From Elton John’s Peachtree Road to OutKast’s Speakerboxxx, Grammy-winning engineer, mixer, and producer Matt Still has managed to etch his name straight across the industry by working from all spectrums of the recording world. After co-producing tracks with Elton in the past (as well as being commissioned to produce his upcoming release) Still was called in to record the Joss Stone/Elton John collaboration “Calling It Christmas” from Elton John’s Christmas Party. Fresh off the tail of mixing the vocals of two of, arguably, the greatest singers alive, Still sat down with us and coughed up the details regarding the capturing and releasing of such critically acclaimed pipes.
The vocal chain consisted of two different mics going through an Avalon AD2022 pre amp as well as a Universal Audio 1176LN compressor — feeding straight into Pro Tools at 96K. “I used Digidesign 192s clocked to an Apogee Big Ben, recording into a Power Mac G4 Dual 1.25 and running Pro Tools 6.2 with a HD3 Accel card,” says Still.
For Elton’s vocals, he used a Telefunken 251 mic. “I’ve worked with Elton for 13 years now, and I’ve used a lot of vocal mics on him,” he says. “The 251 is a great match for his voice, as it truly captures that silky midrange that helps his vocals sit down in a track just perfectly.”
Still had never before worked with Joss, so he started the sessions with both a Neumann U47 and an AKG C12. “They are both great mics and will always give you a great recording, provided they’re well maintained. I ultimately decided on the U47 for Joss’s tracks. It had a smoother presence that suited her voice.”
Still placed a pop filter about two inches away from the mic for both vocalists. “I had Elton positioned about eight inches from the mic and Joss about two to three inches,” explains Still. “Elton has the most powerful voice I’ve ever recorded, so I normally put him a little farther away than the standard six inches. This project is the first chance I’ve had to work with Joss, so I started her out about six inches away. But after a few takes, I realized I had to move her in a little closer to capture all her vocal nuances.”
To ensure a more even vocal capture, Still tweaked the gain while tracking. “The Avalon 2022 is a great pre for vocals,” he says. “It’s very clean and true. When I track vocals, I like to ride the mic pre gain while recording — so a lot of the time, I’ll have my left hand on record and my right hand riding the vocal.”
Still applied the necessary reverbs from his TC System 6000. “I used an Eventide Eclipse to add a little doubling to a few tracks as well.” He also used a little delay on the vocals, employing Line 6’s Echo Farm. “It has a very gritty sound which I prefer to some of the other more clean sounding delays.”
At the end of one of Joss’ takes, Still and Joss tossed around the idea of having Joss laying adlibs onto the track. “She belted out a line that was perfect and I told her, ‘That’s it, now let’s record it,’” he says. “That’s when I realized I was still recording — and that particular take was what ended up making the final mix.”
Still adds, “It was just luck that I accidentally recorded it.”