativity not just with gear and a tuned room, but via an immersive atmosphere where working, living and rejuvenation all converge in one location, destination studios are something to aspire to: Before you can hone your craft at one, you need to earn the privilege.
There are plenty of artists in the New York City area – and worldwide for that matter — who have very much won the right to get away for a few days and focus purely on the act of music creation. But circumstances keep on conspiring to keep them sweating it out in the heat of the city: already a relative scarcity, the ranks of destination studios have, not surprisingly, been thinned.
In the Northeast, Woodstock’s Bearsville is long gone. The stunning Allaire Studios, in Shokan, NY, left us all too soon with its closure in 2008. And while numerous other recording lodges beckon throughout the region — dotting the banks of the Hudson River, the shores of New York lakes, Long Island Sound, and Catskill mountaintops — they can take significant time and effort to reach.
What if there were a destination studio available to the region that magically erased the compromises – one that offered an isolated environment, great natural beauty, distinctive acoustic spaces, sharp engineering talent, affordability, and was somehow within a stone’s throw of midtown?
In fact, all of the above attributes describe Nova Studios in Eltingville, a quiet hamlet on Staten Island’s South Shore. Formerly a composing and audio post facility for the private use of an accomplished filmmaking family, Nova has transitioned to a commercial recording and mixing studio. For everyone in search of headroom and fresh space to create, this development seems to be a very good thing.
A Different Design
Situated within one of two spacious homes on the property, all it takes is one step inside Nova Studios to dispel any preconceived notions you may have about Staten Island. The view outside the expansive glass wall of windows in the living room – which has been transformed into the studio’s main live room – provides a breathtaking panorama of Raritan Bay. Step onto the huge, private back lawn, and a unique angle on northern Monmouth County, NJ, awaits across the wide waters.
If you’re staying overnight, or for a week or a month, your bags will head upstairs to one of several well-appointed rooms in the house. A live-in cook is available to prepare meals in the large kitchen, or band members are welcome to decompress there with some culinary prep time themselves (and many do).
Owned and operated by filmmaker and music enthusiast Frankie Nasso, helming a recording studio is nothing short of a dream come true – he’s created an environment where passions for both the visual and acoustic arts can flourish. On the all-important engineering side, the skills of Ryan Kelly or The Jerry Farley will be at your disposal (freelance engineers are welcome as well, and an assistant is provided) overseen by studio manager Stephen Hennig.
For Kelly, who began helping with Nova Studios’ transformation into a commercial facility in 2010, the facility now represents a rare one-stop shop for musicians and producers.
“I think it’s one of the few destination places where you can do it all,” he says. “You can come here, do the production, mixing, and Jerry’s even done mastering. It can be nice to do a record at a studio in the city – you walk outside and you’re in the middle of Times Square – but if you want to focus 100% on a record and still actually be in NYC, that’s one of the unique things about working here.”
A Seattle native, Kelly graduated from Full Sail, then moved to NYC six years ago and kicked off a globe-hopping engineering career (Beyoncé, Matisyahu, Nico Muhly, Opeth, Slash, Valgeir Sigurðsson, Tom Morello) that exposed him to best studio practices, worldwide. When Nova Studios’ owners reached out to Kelly to help out with the redesign, he was ready with ideas that would simultaneously emphasize flexibility, reliability, and 21st Century workflow.
“I think we get too caught up on trying to recreate great gear designs of the past,” Kelly says, “I love the Beatles as much as the next person, but I think they would have appreciated having Pro Tools and the capabilities we have now available to them. We should be trying to push forward to create new sounds, and trying to make records that people want to recreate in the next generation.”
A Uniquely Inspiring Live Room
While Nova Studios offers a number of fully networked spaces for tracking, the epicenter of the facility’s groundbreaking aspirations is undoubtedly the aforementioned living room. Not only does it sport highly inspirational views, but it also has a variety of reverberant surfaces and sectors within its 1,000 square feet — a combination that distinguishes it as one of the region’s standout recording spaces.
Whole bands, and up to a 10-piece orchestral recording ensemble, can comfortably track together in the living room, and clients including Harry Belafonte, Katherine McPhee, Winds of Plague, Ryann, The OCC Band (featuring Paul Teutul Sr. of the Discovery Channel’s “American Chopper”), Ashanti (voiceover work); Victor Ortiz with Bobby Cruz y Richie Ray, Gravesend, HUNG, IKILLYA, Up for Nothing, The Last Stand, and Brazilian singer/songwriter Julia Mallmann have done just that.
But its standout strength may be for capturing drums: By moving the kit or the microphones, anything from a Bonham-sized earthquake to airtight close-miked sounds are available.
“There are so many sweet spots,” Farley notes. “We can put a mic next to the stone fireplace, or next to the bar with its dark redwood and stained glass window. The open kitchen is adjacent to the living room, and that’s got tile and marble that’s reflective in such a good way with drums.
“And I’ve never had a complaint about the view. Watching storms roll in on the water is beautiful. If it’s early you can see the sky turn orange with the sunrise, or later on you can literally catch the moon coming up over the water. To feel inspired by that kind of view is an incredible experience for any musician.”
Modern Gear, Modern Sounds
Follow the living room’s microphone tie lines and they lead you to the small but acoustically accurate control room downstairs, where the honed workflow enables Kelly and Farley to work quickly and transparently as their clients create. A Digidesign C24 control surface runs Pro Tools 10, complemented by Adam S3A stereo monitors or a Genelec 5.1 8130 monitor system for composers, TV and film work.
Inside the box, an extremely comprehensive array of plugins and virtual instruments are onboard the Apple 8-core MacPro. Meanwhile, a solid mic locker – including a Bock Audio 251, a pair of Royer 122V’s, two DPA 4011’s, plus Neumann KM184’s and U87’s – are on hand to capture what happens on the outside. The owner’s personal collection of classic electric guitars is on hand for the six-stringers, and a Tama Birch-Bubinga drumkit are part of the available instrument selection.
Following the thinking at Manhattan facilities like Germano Studios and Quad Studios’ Q1, the outboard gear puts a heavy emphasis on modern boxes. Kelly specified pieces such as the Presonus Anthony DeMaria Labs 600, Vintech Audio 473, Milennia HV3D, Dangerous 2-Bus LT, and Chandler Limited Germanium Compressors, and a Focusrite Liquid Channel as input and sound-shaping options. The Manley Massive Passive, Manley Stereo Pultec EQ, and A Designs Hammer EQ are all in the producer’s rack as well.
“I hate it when studios skimp on EQ’s – you may find a Pultec, but outside of that you rarely find a cool equalizer,” he states. “The Liquid Channel is interesting, because with that piece – and plugins in general – you can get too caught up in the way something is supposed to sound. Forget what the knobs say or what it’s allegedly emulating. Instead, take the time to pull up a good sound – my favorite thing is using equipment for what people wouldn’t usually think to use it for.”
On top of the producer’s desk sits a tightly-clustered treasure trove of amp heads for guitarists and bassists, including an Ampeg SVT VR, VOX AC30H2, Randall RM100, Peavey 5150 II, Peavey Classic 50, and Sovtek Mig-50. All are quickly selectable via a custom amp patch bay that Kelly made, for quick switching between the Marshall 4×12 Guitar Cabinets, Madison Custom 4×12 Guitar Cabinet, and Ampeg 4×10 Bass Cabinet that are in the adjacent isolated recording space, upstairs in the live room, or anywhere else in the house that sounds good.
“Everything here is wired so that you can go from getting an idea to recording it as soon as possible,” says Farley. “We’ve got a Radial Engineering splitter, so we can run up to seven amps and four cabinets simultaneously – that’s big for my guitar sounds. This way we can make changes quickly while we’re in front of the monitors: your mix is in phase, the compression is set, and you can hear the changes in real time.”
So Near, and Yet so Near
If you’re curious about checking Nova Studios out, access is a snap. For those who are blissfully free of a car, pickup from the Staten Island Ferry (about a 25-minute drive) or the nearby Staten Island Railway can be arranged. Additionally, the Manhattan-originating X1 Express Bus stops two blocks from the house. And for those who want to travel like a VIP, Nova can also provide transportation in their Mercedes Sprinter “JET VAN,” a custom-outfitted BatMobile of sorts, equipped with Direct TV Satellite, Blue Ray DVD Player; Wi-Fi, and a mini-fridge packed with whatever their guests request.
All it takes to get out here is an open mind – enacting a mild sense of adventure will lead artists and producers to a place that they’ll almost surely consider for their next intensive project. Daily and weekly studio rates are approximately half of the standard ticket in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the optional living accommodations are equally cost-effective.
“I hadn’t been out to Staten Island, myself, before I started working here, and it does feel like a mystery destination,” Kelly says. “In LA, no one thinks twice about sitting in traffic 45 minutes to get down the block, but here in NYC people can think a 30-minute trip is like going to a different planet. So the challenge we face is really just getting people out here to see the studio,”
A Brooklyn native who attended high school in Staten Island, Jerry Farley understands the stigma that often accompanies New York City’s southernmost borough, but emphasizes the advantages to be had for those who make the short trip down to SI. “It feels like you’re not in NYC, yet you are,” he adds. “I have plenty of studios available to me where I can be part of the hustle and bustle if I want. This studio has bird’s nests and a bay outside, instead of a Broadway Theater. But I didn’t have to travel upstate – we’re in NYC.”
Ensconced in a little pocket of paradise, Nova Studios gives artists an enticing new escape hatch. The result is the kind of contradiction everyone can welcome – a creative place that feels like it’s a world away, without ever having to leave town. “We’re not struggling to make the rent here, so everyone can relax,” Farley says. “The time is spent on the music.”
– David Weiss
Visit Nova Studios on the web, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
NOHO, MANHATTAN: Riddle us this: When is your first album not your debut album? The answer is…When you’re The Kin, and you’re in the studio recording your emotionally moving pop-rock creations with none other than Tony Visconti producing.
Founded in 2005 by the Australia-to-NYC transplants Isaac and Thorald Koren, The Kin became more than two guitarist/singer brothers with a huge gift for songwriting, when they recruited famed subway hand drummer Shakerleg to join them. So even though The Kin had released two independent studio albums — 2007’s Rise and Fall and 2009’s The Upside – only now do they see the band in its complete form.
“We’re calling this our first album, based on the fact that’s our first record together as a trio,” Thorald explains. “After all these years, we’ve found our distinction.”
As a result, the self-titled collection that’s currently in the works and due for release on Interscope Records this year is serving as a retrograde studio premiere for The Kin, a band that long ago made its mark as an elite live act. As evidence of their on-stage prowess, consider a marathon seven-month residency at NYC’s Rockwood Music Hall, a live CD/DVD documenting a show there, and the fact that Interscope pursued the band heavily after seeing their hypnotic hold on an audience at the Venice, CA venue The Stronghold.
A visit with The Kin during a recent session at Germano Studios in NoHo showed that they were already in a highly productive groove with the legendary Visconti. A Brooklyn born, Britain-bred bassist, composer and arranger, Visconti started working as a producer in 1967 and never stopped, making his name producing 12 David Bowie albums (including Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold the World, Young Americans, Low, Heroes, Lodger, Scary Monsters, and Heathen), and 13 albums for Marc Bolan’s T. Rex. Thin Lizzy, the Moody Blues, the Alarm, and many more are all entries in Visconti’s classics-packed discography.
Visconti had liked what he heard of The Kin’s demos, but it was his experience of one of their live gigs that sold him on being a producer for their record.
“My manager told me beforehand, ‘It’s a band like no other – the drummer doesn’t play with drumsticks, and there’s no bass!’” Visconti recalls, seated at the SSL Duality console in Germano’s Studio 1. “I thought, ‘This is a Zen parable: How do you make a rock record with no drumsticks or bass?’”
Soon Visconti found himself as one member of a 300+ audience “jammed like sardines” to see The Kin at Rockwood Music Hall. No slouch at evaluating talent on the stage – his first experience of Tyrannosauras Rex was an electrifying set at London’s UFO Club – Visconti was excited by what he saw.
“Vocals came easy to them – two singers in harmony,” he recalls. “Isaac was pumping out bass on a microKorg, and the drummer plays with no sticks, yet I’m hearing this huge drum sound like Bonham. All of the elements of a rock band are there, just not the way you would do it normally. But when you put a band like that under the microscope of the studio, there are challenges.”
Visconti has his work cut out for him when it comes to translating The Kin’s mesmerizing live show into recorded format (more on that in a minute), yet he’s diving all the way into a project that perfectly fits him as a producer in 2012. “They have all the right ingredients: They’re great singers, great musicians, and they write great songs,” he explains. “I live to work with a group like this, and once they let me in I’m trying to bring the best out of them. I can’t do that with a fluff artist.
“There’s a link to the past that The Kin have,” Visconti continues. “They write on the same level as Bowie, great lyrics. People are buying stuff that’s 40 years old now, and this is a group with the creative ethics that bands had in the ‘70’s. If you listen to Cat Stevens’ songs, there’s a connection there: fantastic lyrics, melodies and production values.”
Raising Their Game
The Kin have been waiting a long time to make this record, and they also know that their patient global fan base has high expectations. Whether it’s the songs produced by Visconti or Nic Hard, an additional producer on this eponymous record (Hard also produced Rise and Fall), the band is ready to step up to the pressure.
“Expect everything we’ve got — we’re putting everything into this record,” Isaac says. “It’s literally the best songwriting we’ve done yet. We’re excited to have put all of these elements into the pot, and we can’t wait to put it out to people.”
Inside the accommodating live room of Germano’s Studio 1, the culmination of Visconti’s engineering experience – nearly five decades worth – are on full display to capture The Kin’s vision. Meticulously crafted mic and DI combinations, set up with the help of assistant engineer Kenta, cover the amps, Shakerleg’s drums, the Bechstein A2 upright piano, the acoustic guitar position, and more. A similar scene was doubtless played out during multiple sessions at NYC’s Magic Shop, where no less than elite mixer/producer/engineer Kevin Killen was on engineering duty for Visconti and The Kin.
Visconti will talk about how he achieves his sounds – but only up to a point. “It’s a long chain: signal processing, gates, compressors, EQ, and especially mic placement,” he says. “I could tell you exactly how I do it, but I think that’s futile because you wouldn’t get my results. You’d need me and The Kin!
“That’s why I prefer not to say, ‘I used a Sennheiser 412 and put it next to the drummer’s armpit.’ I’d rather people use their ears, walk around the room, think about the best mic to use, and figure out where to put it.”
How to Make it Translate from Stage to Studio
A listen to 2011’s Live At Rockwood Music Hall quickly makes it clear why The Kin work so well live. In between tunes, there’s no shortage of the spontaneous interplay that only siblings are capable of. When the songs kick in, there are artfully harmonic structures that only The Kin are capable of — massively moving shifts from light to dark; deftly interweaving voices, guitars, and rhythms expressing solitary stories and universal themes.
Visconti, whose steady clients like David Bowie and Marc Bolan knew how to deliver masterpieces both onstage and on record, has proved an ideal match for The Kin at this stage in their career. As they laid down a musical idea in Studio 1, for example, Visconti deftly combined a creative atmosphere with attention to detail, applying an efficient workflow.
“I feel very encouraged as an artist — and also challenged — by the way Tony works,” Isaac says. “We’ve found it’s a completely different approach to studio and live. Live, you’re just doing it and not even aware of it. In the studio, you do what you do live and it doesn’t necessarily come out the same.”
Thorald adds, “Over all these years we’ve honed in our live shows what it means to have one moment, one shot, one experience. The vocals you’re singing at that moment are where you are — if you’ve been laughing, you’re tired, you’re cold – and you’ve been trained to be ready to give everything you have. In the studio, it’s a different experience.
“So getting to the place where we feel comfortable is something I’ve learned with Tony on this record: how to not be slick and not have that safety net, and instead to have that urgency, that one-time feeling.”
Notes Visconti, “Live, the adrenaline makes you play faster. The band has it, the audience does too, so everyone accepts 5 BPM’s higher. And its sheer volume: Most bands just sound amazing live because it’s loud – like 110 dB.
“There are studio tricks to make it sound live at a low level, working with things like compression and distortion. In the studio you’re hearing microphones, but in the live setting you hear the PA. So sometimes in the past I’ve experimented with bringing a live PA into the studio, although you need a soundstage. Or I’ve put a kick drum through a bass amp to shake the room.
“Distortion is your best friend, really. Overloading a preamp or tape gives the impression that it’s more than you can bear, just on the verge of pain. Those are audio techniques to create that feeling at a low volume.
“But The Kin do play great in the studio. Sometimes they’ll have a click track, sometimes not, and it’s amazing how solid they are – tempo shifts might be one BPM slower. Keeping their live feel intact in the studio is what I’m trying to go for.”
One of Visconti’s earliest producing projects was recording with 20-year old David Bowie in 1967. For years afterward, the producer was making landmark albums in the analog domain — a realm where he observed a fundamental recording technique.
“We didn’t have Pro Tools in those days, so the selection of the musicians was very important,” he says. “The people who got to go into the studio were great musicians. These days, a lot of young bands – and I’m not talking about The Kin – go into studios prematurely, but they know the safety net [digital editing] exists. They know every beat will get fixed.
“With T. Rex we did five or six takes, but usually one or two would be enough. It’s the same with The Kin: We do two or three takes. We don’t have to belabor anything. You have to kind of trick yourself that you can’t fix it — although we do if we have to. We used to do it with a razor blade and tape, but it was harder and trickier to razor-cut Take Five and Eleven together. I did it then, and I’m doing it now. This time it’s with a few mouse clicks, but my ethic hasn’t changed.”
A Band of Brothers
When The Kin’s self-titled record arrives later this year, Tony Visconti will have respectfully preserved the genuine core that sets the group apart. “This is one of the few bands that talks about the emotion they’re going for in a song,” he says. “And since they’re brothers, they don’t bullshit each other. If they have a problem, they stop the session and we all discuss it.
“A lot of my notes aren’t technical notes – they’re notes about how the song should be portrayed. I really appreciate that: They think at a deep level. That’s why the record evokes strong feelings.”
– David Weiss
WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN: It’s fun to imagine what Matt Boynton, founder of the thriving Williamsburg studio Vacation Island, might do if someone presented him with a marketing plan.
He might make it into a little hat. If it had a lot of pages, he may be able to construct some type of makeshift shelter. With the addition of some glue, perhaps he could sculpt a papier-mâché statue of the Beatles.
But that would be about it, because apparently all Boynton needs to do in order to bring business to Vacation Island is keep showing up. Since he started the studio in 2007, word of mouth from his client list has seen the creatively-freeing space consistently booked.
As evidence, just ask Bat for Lashes, Beirut, Black Dice, Kurt Vile, MGMT, Suckers, Vietnam, and many more from across the indie rock spectrum. There’s a reason they return to record and mix with Boynton at Vacation Island – and it ain’t because he’s slick.
Instead, Boynton has a pretty simple explanation for his consistently expanding client base. “People like to work with me,” he says. “They call me up. They keep coming back. I don’t feel competitive with other studios – I just want the place to be booked, and I just want to be working on things that I like. That’s what I do.”
Student of SoHo
Although there seems to be a studio on every other block in Williamsburg these days, not all of them sport the pedigree of Vacation Island.
Boynton built up his engineering chops at the Magic Shop in SoHo, working for years under the highly respectable tutelage of Steve Rosenthal. Hired in 2002 at the revered downtown facility by accident (it’s a funny story), Boynton gradually went from being an intern to an indispensable member of Rosenthal’s crew. By the time he rose to chief engineer there, Boynton had become thoroughly immersed in the science behind great audio.
After four productive years, Boynton felt ready to start working freelance, and struck out on his own in 2006 with a studio that also happened to be his apartment…that also happened to be an ex-storefront in Williamsburg — but he quickly soured on rolling out of bed straight into the sweetspot. In search of some headroom, Boynton eventually used CraigsList to find the 1000 sq. ft. space that would become Vacation Island.
While Boynton didn’t have much of a marketing plan in his head, what he did have was a sound strategy behind this calculated risk. “I thought, ‘The way the music business is going – which is not well – I have to be cheaper,’” he explains. “I figured I’d build a studio and be less expensive for bands. I record my friends, but it just so happens my friends are in MGMT and Gang Gang Dance.
“I guess it’s like any other local scene, but it’s Williamsburg – it’s NYC,” he continues. “It’s larger than any local scene going on in a small town in Oklahoma. Local bands here are famous.”
Designing a Brooklyn Studio
Five years after occupying the space, Boynton has built it and thoroughly broken it in. The Vacation Island vibe starts out in the large control room outfitted with a Neotek Series 1E 24-channel console. Manning the faders, you look through large windows into the two live spaces that have been set up railroad-style, designed specifically to accommodate full rock bands that want to play together live, but in spacious isolation.
Directly adjacent to the control room is the Island’s “Dead Room”, a 12-foot x 11-foot x 9-foot-6-inches space that comfortably holds a white Schumman 5-foot baby grand piano, with plenty of space to spare. Next over is the significantly larger “Live Room,” which sports 16-foot x 19-foot x 12-foot dimensions and enables highly musical sounds for drums and live instruments. It also accommodates a Farfisa Bravo, Wurlitzer Organ, 1928 Crown Upright piano, red 1970’s Yamaha Organ, and many more creative tools.
“My studio is somewhat rare in that a whole band can perform live here, and still be isolated really well,” says Boynton. “With the Dead Room, I can do acoustic instruments and drums at the same time – usually those have to be done separately. The railroad-style layout was the best way, in my opinion, to occupy the space. I like the musicians to be able to see each other, and overall it just seems practical and compact – I’m getting a lot out of a little bit of space.”
An avid reader of informed audio resources, Boynton learned about the “Golden Ratios” of recording as detailed in the books “Building a Sound Studio on a Budget” and “The Master Handbook of Acoustics” by F. Alton Everest and studiously applied them to the Live Room’s design.
“In that formula,” he explains, “you take your most limited dimension, which is generally ceiling height, and then multiply it by certain numbers (1 : 1.28 : 1.54) to come up with the width and the length. Sticking with that allows for more even distribution of lower room modes, which reduces the frequencies that can make it sound muddy. If you start from this Golden Ratio, it’s much easier to treat a room. The idea was to have a really dead room to do vocals, drums, anything…and have it be just the opposite of the live room.”
Personalized Workflow in the Control Room
After letting it all hang out in the Live Room, Dead Room, the Iso booth, and/or two amp closets, bands are happy to join Boynton in the wide open control room, which was also designed using the aforementioned Golden Ratios.
“I laid out the room to work for me, and the way I track and mix,” he says. “I decided to get a Neotek board because they’re really simple in the way that they’re built. I thought, ‘I can’t afford a $75,000 Neve console, so I may as well get something that’s clean and almost surgical so I can shape it and color the sound outside of the console. that’s clean and almost surgical so I can shape it and color the sound outside of the console. Although it turns out I really love the sound of the series 1E, especially when it’s pushed and the peak LED’s light up.”
A fan of the sound of vintage transformers breaking up musically, Boynton modified the Neotek with UTC LS-141 transformers to make a balanced master output for the board. “They weigh four pounds each,” notes Boynton of the transformers. “It’s a ton of iron to send the signal through. You push these and get a little bit of distortion in a nice way.”
Listening primarily via ProAc Studio 100 or EV Sentry 100a monitors, Boynton uses the Neotek board in combination with a Euphonix MC Mix controller to mix in Pro ToolsHD2. With a carefully constructed workflow, Boynton feels that he’s built a seamless bridge between his analog and digital tools.
“When mixing I basically use Pro Tools I/O sends and hardware inserts to get in and out of the analog world instead of doing everything on the board in a traditional sense,” he says. “Then I sum all the tracks in Pro Tools to the last 16 channels on the console. When the mix is done I print all the outboard processing back into Pro Tools and write down the bus compression and reverb settings so I can instantly recall a mix in the future. When I track, I do all the compressing and EQ along the way, which makes it easy for me when I mix.”
That carefully-thought-out tracking signal path is part of an attitude that allows the music made at Vacation Island to ring out with the immediacy of the moment, stemming from Boynton’s ability to commit to a special sound from the start.
“That’s the way to do it,” he confirms. “I think it sounds better (to apply compression and EQ while tracking), and I think it’s better for the musicians because they’re hearing what they’re doing in pretty much the way it’s going to be. When I make decisions early on, I don’t have to go back and forth later. I take my cue from older records too, when they had to bounce tracks – they’d eventually put the drums, bass and acoustic guitar together on one track, so they had to get a good mix of it. Limiting yourself in that way is a good method.”
Behind the console are three racks of mic pres, effects and dynamics that allow Boynton to complete the picture. Your eye might be first drawn to the Helios Type 69 pres, LA3A’s or Tube-Tech CL 1B, but Boynton depends most heavily on a sleeper nestled in Rack #3: a Sony MU-R201 Stereo Reverb unit.
“It’s just an amazing old digital reverb,” he notes. “I don’t know exactly what it is that makes it sound different than something that costs 20 times as much, but it fits into a mix really nicely. You can put every track through it, and its warm and lush sounding in the way that Lexicon gear isn’t. It is a true stereo reverb has two separate processors for the left and right, which allows you to pan a track within the stereo image of the reverb.”
Boynton is unabashedly old skool in his choice of desert-island dynamics: his Neve 33609. “I could have nothing else but 33609’s and I’d be totally happy. They’re magic sounding. I don’t know what it is – it’s just a well-designed piece.”
Recording and Mixing “Candy Salad” for Suckers
For proof of how well this all comes together, listen to Candy Salad, the new album from the Brooklyn-based trio Suckers that was just released by NYC tastemaker label French Kiss. At turns anthemic, adventurous, sweeping, simple and gorgeous, the 11-song collection was enabled by the fast-moving freedom that pervades Vacation Island.
“I’ve known (singer) Quinn Walker for a while, and we’ve been threatening to make a record together,” Boynton says. “This is a good environment for them, because it’s a good environment for everyone: It’s comfortable, I’m really flexible, and I work fast. He’s got a lot of ideas, so we just try them all and weed out what doesn’t work right away.”
To Boynton, the drum sounds on Salad are a solid show of his approach to recording. “I always work hard on drums to get specific sounds for each record,” states Boynton. “I was listening to Plastic Ono Band, Joe Walsh, Brian Eno for inspiration – we wanted to get a really warm, but tight and very present and spirited kind of a ‘70’s drum sound. The Fleetwood Mac song ‘Dreams’ was one thing we talked about a lot. Then we tailored each drum sound to each song.
“We put delay on these drums, which I liked. It’s a spatializing effect that’s an alternative to reverb – it gives it more depth, especially with dry drums. I like to put Emperor heads on, because they’re thicker and add more harmonics. That way it’s not as much of a tone, and more of a thud. Then I’ll put on towels, tape…whatever it takes. As far as miking them – just pick the right mic and put it in the right place!”
For Quinn’s emotionally expressive vocals, Boynton turned to another favorite in his producer’s rack in the Neve 33314 compressor/limiter. “That’s the console version of the 33609,” he says. “I ran the vocals through that when we were mixing, compressing something like 12 dB, because I’m not afraid of what might look like overdoing it. We tried to stay away from reverb, because Quinn’s got the kind of voice where I’m afraid someone would say, ‘Let’s put a ton of reverb on it to make it sound big and lush.’ So instead we put a lot of delays on it to keep it dry in the Plastic Ono Band vein.
“On the song ‘Leave the Light On’ we ran the vocal through the Echoplex, then fucked with the delay time so it would jump and warble. After that, we lined it up with the music for this dreamy vibe. Then when the drums kick in, that’s when it shifts to a more straight-up vocal sound.”
That little bit of experimentation provides a big window into why recording at Vacation Island usually turns out well for artists. “I like to do things that are interesting,” Boynton says simply. “I like to listen to the records I make and say, ‘I like that idea. That was a cool sound.’
“This is why people come to work with me: They want me to do what I do to their records. I’m never trying to enforce my aesthetic on somebody – I try to adapt it to the band I’m working with. It just so happens I have a specific thing that I do, and there’s such a blurred line between producer and engineer at this point. I’m doing both jobs, and I’m not afraid to point something out that may not be working, or suggest new ideas and figure out parts.”
Setting the Williamsburg Studio Trajectory
Vacation Island shows how far audio expertise, aesthetic vision, patience, and a fierce work ethic can take the 21st Century wave of studios sprouting throughout Brooklyn: all the way. With a singular sense of art and science, plus a genuine connection to the myriad bands populating the surrounding blocks, tenacious sonic proprietors will get to keep recording.
But don’t try and talk all that big-picture stuff to Matt Boynton. For him, his focus is set squarely on the sound coming out of those two speakers in front of him, his family, and nothing else. “I don’t know what’s going on outside, and I don’t know how people work at other studios,” he says. “I’m here. I go home, hang out at the beach with my kid, and then I come back the next day. You know?”
– David Weiss
SOHO, MANHATTAN/WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN: Inside the floated rooms of New York City’s recording studios, research is always taking place. After the clients have left for the night, gearheads often turn their attention to mic checks of a different kind.
This intersection of art, aesthetics, and science was in full effect last week at Downtown Studios. There, Studio A was the site of a four-way modern tribute microphone comparison arranged by Audio Power Tools, which was marking the debut of their demo-focused Williamsburg retail operation with a night of high-level critical listening.
But don’t call it a shooutout! The eye-popping array of elite large diaphragm condenser mics — a Telefunken ELA M 251E, Bock 241, Telefunken U47, and Wunder CM7 – were assembled in peace. The first two mics honor the legendary ELA M 250/501 mics produced in 1959 by AKG for Telefunken GMBH, while the latter pair put their spin on the famed Neumann U47 – both of which enjoy epic reputations in the vocal mic realm.
“A ‘demonstration’ is probably the most non-combative word,” says APT co-owner Dan Physics. “The idea was not to beat up on any of the brands, but to compare the merits of each brand that was present, and showcase the character of each microphone in contrast to others considered in the same strata.”
For the demonstration, Downtown Studios Chief Engineer Zach Hancock invited Atlantic
Records artist Ryan Star to record one song, using combinations of the two mics simultaneously on Star and vocalist Dallin Applebaum. Meanwhile, a Royer 122 active ribbon mic was placed on acoustic guitarist Daniel Tirer’s instrument for good measure.
In Studio A’s spacious live room, and in the vocal booth, Star and Applebaum each faced different combinations of the two mics, mounted one directly over the other on boom stands. Capsules were almost touching grill-top to grill-top, and sharing the same pop filter. In this way, each microphone’s diaphragm was at an equal proximity to the source material being recorded.
From there, each mic was patched to tie lines via 25′ mic cables, with patch cables of equal length used on the patch bay side. Hancock and Downtown assistant Chris Sciafani took care to make sure the cardioid polar pattern was selected on each mic, and that roll off filtering was not engaged on the mics that offered it.
While a pristine signal path was desirable, APT co-owner Blue Wilding emphasizes that a nod to real-world, practical usage was employed in the decisions throughout the night. As a result, the mic preamps in Downtown’s classic Neve 8014 console were chosen as the next stage.
“The Neve preamps are not as clinical as the GML’s in the A-room,” Zach Hancock says, “which for critical listening is a relevant concern, but there’s a comfort in the familiarity and musicality of the Neves. There are a few ways to get signal routed from the console’s mic pre to the rig: In this case it made the most sense to bypass the large fader and go to disk via the insert-send. The mic pre on the two 47′s was set to the same setting, and the two 251′s got the same setting as well. So each mic got patched in to a 1084, and then patched directly to Pro Tools recording at 24-bit 192k, via an Avid HD I/O converter.”
Star and his bandmates did three takes of the song, a powerful and achingly beautiful duet so new that it’s as-yet unnamed. Rather than declare a “winner”, or color preconceived notions with any value judgments, APT is inviting anyone interested in the outcome to email them directly, arrange to hear the files for themselves, and come to their own conclusions.
“We prefer not to plant seeds in the listener’s mind, in comparisons like this,” Wilding explains. “Detail, clarity and character of each mic are what the listener should be looking for.”
For Audio Power Tools, the demonstration was a microcosm of their hands-on approach. Originally founded by Wilding in 2010 as a rep service for select high-end audio brands, APT transitioned last month into a retail operation handling gear from Burl, BAE, Chandler, Dangerous, Telefunken, Wunder, Bock, Tonelux, Unity Audio, Apogee, Bricasti, Manley, Retro Instruments, and more. Visitors to their Williamsburg demo room (dubbed “The APT”) can call ahead to have custom chains assembled, or have demo gear delivered directly to their studio for onsite auditioning.
“Our credo is ‘demo-based shopping for working professionals,’” says Wilding. “Every person using this gear to make a living needs to hear it before they buy it. It’s the only way. Every purchase is a delicate balance of necessary function and personal taste. Like jeans…you gotta try ‘em on and see how they hug you.
“Unfortunately, a lot of this gear is not available to try in NYC, and when it is, it’s often not demo’d in ideal conditions. So with our demo room, we’ve created an atmosphere that we feel is in tune with the NYC user base.”
Even for seasoned hands like Zach Hancock, the enhanced critical listening experience had an extra measure of sonic satisfaction. “I’ve never had the opportunity to hear the two preeminent U47 and 251 replicas go head-to-head,” he said. “The reward came in the ability to directly compare apples to apples.”
– David Weiss
The six-part hands-on course is will take place at the Institute’s downtown facilities between June 11-29, 2012 (full details below). Being an NYU student is not required for registration – this course is open to the public, and costs $1915 with a $250 lab fee.
Pagano is a member of the Fab Faux, has countless records and network TV credits, and founder of New Calcutta Studios in the garment district (read the full SonicScoop feature on him right here). His new course should provide a wealth of information for engineers, producers, and drummers interested in advancing their drum-recording abilities.
Here are more details about “The Art of Recording Classic Drums”, straight from Pagano:
“Drum sounds have the potential to exhibit as much personality on a recording as a vocalist or soloist. However, a great drum sound can be difficult to obtain. Through this course, the creative student will learn the techniques necessary to expand their acoustic drum-sound ‘library.’
This hands-on studio course covers techniques of instrument and head selection, micing, tuning, and recording the ‘classic’ drum sounds typified by Ringo Starr, Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound (Hal Blaine), Rudy Van Gelder’s jazz sound (Miles Davis), Motown, drum sounds of the early 70s and John Bonham.
The workshop will be complemented with extensive historical documentation culled from personal interviews with engineering legends Geoff Emerick (Beatles), Elliot Scheiner (Steely Dan), Chris Huston (Led Zeppelin), session set-up sheets and photos.
For info and registration:
The Art of Recording Classic Drums
NCRD-UT 8568 | 2 units | Class#: 4676
Session: 06/11/2012 – 06/29/2012 Section: 001
Class Status: Open | Grading: Undergrad Tisch Graded
Course Location Code: WS | Component: Studio
Course Dates: 06/11/2012 – 06/29/2012 – Tuesdays and Thursdays (6 classes)
Time: 6.00 PM – 9.15 PM
Course Location: Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU, 194 Mercer Street, NYC, Room 510
This course costs $1915 and has a $250 lab fee.
To register for this non-credit course, go to:
or call 212 998 2292 or contact The Office of University Programs at email@example.com
Notes: Students wishing to take this course FOR CREDIT should register for REMU-UT 1070 at http://specialprograms.tisch.nyu.edu/object/tuitionguide.html
Or call 212 998 2292
$1915 and has a $250 lab fee