My GO TO…Delay: Three Pros Share Their Secret Weapons

April 21, 2014 by  

First in a series, where busy producers/mixers/engineers provide tips and techniques on their top studio tools.

When it comes to gear, engineers, producers and musicians are creatures of habit. When I find a piece of gear, or a plug-in with a killer sound that works consistently from project to project, I stick with it.

It’s when I’m forced out of my comfort zone by working in an unfamiliar studio environment, or perhaps by an artist or co-producer who has fresh ideas on how to achieve a particular sound that I often do my best work.  I always love finding new tools and new approaches to sound.

This column is the first in a series of pieces where we will focus on a particular tool for recording and mixing and bring you some tips and tricks on how to make it work in your mixes.

We’ll also survey a few engineers and producers to get their unique insight into their favorites and how they like use them!

Today’s feature: Delay.

Classic delays like the AMS DMX set the standard.

Classic delays like the AMS DMX set the standard.

Delay is one of my favorite effects to work with in mixes because of its sheer versatility.  Delay can add space and ambience to a dry guitar, accent a word or phrase of a vocal, or even artificially create the effect of a doubled track.

When I first started making my way through the studio ranks, hardware staples like the Lexicon PCM 42, TC 2290 and AMS DMX were in nearly every control room.  Before my time, tape delay was prominent in the 1950’s and 60’s with artists like Elvis and The Beatles using the actual heads on a tape machine to create a delayed slap back sound.

In the 70’s and 80’s, hardware boxes like the Roland Space Echo were all the rage in studios and used by many classic artists like Pink Floyd and Radiohead.

Gradually, as software effects became more and more ubiquitous with recording, certain plug-ins became the go to for many engineers.   Among the favorites from the last ten years would be Line 6’s Echofarm, Waves Supertap, PSP’s 85 and 608 and my go to delay currently: SoundToys EchoBoy.

The reason I like EchoBoy so much is that on any given mix, it can be anything I want it to be.  Lately, I’ve been gravitating towards a preset called “HallwayVocal” which combines a heavily diffused “splattered” sound with a very short stereo slap.

The resulting sound, when carefully blended, creates a lush stereo presence for my lead vocal without being overly obvious that it’s even a delay.

Hear Zach McNees’ use of Echoboy “HallwayVocal” preset on the song “Magnolia” by Ali Hoffman, followed by the full mastered version of the track.  

So what is everyone else doing with delay these days?  I’ve spoken with Engineers Brian Bender, Kevin Killen, and Jason Finkel about some of their favorite delay units and how they like to use them.

GO TO PRO #1: Brian Bender

Brian Bender and I were colleagues at The Hit Factory here in New York prior to its close.  Since then, Brian has been quite busy at his own facility The Motherbrain in Sunset Park Brooklyn cranking out some of the tastiest records I’ve ever heard.  Recent highlights include the last Jose James record “No Beginning, No End” (co-produced with Pino Palladino), Langhorne Slim and the Law, Krystle Warren, Kris Bowers, Takuya Kuroda and Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds.

Brian Bender's delays: FullTone Tube Tape Echo, the square wave parade - Teaspoon, cream and sugar edition Moog Moogerfooger mf-104z (click to enlarge) Snazzy FX - wow and flutter

Brian Bender’s delays: FullTone Tube Tape Echo, the square wave parade – Teaspoon, cream and sugar edition
Moog Moogerfooger mf-104z (click to enlarge)
Snazzy FX – wow and flutter

Brian’s GO TO delay: The Fulltone Tube Tape Echo.  For those not familiar, the “TTE” as it’s commonly referred is essentially a tiny tape machine built just for echo.

Guitar players and engineers alike use the TTE for it’s lush, analog sound.  The TTE is the real thing and Fulltone does not take kindly to their emulating competitors! Fulltone’s mission statement for the Tube Tape Echo states:

“There is nothing funnier than the makers of this new wave of digital and chip-based delays claiming to ‘sound like a tape echo.’ One after another they pop out the same old digital and bucket-bridgate delays that supposedly “emulate the warble and tape head saturation of a tape echo” …Bull$#^%.”

I thought this was a perfect lead in for Brian Bender who’s nothing if not a zero Bull$#^% kind of guy.

“It’s just the fucking best.” Brian says of the TTE. “It sounds amazing and the build quality is amazing. It’s super stable, has flexible controls: independent dry/wet volumes, a record trim for tape saturation, a tilt EQ, swell, and wide range of delay times thanks to its moving head, a la an Echoplex, and two tape speeds.

I use it all the time for slap echoes, especially for vocals, drums, and guitar. And, if you’ve smoked enough weed, it’s endless fun times with King Tubby style dub moments. The classic huge forever swell that goes achingly into feedback, weird pitch artifacting from moving the head or changing the speed or even putting something on the pinch roller to get into chorusing/wow flutter territory.

The addition of the EQ option makes it incredibly useful on tons of sources. You can really change the way the delay sits in the mix, forward to back, just by chilling out the midrange a little with the EQ / input saturation. Check out “Hambone” by Heather Christian and the Arbornauts. The end of that tune is me feeding back the whole mix into the TTE and then manually stopping the capstan with my finger in order to get that full stop effect. Endless fun.”

Why are you gravitating towards the TTE and what’s a cool tip or trick you can share with us about it?  “As I mentioned before, one of the ways in which the TTE gets the most love in my arsenal is as a slap echo.

Set up an aux send off the track you want to slap around, send out to the TTE and back into your mixer or DAW. I almost always make it a parallel send so I have independent controls over the volume and timbre of each. I find that a range of between 80-120 ms puts you right there in classic slap territory.

One thing that most folks don’t seem to think of when they think of slap is being subtle with it. I love to get a happening slap together and just bury it in the mix. This can really widen/mellow big transients in a very useful way as well as offer a vocal process that sounds and impacts as quite dry, just a little special. Or, go total instant karma and crank that mf’er and hard pan it. Solid gold Lennon vibes.

Also, very very short slaps, 5-20 MS can be incredibly useful as stereo wideners too if you’re getting bored with harmonizer kinds of options.

Another really great delay that I actually reach for almost as much as my TTE is the Massey TD-5. It is similarly flexible and, especially for digital, really has a special thing. If you want that tape echo thing but don’t wanna drop the coin on a Fulltone or vintage equivalent, the Massey is a super sick way to get that kind of thing happening.”

Thanks Brian!

GO TO Pro #2: Kevin Killen

Our next Delay enthusiast is Kevin Killen.  Kevin is a GRAMMY-winning producer/engineer/mixer whose work is known worldwide (see the SonicScoop feature on his work with U2).  Featured artists include Peter Gabirel, Elvis Costello, U2, Kate Bush, Jewel, Bon Jovi and many more.

Most recently he’s worked with Goodby Motel (“If”), Suzanne Vega (“Queen of Pentacles”), and Fake Club (“Fuckable”).

Kevin’s GO TO delay is a combo pack.  In hardware land, Kevin’s picks are the Electrix Mo-Fx, TC 2290 and Eventide 3500.  In the box, Kevin gravitates towards EchoBoy and Echofarm.

Kevin Killen is keepin' his Electrix MoFX!

Kevin Killen is keepin’ his Electrix MoFX!

Why are you gravitating towards the Electrix Mo-Fx and what is a good tip or trick you can share with us? “The Mo-Fx is just a brilliant box, which has so much personality. I have yet to find an instrument that does not take to its colorful manipulation. I will often have my favorite hardware delays setup for tracking and will randomly push an instrument through the Mo-Fx , 2290 or Eventide. Sometimes I will use all three in series just to create a new sound and inspire the collective.

The Mo-Fx is especially great on drums for rhythmic delays with distortion – instantaneous hit maker.

The 2290 is wonderful on vocals, keys and of course guitar.

The H3500 presents an endless myriad of patches to alter or enhance a sound, especially when one gets into pitch shifting and resonance control.

I like to record all my effects to tape / DAW. By imposing a unique sound from the rhythm section up, it tends to inform every other part and performance. It is not unusual for me to use little effects while I am mixing.”

GO TO Pro #3: Jason Finkel

Jason Finkel is a Brooklyn Based producer/engineer/mixer.  Some of his recent work includes Hundred Waters, ARMS, Little Racer, Friend Roulette and The Living Statues.

Jason’s GO TO delay? “The conversation for most people starts and ends with Echoboy, it does with me as well.  Though I also like the TD5 from Massey and the Tel Ray (Avid),” Jason says.

Jason Finkel echoes McNees' sentiments on EchoBoy.

Jason Finkel echoes McNees’ sentiments on SoundToys’ EchoBoy.

Why are you gravitating towards EchoBoy? “Aside from your normal delay duties, I really have been into using tight slaps with the HF and LF cut pretty high up. I like to give a touch of ripple or edge to a vocal or instrument. I don’t think you recognize it as a delay…it gives texture, and the more you blend in the more it thins out the sound, which may be helpful.

Although, you can turn the mix almost all the way to dry and turn up the output and bring back the delay without effecting your dry — which is super cool — I end up just really cranking the thing until I get it to make my vocal pop. I’m also really into automating the plugin, changing the feedback from section to section or muting for vowels etc… It’s usually not set-it-and-forget-it.”

What is a good tip or trick you can share with us? “I like the studio tape stuff for clear tight delays, the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man flavor for textural non-classic stuff because it’s pretty dark. I also like Space Echo or Echoplex for keys or guitars, and sometimes vocals but it will lo-fi up a source quick.

I like a Tel Ray style or super tight slap with LF cut pretty high for bass — I don’t like to double up sub or low frequencies. Tel Ray or oil can stuff is cool on drums. Really, I’ll flip through tons of sounds to get the color to sit well in the mix before I start thinking about EQing the delay.”

Thanks Jason!

Don’t Delay…Start Delaying

As is the case with many facets of audio production, when it comes to delay, anything goes!  Get creative with the tools you have access to or branch out and try something new.  Crank up the input, experiment with filtering, use your delay to color another effect in the chain, or just find a tasty slap and bury into your mix as an invisible sweetener.

Thanks to Brian, Kevin and Jason for their brilliant insights!

Zach McNees is a Brooklyn-based producer/engineer/mixer and live recordist who’s worked with Björk, Rob Thomas, Julia Nunes, The Gregory Brothers, Pixies, Liars and Alice Cooper. Get in touch with Zach via

The Unforgettable Tribute: MLK, U2, and the Making of “Pride (In the Name of Love)”

January 20, 2013 by  

MLK, among so many other things, was music.

With his voice alone, Martin Luther King, Jr. made music.

The rhythm and melody that permeated Martin Luther King, Jr. was evident not only in the way that he moved and spoke, but in the way that he inspired musicality in others. One of the greatest orators of our time – or any other – King’s mastery of language made his speeches lyrical as well as life-affirming.

In his non-violent pursuit of civil rights equality, an a cappella delivery of MLK’s words were sufficient to stir deep passions – he didn’t sound like bagpipes or a cavalry bugle, but hearing his voice makes you immediately electrified, and once more strong for the fight.

It was an instrument that rightly won him the Nobel Peace Prize, and helped solidify his legacy as an intellectual leader for the ages via landmark speeches like “I Have a Dream”, and so many more.

“Pride” – An Emotional Ride

It’s no surprise, then, that his influence is imprinted within what people traditionally refer to as music – songs with singers, guitars, beats, bass, and keyboards. On the sampling front from Michael Jackson to Paul McCartney and Common, the Orb to Linkin Park and scores of others, MLK has served as a powerful sound source.

Arguably, one of the greatest-ever musical tributes to MLK stands out in the form of “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, U2’s masterpiece from the 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire. Riveting from Moment One, “Pride” is one of those cosmic confluences that defines a classic: the beautifully rhythmic  guitar work of the Edge, drummer Larry Mullen, Jr.’s big beat is simultaneously complex and simply satisfying, Adam Clayton’s musing bass foundation. And then Bono’s incomparable voice comes, starting off in the verse’s quiet awe before soaring to the hair-raising heights of the chorus.

“Pride” is a structurally simple song, and this upward spiraling cycle gets broken only by the bridge. At the 1:40 mark appears what is certainly the most uncomplicated guitar solo arrangement ever recorded in the history of rock: eight consecutive repetitions of the same single note, exquisitely energized by the Edge’s unique battery of delay pedals and other effects.

If “Pride” is up your alley, then your experience of the song is 3:49 of perfection. Anywhere your ears land at any moment – vocals, guitar, bass drums – what you hear is deeply moving, and builds momentum as the song surges forward. The gang vocals that appear in the third chorus are the perfectly imperfect element that somehow takes “Pride” even higher, connecting band and listeners to the song’s history-changing hero – a campfire singalong where 1,000,000 people can easily join hands.

As did MLK himself, the song accomplishes so much in such a short span of time. And in yet another parallel, rather than diminishing, the power of “Pride” only grows with repeated exposure.

View from the Studio

Engineer/mixer Kevin Killen was there — and then some — for the recording of “Pride”.

One person with a unique perspective on U2’s musical monument to MLK is the New York City-based engineer/mixer Kevin Killen. Working alongside The Unforgettable Fire co-producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois in his native Ireland, Killen was present for the numerous recording sessions that brought the song together.

As part of the engineering team that had recorded U2’s War record and Under a Blood Red Sky mini-LP live album, Killen had already been treated to a front-row seat of the band’s considerable capabilities. As is well-documented, The Unforgettable Fire’s first set of sessions took place at County Meath’s picturesque Slane Castle, enabled by a portable 24-track recording system supplied by Randy Ezratty’s mobile recording company Effanel Music. After a month of work at Slane, U2 and the rest of their crew relocated to the more controlled conditions of Dublin’s Windmill Lane Studios to finish the record.

Before it could reach the pristine state we hear today, Killen reminds that “Pride” had to overcome some serious struggles before its completion at Windmill Lane. “There were two issues,” Killen recalls, taking a break from a mix session at Ezratty’s studio in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood. “Bono hadn’t settled on finished lyrics for the song, and so we were constantly looking at the arrangement to see if there was something about it that was preventing him from getting the words finalized. And Larry’s drum part was proving to be tricky, especially getting the roll right going into the chorus.

“But then Bono was finally able to get the lyrics the way he wanted, and execute the track. It wasn’t one particular word that was a problem, so much as he was just trying to get the exact sentiment to express. He knew what he was trying to say, but he was challenged just trying to get the right thing.”

The gestalt moment – when Bono found what he was looking for – was instantly apparent to everyone at Windmill Lane. “The first time he sang the finished lyrics everyone in the control room looked at each other and said, ‘That was definitely it,’” says Killen. “It was so obvious that he felt comfortable singing that lyric.”

The poetic final lines had arrived. They were written about the great Martin Luther King, Jr., but they could have been said by him just as easily (and indeed three of them were), in one of his unforgettable speeches: “Early morning, April 4/Shot rings out in the Memphis sky/Free at last, they took your life/They could not take your pride.”

Much of “Pride” had already been recorded to that point – suddenly the moment had arrived to launch it to the next level. An AKG C12 mic was waiting for Bono, connected to the preamp of an SSL E Series console with an LA-2A compressor inserted across the buss output.

As the singer was approaching the mic in the live room, Killen stepped up to the proverbial plate in the control room, one hand at the ready on the remote for the Otari MTR 90 tape machine – the young engineer was poised to pop a punch-in that he’d never forget.

“He sang it in one take,” Killen says. “I remember punching it in on the tape machine: Every hair on my body stood up. It was such a spine-tingling moment. He said something so concisely, so perfectly, about MLK’s life.”

Lasting Impact

Killen had the extreme privilege that only an engineer, producer, and an artist’s bandmates can experience: to be there for the magic moments of a classic song’s studio recording, getting the very first listen of a sound that will reach millions of ears for years upon years.

And, of course, Killen wasn’t the only one whose spine tingled at the sound of “Pride (In the name of Love)”. Released as the lead single for The Unforgettable Fire in September 1984, it was the biggest hit yet for U2, breaking the top 5 in the U.K. and the Top 40 in the U.S. While its peak position on the Billboard Hot 100 was only #33, “Pride” was inexorably connected to turning U2 in what it is now – a very, very, very big rock group.

“Pride (In the Name of Love” was released in September, 1984.

“When the band got here in 1984,” says Killen, “there was a very positive reaction to that track. And that was a very special period, stemming from the fact that the band were trying to do something different from their previous three releases.

“On that tour, they went from playing small 2,500-seat theaters to 4,000-seat theaters. Six months after that, they were playing arenas, so U2 saw their own career take off from that album release, up to a different level. And when you see them play ‘Pride’ live, you realize that it’s bass, drums, guitars, vocals, and no embellishments. It just works very well — very powerful, and very emotional.”

Being There

When great leaders emerge, their power to inspire action and art is a gift uniquely theirs to give the world. Growing up in Ireland, it’s reasonable to expect that Kevin Killen had no inkling that the life of Martin Luther King would help fulfill the aspiration held by so many in the music industry – to have a role in the making of a timeless song.

“At the time that we work on them, most engineers hope for songs to become classics,” says Killen, whose GRAMMY-winning career continues on, with hit records for clients including Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello, Kate Bush, Jewel, Bon Jovi, Shawn Colvin, Shakira, Sugarland, Bryan Ferry, and Duncan Sheik. “When you get to be a part of one of them, or a number of them, it becomes pivotal in your career. You’re forever associated with the project, and that can never be taken away from you. Whether your participation was large or small, you’re always connected to it.

“When I sit and listen to ‘Pride’,” he continues, “I can remember that pivotal sequence of events that occurred when the song went from being difficult to record, to being realized. You look around the room, and realize you’ve captured a very special moment. That moment stays with you forever.”

Engineers and producers who crave that sensation need no small amount of luck to be in that right place, at the right time. But Kevin Killen knows that audio pros who are focused on the music can also turn their quest for a classic into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Obviously, we all want to work with an artist that has something to say,” he points out. “Our job is to somehow set the stage so they can truly express themselves in that environment, without judgment, and convey what they’re trying to get out there. If you can be a part of that process, it can be incredibly rewarding not just for yourself, but for the artist.”

Sound Out

In a magic case of things coming full circle, one light that made MLK shine so brightly was that he enabled many millions to express who they truly were, as well.

Equipped with his voice and views – and often aided by a microphone – Martin Luther King, Jr. engineered a movement that unequivocally impacted the world. U2 were among the many who have heard his call. They went on to reflect that spirit forever in a song.

No matter what your walk of life, the chance to somehow have a hand in a timeless work — or even an Earth-changing attitude — may be closer than you think. You too may create something that qualifies. All of us should certainly try.

– David Weiss

The Kevin Killen Interview

July 18, 2012 by  

Kevin Killen is a Grammy-winning engineer and producer best-known for his work on classic albums by U2, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello, Kate Bush, and Tori Amos – not to mention a long list of well-known contemporary singers, songwriters and bands.

Kevin Killen at Frisbie Studios, NYC

On this episode of Input\Output, hosts Geoff Sanoff and Eli Janney sit down with Kevin to talk about the two albums he worked on that most influenced them as engineers: U2’s Unforgettable Fire and Peter Gabriel’s So.

The stories behind both of these records are fascinating. For Unforgettable Fire (1984), Killen worked in an 18th-century castle his native Ireland with producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno. On So (1985), Killen unexpectedly found himself in the middle of a ten-month “mixing” session in a converted farmhouse on the English countryside.

Since relocating to the United States in the late 80s, Killen has been living and, largely, working in NYC. A longtime proponent of in-the-box mixing, he’s been outspoken about his all-digital workflow – a topic which Geoff and Eli dig into here as well.

Listen to individual segments below, or (better yet) download this episode in its entirety to listen wherever you go!

Input\Output is produced by Justin Colletti for This episode was recorded at Frisbie Studios in NYC.

Icons: Tony Visconti Captures Live Magic with The Kin

June 3, 2012 by  

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.

Producing The Kin, Tony Visconti is right where he wants to be (all photos in article: David Weiss)

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.

Don't miss Visconti's account of producing 1977's "Low", and many other classic records on his Website,

“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.”

Thorald Koren of The Kin likes working the Visconti way (click on photo for enlarged view of mic setup).

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.”

Inside Germano's Studio 1 live room: Miking the bass amp.

The "bass" that shakes it: Isaac's microKorg.

Isaac Koren at the Bechstein A2 upright piano -- note the stereo mic setup.

An electric guitar and pedal station.

Another view of the pedal board.

An accompanying Fender amp and Radial Engineering DI.

Meticulous miking on the Winfield amp.

A close view of the Winfield amp settings.

Clean power!

Lyrics and music

Shakerleg and his hand drumming setup.

Another look at the three-mic overhead/rear configuration.

Miking the djembe "bass" and the rest of the kit's nether regions.

Closeup on the djembe/snare -- notice the tiny mic on the left.

One more angle on these mics, from Shakerleg's perspective.

On the tom.

...and finally the tambourine.

Looking at the rest of the live room to the control room, from the acoustic guitar/vocal seat.

Let's visit the control room, shall we?


Assistant engineer Kenta at the ready

Choice outboard in the producer's desk.

Fairchild on hand.

All together now!

David Weiss






Avatar Action: Sugarland, the Michel Legrand Orchestra, State Farm Was There

October 3, 2011 by  

Avatar Studios session action recently was fast and furious, as reported by the studio. Superstars returned, and multiple major label and indie artists tracked along with TV, film and Broadway cast recordings.

Prepping for the 52-piece 52-piece Michel Legrand Orchestra at Avatar's Studio A.

Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush AKA Sugarland recorded in Studio C on the Neve VRP 72-input console with producer Byron Gallamore. Engineer Tom Tapley was assisted by Bob Mallory.

Tony Bennett returned to Studio A and the Neve 8088, with Lady Gaga and producer Phil Ramone. Engineer Dae Bennett was assisted by Fernando Lodeiro and Tim Marchiafava.

State Farm made a choral recording in Studio A for a 9/11 Spike Lee-directed commercial with producer Eric David Johnson. Engineer Jonathan Duckett was assisted by Charlie Kramsky.

Joe Jackson recorded in Studio C. Engineer Elliot Scheiner was assisted by Aki Nishimura.

Bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding recorded in Studio G with engineers Fernando Lodeiro and Brian Montgomery assisted by Tim Marchiafava.  The sessions are being produced by Esperanza Spalding and Q-Tip.

Studio B and the SSL 9000 J were on duty for Dar Williams, recording with producer/engineer Kevin Killen assisted by Fernando Lodeiro.

Horn specialist Mark Rivera recorded in Studio B with producer Jimmy Bralower, and engineer Roy Hendrickson assisted by Charlie Kramsky.

Rock singer/songwriter Danielia Cotton recorded in Studio A with engineer Dave Swanson assisted by Bob Mallory.

Producer John Oddo was on point for Broadway singer/actress Christine Ebersole, recording in Studio B with engineer Roy Hendrickson assisted by Tim Marchiafava.

Legendary jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette recorded in Studio A with producer Bob Sadin, engineer Dave Darlington assisted by Bob Mallory.

Continuing on the jazzzzzzzz tip, artists Claire Martin and Kenny Barron recorded in Studio B with producer Philip Hobbs, engineer Calum Malcolm assisted by Charlie Kramsky.

Also in Studio A, the 52-piece Michel Legrand Orchestra tracked with producer Sylvain Taillet. Engineer Lawrence Manchester was assisted by Bob Mallory and Tim Marchiafava.

Another ensemble, the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra was in Studio A with producer Howard Cass, while engineer Paul Zinman was assisted by Tim Marchiafava.

Tommy Igoe led the Birdland Big Band into Avatar's Studio C.

The Birdland Big Band dug into their first studio album in Studio C. The team of producer Tommy Igoe, engineer Phil Magnotti, and assistant engineer Aki Nishimura oversaw the recording.

On the music-for-media front, score for the film Friends with Kids was recorded in Studio C with producer/composer Marcelo Zarvos, engineer Erlin Velberg assisted by Fernando Lodeiro.  The film stars Kristen Wiig, Megan Fox and Jon Hamm.

The cast album for Stage Door Canteen was recorded in Studio A with producer Hugh Fordin, and engineer Cynthia Daniels was assisted by Aki Nishimura. Meanwhile, a benefit project for Broadway Cares was recorded in Studio B with producer Lynn Pinto, engineer Andros Rodriguez assisted by Tim Marchiafava.

In Studio A, the cast album for Death Takes a Holiday tracked with producer Tommy Krasker. Engineer Bart Migal assisted by Bob Mallory and Charlie Kramsky.

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