Quad-core Windows PC with Digi 003 interface and Apogee Rosetta 200 converters running Digidesign Pro Tools 8 LE and plug-ins from SSL, Arturia, IK Multimedia, and Waves, Celemony Melodyne, and Antares Auto-Tune; Universal Audio LA-610, Neuman U87, Sennheiser e609; JBL LSR4328P monitors, beyerdynamic DT770 headphones; Gibson Les Paul guitar, Yamaha bass, Bogner by Line 6 amp; drum loops by Discrete Drums.
Reviewed By: Marty Peters
This month’s SPOTLIGHT is another awe-inspiring one man band effort full of energy, attitude and swagger. This song is so well done and “of” its genre that we’d swear it was a classic rock staple from the glory days of the 1980s. In reality it was only recently recorded, but man, Phil has got this style nailed! Right off the bat we were impressed by the sheer size of the sound coming out of our monitors, simply one of the “biggest” sounding tracks that have ever been submitted to Readers’ Tapes.
The quality of this recording was so impressive we decided to contact Phil for some additional details as to its creation. What follows is a fairly detailed account of the hard work and TLC that Phil put into “Sweet and Delicious”. Rest assured, folks—projects like this don’t just fall from the sky!
With this in mind Phil tells us: “I record my music in my home studio here in Palm Beach. My DAW studio rig consists of Pro Tools LE 8 on a Windows XP dual processor system with 4 GB memory. My outboard gear signal path consists of Digidesign 003, a Universal Audio LA-610 preamp, along with a Rosetta 200 by Apogee A/D–D/A csonverter. I use SSL channel plug-ins along with a Waves Gold package (for reverb and effects); I surgically tune the vocals with a Melodyne plug-in and an Auto-Tune plug-in was used on the chorus vocals.
“My songwriting starts out by building the drum tracks with loops. Then, once the song is laid out with the loops, then I can actually play to the ‘drummer’. I’ll usually play the guitars first. I almost always double the guitars, two of everything including solos. I’ll listen for errors in the guitar tracks and copy parts from somewhere else in the song and paste them in to replace mistakes. I make sure everything lines up on the grid, the guitars, bass, and drums, so that the timing is dead-on. Another words, the rhythm section has to be tight! For this and all of my songs I use .wav stereo drum loops. There is a cowbell sounding off in the background, which is a .wav sample as well. It’s ducked so as not to stand out. I throw SSL compression on the drum tracks, just to even things out.”
As for the killer guitar tracks, Phil tells us, “I live record my guitar with the classic Sennheiser microphone model e609, using a Bogner amp by Line 6 40 Watt combo, through the LA-610 signal chain and into the DAW. Sometimes I use my Neumann (U-87) microphone to mike the guitars but you must do this at low volume to avoid destroying the Neumann. I have a stable of new and old Gibson Les Paul (may he rest in peace) guitars. On this song I used my 1989 Black Beauty Les Paul. There’s something about the way those frets are scalloped that I really supports my playing and I haven’t found that on any other Les Pauls. With the Sennheiser e609, you can and should crank the amp. For this song, the amp was cranked up.”
What about the bass? Phil explains, “I use an old Yamaha bass that I bought from a pawn shop 20 years ago and it sounds amazing. I use the SVX bass plug-in simulator by IK Multimedia and record my bass through the LA-610 signal chain and into the DAW. I use the SSL channel strip and the RC comp bass enhancer from Waves. This plug-in yielded that plump pumping disco sound to the bass. I play two bass tracks and make a composite third track picking out the best from both tracks.”
Phil’s dynamic vocals were tracked through his fairly new Neumann U-87/Universal Audio LA-610 preamp and he relates, “For this song, I doubled the vocals for the verses. Usually and in this case too, I sing the verses on about 4 tracks, then I audition each syllable and each word of each track to make a composite track. Yes, I drag each word-piece to a composite track, which is very time-consuming. Then I mute those tracks and just use the composite track(s). Then I open up the Melodyne plug-in on the composite track and surgically tune the vocals with this powerful software. In this case I ran Melodyne in the vocal stereo bus and tuned both the vocals at once, which seemed to work. Melodyne is the reason why I am using Auto-Tune less and less! There is total control of vocal pitch with Melodyne but it is time-consuming and can be mind-bending as a result. Auto-Tune is cool to create obvious artifacts with your vocals, as is heard in hip hop, etc. The chorus does not have the melodic variation so I got away with just using Auto-Tune to keep the chorus vocals in tune. There are six of me belting out the chorus.”
The keyboard parts were created using “Arturia plug in software synths (emulating a Juno) with a plain MIDI keyboard. The chorus has an arpeggio that I played a few bars on so then I copied and pasted it where I wanted it. I slapped a stereo delay on it so it then had a double-time quality to it, like an old Duran Duran record, an ’80s thing!”
Finally, Phil tells that that he does all of his work with his mastering software (Waves and IK T-RackS) engaged, in order to get a better feel for what his final mix will sound like. Whew! No wonder this track sounds so radio ready, talk about leaving no stone unturned! So, bravo to you and your work ethic Phil, your track rocks and so do you!
Summary: The bar just got raised again!
Contact: Phil Nico, 301 Clematis Street Suite 3000, West Palm Beach, FL 33401. 561/835-4942, fax 561/835-4281, PNicozisis@aol.com. Phil’s album “Your Celestial Rock N Roll Fortune” is available on iTunes and many other pay sites.