It was one of those things that just “popped” into my head on the three-hour drive from Columbus, Ohio, to the Pittsburgh Ikea store. I kept it to myself. For awhile. But at a fellow musician’s wedding, I brought it up to some other musicians and they loved the idea. So I figured I said it out loud, now I’ve got to make it happen.
At Workbook Studios, either Jon [Chinn] or I run 85% of sessions. There is usually one intern in place and we have several other engineers who run sessions out of Workbook. I called them all. We rotated on a two-hour basis, with everyone except the intern taking several shifts. The session basically ran in this order:
Videographer (take video) > General Assistant (help bands load in and out, run errands, keep place tidy) > Stage Manager (timekeeper, get the release form signed, discuss with bands what to expect, help arrange gear) > 2nd Engineer (be legs for 1st in setting up mics) > 1st Engineer (run the session) > off
I signed up bands on a first come/first pick-at-what-time-you-want-to-record basis. Everyone had a different reason for why they signed up for a particular time. One band requested the “worst” slot (THE SHATTERS, 7am), another wanted either the first or last (HOUSE OF HEROES, 4pm). Luckily, I had one band on standby in the event of a cancellation, which happened a day before the event. What I hadn’t planned on was another band canceling after the event started, but after a flurry of phone calls, I managed to fill that slot (thanks THE CHEAT! 4am).
The bands chosen were mostly new clients. After having my daughter, I hadn’t been out as often so I asked for input from two local music websites (www.cringe.com and www.donewaiting.com) and from the other engineers. This was a great opportunity to get some new people to see our studio. Other bands were loyal clients to the studio and it was a great way to thank them for their support.
As a promotional tool for the studio, I needed the end product to look and sound good. But that kind of contradicted the parameter of “one hour per band” that I set up.
Bands were asked to keep their songs under three minutes. Without this parameter, the end result would have been a double CD or mp3s. Still, not all bands followed this rule, but it worked out OK without any editing.
Bands would not leave with their mix on CD. We figured the five minutes or so it might take to bounce and burn a disk was about 10% of their alloted time and thus, too valuable. MP3s were posted to the Web several days after the event.
Without establishing all of the sounds beforehand, we decided to have quality gear in place to eliminate:
a) too much confusion
b) questionable gear
Bands were told this gear would be available, but were also given the flexibility to bring their own if desired.
Drummers could pick between a Premier Birch Drum Kit and a Ludwig Vistalite Bonham reissue kit (with its huge kick drum and rather crazy sound). Both were set up in the live room at the same time. Drummers brought their own snares, kick pedals, sticks, and cymbals.
Microphones on the drum kit included:
1) Kick -EV RE20 into dbx 160a
2) Snare Shure SM57 into silver 1176
3) EV 408 for hi tom
4) Senn 421 on med tom
5) Senn 421 for floor tom and all through our TASCAM 3700 modified by Audio Upgrades
6) AKG 414s were set up in X/Y into a Vintech 1272 into the Urei 1178 as overheads
7) AKG C4000 was the room mic
These mics stayed plugged in and were moved to the appropriate kit. It sounds like it should have stayed neat but over the course of the session, that certainly wasn’t the case.
A local guitar store loaned us a Marshall Plexi 100 watt and a Hi-Watt combo amp for guitar players to choose from. One engineer brought his Mesa Triple Rectifier for bands to use. Workbook also made available our amps, including a Fender Showman, Fender Super, and Sovtek Mic100. Mics on the guitars included a Sennheiser 609, SM57, and beta 57. Preamps included an Ampex tube pre and Studio Technologies Mic-Pre-eminence.
Bass was run through an Ampeg SVT Pro head and an Eden 4x10 cabinet. Tracks were recorded with a Tech 21 SansAmp Bass DI and Beyer m88. Preamps on the Digi 002 seem to work really well with the SansAmp.
We use Pro Tools LE/002. A template was set up with Pro Tools that allowed the initial tracking to get started quickly. The idea was that as a band did vocals in the vocal booth and mixed, the next band could start getting their tracking gear in order (by picking guitar amps and putting it place, tuning guitars, arranging drums, and so on). With only a few exceptions, every session went right to the top of the hour. As soon as the mix was declared finished, the Pro Tools session was saved, the template was opened, and we immediately started getting new sounds.
One band (GARNET & THE KLUMBIS LITERATI) was still figuring out the bass part and his session went maybe 10 minutes over. The next band started to panic, but stepped up and knocked the song out quickly. Ten minutes doesn’t seem like a ton of time, but everyone was aware that there were only 60 to work with.
Three bands (EL JESUS DE MAGICO, THE CHEAT, and THE FGD’S) recorded their vocals live. So they were able to record several takes of their songs and pick the best. The FGD’s used a 58 and just listened on headphones. For the other two vocalists, I ran a Shure Green Bullet into the Fender Super, miked with a Neumann u87.
And All The Bands Showed Up
I thought for sure we’d have some latecomers, but there was only one band that pushed it and only because the bass player had driven through the night returning to Columbus from Chicago. I thought for certain late, late night slots were in danger of not happening. 5am, 6am, 7am, 8am. Now, not all of the musicians were sober, and I didn’t want to ask who had driven down to the studio, but dammit they all showed.
Jay from TUML (Fri 5pm) showed up on Saturday just to see how we were doing. While I thought I was holding it together pretty well, I was informed that we all “looked like crap!”
I was pretty proud of myself for not napping along the way, but during the mixdown of the last band, after everything had been cleaned up, I sat down. That was my mistake. I was told I had a huge smile on my sleeping face.
The Final Mile
I mastered the tracks in Wavelab. I was careful to not be too heavy handed. It needed to sound good but it also needed to sound honest. Mastering is sometimes to blame for killing dynamics.
But one song had a guitar solo drop out half way through. Another had some clipping in the guitar track that was pretty ugly. The biggest problem was on the GARNET track. When the session was brought up for the bounce, tracks were missing from the session. They were recorded, just not in the last saved version of the session, so that song had to be tweaked a bit. Except for those three, nothing else was done to the tracks.
And stumbles? Well, there were a few: The computer had some hiccups about three hours in. About six restarts later we were up and running, but I had no backup computer in place. Thinking about it, I didn’t have enough analog tape either. Ooops.
After the CD release show, one band member commented on how I’d raised the bar on “pot couch ideas”. While I like the phrase, I can assure you, this was a sober idea. Crazy, but sober.