The Disturbed Method

“I think part of our success is because we’re not America’s favorite band,” says Disturbed guitarist Dan Donegan. “We never strive to be part of the in crowd. If you become the flavor of the month, it’s only a matter of time before people are over that trend.”

The Chicago-based melodic-metal band has definitely embarked on a slow morphing process throughout The Sickness, Believe, and Ten Thousand Fists, and is now reportedly crafting a denser, darker, and more aggressively textured soundscape for Indestructible [Reprise]—which is slated for a May 2008 release. Here, veteran Disturbed engineer Tadpole offers an exclusive insight into recording Donegan’s tones for the new record.

What was your basic approach for tracking guitars during the Indestructible sessions?
Our main amps were a Bogner Ecstasy and a Randall RM100 with a custom preamp module made expressly for Dan. We also tried a bunch of speaker cabinets. The rest was just mic placement—there was nothing crazy or eccentric. Dan’s style is very aggressive and percussive—and he does a lot of palm muting—so a tight, close-mic approach is best for recording him. A really live room and ambient mic positions would diminish the definition of the notes he plays.

As for the miking, I used a blend of several different dynamic microphones. I’d rather not identify them, because they’re part of our “secret recipe.” Once we found the sweet spot for one mic, we blended in the others, and then we made sure all the sources were in phase.

The reason I like blending so many mics is because one microphone only gives you a certain part of the sound spectrum—a specific color. But when you blend in different mics, you either start filling in the sonic gaps that one microphone may lack, or combine its personality with the other mics to produce a totally different sound. By experimenting with the blend, you can usually find the sonic picture you’re seeing in your mind. In addition, you can change the sound of the notes, and, therefore, the perception of the performance. It’s very art meets science.

Why all the secrecy about specific mics and positions?
Well, there are a lot of people in the music business who all do the same work, and it’s very competitive. It’s important that people respect what you can do. So it’s nice to hold your cards a little close, and not give away some of the things you’ve learned or discovered along the way. I think that’s probably why some people are a little reluctant to give away their secrets.

Do you have a strategy for keeping all the massive layers of guitars tight and clean?
Layering is a pain. Getting it right does require some editing, but I also record a direct guitar track as a guide to help identify timing issues within the various layers. If something is off, we’ll re-record the part to the DI track to ensure it’s tight. We like to track things right, and not do much at the editing phase. 

Do you process to tape, or wait until the mix?
I’m kind of a believer in getting it to sound like you want it when you record it. If that means you have to EQ it or compress it—awesome. I’m not afraid to use any of the available tools. I think limiting yourself with more traditional views such as not printing EQ or effects can cause you to miss out on things that may add interest and impact to the sound. You can do these things later, of course, but doing them as it’s all going down can add excitement to the process—as well as help clarify the sound and the performance.

How much does the artist’s performance inform your approach to crafting sounds?
I can’t stress enough that a lot of the sound is in the player’s hands. You can get a great guitar sound, but it’s the player who completes the picture. I can make a guitar sound great, but I can’t make it Dan Donegan. Only Danny can do that. I think some engineers start to lose a little perspective on that fact. As much as the engineering and editing lends itself to the sound—and adds to it and enhances it—it’s still about the performer. They’re the human element—and that’s the most important element of the music.