Gear Stories With Sylvia Massy

Jan 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Sylvia Massy

TOOL MEETS THE AKG C 1000—THE BIRTH OF A NEW VOCAL MIC?

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Sylvia Massy

How many times have we set up a fire hazard of Mexican prayer candles and tapestries to give an anxious vocalist just the right “vibe” to spit out a decent vocal performance? Making the singer as comfortable (or as uncomfortable) as possible in the studio is one of the secrets to getting a great vocal take. As much as I love them all, singers are often overly sensitive characters that need to be coddled. Forget the fact that we are going to comp the hell out of them later and tweak them with a dozen digital processors and tuners, you still have to treat those singers like an important part of the project — I mean the most important part. Ahem.

The recording studio can often be intimidating to a singer, so occasionally it's necessary to try techniques and equipment not traditionally used for vocal recording — just to stop the singer from feeling self-conscious. That's where the AKG C 1000 microphone came in on the Tool sessions. It was not my first choice. It was not even on the list of choices because I had never used it for vocals — ever.

I was looking for the sound of a Neumann U67 on Maynard James Keenan's voice, but because the little troll squats and shouts into the floor when he sings, it was difficult to suspend a Neumann U67 in the right position for a vocal take. We tried it, spending several hours adjusting the mic so it was a foot off the floor facing upward to capture Maynard's verbal regurgitation. But ultimately it failed. This was 1993, and I'd seen Tool play in local clubs many times. It was obvious that these first studio vocal takes lacked the fire of Maynard's stage performances, so we looked for other options to harness that intense stage energy. I knew we needed to use a handheld but felt cheated that I couldn't use the most expensive mic in Grandmaster Studio's arsenal for the task (which was the U67 at the time). I wanted quality vocals that were crystal-clear. I wanted the listener to experience every ounce of pain this singer could deliver.

The vocal sessions for Undertow were all about making singer Maynard James Keenan comfortable—and uncomfortable—in the studio. He ended up on an AKG C 1000 condenser, not a typical vocal choice.

The vocal sessions for Undertow were all about making singer Maynard James Keenan comfortable—and uncomfortable—in the studio. He ended up on an AKG C 1000 condenser, not a typical vocal choice.

The handheld dynamic mics we tried seemed dull and unwieldy, but Maynard immediately sang better into them. The C 1000 was actually Maynard's suggestion. This mic's not generally meant to be handheld, but after wrapping it in foam and duct tape to reduce the handling noise, it performed surprisingly well on his vocals. Because it was a condenser, it retained most of the sparkle of the U67 and Maynard could grab it in his fist and smack the mic around. Ultimately, the C 1000 was the workhorse on the sessions, but we did use the Neumann U67 for the more intimate passages with a UREI 1176 compressor cranked way up to expose all the little details in Maynard's voice.

Tool's Undertow album is filled with blood-vessel-popping screams, like on the song “Crawl Away.” I had heard them in rehearsals, I heard them onstage. But in the studio, Maynard's screams were lackluster, even with the perfect complement of the C 1000. After several attempts at one of those 10-second screams without a good take, and with his voice obviously wearing thin, I finally asked him to go outside and run around the block five times. This would make him furious, but after doing it he nailed those screams. He was pissed and you could hear it in his voice. The lesson here? Sometimes it's necessary to make the singer as un-comfortable as possible to get the right performance!






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