Less Is More - Subtle Choices That Make A Big Impact

Today, I had a session with a long standing client of mine, as well as friends, with a band called Maystones. These boys are particularly special as they insist on writing music that has been ripped straight out of the 1990’s Britpop scene and you’d be forgiven for mistaking them for a never-before heard track from Oasis when listening to them for the first time. The part that’s special though isn’t their genre, its the minimal effort I have to make to bring their songs to life and today I’m going to share the session I had with you all.

Simple Choices

I’d never heard the Oasis track Gas Panic before, mainly due to the fact that listening to actual Oasis leaves me as close to homicidal rage as I’m willing to go (… basically, Maystones, I’m a fan of - Oasis I can’t stand it but it’s personal preference, nothing against the band at all!) - so already I was at a disadvantage today with no knowledge of the vibe, feel, or weight the song might have carried.

I decided to go head in though and this was the first big choice - microphones, how many, and placement. I actually went for the simplest acoustic guitar mic’ing setup I've had in literally years, and chose a single BB29 about 1ft away from the body of the dreadnought designed body of Zac’s (guitarist) acoustic guitar; the BB29 was a great choice in the end due to the balance it brought the image of the overall picture, and on the way in I used my 1073 to warm up the signal and smooth the top end simply by driving the input to build more harmonic content.

Another thing I rarely do with acoustic guitars is to double track - you’ll know this already if you’ve read my previous micing technique blog posts on how to stereoize a mono source acoustic guitar.Today was a little different already though and so instead of starting to second guess my instincts I leant into them and made sure the strumming patterns were as closely played as possible within reason, while making sure that the dynamics and feel of the song was retained as much as possible while the guitarist focused on accuracy in playing.

In the end, nothing more that a single instance of Plugin Alliance's SSL J 9000 channel on each take, and a single instance of the Klanghelm MJCU compressor were needed to iron out the transients, dial in minor subtractive mid-rage EQ, and high and low pass the signal.

Dave Penso loves this compressor for good reason on acoustic guitars. I've not stopped using it since watching the episode of Into The Lair with him using the MJUC.

Simple Composition

The only other part of this song is the vocals, recorded with a V67 in an isolation booth. The V67 is a perfect counterweight to the BB29 because of it being so natural and pleasing to the ear on pretty much every vocal you can put up against it.

Knowing the guitars are already rather bright, this allowed me to focus more on the body and depth of the vocals, however this also provided a stark problem from the outset - clouding the mix. Adding too many vocal takes, layers, harmonies, etc. wouldn’t just detract from the original rendition of the song, but it’d also very quickly turn into a huge fight with the mix and much more drastic changes being made. So for this reason, we actually focused all the vocals into one main vocal track - but the trick is in the tracking of the vocals.

Again, I’d utilised my 1073 for this recording too, but I didn't drive it as much as the guitar tracking; instead, I patched my 1176 compressor into the preamp between the input and output stages and during the verses where there was no real lengthy notes sang at all, the attack and release settings were set to fastest and slowest (respectively), with attack at 1 and release at 7. As the chorus came in however, I changed the attack to a slightly faster setting at 3, as well as the release at a slightly slower setting at 5. These two settings have been loved throughout the years on pretty much any revision of the 1176 you like - the 1 and 7 setting allowing more transient and percussiveness from the voice, whereas the 3 and 5 setting levels out the vocals a little smoother which worked perfectly for the long drawn out melody during the chorus of this particular song.

To sum up, my choices were very simple, yet very effective. If you find yourself struggling to make a decision, simply use your instincts and try to start trusting in your choices, but aim to keep the core of your job relatively simple - as I’ve always said from the get go on this blog; if the recording of the source of the sound is great, then the mix will likely be incredible; a poorly recorded song can’t ever be made to sound like it’s full potential, just slightly less poor at very best.