A Semester Tracked In Eight Hours

Nov 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Tim Hall



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MTSU students gather with label exec/teacher Dick Williams to track their version of Neil Young’s song “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.”

MTSU students gather with label exec/teacher Dick Williams to track their version of Neil Young’s song “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.”

Once the players and times were secured, it was off to Studio B. Grant and I set some mics for recording strings with the help of a couple students while John Lawry began working on the string parts with the players. Grant wanted to use two Neumann TLM 170s set to omni as a spaced pair for the main room mics, so we set them up about eight to nine feet in the air, approximately six to 10 feet in front of the section and about 10 feet apart. We put those through a pair of Millennia mic preamps that sounded good enough to go straight into Pro Tools. Then we used an ORTF pair of Sennheiser MKH 20s placed in the center of the section a few feet behind the conductor and a little bit above his head, also through a pair of Millennia mic preamps.

Studio B has a great-sounding large tracking room. Once John Lawry had them all together, the strings were starting to work well with the song. We didn't have to EQ or compress anything; it was already good and we wanted to save that for the mix.

I've had a lot of success recording drums (especially hard rock) in the main room there so it was no surprise that when the drum section came in and played together, it was huge without being overpowering. We just used the same mics that we used on the strings for the drum corps minus the MKH 20s. All we had to do was raise them a little higher, and it sounded just fine.

After the whole ensemble played their parts, we had the first chair in the drum corps play the same part again in various places around the room to help add a little more punch. Then we set up the studio's Pearl Master Series kit for him to play. It was a straightforward setup with a D112 on the kick, SM57 on the snare top and bottom, Sennheiser 421s on the toms, Neumann KM 140 on the hat and AKG 414s for the overheads. Here's where we got to take advantage of the newly installed 48-channel SSL Duality in the control room and used all onboard pre's and EQs before hitting Pro Tools.

Now with a solid drum track down, Mike Dinse played a little bass through a Countryman DI into a Martech MSS-10 mic pre and a Summit Audio TLA-100 leveling amplifier that Grant and John Jaszcz had brought over. This gave the bass track a lot of warmth and body. The compressor and pre really helped fill out the low end nicely without getting muddy; this would help later when we worked on the lead vocal.

In the midst of all of this and me running around making sure everything functioned properly, I glanced down to notice the clock creeping ever so quickly to the end of our four-hour session with a lot of things left to be done. Thankfully, the person who had booked the studio immediately after our session ended up not being able to use the time, giving us an extra four hours to record!

Now we had time for Hannah to perform the lead vocal in a more intimate and lower-stress setting. John Lawry had brought in a Mojave Audio MA-200 tube mic that complemented her vocal style well, and together with John Jaszcz, they helped Hannah crank out a soulful performance that really carried the song.

Hannah did a few doubles here and there on a few things, and then the impromptu choir of students in the class stepped into the tracking room to do some backgrounds. Using the same two mics we basically had been using all day, we repositioned the Neumann 170s to capture the group. After John Lawry did a little coaching, they were ready to record, with Junice belting out a strong “Take me to church” ad lib on the last chorus that made John Jaszcz happy.

I ended up not playing any guitar that day because we didn't have a lot of time left, not to mention I was too focused on figuring out why the track buses on the right side of the console weren't working, and why channel 20 was out of polarity. I decided to take the track home to sit with the song and really get my mind in the right mood for the part. I later recorded the guitars on my LE rig. The axe of choice was my LTD MH 301 through a Crate Blue Voodoo head into a Mesa 4x12 cabinet, and even though it's a rig ideal for metal, I discovered that I have a clean channel and used it for once.

I used an M-Audio Solaris condenser mic with an SM57 through a pair of Neve preamps I had checked out from MTSU in my lavish and luxurious “studio” (aka, second bedroom in my apartment). After a few noise complaints from my neighbors and the cops that later resulted in a warning of eviction (not joking), I managed to get what I wanted onto the track.

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