Sunday, 21 February 2016

Recording Recluse (Day 1)

I had a great weekend last Saturday recording a Cardiff based alt-rock band called Recluse (Facebook & Bandcamp link here:,

I contacted them at first when I posted on a welsh gear exchange page on Facebook, asking if any musicians or groups were interested in any recording time. After contacting one of the band members, we soon organised to run a session on the 13th & 14th of February. As they were still working on material for their next album they organised to record some covers.
Due to the the rather shoddy gear booking system currently in place at the university (particularly the fact that the earliest you can book anything out is two weeks before a session) I was able to secure all microphones that I wanted, including a fair few others that I took out just for the purposes of testing. I'm sure this left one or two other people a little shorter on gear over the weekend than they liked, but they should have been more on the ball and booked equipment sooner than I did.

I got up early on Saturday (for once) at 8am and did my usual studio day preparations, namely made a flask of coffee, filled a bottle of water & made a big tray of pasta to eat throughout the day. As soon as i'd got everything ready, I headed out to get a Protools project ready & tidy the studio up for the band.
After they turned up at around 10:30, we briefly introduced each other & had a chat about how the production was going to go, then got to work setting up for the guide tracks.
I tracked the drums in the demo throwing mics up, just to get any signal from the kick, snare & cymbals. While the kit was still being setup, I also took liberty to set up an AKG C4000, Audio Technica 4033 & AKG C414 facing away from the kit in roughly the same spot, to test them out as room mics. I tried to do the same with a Neumann KM184 & the other 414, placing them roughly over the center of the kit as mono overheads, however had issues so stuck with the 184. For the bass & guitar track, I decided to DI both as there would therefore be no drum spill in the signals whatsoever, which would help keep the final drum recordings in time. I ran the bass straight from a DI box into the desk and used my Line 6 POD HD500x for guitars, running a dirty Marshall-ish patch (which suited, given the guitarist would be running a JCM800 for his guitar takes). For vocals, I put a dynamic mic of some sort in front of the guitarist, which caught a little bit of spill from the drums, which I didn't really care about.

As the tracks were laid down, the songs kept on coming, in the end leaving me with 8 covers of varying lengths. At first I thought to myself "I highly doubt that i'll manage to get all of these finished off".
Once we decided the guide tracks were of good enough quality, I listened to each room mic recording and decided on what purposes they would best suit, if any at all.
I found the C4000 sounded a little dull, but had reasonable low end response. I decided that it would be good as a secondary kick mic, picking up the real low end, with large diaphragm dynamic picking up the attack.
The 4033 had a nice balance of low end and airy room sound, so I thought this would be best for getting a room sound of the cymbals. On a side note, i've found this mic is very versatile, doing well in almost any application i've thrown it at. It's great for vocals with a nice warmth to it, does acoustic guitar well, i've used it as a drum room a fair few times now..I need to pick one up myself at some point!
The 414 didn't do that much for me as a room mic, it was a little thin compared to the other microphones and I wasn't that excited by the high end or midrange.

Before micing the kit up properly, I quickly redid the 414 vs 184 overhead test and decided to use the 414s as they had a little more bottom end. I ended up using a Glyn Johns technique as it's fairly simple to setup, and just something that usually works for me. I could have experimented a bit more, but this session wasn't really the time for that.
Next I moved onto the kick. I stuck to my usual choice of an Audix D6 as my first kick mic to capture the attack, then had the C4000 reinforce the low end resonance. I found that the C4000, even with a pad had such a hot signal and had to move it about 5 inches out, which wasn't ideal as it started to pick up a little bleed from the rest of the kit, and had a bit less of a bassy sound. A while later in the recording, I remembered about the -20dB pad on the console...
The snare was the next to be mic'd up. As a quick a test, I placed an SM57 & Beyerdynamic M201 in roughly the same position on top and shot them out. While the M201 sounded okay, it was a little scooped which I didn't quite think would fit with the session, so I stuck the to the usual of a 57 on top & bottom of the snare. I found that it took a while to cut the hi-hat bleed down to a minimum, something that's lately shown to be a part of micing a kit that I need to practice. Two songs into the drum recordings, I found I had forgot to reverse the polarity of the bottom snare mic, which pretty much meant I had to retrack the songs, which luckily the band wasn't too phased by (Aren't I punny?).
Toms were the next part of the drums to be mic'd. As usual, I settled on Sennheiser MD421s, placing them at about 30 degrees off axis, 3 inches from the rim and an inch or so from the skin. Like the snare, I also had issues with spill on the floor tom, with one of the ride cymbals cutting through despite the fact I had aimed as much of the null as I could at the cymbal, raising it up as high as I reasonably could. Aside from spill, I also found the rack tom was sounding quite dull so I did a mixture of moving the mic closer to the center of the skin & EQing on the desk to improve the sound.
For room mics I used a C4000 on cardioid polar pattern facing away from the middle of the kit, at roughly the height of the top of the kick drum. I also tried a new idea, which was to place the 4033 a little above the top overhead mic, facing the ceiling. I found this combinations of room mics worked nicely, as the C4000 picked up a little more of the fatness of the snare, kick & toms while the 4033 captured the room sound finer, adding a little bit of top end to the snare & cymbals.
At this point, I was just about ready to get on with recording, but after a discussion with some of the band, decided that I wasn't quite picking up enough of the hi-hat or ride cymbals. I scouted out a few more mic stands and put a 184 over the hi-hat & rides (I had some issues with a channel that didn't seem to work, so changed the other 184 to an Oktava Mk12, but didn't bother changing mics back when I found the issue was the channel).
It was finally time to track the drums. It went pretty smoothly (aside from my fuckup with the snare bottom phase), only needing a few takes at max to get a final take for each song.

Bass was the next instrument to be tracked.
It was fairly easy to set up the amp. I ran the bass into a DI, then from the DI into the bassists pedalboard and amp. He ran a fuzz & wah pedal into a Laney amp with a 4x10. I decided to mic up all 4 speakers, using an AKG D112, Electrovoice RE20, D6 & C4000. The mics all were placed roughly on the center of the cone. I ended up cutting the RE20 out as it didn't pick up much lows or even low mids. I didn't decide on the day whether I would even keep all the mics and left that to the mix.
Tracking the bass mostly went smoothly, aside from one or two sections that the bassist had trouble with. They were mostly quite easy to do drop ins for as they were small parts in between different song sections, however one part would always mess up a technical run that he had written. After a fair few takes, we gave up on that part and he wrote a simpler part to fill it. When he had worked out a part, we tried recording it and found he was even messing up that, which was probably as we were all a bit fatigued by that point as it was fairly late in the evening. In the end, to finish the song up we just had him play root notes following the guitar line. It was a shame that it came to that, as the bass line he had originally written sounded pretty good, adding a bit of variation to the song.
By the point we had finally got the bass all tracked, it was about 8:30, so time to pack up. I left the bass mics setup in case we would try that troublesome bass section out the next day, but other than that, nothing more needed to be done that day.

Day 2 to come..

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