Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Setting up for a Vocal Session with DJ Fresh

I don’t often get involved in studios, but from time to time, I’ll muscle in on a session. In this instance I had arranged to meet a friend and colleague for a few beers on the Cowley Road in Oxford. As is often the case, we couldn’t agree on a night that didn’t impinge on one or the others schedule, so we agreed to a few beers at his.

Dan (aka DJ Fresh) was planning a vocal session with Ella Eire for a track he’s been working on (probably the next single) and he had hired some extra equipment especially. He wanted to have a play with the gear to get some idea of what was what before Ella arrived the next morning.

The track consists of two main sections, the first utilizing mainly acoustic instruments; the second section drops a jungle style electronic break beat and bass line. Fresh was keen to achieve a vocal sound (or sounds) that would compliment the different sections of the arrangement but didn’t want to keep Ella hanging around during the session whilst he experimented.

Those familiar with Ella will know she has a very soulful voice and a style reminiscent of popular artists of the 40’s and 50’s. Dan’s idea was to try to accentuate this “vintage” style in the initial section of the track. To achieve this he hired and RCA Ribbon mic AEA A40 into a Neve 1073 pre-amp, then in a Teletronix La2A Leveling amplifier.

We set the mics up one on top of the other to get the capsules as close to each other as possible

We also wanted to simultaneously record the performance on his preferred mic choice – a Sony C800, again this tracked through a Neve 1073.

After much head scratching and chin stroking we agreed that setup above was the best way to record into both mics and set about having a look at the individual frequency responses on the Blue Cat Analyzer.

The first obstacle was achieving the correct amount of gain between the Neve and La2a. We struggled at first to get enough juice running through to the compressor but with a good bellow from the vocal booth and the Neve suitably cranked we started to see decent gain.

With all the meters starting hit where we wanted them for the RCA we plugged up the Sony, which came together comparatively quickly. The most notable immediate difference was in top end detail. The Sony drips in detail from around 12k up – exactly the point at which the RCA starts to lose it.

The second most notable difference was the amount of “hiss” from the RCA – Neve – Comp chain. This was obviously exacerbated as eq was added in the plug-in chain in the DAW.

We followed the frequency response closely but its times like these you realize you need to trust your ears. Using a test vocalist we ran the first part of the track. The mid- range character of the ribbon sat the vocal roughly but beautifully in the mix. The Sony sounding cold and hard in comparison – although that top end clarity contributed something.

I’m looking forward to hearing the results!!

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