In Session with Connor Roff

Photo 2014-08-12, 1 04 10 PMConnor came to the session alone, with his acoustic guitar and electric keyboard in tow. He immediately sat in the chamber with his guitar and started playing a song. This impromptu warm up gave the assistants and I time to dial in the vocal and guitar microphones, while we moved them around searching for the ‘sweet spot’. We decided we would capture the entire performance all the way through without re-tracking any of the lead vocal or guitar.

On the vocal, I used an RE-20 dynamic microphone going into an Avalon 737 channel strip, with the pre-amp in high-gain mode. And then I cranked the gain some more. Connor’s songs have a subdued, introspective quality that seemed to call for a very clear, light, and even sound, which are all characteristics of the Avalon. The RE-20 is a bit ‘softer’ sounding than an SM7, the mic I would have used if the RE-20 didn’t cut it.  I placed the mic a little further than usual, to allow for the chamber’s natural echo.

I placed a KM-184 pencil condenser microphone on the acoustic guitar, pointing towards the 14th fret and slightly downwards to avoid vocal leakage. Nothing revolutionary, a bit of 4:1 compression from the 1176 to tame the transients.

We put two giant baffles in the chamber, about 6 feet in front of Connor. This darkened the room sound significantly, a safe move since treble-y reverb has been known to harass the clarity of vocal presentation. We placed a stereo pair of U87s using the Blumlein technique, behind the baffles. This would provide our reverb for the session. Stereo U87’s running through API pre-amps and an SMC2B multi-band compressor in a good chamber is a hard thing to mess up.

Once we captured the ‘keeper’ take,  I set out to perform the bass track. As a producer, I enjoy sculpting bass lines, trying to match the transitions and energy trajectory of the original performance. That’s one of the reasons I feel confident to occasionally by-pass vocal editing and metronomes.

Connor added keyboard layers and we relied on our assistants to perform some other percussive elements like shaker and tambourine. Connor also added 2 subtle harmonies to augment key passages throughout the song. I put both those back-ups through the Dolby to excite the high-end.

Perhaps the highlight of the day for me came near the end of the 6-hour session, when Connor, Ed and myself entered the chamber to record group vocals. With Protools on Loop Record mode, we stacked 8 takes of our harmonies, adding a massive choir to the final chorus. Walking back in the control room, we were pleasantly surprised to sound much better than we thought we had (through the magic of stacking!), especially pitch-wise.

A week later, Connor and I went to Vogville to put the finishing touches on the mix. I couldn’t resist the addition of a subtle slap-back echo on the vocal, in addition to the natural reverb. Fortunately, he also thought it was kinda sorta cool.

Photo 2014-08-12, 1 05 15 PM

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