A few weeks ago i went back to CRC in Chicago (www.chicagorecording.com) to work with the worship band Before Morning (www.facebook.com/beforemorning)
I've worked with these guys in the past before. And first off, i have to say that i am very proud of them and what they're doing. they're a church based worship band who are working within their own churches and communities but who have also grown and stay pretty busy running around the country playing youth events and camps. they've grown as songwriters and players and it's really cool to see them grow. for this project we decided to go into the studio to do one song in one day - and not just that. our goal was to create a live, in-studio performance to capture the energy when they all play together as opposed to overdubbing each individual part.
this is a picture of our drum setup - except without the Neumann 249s in an X-Y stereo configuration as room mics. stevie, the drummer, was playing his vintage ludwig kit with a classic ludwig black beauty snare. this setup is similar to what i've done in the past, except i experimented with two new things. first is the overhead mic placement. the inherent trouble with recording drums is that we mix drums to be very symmetrical - the snare and kick in the middle, toms and cymbals spread evenly. but look at the picture. the snare is a little to the right, one tom is higher than the other and the cymbals are at different heights as well as being stacked more on the left side than the right. in the past i've viewed the overhead mics as purely a stereo pair that captures the kit, but this time i experimented more with trying to get the cymbals to sound even in the left-right balance as well as the snare being in the middle. notice the overhead mic on the right is a little higher than the one on the left. even though the mics aren't placed symmetrically, we had to get outside the box a bit to get it to sound symmetrical.
the other new thing i tried was with the snare top mic - or i should say, mics. in addition to an sm-57 on the snare top, we took a neumann km-84 and taped it to the 57 so that the capsules of both mics were perfectly aligned to avoid phasing issues. from there, we ran the km84 through a compressor and smashed the crap out of it. when you mix the two mics together, the 57 captures the hard hits well and the 84 really highlights and accentuates the ghost notes and rolls that might normally get lost.
we put the bass and the lead electric guitar in the same room and separated them with studio baffles or gobos. Alex there on the left has a gorgeous Gretsch Tennessean and Sean has a nice Fender P Bass. And yes, i know what you're thinking. yes, there is sound bleeding into the other mics, but that's ok. that's part of what contributes to a more "live" sounding recording. if you go back and study recordings from the 50's and 60's you'll discover that many times it's the bleed from the other instruments that really lights up the recording. that was a magical period before muli-track recording became ubiquitous where everything was recorded live and capturing that performance was the primary objective. this is one of the rules you can break if you know what you're doing.
this here is my buddy @adambarriesmith playing keys. for the live performance he played a soft pad on the nord. we planned on overdubbing some piano but ended up decided that the recording didn't really need it.
This was our main vocal mic. if you don't recognize it, it's a vintage tube AKG C12. i just checked the internets to see how much these things are going for and i found one on sale on ebay for $14,000. so ya, it's a pretty rare mic. and for good reason - it sounds great. our vocal chain was basically just running this mic through the Neve VR-72 console pre's and then through a Distressor.
we had mister Josh Blick playing acoustic guitar on a very nice Taylor (sorry, i don't have the model number) and we using a stereo pair of AKG 451's as well as the plugged-in direct signal from the guitar. also, please notice my gut. i am getting fat. BLAH.
for our background vocals and choir vocals, i did them in separate layers. this i think is probably the most important part of a recording like this. the choir vocals really paint the audible picture of a live worship experience, and that's very hard to accurately re-create other than recording a live worship event. the first layer is the lead vocals. that's the obvious part. for the second layer i did what has historically been known as a Group 4 configuration. this technique is actually simple. it's just putting 4 singers in front of a single microphone. of course, nowadays most people would record each person individually and mix it later. but what you miss there is the space. notice how far each person is from the mic. plus, people seem to sing a little differently - sometimes more confidently - when they're with a group of people. the Group 4 method comes from the time of jingle singers and radio singers. when there was a jingle to be sung, they would cram all 4 singers behind a mic - and they would mix themselves by adjusting their own volume of voice and tone as well as how far they are standing from the mic. when it works like it's supposed to, it's super quick and easy.
the last layer was the full-on choir vocal. remember those neumann 249's that we used as room mics? well we through them up in the drum room for choir mics. the best way to get the sound of a choir is to actually have a choir. so the whole band, as well as their wives, girlfriends and friends went into the studio. the choir vocals and the group 4 vocals were stacked a couple times. from there it's just a matter of panning it out a little, adding some reverb and serve!
we spent a lot of hours in the studio that day and as a result, we were all spent. but we were so happy with how it turned out. i was hoping to find a youtube video link to post so you could hear the final product but i can't find one. instead, you can find it on itunes. the band is Before Morning and the song is called "Awake". here's the link - http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/awake-single/id517272582