Recording IN and OUT of the box with Melbourne's Laquer.

As a part of the music industry becoming altogether more contemporary, engineering (and mixing in particular) is increasingly happening entirely on a computer with little to no outside, analogue influence. We refer to this as working “in-the-box”, and with companies such as Slate, UAD and Waves focusing increasingly on emulating hardware with plugins (as opposed to creating plugins that process sound in a new or original way), the results we can achieve without real hardware are becoming indistinguishable, without the limitations of analogue channels on a console, long cable runs, cold studios and temperamental tubes. Why is it then that we’re still buying expensive, often secondhand analogue equipment? Clearly, real hardware brings something to the table that plugins can’t - but where do we draw the line?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be documenting the recording, preparation of tracks for mixing, mixing and mastering of five songs for Melbourne artists Laquer. I’ll be documenting every piece of equipment and technique we use, to keep the project as controlled as possible. My intention isn’t to make an argument for one way of working or another, but to show engineers and musicians some different ways of working and some clear comparisons between the results when using different approaches to recording and mixing. I’ll approach engineering and recording as I normally would, but when the project reaches mixing I’ll split off and mix the entire EP once in the analogue domain, and then again entirely in-the-box.

SUNDAY JUNE 30 - 12PM.

Oliver Young (a.k.a. Laquer) and I arrived at SAE Institute in Melbourne’s South Melbourne at midday on Sunday, June 30. Oli and I had five songs written and ready to record, and today was our drum day. We used a XXX kit and because of the simplicity and sparsity of Oli’s music, opted for a very minimal kit - Oli is a multi-instrumentalist and would be playing drums on the recording.

Because of the limitations of analogue recording, especially in regards to things like noise gates and editing, we took some extra time to set-up drums to save time in mixing. Generally, I like to gate my snares and kicks, however the studio that I’d be doing the majority of my mixing in has two Drawmer DS201s - four gates in total.

While four is enough - it was still important to me to get the sound as close to finished as possible at the source. We began to mic up the drums and decide on pre amps depending on the sounds we were hearing and what we wanted from the recording. While this is a project for a bachelor degree, it’s still important to me to have a product for my client. After some deliberation and a few listens, we decided to run the following into SAE’s Audient ASP8024 console:

Kick In: Beyer Dynamic M88-TG > Neutrik XLR > Patchbay > Mogami 1ft bantum patch cable > BAE 1073 MPF > Mogami 1ft bantum patch cable > Audient channel strip.

Kick Out (Front drum skin removed): Electro-voice RE20 > Neutrik XLR > Audient preamp & channel strip.

Snare Top: Shure SM57 > Neutrik XLR > Patchbay > Mogami 1ft bantum patch cable > BAE 1073 MPF > Mogami 1ft bantum patch cable > Audient channel strip.

Snare Under: Shure Beta 57 > Neutrik XLR > Audient preamp & channel strip.

Rack/Floor tom: Sennheiser MD421 Neutrik XLR > Audient preamp & channel strip.

Overhead hi-hat side: AKG C414 (set to cardioid, no XXX) > Neutrik XLR > Audient pre-amp > Mogami 1ft bantum patch cable > Empirical Labs Fatso EL7x > Mogami 1ft bantum patch cable > Audient channel strip.

Overhead ride side: AKG C414 (set to cardioid, no XXX) > Neutrik XLR > Audient pre-amp > Mogami 1ft bantum patch cable > Empirical Labs Fatso EL7x > Mogami 1ft bantum patch cable > Audient channel strip.

Under ride mic: Shure Beta 57 > Neutrik XLR > Audient preamp & channel strip.

 

If there is no mention of EQ, we didn’t it in the Audience channel strip. We used a heavy wallet on the snare to dampen it and give it a gated sound pre-tape. While the drum skin was removed from the front of the kick drum, the kick was tuned well and resonated well with the other drums, so spill isn’t such an issue. We opted for a mic under the ride mic to isolate it from the other drums, avoid phase issues, and give ourselves the option to bring this mic in and out where it’s needed. We also used a Shure SM57 located in the centre of the room, pointed at the ceiling and compressed heavily in-the-box as a talkback mic. We may or may not use this in the mix as a trash mic. This mic was also recorded with a Neutrik XLR and into the Audient preamp & channel strip. Recording the drums themselves went smoothly and in the afternoon began recording guitars with Oli’s Fender Jaguar.

We used a VOX AC30 combo amp, that features a single 12-inch speaker in the middle of the enclosure. We used a Share SM57 and AKG C414 as follows:

Shure SM57 situated between the speaker edge and cone > Neutrik XLR > Patchbay > Mogami 1ft bantum patch cable > BAE 1073 MPF > Mogami 1ft bantum patch cable > Audient channel strip.

AKG C414 situated between the speaker edge and cone > Neutrik XLR > Patchbay > Mogami 1ft bantum patch cable > BAE 1073 MPF > Mogami 1ft bantum patch cable > Audient channel strip.

Before the amp, we used Fender Jaguar > DiMarzio 15ft braided cable > Korg Pitchblack > F.E.T. preamp > OD > Boss CE-2 Chorus > DiMarzio 15ft braided cable > Vox AC30 for SONG TITLE, before finishing the day with guitar for SONG TITLE where we used the same mic set-up, and:

Fender Jaguar > DiMarzio 15ft braided cable > Korg Pitchblack > F.E.T. preamp > Boss DIST XXX > Line 6 Verbzilla > DiMarzio 15ft braided cable > Vox AC30. For both guitar tracks, we used a little onboard tremolo and reverb to taste.

We’ve got our second and final recording session on Sunday, August 6th and I’ll keep this blog up-to-date as we go.

 

Thanks!