Apple Power Mac G5 with Digi 002 running Pro Tools LE 7.4, Waves Power bundle, Native Instruments B4II virtual organ. PreSonus Digimax 8-channel preamp/converter, dbx 376 tube preamp, Neumann TLM 103, Shure SM81, Mogami XLR cables, Korg TR keyboard (used as controller), Larivee acoustic guitar.
Production Notes & Credits:
“In the Grey” is a male vocal acoustic flavored pop/rock tune. Sam played the guitar, organ and sang the lead vocal. Stacy Lantz played the piano. The track was engineered/produced by Michael Spooner and Jake Troxell. No songwriter credits were given.
Reviewed By: Marty Peters
Recording: “Spooner and Troxell, five minutes in the penalty box for major compression violation!” Sorry, but as I write this it’s the tail end of hockey season and we get a bit fanatical about such things up here in Buffalo. Anyway...
Guys, guys, guys, are you listening to the same mix as we are? If you are not hearing the absolute smear and pumping on the acoustic guitar, as well as the sibilance on the lead vocal, then something is terribly wrong. Right from the first down beat the compressor grabs the acoustic guitar and strangles it until the end of the song. As for the additional sound sources, we found the low end to be quite lacking, particularly against the very present shaker. The piano also sounds as if it has fallen victim to the runaway compressor, though to a lesser extent.
Now for the perplexing part... just when we think that all is lost for “In the Grey”, along comes this beautifully performed and recorded gospel choir, achieved by multi-tracking four singers several times standing in different places around the room, in order to provide the fullness required to sound like a much larger number of singers.
OK, so how do two guys who are savvy enough about recording to pull that off so well manage to monkey up the majority of the rest of the track? Well, here’s our theory. Compression is (along with reverb) one of the most addicting ingredients that we recordists can lay our little hands on. It’s the aural equivalent of pizza, chocolate, or any other thing that requires moderation but rarely gets it. They just got carried away!
Suggestions: “Back away from the cheese and pepperoni!” Just kidding.
What we really mean to say is, it seems fairly obvious that Sam’s playing is a tad bit rough, and no doubt can benefit from some taming. How that is accomplished is key. First let’s talk about what Sam can do—namely, ease up on his guitar some, along with perhaps trying a thinner pick, in order to eliminate the volume spikes that are leading to the compression issue.
As for Michael and Jake, our first suggestion would be to reposition the mic/s on Sam’s guitar back about six inches or so and see if things even out a bit. If you find that this has made the guitar sound too thin, you can always double track it for some additional bulk. Should compression still be required after this we would suggest that it is done either in incremental stages or by using two compressors simultaneously, one in compression mode and the other as a peak limiter.
As for the low end, a dedicated bass would be helpful. Since none was listed, we can only assume that the low end was generated from the organ or the piano. In any event, something with increased definition and focus would be great. Oh yeah, turn it up some too. Regarding the shaker, it may find its rightful place once these other problems are ironed out, but if not, please place it back in the mix so that it can assume a supporting role in the track.
On a final note, if Michael and Jake are not A/Bing their mixes against others in a similar genre, they should get into the habit and stay with it. And what monitors are they using?
Summary: Get everything up to the quality of the choir and you’re out of the penalty box.
Contact: Michael Spooner, firstname.lastname@example.org.