Testing IPR’s New Master Mix Studio with a Live Recording
Earlier this quarter I approached Mitch Hare, a friend and member of IPR’s faculty and curriculum team, about a session I wanted to setup over the break between quarters. I’d worked closely with studio builder Dave Ahl during the architecture and construction of the new IPR recording studios but hadn’t had much time since to spend in each room getting a feel for the final touches. I’d recently mixed the Junebug project in Master Mix A and performed a couple of minor acoustic tweaks along the way but had not yet tracked anything in the new “raved-about” live room, which had been designed to be much larger and open than the original Master Mix space.
I invited Mitch (an accomplished pianist, bass and organ player) to pull together an ensemble, who would be recorded “live” in the new space. I would use minimal micing techniques and isolation, the ultimate test of a recording environment. The live nature of the performance also gave me the perfect opportunity to go back to one of my favorite techniques and record virtually everything live to tape.
Mitch pulled together an ensemble of great Minneapolis musicians and selected a few songs to work with. We knew we wanted to take our time to get everything “right” up-front, so we blocked out the week to make sure we provided ample time for rehearsal and setup at the beginning of the session. Ultimately, recording and mixing would be the easy part.
This first wide shot gives a general layout of the room on the first night, drums on one side of the room, B3 and Lesie, opposite, Piano and Guitar placed to the drummer’s right. Ultimately, Saxaphone, Bass and Vocals will join us to the drummer’s left.
Lots of photos and session notes after the jump!
I elected to start with a “wide” placement of the mics on the Leslie, with Royer R122 microphones placed on each side of the cabinet. Panned left and right, the rotary effect is used to it’s greatest potential. The placement of these mics, perpendicular to the axis of the drums, also ensures that the drums are largely isolated from the organ sound due to the figure-8 pattern inherent to these mics.
The placement of the KSM44 low and “behind” the cabinet allowed the capture of “left hand bass” from the organ, while keeping things in phase with the drums. When many mics are being used, phase relationships between mics are a very important thing to keep in mind.
The piano was mic’ed with a pair of DPA/B&K 4011 cardioid condensor microphones in an X/Y pattern, one focused on the low strings and the other on the high strings, several feet back from the hammers.. The lid of the piano is full open to minimize reflections and comb filtering. The tight cardioid pattern of these mics provided a surprising level of rejection from other elements in the room. Initially, we thought the piano might have to be an overdub but re-thought that when we were able to hear it with the ensemble.
The guitar amplifier was also mic’ed with a Royer R122. If you’re noticing a pattern with the ribbon microphones, it’s worth noting that they were selected in many cases because of their ability to isolate instruments in the mix while providing a favorable frequency-response “off-axis” when bleed does come into play. Despite the proximity to the drumset, the guitar is actually quite isolated, even when we move the mic a little further away to open up the sound for some arrangements.
Most of the drum sound comes from two Coles 4038 Ribbon microphones placed high above the kit (about 5′ from the snare drum). This placed the microphones about mid-way between the kit and the ceiling above. If you’ve noticed that the mic on the drummer’s left appears to be a little bit higher than the one on his right, you are correct. I used a “studio tape measure” (length of cable held-taught between to hands) to make sure that each mic was equal in distance to the center of the snare drum. The result is the the mic on drummer’s left is placed a few inches higher, keeping the snare concretely centered in the stereo image and present in the mix.
Hiding under the “tent” (two packing blankets hung over two microphone booms parallel to the floor) is a Neumann FET47 placed about 12″ back from the front head and about 3-5″ right and below the center. Front heads almost always stay on and kick drums rarely get inside mics on my sessions these days, unless it’s something very contemporary and I need either something very “clicky” or a trigger track for a sample. This outside placement gives a very satisfying “thump” and can easily be tweaked a bit to be quite punchy in almost any mix. The tent keeps cymbals largely out of the mic – if I end up EQ’ing in a little extra 3 kHz for attack on the Kick it can quickly get pretty trashy on the cymbals if there is too much bleed.
Most of this mess of patch cables is the signal getting from the mic lines, to the mic pres, into the Studer A827 2″ Analog tape machine, and then into Pro Tools. The 2″ machine is connected to an extra set of points at the bottom of the bay – in essence, during rehearsal and recording, signal passes through the tape machine and into Pro Tools.
During recording, signal is passed directly from the input of the tape machine to it’s output, and into Pro Tools while the sync head lays down tracks to a reel of Quantegy 499. Prior to the session the machine was calibrated, Sync, Repro and Record to +6/185 NwB using a MRL master tape and calibrated tone generator.
At this point, the studios Pro Tools|HD and ICON ES act as a “glorified digital mixer”. Recording is happening live on tape and Pro Tools tracks are armed and monitoring input. Once we get a take we’re happy enough with to listen back, we just flip over to the Repro head and capture the take in Pro Tools. Any editing we do will be splicing between takes in Pro Tools rather than dealing with punch-ins, overdubs or other editing techniques. The same piece of tape can be used for quite a few passes. A recorded signal will begin to degrade when played back many times from tape, but in this case the signal will be captured into Pro Tools on the first playback pass.
All the studio microphones passed through a variety of microphone pre-amps before reaching the tape machine. The Coles 4038s (Overheads) went through the D.W. Fern VT-2 Tube Mic Preamps, the Royers on the Leslie passed through a pair of vintage Neve 1064 modules, the Royer on the Guitar and DPA/B&K 4011s on Piano passed through API 512C modules.
The Kick drum mic (Neumann FET47) B3 bottom (Shure KSM44) were both passed through a pair of vintage Telefunken V672 modules racked by Marquette Audio Labs. The V672 is a solid-state module that was popular in many early german broadcast and recording consoles, with variants made by Neumann, TAB and Siemens. Their character is fantastic for low-frequency instruments.
Before making their way to tape, a few elements saw a little EQ from API 550B modules. The Guitar received a -6dB low-shelf centered at 30 Hz, really intended just to feather off any rumble in the room or mechanical noise from the drumset placed close by. The B3 Bottom saw a +4dB peak at 50Hz, and a -4dB peak at 500Hz to clean-up it’s use as a bass instrument. The Kick sees only a +4dB low-shelf at centered at 50Hz to feather-up the lowest fundamental and harmonic tones. Finally, the overheads saw a -4dB peak at 500Hz to clean up a little “ring” in the room when the drummer laid into the toms.
For a little added character, the Leslie top microphones saw a pair of Urei 1176s before making their way to tape. 4:1 ratio, 3-10dB of Gain Reduction depending on how hard he lays into it.
Mentioned previously, the only performer who will be using headphones will be Aimee, the vocalist, because she will in another room – separated from the rest of the group by glass. Talkback to the performance area is provided by a pair of self-powered Mackie monitored, wired from the ICON ES talback output via a Mackie VLZ series mixer. A copy of the stereo mix can also be provided to these monitors from the control room, if I choose, to allow the ensemble to listen to playback without all piling into the control room if they wish.
In just a couple hours, we’ll be joined by our bass player, saxophonist and vocalist. Once we get them added to the mix we’ll start recording and more photos and setup notes will be on their way.
Check out the whole set on IPR’s Flickr for high-resolution photos and check back tomorrow for more.