I’m going to take a little time to deviate from the guitarist gear and travel down the production road. First I’ll start off with what microphones I use then travel along the path to the interface, followed with what software, computer and monitors/headphones I use to make all the magic with.
Guitars – I almost only ever us my Shure SM57 mics for recording both electric and acoustic guitars. For electric guitars I mic each cab at the grill cloth varying the location of the mic to the cone of the speaker. The closer to the cone the more treble sounding the recording will get, farther away and the more bass you’ll gather. Finding the sweet spot sometimes takes some time so make sure you can leave them for the full course of recording. On the acoustic takes, I’ll still use the SM57 pointed at the joint of the neck and the body. I read that this is a great place to get a really solid full sounding acoustic. I’ve also experimented with other locations but I have found that position to be the easiest to capture the true tone of the instrument. When mixing I also employ a couple doubling techniques along with EQing to fully round out the sound.
Bass – For bass recordings I have mixed between the Sm57 and an Apex 325 kick drum mic. I found that the kick drum mic really captured the tonal characteristics better than the Sm57. BUT the SM57 does allow for some good punk rock bass sounds that the 325 just quite get. I think I’ve also experimented with recording both mics at the same time and mixing but the result was too much bass… cause that actually can be a thing.
Vocals – For a period of time I used the SM58 for vocals, but was lucky enough to have received a M-Audio Luna for Christmas one year. That mic has been the go to since then, including doing the vocals on my previous endeavour using a female vocalist. The Luna captures a very true clean performance no matter the vocalists style. I have forever been impressed with its quality given that M-Audio isn’t known for its microphones. Further to that I haven’t had any thought of using a tube mic to get more warmth because the Luna just does the job wonderfully. I have also experimented with the Luna and acoustic guitars, and I will say it does a great job there too but it seems to pickup a little to much ambient noise (i.e. fret noise, chair squeaks….).
Apogee Duet 2- My primary unit for recording is the Apogee Duet 2. I originally had the first Duet and was blown away with the quality of its sound and the complete lack of need for an external preamp. When they released the 2 I was first in line and traded in the original Duet. The Duet 2 had a number of upgrades including preamps that could take a bit of a bashing and produce the warm glow older reel-to-tell units could. Also the Duet went from a firewire cable to the USB 3.0, a marvellous upgrade since the Mac’s I’ve used had under preforming firewire cards. Obviously the Duet is a Mac only product so if you’re recording with a PC my secondary interface might be more up your alley.
TC Electronics Konnekt 8 – I absolutely scored finding this unit used at L&M. I paid $40 for it and I believe that it was because one input didn’t seem to respond to the physical dial inputs (but did work with the digital software). Oddly, after about… 2 weeks that dial started to work again and its been fully functioning ever since. Now this interface is no longer available but thankfully TC keeps updating the drivers to work with each new OS or Windows operating system. I would say that the Konnekt does a wonderful job and has some great sounding preamps. It doesn’t quite get the Duet sound but does sound like the first generation Duet. The reason I got the Konnekt was to open the door for more recording inputs without stepping into something that wasn’t the best quality. Currently I can record 6 total tracks at once, which means for a basic live floor recording I’d have it all covered. I did record some of the bass tracks with the Konnekt on the album just to see how it would mix; not one issue to report. It’s a great little interface!
Cubase 8.5 Pro- I have been a Cubase user since my very first Tascam interface. It came with a very basic software package that eventually led me to upgrade through the student studio 4 to finally the full 8.5 (I’ll soon be purchasing the 9). I know Cubase isn’t the industry standard, Pro Tools and Logic seem to be the go to packages, but I can’t help but feel completely at home with Cubase when mixing and recording. I always like to mention that Cubase was the first digital recording software made and used with the original Apple computers which should give it some lineage. If that doesn’t do it for you, how about the fact that Cubase has gone about really changing the ability to record in a home studio. Take a listen to my recordings and if you can honestly tell me that you can tell thats recorded at home then you must have better ears than I. I’d also ask you if you think I used a real drummer… because all of Red Sky uses the Groove Agent 4 software. The day that software was released nearly blew my mind. I know Logic had a version of a digital drummer a year prior, but the length Cubase went to in capturing some 20 different mic locations on each instrument and room really takes it to the next level. I also found that the intelligence of the pattern mixing just wound up fitting right into the songs I had recorded with click tracks. I also want to point out that just because the drums are semi premastered that doesn’t mean you won’t head issues in the mics. For example on Come on Baby there was a persistent off beat click noise that I isolated to the room mics picking up the sound of the stick on the high-hat. Just take one second to think about that… a digital drum machine, using real recorded samples that still has real mixing issues that you would run into with a live setting? Ya that should blow your damn mind.
Other attributes I’ve come to enjoy with Cubase has been their master meters and digital plug ins that will emulate tape productions (i.e. warms and light distortion). I really can’t speak to how great I find the Cubase software. If you are a home musician and can afford to get the Cubase Pro package, I would really suggest it. You might just find you’ll never have to record in a real studio with session musicians ever again.
Mac Mini – You can see I really don’t have an expensive setup but I’ve invested time into knowing what gear will do the best work for what I need it to do. I should also mention I did upgrade my Mac to a Mini with a SSD drive and a good amount of RAM and that has really pushed the capabilities of the software and hardware attached. I can’t say anymore great things about the quality of Macs for recording purposes and their shift to SSD drives that make recording a breeze. I can remember recording on a laptop when I first started and the amount of clicks and random noise I would get as a result of the sound card nearly drove me insane.
M-Audio CX 5 Monitors – For the longest time I used to use an old pair of fisher stereo speakers that were about 4 feet tall, stacked on my desk… They were wonderful speakers and did a decent job for what I needed but I realized that I really needed some nice monitors to upgrade my level of mixing. I went with the CX 5 monitors because they had a number of great review online and just so happened to be on sale. These monitors have a number of extra attributes that allow the home studio producer to dial in the exact room dynamics. I immediately fell in love with these monitors and unless they break of blow I don’t plan to change them out anytime soon. I would highly recommend looking into most of the M-Audio items because you can really get a great deal on them and their quality is top notch.
Shure 440 Studio ear monitors – I happened to be one of the first few you took a chance on the newly released Shure headphones when they debuted years ago. I recall that many people wondered why Shure even got into the market since Bose and Sennheiser had the market cornered. From what I read at the time, Shure had always made headphones but they were only sold to studios and not the mass public. If that is true it would explain the quality and clarity these headphones have. I opted for the flat response mid-range 440 series. I wanted something that didn’t give any boost to the bass or trebles and these were rated for exactly that. The one issue I have had with these guys is that they will bleed sound into your vocals if you have them at a decent level. It’s not really that noticeable unless you’re mixing vocals clean without the backing tracks (to remove breaths, clicks and so on). Aside from that though these headphones are a great studio tool coupled with the monitors. You really have to be diligent about mixing in both formats because they will both provide audible markers to issues in the mix that the other doesn’t.
So that’s it folks, that is my studio and all the production gear. It’s not fancy but it does a great job… well once I get my hands and ears on it that is!