MFTD#3 (‘Masters From Their Day’ webisode #3) is the second of back-to-back sessions we recorded at Pie Studios in Glen Cove, NY. As I mentioned in the blog-post for MFTD#2, the owner of Pie Studios, Perry Margouleff, loved the idea of this web-series and suggested making two webisodes there. We shot this webisode two days after MFTD#2 was shot (one day after our video director took a well-deserved day to rest his camera-arm).
A week before the session, the band (The Library Is On Fire) informed me that their regular drummer wasn’t available for our scheduled recording date because he had been booked for a gig with another band (a reality of life as a working artist – juggling multiple-projects). It should be easy to imagine the difficulty in rescheduling a project with such a sprawling crew (video crew, studio, engineer, producer, assistant engineer, and band). Luckily, they had a back-up – the band’s original drummer, from when they were still based in Ohio. He stepped-up and filled-in seamlessly… ah, the pleasures of working with great musicians.
As I mentioned, we had just worked with Perry two days earlier, recording Annie and the Beekeepers. Perry and I became familiar with each other’s work-modes and processes, and we felt good going into this session. Perry and I sat down to discuss strategy and logistics before the band arrived, and that proved to be a good idea. As soon as the band arrived and set up, Perry went to work immediately setting up the drum mics in the ‘Glyn Johns’ style, as we had just planned.
The guys in the band were great… a lot of fun to work with. As this video was being put together, we considered including some goofy moments from that day (imagining a vocoder voice from the GPS nagging, “Fine, you’re always right and I’m always wrong! Maybe you should pull over and ask for directions!”) Immediately after the session, Steve Five, the guitar player and singer in the band, wrote a blog post about the whole experience that reads like a compendium to this video. Read it here.
In the end, we kept the video focused on the art and craft, as per the objective of this series. On that note, I’ll discuss some of the decisions we made on this production.
I had never heard this song before this session. The first time I heard it was when they started tracking the first take. But I was very familiar with their style, fortunately, so I was planning for a very natural, raw sound. Upon explaining my plan to the band, they agreed immediately, apparently already thinking the same thing. This was a good sign… we were on the same page before we even opened the book.
I decided the ‘Glyn Johns’ method of recording the drums was the best approach to getting a raw, open sounding kit. It wouldn’t be the sound of drums on most modern rock studio recordings – overly-present – and I was happy about that. After listening to Cory (the drummer) play those drums in that room, I knew that I wanted the drums to sound exactly like that. A pair of BBC 4038 ribbon mics in the room helped that cause.
For the guitar sounds, I ceded control to Perry. He lives in a forest of guitar gear that would make any shredder drop to his knees. Perry chose the amps Steve used, and he dialed the tone for each track. He also helped Mark (the bass player) get the sounds on his rig.
During mixing, a few things occurred to me. First, no artificial reverb was warranted for this track. Nothing should stand between the musicians/instruments and the listener. At first, I didn’t mention the absence of reverb to the band, but I simply asked, “How do you think it sounds?” They were happy, and so was I.
The other thing that occurred to me was that this record may not benefit from the biggest possible sound-stage. In fact, I intentionally closed-in the sound-stage a little bit to give it more immediacy. I even panned the bass about 15% to the right, just enough to move it off center, but only so much to feel like he is right beside you, not on the far side of the room. After seeing footage of the band playing, I realized that I mixed it exactly as it is seen in the footage. It feels like you are standing exactly where the camera is shooting from. Serendipity… awesome.
I’m happy with the result. It sounds like a rock and roll band bashing out a tune… nothing more, nothing less.
So, I’m curious… what do you think about it? Do you think the sound-stage should have been wider? Do you like the natural sound of the drums, or should they have more presence? Should I have added reverb? Should we listen to GPS at all times, without question? Let me know in the comments below…
Ps. I’m sure some of you will be curious about the ‘Elvis’ amp in this video. If you want to learn more about it,start here.