Germain To The Point: Four Quick Questions with Producer Clark Germain

Clark Germain’s impressive credit list includes Stevie Wonder, Chick Corea, U2, Iggy Pop, the Commodores, Bonnie Raitt, and many others. We caught up with him for a brief chat at his new Laurel Canyon, California, studio WonderWorld, to pick his brain about recording techniques, personal studios, and the future of the music biz.
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You’ve worked with David Benoit and Herbie Hancock. What piano recording techniques have you learned from working with these guys?

My miking technique changes depending on the piano and the player. With David Benoit, quite often we will record the piano in the same room as the drums. In this setup, I have to use a custom stick to keep the piano lid open just above the mics. I keep the mics fairly close to the hammers in a bit of a modified X-Y pattern. David has an absolutely wonderful touch on the piano—very sensitive and lyrical—so it helps when the mics are close to the hammers.

When I recorded Herbie Hancock, they brought in a huge Fazioli piano. This thing sounded gigantic! I had to experiment with a lot of different miking techniques with the producer, Bob Sadin, playing the piano. I eventually settled on one AKG C12-A inside, facing the upper register hammers, and one outside, facing the low soundboard. I combine these with a pair of AKG C12s outside at a medium distance, and a pair of Earthworks M50s out in the room. I don’t necessarily use all the mics, but you want to have all your bases covered.

What do you think is the most difficult instrument to record?
I would have to say drums. So many times, the problem is in too many mics, improperly placed, causing phase cancellations that make the drums sound small. Minimal miking techniques can work great, but when you want a more pop sound, you need to do more close miking. I get a large part of my drum sound from the overheads. I like to use C12s, or a pair of Sony C55Ps.

For the toms, I am a big fan of C12- As and Sennheiser MD421s with a bit of EQ. For the top of the snare, there is still nothing better that the old Shure SM57. I’ll also place a mic on the bottom just in case I need a little more sizzle in the mix. For the hats, I generally use an AKG C451, and for the kick, I like to have something like a MD421 inside and a Neumann U47 FET outside.

You have your own studio. Explain your setup.

I have a Pro Tools|HD 3 Accel system running through Apogee DA 16x converters into a customized Amek 2500a console. This way, I can set up the static mix to where it sounds good through the console with all the Pro Tools faders at 0dB. Then, I make small fader moves in Pro Tools. This setup provides access to all my great old outboard gear, as well as all my favorite plug-ins. I like having the ability to automate various parameters of the plug-ins for different sections of the song. It really gives me the best of both worlds. I think the most important thing, though, is to have a mixing environment that remains constant. That way, you never have to guess about how things will sound when you bring them in for mastering.

What do you feel is wrong with the music industry these days?

I think we are in a huge transitional period. It’s not just the fact that people are downloading music for free— although that is a major factor—but the major labels have not been supporting creative endeavors nearly as much as they used to for quite some time now. If you continue to put out a new version of something that had success in the past, the people will eventually give up on you.

Also, the days of active listening are long gone for most people. Music listening has become a passive activity— something you do while performing some other task. I think that the future belongs to the independents, and forward-thinking majors. The record industry will go back to being a singles-based business, as well— which is how it started. I do believe that if we give the people good and creative new music at fair prices with easy access, they will be willing to pay for it. It is going to take a while, but I think when the industry recovers, there will be more access to diverse types of music than ever before.