Wednesday, April 16, 2014

April 2014

It's been just about four months since my last post. Longer than I'd like it to go but I've had some very good reasons to leave this blog as-is for a bit.

The first thing I want to mention is that my work week has changed slightly in that I only work 4 days per week now. Because of this, my calendar is getting very full very quick. If anyone reading this is interested in booking time with me June-September, please reach out now.

My first session of 2014 was Body/Head. Not a bad way to kick off the new year! We spent a day recording and mixing and came out with a 7" to be released on Marador Records on May 20th. 

The next day, the Pixies arrived for 5 days of rehearsal at Sonelab. Since I was booked in another studio, Mark and Anand prepped to record them, should the need arise. And it did! I was sad to pass the gig up but I was committed elsewhere.

Here's the Pixies' backline at Sonelab. Pretty cool.

After getting the Pixies settled into Sonelab, I packed up my car and headed up to Verdant Studio to engineer a record for a Colorado singer/songwriter named John Statz. Jeffery Foucalt was producing, Billy Conway (Morphine) on drums, Jeremy Moses Curris (Booker T) on the bass, and Mark Spencer (Son Volt) on lead guitar and pedal steel. We had fun and cut a killer record.

Verdant Studio. My office for the John Statz recording session.
Here's a Sony C37fet microphone. This was once owned by Les Paul and that is his handwriting on the mic!

One of the engineering "feats of strength" I displayed was the ability to record a singer/acoustic guitarist live, in one room with a full electric rock band, and have little to no bleed!! I've done this a lot in the past, with varying degrees of success, but something here clicked. I think a combination of things were at play, here:

First off, it's paramount that the band plays well together and keeps their dynamics in line. With a band like this, I had nothing to worry about.

Secondly, the room needs to set up properly. Baffles help but they're almost never a part of my plan when setting up a session that's "live in one room". Positioning microphones correctly, considering polar patterns and nulls when selecting mics, and of course, making sure musicians can hear each other well. Everyone was close together so it kept the room volume low. John (singer, acoustic guitar) was placed further from everyone and behind a large baffle with plexiglass in the middle so he could maintain good visual contact.

If all of these items are in place and the room sounds good, it should sound fantastic through the microphones! This session was definitely a landmark for me, as the room sounded great, and I was equipped with the right tools (musicians and microphones!) for the job!

A shot of our live setup at Verdant.

We had a blast, ate well, drank well, and rocked well! We also froze, as it was during the first polar vortex of 2014. I came home, had two days off, and jumped back into Sonelab with a band from Virginia called Left and Right.

I set up the four piece, grabbed basics, guitar and vocal overdubs, and spent the last two days mixing. We Successfully completed this recording in 5 ten hour days. We didn't need a single revision on the mixes so they went straight to mastering with Carl Saff, and the record is complete. 

The band kicked major ass. They came prepared, played it like they meant it, and had fantastic songs. I thought they were an ideal example of how a record in five days should be done. They demoed the songs ahead of time, kept their expectations realistic, and worked with me as a team to keep things moving forward at all times. 

They're on and off tour fairly regularly so they're worth keeping tabs on! Check them out!!

I had two days off and then jumped into a 3 week jaunt at Bisquiteen. It was a lot of fun working there after not being there for a while. I got really into using the Little Labs Phase Alignment Tool while recording one instrument with many different microphones. We had a great sound but I noticed some comb filtering due to phase alignment issues. I couldn't move the mics around to get phase right so I reached for the Little Labs box and dialed it in. Every studio should have one!

Some awesome gear, somewhere in Massachusetts.

Next, I began working with Jeph Jaques (Questionable Content) on another Deathmole record. Were taking the same approach to this one: BRUTAL. It's always awesome working with Jeph - plus I love heavy music and embrace every moment of heavy music I get to work on.

After that I mixed a record for a Serbian band called Ti. They use cool vintage drum pads instead of "real drums" and almost every overerdub is done through the preamp of a Binson Echorec! Listen to our work here. It was fun to mix and it was the first project I've mixed entirely to my Ampex 440 1/4" two track. We A/B'd digital verse analog and analog was the clear winner!!

Ignore the mess on and around the 440. This thing rawks!

Julia and I began the countdown to parenthood. Luca Ryan Pizzoferrato was born on March 7th and we're completely in love with him! 

Dad vibes
Here's Luca around one month old!

After my three weeks off, I stumbled back into the studio. Sleep deprived, sad to leave my new family behind, but looking forward to starting a new project with a good friend, I began work on Zak Trojano's forthcoming record. We spent four days recording acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals, and upright bass (thanks for Paul Kochanski). We dialed in a beautiful acoustic guitar sound, blending 2 Coles 4038s, 1 Charter Oak 900T, a feed from a silverface Fender Princeton, and a pair of room mics. There was a DI, too!! One I got everything in phase and with a proper level, I started playing with different presentations from song to song. I'd feature the amplifier on some playbacks, the Coles on others, and even the DI on one song. 

There's a TON of low end on the acoustic guitar. I'm guilty of exploiting that aspect of acoustic guitar. I really do not like a lot of high frequencies in acoustic guitar recordings, even in a dense mix. If I need clarity, I'll break out the AEA N22s (more on that later). Anyway, we'll have to EQ a little bit for the guitar to work wth the upright bass.

Zak Trojano's setup. Acoustic guitar: two Coles, a Charter Oak 900T in the middle, and a u67 for vocals.

The Glazzies came in the following week to finish up their next album. The Glazzies is one man: Peter Landi. He's a drummer that writes songs, plays a mean guitar, and sings, too! Oh! And he's really good! We tracked his songs in December 2013 and he came back in March to finish up tracking and start mixing. We're nearly done and things are sounding awesome. His C&C kit completely ruled and we were able to dial in a wicked drum sound for the mix. All of his guitar tracks were recorded through his Orange AD30 and they totally rip. We used some of my Big Muffs, Jax (FY-2 Companion) fuzz, and the Klon Centaur to sweeten the tone where needed. Lot's of rock on this one!

Another fun mix session was eastern Massachusetts band Last Builders of Empire. This was my second mix job with them and I think we really did some fantastic work. we upped the ante bigtime. We also had a lot of fun reamping things like bass drums and snare drums! I'd never really leaned on reamping drums for a mix session the way I did here. It was amazing and satisfying and the mixes really took shape because of it. Here are some pictures of the awesome things we did!

Fender Bassman pushing a 26" Leedy bass drum goes boom!

Reamping a snare adds great presence to the drums in a mix, but only if you use a u67! ;)

Bill Nace came in with Italy's Jooklo Duo for one day of tracking. It was amazing. We set the room up in a very cool, symmetrical way and got a massive sound while retaining good eye contact and isolation without the use of baffles. It was awesome. The drummer, David had a fairly straight jazz sound/set. He used one of my floor toms as a bass drum and tuned one of my rack toms down to be a floor tom. He made it work, and work it did! He played hard and furiously.. as did Virginia (sax) and Bill (guitar). They lit the room up nicely. 

One interesting thing I tried on this session was to use a new ribbon microphone made by AEA, called the N22. It's an active ribbon microphone with high SPL ratings and very healthy output. It's durable and has nice extended highs. Its lack of proximity effect is fantastic, too. I used the N22s on David's toms. They were perfect for jazz sounds because they were present but warm and the null in the figure eight pattern cancelled out the (raging) cymbals beautifully. Any cymbal bleed actually sounded quite nice! 

Note the placement of the AEA N22 mics on each orange sparkle tom (the orange wood tom was added to hold aux cymbals).

Most recently Connecticut's Death Black Birds came into Sonelab to record a 5 song EP. Over the course of the three days, we cut the basics, added lead guitar, spent a healthy amount of time on vocals (and we got some really sweet takes and background vocals!!), plus added Ryan Quinn (Salvation Alley String Band) on pedal streel on all 5 songs. We were able to get a start on mixing and will continue soon. This band spans the northeast from all parts of Connecticut to New Jersey. 

Death Black Birds' drum setup. More 26" bass drum love!

I was able to experiment with the AEA N22 some more during this session. I used it on a 4x12 Marsh cab, turned up quite loudly. I set up the mic, took a listen and ran back to make two changes. 1: the mic needed an in-line pad. I grabbed the closest one (-20 db) and put it on. 2: I needed to move the mic closer to the speaker. I wanted a bit more bottom and just a touch of proximity effect. Not often (err ever?) you have to do these things with a ribbon mic. It ended up sounding fantastic and working its way into the mix perfectly.

I needed to record some acoustic guitar so I figured I'd try the N22 for that application and it yeilded a fine result. I used my Purple Audio Biz Mk mic preamp, since it was available and I knew it'd do the job well. I figured I'd need some compression to help the acoustic guitar settle into the rock mix but also, I'm a compression junky when it comes to acoustic guitar. FET or Vari-Mu please! I have an oddball Canadian-made Vari-Mu compressor that simply says "Northern Electric" on it. It pumps and breaths in a very musicical way but it also holds things steady when pushed to a certain point. It was PERFECT! I also patched in an old Urei 509 passive EQ, "just in case" and I ended pulling out -2 db of muck. At times, the sound of this chain reminded me of Big Star acoustic recordings. The mics presence with the nice compression was simply beautiful! 

After using the new AEA mic on toms, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar cabinet, I'm impressed with its versitility, but also it's durability and sound. It steps slightly beyond the realm of a useful utilitarian ribbon mic.

That's my first quarter of 2014. It's been extremely busy but extremely rewarding. I'm constantly learning, meeting new people, trying new things, and having fun. Having Luca in my life is a total game changer. It's the ultimate challenge and it's also real love. Few people tell soon-to-be parents how amazing it is. It's hard work and worth every second of it. Julia and I are amazed with the little guy every second of the day.

And I have to say, I didn't think having a baby would change my work ethic at all but it has: I definitely feel a new sense of pride with every session I take part in. I'm thinking about him all the time and I want him to be proud of everything I do. It's cool and weird and awesome!

So that's 2014 so far. So far it's been amazing and it's going to just keep rockin more. This spring is gonna be rad in and out of the studio! Ok