Oct 4, 2012
Everyone please give a nice big warm welcome to Ben Sinclair, our latest columnist on Six-String Samurai! He’s previously done some talking for us about the Vox AC4 amp series, but now we’re on to bigger and better things! Here’s a short bio for now:
Ben works in the film and TV industry as a sound designer and mixer and has recently been composing music for commercials and TV programmes. In his spare time he funks out on guitar with his band The Grove. He’s into funk, soul, but can probably convinced to rock n roll when the time is right.
Now onto you, Ben!
The Grove EP
The funk/jazz/jam band I play guitar for have been struggling a little this year with motivation so we decided to set ourselves a goal of recording an EP by the end of the year. Thankfully, seeing as I earn part of my income composing music for TV, I have a reasonable home studio setup in the basement of my house which helps keep the cost down. The downside is that it’s just one room and isn’t particularly big, making isolation difficult. I also work for a Sound Post-Production facility so I have access to a few excellent mics to supplement my small collection.
Part 1: Test session
One of the fundamental factors with this particular band is that it’s relatively spontaneous- the songs all have vague structures but we tend to improvise in terms of how long each section is and what the dynamics are doing- so each performance tends to be quite different. I felt the key to capturing this was to track as much of it live as possible. Because of the limited space I decided that we should do a test recording with all of us set up and see if we could get a good, 100% live recording so we all piled into the basement studio one Sunday afternoon to give it a whirl. I ran all of the mics into my DDA FMR console (very neutral mic preamps) which feeds Pro Tools 10 via a MOTU 828MkII firewire audio interface.
I used a pair of Cascade Fathead Ribbon mics (available from http://www.stlproaudio.co.nz for $690) for the two saxophones (a Tenor and an obscure variety called a C Melody for the test recording). After a bit of experimentation these were placed level with the players’ heads and angled down towards a spot between the bell and the keys (the following photo shows the initial position which wasn’t quite as nice sounding).
I favour a basic, retro drum sound with as few mics as possible so I put up a pair of vintage AKG C414B-ULS mics for the overheads and an Electrovoice 635a (dynamic omnidirectional reporter’s mic) for the kick. The overheads were both aimed at the centre of the snare drum with the first directly over its centre and the second at a 45degree angle from the drummers right shoulder. The EV635a sounded excellent right off the bat but the 414s were a bit too crisp for my liking.
I recorded these with a pair of compressors inserted on the input channels- a Chameleon Labs 7802 on the overheads and an old Orban 424a broadcast compressor on the kick. Both were dialled in with minimal gain reduction for the most part but taking off about 4 or 5 dB in the loud sections but also adding a hint of saturation.
I used an Audix F2 up close and personal with the bass cab but on review it picked up a fair bit of spill so we decided to use the DI out of the bass player’s excellent Markbass amp head for the next session.
I recently found a great two mic technique for recording guitar amps which has become my go-to amp setup but one of the preamps on my console was too noisy so I ended up just using one of the mics. The technique is one mic aimed directly at the centre of the speaker and another at 45degrees right next to it. You then sum them to a single channel, invert the phase of one of the mics and play with the balance until you hear maximum phase cancellation, then you invert the phase back to normal and voilá! Maximum reinforcement! The main mic I selected was an old Sennheiser MD412 (predecessor to the ubiquitous MD421). Thankfully it not only sounded great on its own, but it rejected everything else in the room almost entirely. When played on its own, it’s not particularly flattering (pronounced low-frequency rolloff) but in the mix it’s warm, present and a little crunchy. Definitely a winner there.
The test session went pretty well considering how rusty we were (we hadn’t played together for about 6 weeks) but definitely wasn’t perfect. Aside from some pretty ropey playing in places, the main problems were that the sax and bass mics picked up too much spill from the drums and the drums sounded a bit too clean and bright (I guess I’d describe it as too modern). Fixing the bass and drums would be fairly easy- DI the bass and pick different overhead mics but the sax spill issue would be trickier. I’d initially thought about trying a different combo of mics (414s on the saxes and Fatheads as overheads) and baffles but instead we’ve decided to record beds with one sax part and no solos then overdub everything else.
Stay tuned for part two: Recording the beds.
Some pics from the second session: