One Mic, One Pre-amp, One Song

Today we set ourselves the challenge of recording a song using only one microphone and one pre amp. As a small studio just starting out it can often feel as though you are lacking in equipment or missing that vital piece to get the best sound. With this in mind, it’s good to remind ourselves what we can achieve with limited options. 

Equipment for the challenge:

– Cascade FatHead Ribbon Microphone

– DIYRE CP5 pre-amp with Optical Disrupter colour module

– Logic Pro X

Song: It Feels Like We Only Go Backwards by Tame Impala

For this track we leant towards the Lo-fi aesthetic which we felt was suitable for the chilled out nature of the song, (Greenfield, 2018). We opted for a ribbon microphone as we like the dark quality that they have and it suited the desired style of the recording. 

We set up the kit in the middle of the room and removed the muffling from inside the kick to give it that extra click and volume since we only had a mono overhead. We also added in a muffling ring to the snare to tame unwanted ringing. (Drumhead Authority, n.d.)

After testing out different microphone positions (hoop height facing the kit, pulled back from the kit and pointing towards the snare) we settled on positioning the mic above the kit and angled downwards facing slightly towards the snare. This position picked up the whole kit in a balanced manner and we didn’t lose any impact from the snare or hi-hats.

For the bass we used our Palmer DI box and turned the colour module up full. We liked the smooth full sound we were getting and decided not to use any plugins on the bass. 

For the acoustic guitar we wanted a dry, up close sound to contrast with the electric guitars. We used our acoustic panels to create baffles around the microphone and placed the mic around the 12th fret to capture the full range of the guitar. As we were using a figure of eight pattern mic, adding in the absorption behind the mic limited the amount of room ambience. To create a fuller sound we also double tracked the acoustic guitar.

(Senior, 2010) 

The FatHead is our go to electric guitar mic in most recording projects. For this track we utilised the tremolo and reverb pedals to create an ambient guitar that would wash through the track.

When we first set out this challenge we had intended on not allowing ourselves the use of any plugins. However, that became very difficult to stay away from and we ended up using EQ, compression and reverb. Although we kept the plug-in use minimal, it would be good to try it again without using them. It did highlight to us the times where we reached for them and will maybe influence our decisions on expanding our outboard in the future. It also got us thinking about using guitar pedals for effects and had we had a re-amp box we definitely would have tried this. 

Choosing to record a spacey, psychedelic pop track (Macgregor, n.d.) was perhaps more suited to this challenge than other genres. Getting to know our recording space and becoming aware of any habits we have with plug-in use has allowed us to think more about how we use the space and what we want to get out of it. 

Restricting ourselves (although not completely) with what we were allowed to use pushed us to think more about the sound at the source. Tuning the drums exactly how we wanted them and utilising our acoustic panels as baffles around the mic were really important to achieving the right sound. Not relying on being able to fix it “in the box” encourages you to ensure each step of the recording process is as good as it can be. I think we will be experimenting more with how we can adapt our live room to create different recording sounds in the future.

After getting the main instrumental sections of the track done, we added in the vocals, backing vocals and hand percussion. Being minimal on how we mixed the track, we mainly balanced out the levels and added reverb to the vocals to suit the nature of the song. Have a listen to the finished track below: 

References:

Drumhead Authority. (n.d.). Drum Dampening: The Ultimate Guide – Drumhead Authority. [online] Available at: https://drumheadauthority.com/articles/drum-dampening-ultimate-guide/ [Accessed 9 Apr. 2019].

Greenfield, J. (2018). [Music Discovery] An Exploration of the Lo-Fi Aesthetic. [online] Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/@johngreenfield/music-discovery-an-exploration-of-the-lo-fi-aesthetic-487c4dbfc3fc [Accessed 9 Apr. 2019].

Macgregor, J. (n.d.). Tame Impala | Biography & History | AllMusic. [online] AllMusic. Available at: https://www.allmusic.com/artist/tame-impala-mn0002014409/biography [Accessed 9 Apr. 2019].

Senior, M. (2010). Recording Acoustic Guitar |. [online] Soundonsound.com. Available at: https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/recording-acoustic-guitar [Accessed 9 Apr. 2019].