Tracking with The Hot Club Of Cape Town

The Hot Club Of Cape Town – A Knowledgeable Bunch Of Artists

After much communication, THCCT was finally able to spare some time from their condensed performing schedule, and offered 5 hours of their time on the night of the 23rd of May to record several performances that would eventually be prepared for a small release.

The group is certainly experienced in the art of recording and conducting oneself in the studio environment – as they were more than familiar with the various procedures that need to be performed before the record button can be engaged. They utilized the time whilst I was preparing the live room and the signal chain to warm-up and rehearse their songs, all the while satisfying their curiosity with a brief question here and there about what microphones, techniques, and setups I was using to capture their performance. They are certainly a very knowledgeable bunch, and I particularly enjoyed their bantering on music history and tastes whilst they were rehearsing.

From the start, the group was set on recording live takes of their music, in order to capture the interplay between each of them and to ensure that the energy of each performance evolves and fluctuates – apparently essential with this sort if music. I was on board with this approach immediately, since it would spare the necessity of scheduling additional studio time for more recording, however, this forced me to make careful decisions in my approach to microphone choice, techniques, and placement. As a result of capturing live takes, the band was extremely well-prepared and needed only a little bit of rehearsal to ensure that what we recorded to disk was more than adequate.

I arrived at the studio an hour early to eliminate several preparatory tasks that would otherwise have wasted time, such as retrieving all of the appropriate equipment from the equipment closet, running cables, switching on equipment, preparing Protools recording sessions. I’ve had more than enough encounters with studio sessions where things didn’t go exactly as planned, and as a result lost valuable minutes. I saw this extra hour to prepare as an attempt to iron out and troubleshoot any potential issues that may/may not present themselves – if I’ve learned anything about hosting a recording session it’s, if anything can go wrong – it will. Luckily and for the most part, this was not the case with this session!

The Setup

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The THCCT Live Room Setup

I had the band all seated comfortably in a triangular arrangement – with the Dan situated at the top point, while Mike and Elton were seated at the left and right points of the base respectively. I spread them part at least 3 arm-lengths apart as to not make the final recordings too claustrophobic and encumbered with cross-bleed. The triangular fashion was essential as it was directly linked to the room microphone technique I would be using for this session. I constantly had the stereo image of the final recording in mind, and as an addition to all of the close-mics I decided to use a Blumlein stereo technique to fill up the sides of the mix, and ultimately add a natural spread to the mix. Keeping the triangular arrangement in mind, I placed the Blumlein rig at the center of the triangle, with the nodes of the Blumlein pattern pointed at the sound sources – as a result the setup would capture a good mix of room reflections with majority of Mike’s guitar on the left, Elton’s resonator on the right, and more or less equal amounts of the violin on both the left and right sides. I panned each microphone signal hard left and right for the full effect. I incorporated close-mics on each instrument as well to provide me with more control of the center image of the mix – I knew that I would have to be able to bring each instrument forward in the mix at specific parts.

Microphone Techniques

Violin

An overhead large-diaphragm condenser in cardioid, the Miktek C1 in this case, pointed at the resonant chamber of the violin, and approximately an arm’s length above the instrument.

A DPA 4099 condenser microphone that was clipped onto the body of the violin, and pointed at the strings approximately 3-inches away. I was aware that the violin would alternate between bowed and plucked parts – and I opted for a close-mic to be able to capture the softer plucked parts – eliminating the possibility of being masked by the other instruments.

Resonator

I utilized a dual close-mic setup for the resonator, an AKG C451 at the neck of the resonator to capture the attack and natural sound of the strings, and a Rode NTG1A situated at the bottom of the instrument, pointed directly at the resonant chamber of the resonator. This setup allowed me to formulate a mix between the resonance and attack of the entire instrument.

Guitar

A single Tull F47 placed at the neck/body joint, angled towards the sound-hole – effectively mixing between the attack and resonance of the guitar. I also made use of a DI to capture the direct out of the guitar – in the event that I needed more isolation of the guitar.

Room

2x AKG C414s in a Blumlein arrangement and a figure-8 pattern.

Conclusion

Once I had completed a line check of the entire signal chain, it was simply a matter of having the band perform a song to finalize the sound check, and prepare their cue mixes. By 18:30 all preparations were complete and we had until 22:00 to record. In those three and a half hours, we managed to record 8 songs, with at least 2-4 takes each. The beauty of recording a band of this caliber, is that in many occasions you’re just hitting the record button, rather than guiding them through every part that needs to be played. In this situation, I was more concerned with the delivery of each take and saw it as an opportunity to provide critical assessments of their performances to ensure we had a variety of takes that differ in their delivery – which would later be compared for selection for the final release.

The night felt like it had passed within moments, and seemingly without much challenge, however, in retrospect and with all things considered – we managed to complete a lot. The band took a listen to each of the songs we had recorded before the end of the session, and were thoroughly impressed with the results of the setup – I even demonstrated how the Blumlein arrangement added to the overall mix, and it left them in a state of curious awe. It was certainly a pleasure to have THCCT in the studio for a few hours and to record their amazing talent and skills. And I’m certainly looking forward to our future endeavours.

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Dans Frikkie Dans Takes Break From Recording

Dans Frikkie Dans has brought it to my attention that they will not be able to continue the production of their songs after mid-May until the last week of June. It turns out that Louis has to take time off for his wedding during this time, and the band has several live gigs lined up for the start of June that would make it impossible for them to dedicate time to recording.

We have all decided that we will put the project on hold for a later time during the year, possibly in July or August, when the band has more spare time and the SAE studios are open after their semester break.

As for the completion of my advanced studio production course, I have made contact with The Hot Club of Cape Town – a 3 piece gypsy-jazz collective, consisting of Daniel Franks (Fiddle), Elton Goslett(Resonator), and Mike Hardaker(Guitar). This sort of music is a step away from the kind of music I’m accustomed to recording, however, I feel that is will be an educational opportunity as good as any – and I’m by no means reluctant to put myself into unfamiliar territory. I’m confident that it will be a smooth and productive experience to step into the studio with The Hot Club Of Cape Town

Links

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The Hot Club Of Cape Town

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/THCCT/

Drum Tracking with Dans Frikkie Dans

After much scheduling, discussion and postponing – Dans Frikkie Dans finally stepped back into the studio on the 13th of May. I had allocated the 5 hour session to tracking drums for both Slap To The Face and Jamaica. The band was eager to start the recording process at this point – having spent almost a month expanding and developing their songs at home, and they left the studio that afternoon even more excited than when they arrived.

The session went smoothly, with the band arriving an hour early to save recording time from time spent on offloading and setting up equipment – it took us almost 1 ½ hours to setup the drum kit for tracking and the guitar amp and bass guitar for guide tracking, and by 09:30 we were ready to capture the first takes – leaving us with almost a complete 4 ½ hours of recording time. With the those circumstances, I divided the remaining session time into two 2-hour chunks for the tracking of each song, with a total of 30 minutes for breaks.

The Setup

As this was the first, and most fundamental, step in the song recording process – at least in terms of this kind of music – I had the drum kit set up in live room A on its own, while both the guitar, bass, and vocals were placed inside of the Neve control room. This was entirely for the sake of isolation between the drums and the rest of the band, since it was the purpose of this session to capture the drum performances that would be used in the final mixes – it was wholly important that the drum recordings be of high quality and have no bleed from other instruments.

The placement of the guitar amp, bass guitar, and vocals in the control room were not essential – as long as they were placed as far as possible from the control room monitors to reduce feedback into the microphones (In any case, I would dim the monitors during recording). The purpose of the guitars and vocals in this session was to provide the drummer with context to the song during his performance. It was important to me that Ian deliver performances as if he were playing with the entire band – this way I would capture a performance that encapsulated the same authentic and dynamic energy he would normally play with during his gigs and rehearsals.

Microphone Techniques

Drums

I adopted a similar approach to the drum miking in this session as I did in the demo session, however, with a few adjustments specifically in the overheads and the snare drum, and the addition of a room microphone. I found that, with the demo recordings, I would have to make a lot of sonic compromises with the overall tonality of the snare drum, and I found that it lacked the right amount of snap and sizzle to cut through the mix, and to remedy this I chose to use a dual close-mic setup on the snare drum, still utilizing the SM57, but with the addition of a Shure SM81 in an almost coincidental pair arrangement, however, without the angled offset between the microphones. As for the overheads, I chose to use a mid-side technique centrally placed over the drum kit. I was aware at this point of the production that the final mix would need a lot of layers to completely fill the stereo spread of the mix – and I opted for a mid-side overhead arrangement to have the drums fill up the majority of that spread, that would otherwise not be as effective with a standard spaced-pair setup. Additionally, mid-side also ensures mono-compatibility of the overheads – due to the mono microphone. I made use of the AKG C451 for mid, and the Lewitt LCT640 in figure-8 pattern for the sides. The sides were split via a M/S balanced XLR cable (the polarity of which is switched on the split cable) straight into their own channel inputs.

Other Instruments

I used a single Tull G12, SM58, and a Radial J48 DI for the guitar amp, vocals and bass guitar respectively. The microphone techniques for these parts were not important to this session, and would not be recorded in any case – they served only as a means to link the rest of the band with the drummer.

Initially, we had tried several takes with the aid of a click track, however, we eventually decided to record without – as it was throwing Ian off too much, and it would have harmed the productivity of the session if we chose to continue with a click. I affirmed that I would be able to align the drum tracks with elastic-audio once I started editing.

Conclusion

We managed to capture several solid performances by the time our session had finished. Leaving everyone involved with a sense of relief. Weed to celebrate their efforts as the drum tracks were playing back. It was a challenging session, with a few minor hiccups, however, as is the case with m took a listen to the day’s work before we called it a day, and I could tell the session was a success when the band, in a collective attempt, startost encounters with Dans Frikkie Dans, it was certainly a memorable one.

Introducing Dans Frikkie Dans

DANS FRIKKIE DANS – A WEST COAST ROCK TRIO

On the evening of the 27th of March I stepped into the SAE studios with a small West Coast rock trio, Dans Frikkie Dans, to record demo tracks for 2 of their original songs – what an absolute jam of a night. The night was filled with tasteful buffoonery and mildly witty gags that border on crude. The session had a completely casual atmosphere, and the band were more than a pleasure to accommodate. Aside from all of the shenanigans, the evening turned out to be a wildly productive night – successfully tracking 2 demoes, whilst capturing enough footage of the band’s camaraderie to compile a behind-the-scenes/bloopers reel.

Dans Frikkie Dans, is a blues-rock cover band that emerged from Veldriff, Western Cape. The trio consists of Louis van Lill (Vocals and Guitar), Hannes Carstens (Bass and Backing Vocals), and Ian Gous (Drums and Backing Vocals). They formed the band as a result of their love for classic rock and the demand for a live-gigging cover band in the West coast community. While the majority of their live sets consist predominantly of cover songs, they have written a series of original songs in the past year.

For this session, they chose to showcase 2 of their fan-favourite songs. The songs themselves are contrasting in style – to say the least. Slap To The Face, is a blues-rock inspired jam-off, while Jamaica, draws inspiration from reggae sensibilities infused with “pop” music elements. The band’s performance wasn’t anything short of impressive – they stepped into the session prepared for a live gig (without the drunken audience of course), and delivered several takes with the energy that you’d expect to see at a jam-packed music bar. The performances were lively and organic, and aside from Louis’s strained vocal performance – his voice was still in recovery from a weekend’s worth of gigging shortly prior to the demo session – the band managed to deliver very usable performances for both songs within only a few takes.

We put the band altogether into SAE’s live room A for a live performance recording. Each member was allocated a corner in the room maximize isolation between each instrument, and we made use of several baffle-screens to further cordon off each instrument – especially between the drums and vocals. As a result, Louis and Ian were placed at opposite ends of the room. Several more precautions could have been taking to isolate the band, however, considering the purpose of the session, it was far more important that the band have a direct line of sight and communication in order to maximize the energy and interplay of their performance.

I adopted a “less is more” frame of mind when making technical decisions – especially when considering microphone choice and techniques. The entire session was tracked through a Neve Genesys with – which limited me to 16 inputs, however, I utilized only 13 of these for this session – which was more than enough for the purposes of the session, and I primarily chose to track on the Genesys to make use of its 1073 mic preamps. The audio was tracked into ProTools through the Genesys and then through a UAD Apollo 16 A/D converter. I chose to record all of the tracks onto disk dry – knowing that it would afford me more flexibility at a later stage. I did, however, request that the band set up their equipment in the same way that they would if they were at a gig, or how ever they felt it would complement their performance. This meant that Louis would use a foot pedal to engage/disengage his guitar FX, and Hannes would utilize his compression and tone pedals. I allowed this in order to capture an authentic recording of the band’s sonic character, knowing that the resulting recordings could be used as a source of reference during the tracking sessions.

Microphone Techniques

Drums

Abiding to the aforementioned principle, I chose to use a standard close-mic with stereo overheads setup, close-miking all of the kit’s components, and utilizing a AB spaced-pair technique for the overheads.

Bass

I made use of a single AKG C414 in cardioid, and with a 10dB pad on Hannes’s Ampeg BA115 bass amp, slightly off-center from the cone.

Electric Guitar

A single close-miked Tull G12 on the cone of Louis’s Crate Flexwave 120 amplifier.

Vocals

All vocals were tracked with Shure SM58s. I opted for dynamic microphones on the vocals to reduce bleed from the other instrumentation in the room.

 

Cue Mix

I dedicated two channels on the Genesys console as a stereo return from the DAW that would be sent via the console’s aux busses to the headphone amp in the live room for the band’s cue mix. I could have instead used the aux sends on each individual channel strip at the input stage to formulate a cue mix, however, doing it in the way that I did – allowed me to easily control the mix’s balance in ProTools using an auxiliary buss and channel sends, as well as affording me the option of adding software FX to the mix. Luckily I had created a ProTools template with all of the parameters preset – which saved a reasonable amount of time.

Conclusion

All in all, the session was a success, leaving both parties – the band and production team – excited and relieved. A big thanks to Brandon Swanepoel, Robert Verster and Wesley Bowers for their assistance during the session – the session would not have been possible with their help and fashionable camaraderie. And of course, thanks to Dans Frikkie Dans for their explosive and positive energy, and without whom none of this would be possible.

Links

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Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dansfrikkiedans/