“I Feel It All” popped up on my Pandora some time ago, and I was hooked right away by the record’s vocal sound. A few googles later, I learned that she generally sings through an amplifier. Needless to say, when Leslie Feist and 5 other awesome musicians walked into work, I was excited to try out some creative miking decisions and hit record as they performed some material from their new album, Metals. Here’s “How Come You Never Go There” performed and mixed live in the Bronx.
Whenever a floor tom alone serves as the rhythmic foundation, I generally defer to near-miking (as opposed to close-miking). In this case I used a 414 about a foot away and above, and used a few small diaphragm condensers on the shakers and cymbal. For piano, I decided to go with C391s in A-B configuration behind the sound board. I’ve found that they produce a more percussive timbre compared to larger diaphragms, which I thought to be appropriate considering the material. I should mention that I tend to mic pianos closer than others may.
A Baldwin Discoverer generated the beat you hear at the very beginning. We sent it through a Fender Twin and miked that with a Fathead II. For guitar – I decided to try the Beyerdynamic M69 combined with a Fathead II.
The lead vocal was an SM58 direct to the amplifier, which I miked with an Avantone CV-12 about 4 inches from the grill. Considering that Leslie was singing through a small tube amp, I chose the CV-12 because I like how it tames mid-range frequencies without sacrificing clarity. I used an 1176 on insert with the 8 and 4 ratio buttons engaged. The backup vocals (sung by the awesome band Mountain Man) we’re miked with 535s and a KSM 105.
I wanted the piano, guitar and backup vocals to work with each other dynamically, so I grouped them all to a VLA II with gentle 2:1 compression. You can probably tell that both the piano and guitar parts were played with a wide dynamic range; at times I saw the gain reduction meters hitting -10 dB. That was the exception, though, and more than anything else, the grouping served to glue those parts together in the mix. Left/Right went through an SB4000 (as does almost every mix I do).
If you’re trying to decipher the input list, I generally write info as follows: fader starting position, source, mic, insert processing, channel, grouping and EQ, followed by pan starting position and aux send levels. The floor tom, for example, was miked with a 414, compressed at 2:1 with a 25ms attack time (and probably a 50ms release with 6 dB or so max gain reduction), resided on channel 5, was equalized with a low shelving filter (+6 dB at 150Hz) and a peak EQ (-9 dB at 2kHz), and [predictably] was panned center with no effects.
If you listen to the piano, you’ll hear that it occupies the stereo field from center to left. One lucky decision I made was to pan the piano low mic off to the left, instead of my default inclination to keep lower frequency sources closer to the center. In the bridge, the piano and guitar play in roughly the same range, but as the parts thicken leading out of it, the piano starts playing in lower registers. The end result is an increase in perceived stereo width as the guitar gets overtaken by the piano leading back into the chorus, which I think fits the song really well.
Though my piano skills deteriorated from concerto competitions to Chop Sticks long ago, I can still appreciate good playing, a great arrangement and solid production. Chorus 1 is followed by an instrumental chorus leading to verse 2 at one minute-thirty, at which point the guitar drops from the arrangement. The pianist uses sustain liberally until the second half of verse 2 at “Carry on as if I.” Here he dampens and arpeggiates each open octave, creating intensity as the guitar reenters the stage. I don’t know about you, but to me, this simple performance decision adds so much – hiccups re-initializing the haunting 3/4 meter – that it forces me to start paying attention all over again until we get new material at the bridge. Pretty brilliant.
What else happened? Well, aside from everyone being really nice, super cool and sincere, there was a brief discussion about the borg and assimilation. I don’t recall how it came up. So there, you have proof that Star Trek actually is cool, like I’ve said all along.