IN MEMORY OF MIESZKO TALARCZYK
In Mieszko's words: The Making of "Helvete"
Quite a few people have over time asked me numerous questions about my recording techniques, equipment we use on Nasum albums and recording/sound tips. This column is for those who are interested in a more in depth look at a Nasum/Soundlab recording session. I'm not going to explain how different equipment works so if you're confused/bored by words like "eq" or "pre-amp" you should probably stop reading right now.
Just so you know, this is not at all a guide to how an album should be recorded. This is just how I (we) did it; I've probably made countless mistakes along the way that would most likely annoy the shit out of a properly schooled engineer, but hey, I couldn't care less. I'll probably start hating the sound on "Helvete" in six months or so anyway... but here it goes.
Just a few weeks before entering the studio Anders bought a cool DW kit which really sounds killer. We used coated Genera2 Evans heads on the toms (12" & 16") a Remo Coated Ambassador on the snare. The snare is a Pearl Chad Smith (!) Signature (first time in a long time I used a metal snare, I think...). The kick is a DW though, size 24". The head we used for that one was an Evans EQ2 Batter. Anders plays with plastic DW beaters.
The drums were all tuned by Per Lindberg who's a tuning expert I use from time to time. He came in and re-tuned the drums every now and then between takes. Remarkably the toms kept a pretty steady tone, probably thanks to the Evans heads and Anders steady hands.
This is the microphone setup for the whole kit:
Kick drum 24" - Sennheiser e602 inside and an AKG D112 in the hole.
Snare 14" top - Sennheiser TGX-10
Snare bottom - Shure Beta 57
Rack Tom 12" - Sennheiser MD 421
Floor Tom - Audio-Technica ATM 25
Kit Overhead - a pair AKG 414 B-ULS
Ride Cymbal - AKG SE300B with a hypercardoid capsule
China Cymbal - a custom made condenser from Finland
Ambience Room - a pair of Shure SM 94
Hi-hat - Neumann TLM 103
The placement of the microphones is pretty standard. The reason I used the Finish microphone on the china instead of the hi-hat (for instance) was that the snare made it clip. The china however gave it no problems. The reason I used the TLM 103 on the hi-hat ("what a waste!" I hear you say...) is simply because I didn't have anything else to put there except some crappy old SM57's or stuff like that. I just wanted a condenser on the hats, that's all. I do regret the choice of ambience/room mic's. I usually have the 414's on the room and they work great but I wanted a better close cymbal sound this time than what the Shure SM94's were capable of producing, so I made a switch; 414 on the overhead and the SM94's on the room. Looking back, it wasn't the best switch but it came out ok. The room sounded a bit muddy at first but some eq: ing and compressing made it all fit in nicely. The Soundlab main studio room is an oddly shaped area of 40sqm with the ceiling 3.5 meters at its' highest and 2.4 meters at its' lowest. The drums were placed with maximum space between the cymbals and the ceiling. I put the ambience microphones about 60cm off the floor 3m from the kit and 3-4m apart from each other, pointing at the snare.
That was it. Everything going straight in to the mic preamps and then directly in to Pro-tools. I don't have a cool old school analogue soundboard to record things through, so I've gathered a stack of decent dedicated microphone preamps instead. Some are tube preamps and some are solid-state class A stuff. Whatever pre-amp I use, I always go directly to the "tape machine" (be it pro-tools, adat, or analogue).
So with everything recorded straight without any eq or dynamic changes done, we pretty much altered the sound by moving the mic's around until we achieved the sound we wanted. Well inside Pro-tools I used some eq's and compressors and a few other tricks as well, of course. The idea has always been to keep the sound "alive". The listener should have a sense of almost being in the room with the musicians and no single instrument or effect should sound "synthetic". Keep in mind that I don't put to much weight on how things are played or performed - it may well be artificial, as long as it doesn't sound artificial.
The kick and the snare are backed up by "triggered" sounds (we used Soundreplacer, a Pro-tools plug-in FYI), we blended the sampled sounds with the originals, about 60/40. For the kick we actually sampled Anders's 24" DW kick drum. The Pearl snare was blended together with a Sonor snare I got of a sample cd.
We have always used the same configuration for our guitar sound. It's simple; Fender Dual Showman Reverb Guitar Amp + BOSS DS-1 Distortion through a Marshall 4x12. This setup has always worked for me; muddy & raw and without the possibility to sound weak no matter what note/string you strike. It sounds close to the Boss Heavy Metal pedal, but not quite so Entombed-ish... This time however I wanted something different, not to completely leave what we had used before but to have the same kind of sound with more clarity and tone. We all felt that the new riffs deserved a bit more clarity. So I tried several combinations of heads/cabinets and ended up with a Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier and a Mesa Boogie Pre-amp. I like the distortion in the Rectifier but I just don't think it fits our sound. It's too neat. The Mesa pre-amp however, had just the right kind of distortion. So I ran it through the clean channel of the Rectifier, it may seem like a waste to some but this setup delivered just the sound we were looking for. The cabinet I used was a Marshall 4x12 from 1982. The guitar was a BC Rich Mockingbird.
Microphones on the cabinet:
Neumann TLM 103
Audiotechnica ATM 25
Sennheiser MD 421
The cabinet and the mics were covered by a heavy canvas to prevent ambience "leakage". Mic pre-amp used for guitars was a Focusrite Octopre. All mics were blended nicely within Pro-tools and recorded to 1 track. Oh, and I recorded everything in 44.1 kHz 24 bit.
This was the first time we really wanted to have 4 rhythm guitar tracks per song. I've never used more than 2 before. And for that we needed a sound that would fit in with the "Mesa + Mesa" sound. This came to be a BOSS HM-2 through the clean channel of the Rectifier (again). Same microphone setup as for the first 2 guitar tracks with a slight balance change between the mics.
All additional guitars (there weren't that many to be honest) were recorded with the natural sound of the Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier.
The bass amp was a Mesa Boogie BASS 400+ run through a Trace Elliot 4x10. For distortion I used the crunch channel on the Mesa pre-amp (same as for the guitars). The microphone I used was a good old Sennheiser MD 421 which ran through a TLA pre-amp. The mic signal was blended with the processed signal from a Tech21 Sans-Amp Bass Driver. There was really nothing more to it. I had a Triple-C compressor working on the bass frequencies as well as some annoying mids and sometimes I over distorted the sound inside pro-tools but all in all the bass setup was pretty simple and painless. The bass used was an Ernie Ball Music Man.
Again, it came down to the AKG 414. I tried the Neumann TLM 103 but it just didn't work on my vocals. Too many S's and it highlighted frequencies in my voice that weren't meant to be heard. The pre-amp used this time was a Mindprint En-voice. And this time around I did eq and I did compress the sound before recording it. No de-esser was needed though. As I recorded almost all of my vocals by myself I had to sing in the control room. Having never tried that before I was worried that the ambience of the room might have a negative impact on the vocal sound. Luckily the Soundlab control room is pretty "dead" ambience-wise, so it worked just fine.
Some of the vocals were dubbed, to be honest almost every "chorus" is dubbed once. The purpose of this was to give the vocals an extra dimension in those parts, so they wouldn't sound flat and boring as constant screaming in 35 minutes can do, and often does. There really isn't anything else to the vocals. Occasional delays and some reverbs were added at times but it's mostly pretty dry.
Mix is really all about taste. Some people like their vocals well over the music and some like them hidden way, way back. Some like their drums hidden behind guitars and vocals and some like it when the kick is so loud you can barely hear the riffs. What I like for Nasum you can hear on "Helvete". At least this is what I liked during the mix. Now I sometimes hate myself for not bringing this or that up or for not cutting this or that word out of that song. There are countless things I'd like to redo. The one thing that I didn't think I'd have trouble with actually gave me the most trouble during the mix; the kick drum. While the drum in it self sounds great it didn't really come through as I wanted it to in the grind parts and the fast d-beat parts. In the slow parts however it came through perfectly. This had nothing to do with how hard/soft Anders was playing the kick, mind you he really "kicks hard" at all times. But I felt that the kick didn't have time to "respond" with full tone in the fast parts. Perhaps because it was a 24" sized drum? Maybe those larger kicks aren't very suitable for faster play? I might be wrong and I hope I am. Either way, we solved that problem with the help of some clever software and some clever use of eq and compressors.
So there you have it. I hope this has stilled your curiosity somewhat, and again; this is how WE did it. You do not have to do the same. Do your own thing and keep grinding.
Cheers. / Mieszko