It’s 10am on a Summer’s Day in Laurel Canyon at my Studio Spitfire. Coming from England where it’s beautiful and green I traded that for year round Summer here in Southern California.
Today begins with a bang, Billy Sheehan, bass player for Mr Big, Steve Vai, UFO, David Lee Roth, Talas, The Winery Dogs and many others is coming into my Studio, Spitfire, to record Bass on two songs for Mark Loughman’s new Album that I’m Producing and mixing. The Drums were tracked a few weeks ago at Sunset Sound’s Studio 3 in Los Angeles with Kenny Aronoff, which is my favourite room to track drums in. It has a custom built console with Sunset Sound designed mic pres with Jensen Transformers and API EQs. Craig runs the studio extremely well and the full time techs Mick (English and ex Trident) and Wren make sure that all of the Vintage Equipment there is really well maintained.
Billy arrived on time, Yamaha Signature Bass in hand. A great sounding Bass, Billy explained to me that the Bass was modelled on his original Fender Precision that he had added a Gibson EBO Pickup in the neck position. It’s extremely easy to play, very slinky with scallops just on the G and D String at the very top of the neck, great for Billy’s fluid lead playing as well as holding down the bottom end.
The Bass went directly with a Klotz instrument cable (just using the precision style pickup because the bass has a separate output for each pickup) to a Radial PRO D2 Di box where it split to my Ashdown Electric Blue 180 EVO II Bass Amp. The input gain of the Amp was set around a quarter of the way up giving me a clean sound and the EQ settings were ‘Deep’ Engaged and the Bass boosted at around 2 o’clock, Low Mids cut around 250hz and high mids boosted around 800Hz. With the bottom end boost in and the bass level pushed a little more I cut the low mids a little to shape the bottom end. The amp was mic’d with a Lewitt LCT550 going to a BAE 1073 DMP (Billy’s new favourite mic pre) then being compressed around 3:1 by a DBX 165 VU and the peaks were being caught by a BAE 10DC set to 10:1, the second compressor only catches the most aggressive peaks. I tend to favour using the 10DC set at 10:1 on the compressor side for this purpose, the limiter side is great but far to aggressive for this application. The Di went to a BAE 312 to another DBX 165 VU to a BAE 10DC with almost identical settings as the Amp compression but with the thresholds set slightly more aggressively as the Di doesn’t have the natural compression an Amplifier brings.
Billy played on two songs, the first track we did one take where he essentially let loose with no guidelines. After going back and more methodically going through the track I felt compelled to listen to the very first take, I had really enjoyed the passion that flying by the seat of your pants creates! The lines were fluid and explosive and had the feel of a live performance, so we did a quick comp of the outdo section where Billy and Kenny both let loose. Watch the behind the scenes video here.
The second song, was a relatively complicated affair moving from riffs to chord changes with key changes was a fun song, but we went through it methodically grabbing each section independently. We finished it and it was great, however I felt that Billy’s fluid playing would be best captured with less analysis and now he was au fait with the inner workings of the track we did a take from the top again and he let loose more and we occasionally stopped for minor fixes. When you’re working with musicians of an extremely high calibre it’s always best to let them perform and then just guide only when necessary. I got to be a better Producer when I got to work with better musicians and I let them perform and make the song their own! Working on X Factor as a Staff producer I noticed Simon Cowell would say ‘I agree’ a lot in meetings, then I realised he had the great skill of hiring the right person for the job and then let them excel.
Next on the agenda at 1pm was an Artist called Brenda McMorrow a Canadian Artist. Brenda discovered me after listening to Trevor Hall’s Album ‘Chapter Of The Forrest’ I Produced, she enjoyed the intimacy, the mainly acoustic feel of the album. So on Brenda’s new album I am building the songs from the ground up, just I did with Trevor’s last two albums. The focus is on a great Vocal and Acoustic, then I am adding stand up/double bass with Brian Lang after capturing great performances, next percussion, BVs, and a small amount of acoustic, electric and piano overdubs from me.
Today we had 3 songs that needed acoustic and scratch vocals on before going to record a Choir tonight. For the acoustic I used my Yamaha LL16 which has an extremely even tone for recording as long as you stay away from the sound hole! I used a Lewitt LCT 240 around the 12-14th Fret pulled back around 4 inches and pointed around 30 Degrees away from the sound hole. I like small diaphragm mics on acoustic guitars, I will use a large diagram at times. I grew up with the U87 being the gold standard mic for acoustic guitar, with the mic pulled back 6 inches from the 12-14th fret, however I never owned one and when I got to track in ‘real’ studios in England I always ended pulling out a lot of low and low mids that I started using a AKG451, but now the inexpensive Lewitt LCT240 works wonders and makes it easy to mix into the track with little EQ applied. The Lewitt went to a BAE 1028 to a DBX 165 VU to an 1176 set to 20:1, Brenda isn’t as even a player as some acoustic guitarists so that extra limiting the 1176 does is great for catching the extreme peaks. The release is set the fastest time and the DBX was set around 4:1, but you have to be careful not to overdo the DBX as the compression, although sweet, can really be heard choking the sound at times if set to aggressively. The scratch vocal really was that, I had Brenda just sit exactly where she was and she sang in the room, the effect is great and the artist isn’t as conscious of being recorded, so it makes for a great experience and keeps the momentum moving. One of the biggest things to deal with is maintaining focus, I hate long change overs, I like things to set up quickly or pre set where adjustments can be made easily without losing the Artists level of excitement.
Next up for me was recording a Choir for Brenda’s album. I had listened to her demos, many of them were live performances where she was trying out new songs and often the audience were singing along, so I suggested we assemble a few of her friends from LA and record them, preferably in a live sounding space. She had a friend who owned the Bhakti Yoga Studio, 10 people agreed to attend so off we went! We loaded a pair of Lewitt 550 Mics (they pair match exactly for stereo recording), two boom stands, cables, a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Interface, a lunch box with a pair of BAE 312 Mic Pres and a Lap Top with Pro Tools and 4 of us jumped into a car and drove to Santa Monica to a Yoga Studio called Bhakti Yoga, located on Third Street Promenade, a tourist haven where parking is at a premium, after finding somewhere to park we loaded into the studio around 7.45pm. The set up was easy after a quick level check we used the mixer there that went into a pair of powered JBL speakers.