In the Studio: Shinedown with Doug McKean - EMusician
The making of 'Attention Attention' in words and pictures (and videos)

“I’ve always said maybe you shouldn’t produce your own records,” says Eric Bass of Shinedown. “I’m a huge hypocrite I guess!” In addition to playing bass, Eric produced, co-engineered, and mixed his band’s latest album, Attention Attention. And while he still thinks that having an external guiding influence helps the record-making process, it’s also evident that putting all of his effort and creativity into the album on both sides of the glass has paid off. Attention Attention debuted at Number One on iTunes all-genre sales chart when it dropped May 4.

Eric Bass (photo: Jimmy Fontaine)

Eric Bass (photo: Jimmy Fontaine)

Tracking Attention Attention began last fall in EastWest Studios (Hollywood). With half an album’s worth of songs written and demo’d, the band (Bass, vocalist Brent Smith, guitarist Zach Myers, and drummer Barry Kerch) wanted to take advantage of being together in the L.A. area while on tour for their previous record, Threat to Survival. They were joined in the studio by engineer Doug McKean and drum tech Mike Fasano, and those initial dates focused on drum tracking alone.

“Mike’s one of the best drum techs and drum tuners in the business,” Bass says. “And drum recording is one of the biggest reasons we wanted Doug, too. Besides being very creative and just great to have around, with Doug’s drums, every hit sounds like an explosion and an event. I love that, and that’s just what this record needed.”

Following the EastWest sessions, the band carried on writing material and then resumed recording—again with McKean and Fosano—in Bass’s personal studio, Ocean Industries Studios, in Charleston, S.C. Bass’ facility is equipped with a Pro Tools rig, Dynamix 3000 console, and 20 channels of Aurora Audio preamps, including an Aurora Audio sidecar mixer, plus Daking and API pre’s, and a variety of plug-ins.

Bass and his racks

Bass and his racks

In Charleston, drums again became the point of departure for new tracks, and all of the songs do feature massive drum sounds, as well as distinctive use of distortion. Check out the video from Shinedown below, and then the official video for “Devil.” 

We asked Bass and McKean to share some of the techniques they used on this album. At the end of this article, you can also watch a mini-documentary on the making of 'Attention Attention.'

Bass’s Bass

“I would always use an amp and DI. Sometimes we’d use mostly amp with a little bit of direct to get some definition, and sometimes it’s the other way around,” says McKean. “The amp is really wide and sub-y and boomy, and sometimes we might just tap into the DI to get a little extra power and low end.

“We also were splitting off and overdriving the bass through guitar amps. Instead of Eric using pedals to get distortion and crunch, we would split the signal into a guitar amp and mic the cabinet; then we’d have two cabinets and the DI to choose from. We were able to give the distortion to it a lot of extra crunch without losing power.”

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Guitars in the Control Room

“Players were almost always in the control room, unless they wanted to play in front of the amp to get feedback,” McKean says. “In the control room, they can hear everything a lot better and you don’t have to wear headphones.

“We would have three different cabinets set up [in the tracking room]: one of them was a 30-watt, and then a 25-watt, and then we had a 60-watt that was not used as much. For each song, first we’d go back and forth between the 25 and the 30 to see which one we liked better. We also used a lot of combo amps; I have a bunch of small 10- or 25-watt amps that distort really nicely; they have a bit of a filtered sound to them and they pick up midrange nicely, and you can mix that in with a bigger scooped out, distorted amp that’s unique and has a lot of aggression to it.

“[To capture them], I had a vintage RCA tube mic as well as Eric’s Aurora Audio 1073-type pre’s. I also had old tube equalizers to bend guitar and bass tones just a little more, to give the guitar more of its own unique sound. Sometimes you can only get 90 percent of the way there with an amp, and then you can do a little bit of sonic shaping afterwards.

“We’d just print everything, though. If it’s not right then you have to redo it, but a lot of times, your first instinct sonically is the right one, and if you don’t print it, having to remember what you did later in the mixing process is not always doable, especially when you’re using a lot of analog [outboard] gear.”

Demo Vocals and Beyond

“We kept a lot of vocals from the demos, but we did re-do a couple of tracks in Eric’s studio with a Telefunken 251 [mic] going into a V76 mic pre,” McKean says. “Unlike guitar sounds, I don’t like to do a lot of processing of vocals going in because they seem to need the most shaping or changing when you mix. Also if you want to change lyrics, you want the sound to match. So in the case of vocals, to me, you’re better off being a little more conservative. “

“I try not to paint myself into any corners during the tracking process with vocals,” Bass agrees. “With Brent, it’s mainly about compressing his voice the right way. He’ll overload a preamp or a compressor in a heartbeat, because he can go from really soft to on-stun almost instantaneously. So, the success that I’ve had with him is about picking the right mic for the song and then using my Aurora Audio sidecar preamps, and then into a Distressor. I just try to make the compression sound even and natural.”

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Explosive Drums

“My room in Charleston is way more live [than Studio 2 at EastWest]. It’s super bright and very present,” Bass says. “One thing I love that Doug did for a lot of songs, to get more depth out of the kick drum, was to set up a P.A. in the room and run a kick drum mic through it, so we’d get extra punch out of the kick. And you could EQ it however you wanted through that P.A.”

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“We also experimented with microphones in odd places,” McKean adds. “In EastWest, I had one in the hallway and one above a booth, just to pick up some weird ambiences and frequencies. We did the same things in Eric’s studio, which is a completely isolated studio inside of a warehouse space. There were hallways with tall ceilings and big cavernous spaces where you could put a mic right outside the door to pick up that ambience of the cavernous space.

“We used mostly standard close mics and overheads on drums. Then I brought some vintage Sony C37As and I used those as ambient mics. I also brought a C24 that I would put into a Blumlein configuration or just in a standard X-Y cardioid configuration.

“Eric was also into adding pretty heavy-handed distortion to some of the drums, and some of that was printed during tracking. I used a Shure SE30; it’s a crunchy, old, low-fi kind of mixer with a harsh limiter on it, and it overloads pretty easily. So a lot of the drum tracks have at least one ambient or room mic that has that mixed in. Sometimes we would trigger it to open a gate a little bit on a snare drum or a kick drum. I also would overdrive Telefunken V76 tube mic pre’s. There was plenty of stuff that we printed in before adding the distortion in the mix. Commit to it!”

The Mix

“I’m a big fan of tube saturation and tube distortion, and that is what most of the distortion is on the record,” Bass says. “I have a couple of original Summit Audio 200A preamps, and I love to saturate things with those, and the Waves REDD console plug-in [suite] is excellent for saturation on just about everything.

“Also, Doug had some great tube EQs from a hi-fi stereo system; he had the transformers changed so you could run mics in and out of them, and guitars sounded amazing through those.

“From the Waves Red console plug-ins, I fell in love with the glue that the REDD.17 has. I put that on drums, and bass a little bit, and the vocals a good bit, and that helped everything live together in the same sonic world.

“Mixing my own record was really difficult at times,” Bass adds. “There were days when I had a feeling of defeat, but I worked through it, and man, when I got to sit back when it was finished and listen to the album, I don’t think there’s any better feeling.”

Watch Shinedown's mini-documentary on the making of 'Attention Attention.'