Collaboration & Music - It’s More Fun With Others
After our first two videos with Kielo and Dorry Macaulay, both of which used large, colourful recording spaces, we wanted to show iD22 in use in a more likely ‘home’ recording environment.
For this track the aim was to record and produce a new version of a song that had only existed as a vocal and acoustic guitar demo, written by the awesome Emily Denton.
Check out the result here or read on for more ‘behind the scenes’ documentary…
Artist: Emily Denton feat. Swift 89
Song: What I Need Most
Producers: Andy Allen & Tom Waterman
Mixed: Tom Waterman
Format: 24Bit/48kHz, Pro Tools
Andy Allen, our social media marketing guru hooked us up with the most excellent and exceedingly talented singer/songwriter, Emily Denton. Check her music out, she has lots of great songs!
Emily writes and pens her songs in her garden shed, a peaceful place to get lost in the journey and pour out her thoughts and feelings. Emily had written “What I Need Most’” in a few hours (it was one of those ‘gifts’) and when I heard it, it immediately struck a chord with me (pun intended, I’m a guitar player and it was a song about needing music and her guitar more than anything else)!
Emily’s lyric points toward how many of us musical types feel, we can’t do anything other than create, we need to play or record / mix. We must put our energy into creating something and playing an instrument is certainly something that can give energy back. You know that feeling when you knew you were lost to playing an instrument or writing a song? Well Emily captured that in her own way.
Once we had selected this track and Emily & Swift 89 were on-board, we set about pre-production.
To start off Andy Allen & friend Chris Munday (CJM Productions) recorded a sketch version of “What I Need Most” at 110 BPM so we had a guide to build the track around. This vocal/acoustic guitar rough allowed us to program a song structure and make it work in 2 minutes (the original is quite different in structure and length - check it out here)!
We knew that we would be using the talents of rapper, Swift 89 to add an edge to the track and showcase the iD22 microphone preamplifiers on both female and male ‘pop’ vocals. Chris and Andy had used an SM7, Audio-Technica 4040 (I think?) and another small mic when cutting the guide tracks into an ASP008, however you don’t hear this in the final version.
We spent a bit of time chopping up the rough to form a new arrangement, and in the end took a 4-bar loop of guitar, sliced it up in Native Instruments Maschine and used that to program to.
After spending a few minutes hand selecting a load of sampled drums, Andy Allen & myself found a really nice old school style kick drum with a bit of noise and knock to it, and added the ridiculously large snare drum which is a blend of an NI sound called Dragon (Andy loved it!) and some Goldbaby samples (excellent stuff Hugo!).
We came up with a solid drum pattern around the percussive guitar loop and added some shakers, hats and interesting odd samples etc. We had a rough bass line and I had some rough guitar part ideas but nothing concrete yet. However all the time the iD22 DAC allowed us to pick good samples on Andy’s NS10 monitors, we were basically passing around the Maschine controller, with each of us layering something on top of the last persons contribution and making good choices.
Meanwhile I’d sent a copy of Emily’s original song to Swift 89 and he had found a cool bit to loop, and he wrote a verse to that, keeping Emily’s lyrical direction but coming at it from the perspective of a rapper and the microphone.
Tracking the Rap Verse:
From here we took the rough beat (very RAW) and recorded Swift 89’s verse vocals in a small production studio at Birmingham Conservatoire (where I met Swift 89 previously). This was the first time Swift 89 aka Josh Nappin had heard anything other than a vocal/guitar demo so the drums came as a bit of a shock! He caught our vibe and we spent a few hours working on getting the right delivery and tracking all ad-libs and verse material etc. We tracked the rap vocal in one room, myself and Andy sitting in with Swift, providing production feedback as we went. All we used to obtain some isolation were a few free-standing gobos, mostly to tame some of the room sound. You could do this with bed sheets if need be I guess.
iD22 performed pretty flawlessly after initial setup and I was using the very first revision of software on this session (many months ago - in fact this was it’s first proper field test after the session with Dorry - good work Stephen Flower (our MD, designer and programmer)!
The vocal chain for Swift 89’s rap verse (check it out below):
- Neumann U87ai > iD22 > 1176LN (mild compression)
Josh nailed his verse, and indeed it provided several ideas for the production, his line "feel it in my chest, every time I hear the kick drum" sparked our ears and we pulled everything but the kick drum out from underneath to musically support the line and I decided I was going to do some cool ‘dirty’ delay textures on the ad-libs to feed into the drop there.
We also tried looping part of Emily’s rough bridge vocal (woah oh’s) under the rap and it worked so well we decided to keep the idea!
After an afternoon of tracking, we came back and other work got in the way for a few weeks.
Production and Escape:
Finally I found time to run away and get into the production. This time using iD22 to feed my own monitoring and headphone setup, I worked to layer instruments and textures around the main beat and rap vocal (Andy was yet to record Emily’s vocals).
I changed up a number of the drums, re-addressed the snare drum balance and dropped in the half-time feel sections that emphasise the change up in Swift 89’s delivery half way through his verse and in the breakdown before the last chorus.
From here I worked on adding demonic, triplet feel organ parts, spacey and delayed Fender Rhodes parts, a warm noisy bass patch in the intro and an aggressive snarly one under the rap. Andy had mentioned subtle bells and arpeggiated sounds so I worked these into the ‘dancehall-style’ bridge before the main rap enters and finished with a few pads that made nice use of some tension in the diminished chord voicing I substituted over Emily’s traditional triads. The goal here was to make it modern (I’d been listening a lot to Hurts ‘Exile’ and Jessie Ware ‘Devotion’) but also make it unique to Emily and support the edge of Swfit 89’s UK rap style.
The Magic of 432 Hz:
Interestingly if you haven’t noticed it, the track is tuned to 432 Hz (A-reference) as Emily prefers to sing in this slightly ‘low’ tuning. Luckily all of the synths I used (DCAM Synth Squad) allowed me to re-tune them to 432 Hz also and I have to say, I like the result.
Layering electric guitar parts was pretty intense as I went from single note harmony stacks to overdriven power chords, with a nod to SRV lickage in the rap and some ‘Jimi’ inspired double bends over the half time section before ending in some funk rhythm playing and a touch of weirdly panned diminished fills - in 2 minutes!! My goal was to make the track scream guitar without getting in the way of Emily’s song, therefore supporting her lyric about needing guitars!
The guitars were tracked mostly on a Gibson SG (thanks to my girlfriends brother Feargus for lending it to me!), although I used my strat for the funk parts.
Electric guitars were recorded directly from guitar to amp into a Sequis Motherload Elemental (dummy load and cabinet emulator), straight into iD22 mic pres (no mics).
Check out the unprocessed and processed guitar parts here:
In the end I actually doubled a lot of the guitar parts in an interesting way to get extra width and space. One guitar part is tracked 100% dry (panned hard left) the other is tracked 100% wet with real spring reverb and panned hard right to create a large image and space. Nearly all guitar reverb in the mix is from the Blueverb amp - and all real spring. I love it and iD22 captured the reverb tails in such a clean way, with no added noise at all!
Emily Vocal Tracking:
Meanwhile Andy Allen & Emily Denton had taken a rough version of the beat and set about recording her vocals using another iD22 in a small garden shed (we were trying to keep it real here, no proper vocal booths allowed!).
Andy tracked Emily’s vocal with a Sontronics Orpheus directly into iD22 with no compression and did a great job, working with Emily to get the right feel (everything she sings is KILLER!) and the right sonics.
Her vocal sounds so good in the end that it belies the cost of that vocal chain, a credit to Andy, Emily and iD22 I think (unprocessed clip below):
Acoustic Guitar Tracking:
Emily had already tracked a solid guide acoustic, but it had some click bleed. We decided after trying to re-track it in a more elaborate fashion that keeping it simple on the acoustic was the way to go. So I just played really simple chords on the 1 of every bar and then a sparse rhythmic pattern to lock in with the kick drum for the rest of the track.
Using my Stonebridge OM-34 acoustic - I recorded in mono (in a bedroom, no treatment) with a Rode NT2A directly into iD22 (with no outboard processing), check out the unprocessed and processed clips here:
Final Edit & Mix:
After compiling Emily’s vocals from Andy’s session and doing a little editing/tidy up, everything was clean, printed as audio (all synths bounced) and ready to mix.
I headed to a small home studio at a friends place in Birmingham (big up “La Chateaux”) and set up my iD22, laptop and a pair of monitors.
Emily’s vocal needed very little processing to sit well in the mix and after carefully playing with compression release settings (two in a row doing very little) I was able to bring her forward out of the speakers and iD22 provided so much detail and feedback on the mix balance that I was really smiling by the end, especially when dialling in reverbs (I stacked and blended a few to get depth and character here). I was particularly happy with the way iD22 let me hear into my delay treatments, keeping things moving and adding stereo interest in the bridge and rap drop. The openness in the recording of Emily’s voice was nice to work with and took EQ well - a testament to the Audient Class-A hybrid microphone preamplifier.
Check out the processed version of Emily’s vocal here:
I really worked on getting a dirty, gritty tone for Swift 89’s rap vocals and when heard in solo it is quite surprising just how much dirt there really is on that vocal!! Luckily I didn’t mix it in solo! ;-)
iD22 proved to be a complete pleasure to work with and once again provided great translation and plenty of detail in the DAC while listening.
Emily and Swift 89 are happy and we’re happy too - for a collaboration made in bedrooms and garden sheds, it came out pretty great!
Thanks to everyone involved and to Seth Baines for making such an awesome video of the whole journey!
Tom @ Audient