Creative Mic Tips from the Experts
The following article is an excerpt from Shure Notes, Issue #18.
Multi-Pattern Mics and More
He’s worked with everyone from Yoko Ono, Robbie Robertson and Joan Osborne to jazz artists like Bill Evans Supergroup, Living Time Orchestra and Leni Stern while finding time to produce Big Time, an instructional DVD, his way cool Two Hands Clapping CD, and Inside Out, a compilation of his “Concepts” articles from Modern Drummer magazine.
According to one reviewer, “Billy Ward must munch on a steady diet of hipness pills. Everything he plays just sounds so cool.”
So, here it is. Ten minutes with the master.
Recording or Live Performance?
Years in the Business
New York City
What I Learned
There are many ways to skin a cat. Everybody has their secret ways to mic a drum kit, but in the end, there are no “across the board” rules because there are so many factors in achieving a successful drum sound on tape.
The room is the biggest factor, which is usually overlooked by inexperienced engineers. Then, of course, there’s the tuning of the drums and the drummer’s touch. Geoffrey Daking once pointed out to me in an article for Modern Drummer Magazine: “You can take six drummers in the same room with the same drums and mics and you will have six different drum sounds.”
Personally, I always encourage younger, budding engineers to get mics that have different patterns available (such as the KSM44 and KSM141 series mics). A figure-8 pattern (like in the KSM44) is tighter – like two hypercardioid patterns. If you are doing a multi-tom setup, placing the KSM44 for two toms is a great solution. Everybody knows that more mics are bad – they create a phase party! So that’s one solution for live or studio application.
For studio, when the room is sonically accurate or safe, omnis are so underrated! The KSM44s in omni are a wonderful snapshot of the drums.
As is the case with any drum miking, it’s best that the mics are at equal distance from the snare drum (and the bass drum too, if possible). The KSM series is understated – it’s non-hyped in the top end. Very mixable. The sounds sit within any setting because there is nothing false in the top end.
An experienced engineer will appreciate the choices that are available and the novice can learn from the huge differences in sound and EQ that come from a different pickup pattern.
Knowledge is truly power and the KSM series enables the user to have multiple patterns at a reasonable cost. Switchable patterns R U L E!
Shure Notes readers can keep up with Billy, check out his music, sharpen percussion skills with his book and DVDs and even – yes –join the BWSS (Billy Ward Stalking Society) by purchasing licensed gear that includes everything from coffee mugs to thong underwear at www.billyward.com
Raz-Man Jeff Rasmussen: Michael McDonald’s Main (FOH) Man
Jeffrey “Raz” Rasmussen ought to know a little something about mixing sound. He’s been at it for a good two decades now and has been the man behind the controls for about as diverse a group of artists as you can imagine: Rick James, LL Cool J, Oingo Boingo, Prince, Leann Rimes, Brian Setzer Orchestra, Tony Toni Tone and more recently, Michael McDonald. You get the idea. He’s a pro.
We asked Raz to weigh in with a problem and a solution.
Recording or Live Performance?
Live and Studio
Currently FOH engineer for Michael McDonald
Years in the Business
Miking McDonald’s vocals was a problem since Michael’s wedges can reach up to 118db, which tends to really color the FOH sound.
Shure’s KSM9 has incredible rejection of background noise. The KSM9 really isolates Michael’s voice and allows me to get a natural tone. I tried a lot of different large diaphragm condenser mics. The KSM9 was the only one to offer this performance.
The Path That Took You There
Ryan Smith of Shure told me about the KSM9. He asked me to try it. I loved it right away.
He came to a rehearsal where both of us listened to McD’s voice soloed up in the headphones. Neither one of us could believe how much isolation the KSM9 was providing with such high monitor level. Not to mention that the tone was fabulous, too. Bravo, for the Mylar diaphragm! I also use KSM32s for overheads, but I place them equidistant from the drum kit and make sure that they are in the same phase plane. This eliminates any swishy, phase shifting sound when the cymbals are struck.
Snare: KSM27, SM57
Kick: SM91 (Editor’s Note: This product is discontinued. See Beta 91 or Beta 52 for other kick drum miking recommendations.)
Toms: Beta 98
Wood Block: Beta 98
Vocals: KSM9, SM58
Choir: KSM9, KSM32
Flute: KSM9, KSM32
Shure Notes thanks Raz for stepping away from the mixing board long enough to participate in this issue.
Tree House: Dave Catching & Rancho de la Luna
Whether you call the genre acid rock, space rock or stoner rock, you are likely to know Dave Catching, a Memphis-born, former New Orleans resident, who, along with the late Fred Drake, founded Rancho de la Luna. An accomplished guitar-player with a long list of credentials, Dave has worked with Queens of the Stone Age, Mondo Generator, co-founded earthlings? and is presently touring with Eagles of Death Metal.
Our Shure Notes mission was to plug into some handy tips for creative miking. What began as that discussion quickly became an exploration of the elements sometimes required for musical creativity. It’s what some call the “Place Concept”. For Dave and a legion of other West Coast players, that place is Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree, California.
Recording or Live Performance?
I do both actually, and I do a lot of both.
Let’s talk about the studio, Rancho de la Luna.
It was founded by Fred Drake in 1993 (who died in 2002). He found the house and contacted me about starting the studio. A friend of ours was selling a bunch of studio equipment and we bought the gear from the guy. Within a week we had a board and a 24-track one-inch machine and a 16-track half-inch machine.
Then, Mark Howard who engineers for Daniel Lanois, stopped in a few days after our gear had been delivered to ask if it was cool to move his studio into the house for about six months. He didn’t expect to be recording here for more than two or three weeks – so we had the gear for sessions, or for our own stuff the rest of the time. Strangely enough, Daniel was Fred’s favorite producer so it worked out pretty well.
Rancho de la Luna, of course, is where The Desert Sessions are recorded.
Let’s talk about what makes this place so unique.
This is a little house in the middle of the desert. It’s not big and it’s not fancy. But it’s got a very good vibe. We don’t have state-of-the art equipment (except for microphones, of course) and it’s really kind of low-tech.
We do “The Desert Sessions” just about every year with an amazing group of musicians who have never met. It’s run by Josh Homme, a good friend of mine (from Queens of the Stone Age) and we all collaborate.
Since this issue is about creativity, let’s talk about the process or maybe, more appropriately, the magic there.
We have a ton of really strange instruments that we either get at swap meets or someone gives us. We collaborate in strange ways – maybe over dinner where someone has an idea and someone else adds something to it. We’ve been doing it once a year or maybe twice a year since 1997, but now that everyone’s been busy playing, we do it on a less regular schedule.
The place itself really influences the recordings. In the Desert Sessions, we’ve had everyone from Josh to PJ Harvey to the guys from Soundgarden. In L.A., people would be saying “you know, there’s a party” or “my girlfriend’s stopping by …” but out here, there’s none of that. People are more focused, the skies are wide open and you don’t sit in a windowless room all day. There are mountains outside and cactus to look at. Instead of being in the control room or the tracking room, you can sit by the fire pit and if you have an idea, we’ll run a mic out there where you can hear wood crackling in the background. We lay it down immediately. People get inspired by that.
Sounds like an experience that will free some and paralyze others.
If the equipment malfunctions, maybe it sounds different and cool. That encourages people to approach things differently. earthlings? was spawned partly by us having crappy gear. Our albums are kind of weird sounding because we discovered that ‘Hey. Maybe the keyboard’s broken, but it sounds really cool. Let’s throw it on tape.’ I thin k that might’ve had something to do with Josh doing Desert Sessions because he liked the way Fred and I worked. Nothing stopped us.
This is a great place to create and write. The best place I’ve ever been. There’s just something about the vibe and it’s reflected in what’s been recorded here.
We know you use unorthodox instruments and kind of sketchy gear to capture that musical moment. What about microphones, though?
We have lots of Shure microphones. It started with my next-door neighbor who does sound for Queens of the Stone Age, then with Eagles of Death Metal, then the studio.
The (SM)57 is the greatest microphone that’s even been manufactured and I mean that. Right now, it’s on a guitar amp, it’s on the snare on top and bottom, and it’s on the bass amp. I have lots of other microphones but it sound great on guitar and drums, always. And it’s sexy – Robert Plant holding a SM57 – it doesn’t get much sexier than that, does it?