Clouds HillClouds Hill

March 19, 2019Recording Tom Allan & The Strangest live to 8 Track

Sometimes you have to distill it down to the essence. Eight tracks. Eight microphones.

Before I pushed one button, before I set up one microphone I had to know what I wanted and discuss it with the band. Tom Allan & The Strangest play rock music. Nothing fancy. Nothing new. But they wrote some amazing tunes that deserve a special treat. I found it boring to record their tunes like I would probably have recorded them in a regular club: A couple of mics on the drums, sm58 for vocals, DI for bass, a pair of room mics…

But I wanted to make a super radical sounding record, though because the feel of the band is radical as well. This is why I came up with the idea of going back to the core of the performance:

No PA. Just Amps. No summing of microphones to different tracks of the tape machine. 8 mics – 8 tracks.

As if we had no mixing board in a (admittedly well sounding) rehearsal room, just playing for friends and recording it straight to tape. I had to choose the mics extremely carefully because those would literally make all the sound.

Let‘s start with a classic:

RCA bx44 for Overheads. Mono. What else. A ribbon that would make the cymbals sound not too loud and bright and give the shells a great warm and thick tone. Some might say it‘s cheating to use a microphone that does the job just by doing what it does but I think there is much more to it. An old ribbon mic from the 1940‘s brings so much more to the table than only a special frequency range. It looks super serious hanging on top of the drums, right above the drummer’s head or looking over his or her shoulder. Like it would say: “I’m watching you! I‘ve seen many of you come and go. I’m still here. Show me what you got!”

The unique tone of that mic was combined with a Pultec EQ to add some 10k highs and 100Hz mids and a Teletronix LA-2A. The Teletronix had to compress a lot, I must admit. It did not only squeeze the drums but also the massive spill from Robin‘s bass that was set up right next to the drums. But as both were mono it gave the record a solid foundation.

For Bass we used a DI only and let the amp go through the drum overheads. The DI signal gave me the option to cut out the lows of the bass and compress it without any unwanted artefacts.

Bassdrum: Beyerdynamic m88 Snare: Shure sm57 Adding just a bit of EQ – both signals went straight to tape. But very hot.

4 channels were used for the rhythm section. We had 4 left.

Let‘s start with the vocals:

I chose Sennheiser 441s for all 3 vocals. As there were two guitars playing, I could only use 2 vocal mics. Tom, the lead singer and Evan, the second lead singer had to share the main microphone. And Nico, the drummer, got his own 441 for backings. In a regular live setting a 441 would probably create more feedback than a 421 or sm58 as its polar pattern is different but in this setting – without a loud PA – I just wanted to feature the unique old-school sound of this – also very beautiful looking – microphone.

We plugged both mics into two Selmer amps (No PA – remember?) and mic’d them with Shure sm57s. I only cut out a lot of bass, did some small band noise removal and added some presence. All with a parametric analogue HSE EQ that was built by a Swiss tech who worked for Studer as a development engineer. Great tool! No compression was needed as the amp was cranked and the speakers naturally compressed the sound. Both guitars were also mic’d with Shure sm57 (probably the only session I ever did using more than 2 sm57s… I normally cannot stand them but that‘s a different story) – panned L/R. (Only panning on the record.)

I then used a pair of Pultec EQs and the Vertigo VSC-2 set to “soft” ratio in the main-bus.

Reverb on the vocals came from the internal spring reverb in the amps. All the reverb you hear was just spill coming through the vocal and drum mics.

But why did I force everyone to make a “lo-fi” sounding record?

I think that recording Tom ‘s and Evan ‘s songs so rudimentarily really reflects on their most important strength: The composition.

We should always remember our priorities: 1st: The composition 2nd: The performance 3rd: The quality of the recording

And besides that, I really love how the record sounds. I like the rawness. I love the performance that doesn‘t care about any technical obstacle. I like how the song carves its way through the sound like it was screaming at you with every single note: You won ‘t get me down!

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