(nerd alert, this post is mostly about studio equipment)
Over the last 6 months or so we’ve written a set’s worth of material that we’re happy with (roughly around 30 minutes). We’re reasonably well rehearsed and looking forward to playing our first show. So for a new band starting out, how do you get yourself booked?
I’m not an expert. But I think its reasonably important to have some songs recorded so that booking people actually know what you sound like and whether you’d be a good fit for their venue (obviously you’re not going to book a rock/pop band in for an electro night and vice versa). So now we’re at the stage where we have to put some real music down. And not the scraps and bits and pieces that we record to help while writing the songs but some genuine hi-fidelity sounds. So what’s the vibe?
Obviously the whole idea of this band is to take the classic sounds of the 50’s and 60’s and try and put our spin on them. So I really wanted to try and use some of the recording techniques and equipment from the old school; that means recording to tape. Only problem is, a decent tape recording machine costs thousands of dollars, the actual tape is expensive, I would have no idea how to use it and it’s a pain to maintain.
Enter the magic box of Apollo…
This not so little guy is carrying the weight of Hollywood Sound’s sound on his shoulders and so far, he’s coping pretty easily. So what is it? Well other than very expensive, its an audio interface that allows you to connect a whole bunch of microphones into your computer. But more importantly, it’s tape in a box. That’s right. You can run every track through a virtual vintage Studer tape recorder, run that through a virtual Neve recording mixing desk, run that sound through a virtual 5-tonne reverb unit from 1957 and master the whole thing on a 30 year old Ampex mastering tape machine. All these virtual units reside in this box, allowing you to process all the sounds you record through vintage gear just like in the old days…except on a computer. You can get a more detailed explanation here… http://www.uaudio.com/apollo
So what does tape sound like anyway? It’s hard to explain, but there’s something about the way it glues everything together in a song that makes you miss it when its not there. I guess “warm” is the best way you can describe it, whereas recording directly into the computer and turning everything into little 1’s and 0’s can make tracks sound cold and distant. In summary, tape is like a big warm snugly jumper for your tracks that brings everything together.
Ok, so we’ve got tape going on. The other major thing was microphone choice. I’ve recently fallen in love with ribbon microphones- these things were the professionals’ choice from about 1920 to 1950, before the invention of super detailed condenser mics. They come across as very smooth and warm and most importantly, add a touch of syrup to a vocal. This is something that both myself and Olivia find really helpful, not being the most confident singers in the world. Not that they needed the confidence boost, but Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole didn’t mind using them either. There’s a good article by Sound On Sound for those interested here… http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/nov07/articles/ribbonmics1.htm
I’ve been using one on my guitar amp for quite a while and love it, but thanks to the dodgy business dealings of Allan’s/Billy Hyde (they went out of business for a while here in Brisbane) I was able to pick up this very sexy SE Voodoo VR1 ribbon mic for us to use on the vocals for less than half price.
I love this mic, but we were doing the recordings and something still wasn’t quite hitting it for me. That’s where this beautiful bit of kit came in.
This is a high-end mic preamp, which basically amplifies the tiny signal coming out of the mic into a useable level (the Achilles’ heel of any ribbon, they are very quiet) and runs it through a tube to add even more warmth to the sound (I know, I’m obsessed with warmth. Probably why I choose to live in Brisbane). As any guitar player knows, tube sound=sexy sound. As you might have seen, like the Apollo, this is another piece of Universal Audio gear. I’m not sure if its possible to have a man crush on a company, but I think I might have one. Understandable though, these are the guys that made the preamps and other bits of gear that Sinatra, Ray Charles, John Lennon and everyone in between used, and you can’t argue with greatness.
So the gear is good to go, but it didn’t come without cost…more on that next post.