Resources for the Recording Musician
September 24, 2008

Questions on the making of Yes We Can

Hi Steve,

Thanks for the email about the “Yes We Can” videos on YouTube.  They were very educational.  Everyone involved in the production did a great job.

I wanted to ask you a few questions about some of my observations:

1.      I noticed you started out recording vocals with an SM7 then later recorded vocals with a Soundelux.  Do you use the Great River pre with the SM7 or only with the Soundelux?  I am guessing you do because the difference is dramatic.  Do you ever end up using the SM7 tracks over the Soundelux?

2.      I couldn’t see the tracking room as well as I would have liked but it looked like you had curtains and acoustic panels up in the video.  How important is acoustic treatment of your tracking room versus your mixing room, where I understand it’s very important?

3.      That was interesting to see the flying faders on the O2R.  Do the faders also control the faders in Nuendo?

4.      The organ sound is very, very quiet.  You can hear it best at the ending of the song and barely at all in the chorus.  Was that a mix decision on your part or the producers?  As a keyboard player myself, I am used to standing out a bit more than that, but this track seems like it is guitar driven and keyboards are pretty much unneeded in these kinds of musical arrangements (my opinion).

5.      As always, you get great drum sounds.  Helps to have a great drummer!  I can see you set up MD421’s on the toms, but I can’t tell what type of mic you used on the hi-hat, kick, snare or overheads.  The hi-hat mic looks the same as the one you used on the acoustic guitar.  I am planning to buy an 8 input interface in the future to record drums.  Would you be willing to discuss the details of your drum mic/mic pre setup?  I’d like to attempt to duplicate it for my own future recordings.

6.      Did you use the new UAD2 on this mix?  I see plug-ins running on the computer screen but can’t make out what they are.  If so, where should I try to listen for it working in the mix exactly?

7.      The lead vocals have a quality of height about them in the mix.  I’m listening in headphones & they sound like they’re resonating near the top of my skull.  I have heard other famous mixers like Dave Pensado allude to this quality in a video interview on the Waves plug-in webpage.  How exactly does one go about achieving that effect? I know you get width with panning and stereo delay and depth with reverb and delay but height?  This seems like one of those mixing secrets no one wants to talk about.

This is getting to be a lot of questions so I’ll stop right there.  I certainly understand if it’s too much for you to go into detail on.  I truly appreciate people making real music with real instruments that are not overly compressed and limited to the point of distortion.  It’s a standard I try to shoot for and don’t have too much trouble making anymore thanks to your help throughout the years and your excellent sample libraries.

First off, for those of you reading who don't know what Paul is talking about, here are links to the videos:

Yes We Can - Music Video

The Making of Yes We Can

OK... now, to answer some of your questions:

1.  The SM7 was only used in the reference/guide tracks we recorded for the songs.  Partly because I was curious about how Larry's voice would sound through it, and mostly because I wanted the guide reference track to have as much isolation from the scratch guitars as possible.  We replaced the guitars right away, but the guide vocal stayed in through the tracking of all the other instruments, and we did the "real" vocals last.  I don't remember exactly which pre-amp I used for the SM7, but it was probably the Great River, as that's often my first choice for many things.  And, yes, I definitely used the Great River with the Soundelux for the final vocal tracks.  I only have a single channel of the Great River, though, so I only use it for things I'm recording in mono.  When I did the acoustic guitars with a stereo microphone set up, I think I used my A Designs Pacifica pre-amp (which has two channels).   The Pacifica is also a great preamp, and is good when you want some extra high-end boost as it definitely imparts some extra high-end to the signal.

The SM7 tracks actually sounded very good, but we did end up going with the Soundelux for the final vocals for a bit more open and airy sound than a dynamic mic, like the SM7, can provide.

2.  Yes, the tracking room is fairly small.  It's roughly 11' x 14' with an extra little alcove in one corner when I have a cabinet for my microphones and space for all the stands when they are not in use.  Most of the ceiling is just under 9' tall, with one small corner that's even lower due to some heat ducts running through there.  The wall right behind where the drummer was sitting has a huge mirror on it, which was left over from the previous owners since they used the room as an exercise room.  I definitely had to cover the mirror with a curtain, or else you'd get a hard/bright reflection off of it.  But, I used curtains so that I could open it up if I wanted more of a reflective room sound.  I also put curtains up on a couple other walls, but not all the way across, and then I have six 4' x 2' rigid fiberglass insulation type broadband absorbers staggered around and hanging from the ceiling (from GIK Acoustics).  I also have two of the RealTraps Mondo Traps on stands in the corners of the room, as well as four 2' x 2' regular RealTraps panels permanently mounted in several wall/ceiling corners.  The two traps that you see behind the drummer are two of the 6" thick GIK Monster traps, that are also on stands so I can move them around as needed.

Having a good sounding tracking room is just as important as a good sounding control room.  If I had left hard surfaces exposed in my relatively small tracking room, it would sound very "sproingy" from all the really fast flutter echoes from the parallel walls and ceiling/floor.  I didn't want a completely dead room either, which is why I didn't completely cover any of the surfaces.  The floor is painted concrete, but I usually have a large rug on it, or some thick rubberized pads under the drum kit.

If your tracking room is untreated, and you get that small, boxy, sproingy sound recorded on your tracks, there is no way to get rid of it later.  The better your tracks sound to begin with, the easier they are to mix, so you want to record in the best sounding space you can.  If your recording space is really small, and there is no way to get a good natural sound, then all you can do is make it really dead and add some ambiance in the mix.  With treating part of the ceiling and some of the walls, and adding some good broadband panel traps to control the low end, I got a decent sounding small room.  I'm not going to get those massive drum room type sounds out of it, but I'm happy with what I get, and I usually even throw up a room microphone and blend some of my room sound in to the tracks.

3.  Yes, the O2R96 can act as a remote control for Nuendo, and when you set it up that way, the faders will control the faders in Nuendo.  There are lots of other buttons and controls on the O2R96 that are integrated with Nuendo as well.  However, I actually split all my tracks out to channels on the O2R96 and mix with the O2R96's automation.  I can get up to 52 channels digitally from my computer into the O2R96, so I rarely have to do much sub-mixing inside of Nuendo.

4.  The organ sound was just meant to be a pad, and not an up front part.  Besides, it was me playing it, and I'm not the best keyboard player around, which is probably why I kept it lower in the mix.  We could probably do without it, but if you take it out, it didn't feel as full sounding, and some of the growling glissandos I did ended up being pretty cool!

5.  I've got a pair of Audio Technica 4041 microphones, as well as a single older 4031.  I used the 4041's on the acoustic guitar as well as the hi-hat.  For the snare, I actually used several velcro cable straps to strap together two microphones, a Shure SM57 and the other Audio Technica 4041, which I recorded on separate channels and blended to taste later in the mix.  For overheads, I used a pair of Audio Technica 4047 microphones in an X-Y configuration with one of those stereo recording bar things so I only needed one microphone stand.  I usually use the MD421's on all the toms, but this time around I put the Neumann TLM-103 on the floor tom, which ended up being very cool.

As far as preamps, I pretty much max out everything I have when recording drums.  I have a four channel API 3124+ preamp that kicks butt for drums... I wish I had two of them!  The API usually gets used for kick, snare, and one or two toms, depending on if I used one or two mics for the snare.  For the overheads I use either the Presonus ADL600 tube preamp, or the A Designs Pacifica, depending on the sound I'm going for.  I'd actually use the ADL600 more often, but I think I have a problem with the tubes that causes it to sputter and make weird sounds once in a while (I'm looking into fixing that, and then will probably use that preamp a lot more often for many things).  Then I probably used one of my Chandler Germanium preamps for the floor tom?  or possibly the Great River for that?  I've done it both ways.  I know the other Chandler Germanium was used to record the bass direct since we tracked bass and drums at the same time.  Hat might get the Pacifica if I didn't use it for overheads, or the RNP preamp, or sometimes right through the Yamaha O2R96 preamps.  Many times I don't even use the hi-hat track when I'm mixing, although I think I used it more for this song than I usually do.

Really, though, if you're just buying preamps for drums, you can't go wrong with a couple of API 3124+ boxes, which would give you eight channels of premium quality preamps at a very reasonable price.  They are definitely one of the best buys in preamps out there, and I'm strongly considering picking up another one in the future just for doing drums.  Since I record so many different types of things, though, I bought a variety of preamps which each have their own unique sound, but can sometimes not be a good thing when you want some consistency to all your tracks when recording drums.  But, it's worked out well for me anyway.

6.  No, I didn't have the UAD2 yet when we did the mix, but I still had my four UAD-1 cards inside the Magma expansion chassis, and they were used quite heavily for the mix!  There are no particular places to listen for, as they are used throughout the song and many of the instrument tracks.

7.  I'm not sure about the height thing, and wasn't purposely going for anything like that.  I just try to make the vocal sound the best it can be and sit in a good place in the mix.  Larry has a great natural resonance to his voice, which is probably a big part of the sound.  The Soundelux U195 is certainly another big part of the sound, along with the Great River and Cranesong Trakker.  I'd have to look to see what I did on his voice during the mix, but I don't think I had to do too much with it, as we really got a great sound to begin with.  Most likely I did a little bit of extra compression, probably with the UAD LA2A plug-in, and then just a touch of EQ, and a little extra super high end "air" with the UAD Pultec plug-in.  I really love the effect of boosting some of that really high 16K with the Pultec, which may also be part of what you are hearing... but, I know I only did just a slight bit of that this time around because with the microphone and Larry's voice, there was a decent amount of high end already.  In addition, I rolled off some high-end on several instruments in the mix to leave that space open for the high end of Larry's voice, as well as the cymbals and the wide-panned acoustic guitar.

Hope that helps!

Feel free to ask if you have any more questions.

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