Analog Obsession: 100% UA Part 4 with the Trailer Park Troubadours
By Will Shanks
This installment uses a song from a recording session I did with Screamin’ Holler Kentucky’s own Trailer Park Troubadours, and focuses on going “outside the box” on mixdown. I use Universal Audio’s new 2-LA-2 Twin T4 Leveling Amplifier at the final stages of mixing. The session with the Troubs was a great experience, as we shared in the joy of record making and our mutual passion for all things Airstream. The track “Prozac Made Me Stay (with Tommy Smothers)” from the current album Trailercana (released May 22nd) has already got some good airplay.
The song we’re using for this installment, called “When Ruby Falls,” did not make the album, but did make its way on to Time Sweetened Lies, a solo album by founder and lead singer Ron “Antsy” McClain. The tracks here are the originals, and this mix is very different from the "stripped" version on the record. I like to call it the roadhouse version, as it reminds me of something that might have been on the jukebox at The Palomino. Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac is a big fan of the Troubs, and was kind enough to lend his voice to this track. As always, the recording and mixing was done at Ear to the Ground Studio/Universal Audio by yours truly.
This one was recorded at my old room in the Santa Cruz mountains, and done mostly live. We took advantage of the main recording room for drums. The vocal booth was used to record the upright bass, one isolation room was dedicated to electric guitar, and the acoustic guitar and vocal were positioned in the remaining iso room. We did three or so takes, and we used number one. At least with this mix, none of these original parts were replaced. The tack piano and slide dobro were done as overdubs. The audio was converted through the MOTU converters, except the overheads and overdubs, which went through the 2192.
“Odd Job” Bob Aguirre played the drums. I think it was a Yamaha kit with a blend of Remo Pinstripes and coated Aquarians. He used "Blasticks" for this song. The main room was 23 by 25 feet, with a tall, vaulted ceiling. The kit was fully miked, as the songs were diverse enough to warrant needing tom mics for some of the songs. For this particular song, I wanted it to sound like the drums were recorded mostly from the bleed of the other instruments, very background.
The main recording room, with the isolation rooms behind glass.
I used my usual Neumann KM 184s in a traditional XY configuration, fairly tight to the kit. I used the 2-610, with a little 10 kHz added in for greater sizzle, and I rolled off the lows at 70 Hz a bit to minimize the kick drum in the overheads.
I used an Audix D6, sending to the 2108 with moderate gain settings. For this style of music I did not need anything aggressive from the 2108 in terms of character. The kick was heavily damped inside with folded blankets, which gave the sound minimal decay. If I remember correctly, the front head was completely off. The mic was about 4 inches in, pointed at the beater, but a little off axis.
Bob used the old wallet trick on this one. The drummer takes his wallet out of his back pocket and puts it on the snare while running down the tune for some serious snare damping. Bob was really into this sound, and used it on several of the songs. I miked the snare shell with an SM57 from the hi-hat side of the drum. I’ve mentioned it before, but I almost always prefer the sound of miking the shell rather than the usual “over the top” technique for snare. While I came in on the hi hat side here, normally I like to come in from the ride side, which really minimizes hi-hat bleed nicely.
“Odd Job” Bob uses the oldest damping trick in the book: his wallet.
Rather than doing the traditional bottom snare mic, I prefer to mic further back, often under or near the drummer’s drum throne (hence the name ‘crotch’ mic). To me, this sounds much more natural than the usual white noise sound you get when close-miking the bottom. Moreover, it is like a "behind view" room mic, as it captures snare bottom, kick click, and the little mechanical noises drum sets naturally make. Sometimes I reverse phase, sometimes not. I used a Sennheiser mini shotgun mic from the '70s, which gives it a lot of directionality if you want to primarily focus on the kick.
I used Audix D2s on the mounted toms, and a Sennheiser 421 on the floor tom. Nothing special here, I simply pointed them at the center of each drum a few inches back from the surface.
I used a single AKG 414 set to omni, about 10 feet away, at waist height. I used an 1176 Reissue with a moderate amount of limiting at 12:1 with fast attack and release settings. About waist high seems to do the trick when the goal is a balanced sound of the whole kit.
Local Santa Cruz bass hero Bill Bosch layed down the bottom, with his very nice-sounding full scale instrument. I used an RCA 77-DX ribbon to mic the bass, going through a 2-610. I compressed 3-5 dB on the way in with the LA-2A Reissue. There was a lot of bleed from the other rooms, and with miking an upright bass you need a lot of gain to get good signal, especially with a ribbon mic like the RCA. However, ribbons are good because they have less reach than a condenser, which typically helps bleed issues. I had the mic no less than six inches from one of the sound holes. Normally, I would mic an upright bass from further away were it not for the bleed. If you listen to the track solo'd, there is still tons of bleed. Oh well--it didn’t seem to ruin the track. We also used the pickup/preamp system on Bill’s bass and sent it to another 2-610 channel, which sounded very nice. It might have been mini-microphone based, as you can hear a little bleed on the Line DI as well.
The guitar and vocal were recorded on one mic, to minimize phase issues. The guitar was a Taylor 510. The little known Audix CX-101 large diaphragm cardioid condenser was used, placed to pick up 60% vocal and 40% guitar. This worked quite well. There is still a little bleed, but it is manageable. I compressed a little on the way in with an 1176 Reissue.
I also took a DI off Antsy’s guitar, to supplement the mic. This was sent to the 2108.
Lindsey’s vocal was done in his own studio in LA, singing along with a rough mix. I have no details on how this was recorded.
The electric part was played beautifully by Jimmy “Jetlag” Jackson on a equally beautiful vintage Telecaster. It was played through a Line 6 modeling amp, with the speaker close-miked off axis with an SM57. This was sent to the 2108 with a fair amount of drive for additional coloration.
It just so happened that my upright piano was treated with tacks a week before, for a session with another artist. Rather than using the keyboardist’s regular digital rig, I suggested we use the real piano with tacks for a more authentic, old-school country/honky-tonk sound. It was a little out of tune, but everyone agreed that it added to the charm of the part tenfold. Fortunately keyboardist “Dacron” Dan Becker knew the tack style very well, and fell right in. Two mics were used on the treated tack piano, and the front lids were removed for an even brighter sound, adding to the already metallic sound of the tack treatment. The Neumann KM 184 was used on the front over the player’s right shoulder pointed at the upper soundboard. With a little Velcro, a Sennheiser PZM was attached to the lower soundboard at the rear of the instrument. These were sent to the 2-610 with a little shelving EQ to remove some rumble at 70 Hz on the PZM mic.
The slide dobro part was performed by multi-instrumentalist “Loose Bruce” Wandmayer (he also played pedal steel, four ranges of sax and bass!) with an AKG 414 set to cardioid, capturing the performance about two feet up from the instrument. I positioned it above his lap, perpendicular to his mouth to minimize any breathing noises. This was sent to the 2-610, with an LA-2A inserted grabbing about 3 dB. We did three passes, and I compiled one track from the best licks from all three takes.
In general, not a lot of additional treatment was warranted for the mix. I loved the original performance—it is great to see a group of musicians actually play in a room together and make beautiful music, take after take, song after song. It is rare that I do sessions that are not done nearly one track at a time. No automation was necessary, except for turning on and off one delay plug-in. Self-regulated, beautiful dynamics from the band! Amazing. This was a real pleasure to record, and a breeze to mix.
I did a minor edit to the 2/4 drum part, stealing a half note from another part of the song to fix a missed snare hit. Again, I wanted a roomy sound, almost as if no drum mics were even up.
I sent the overheads out to the 2-LA-2 for a little enhancement. This new box is amazing, the best feature being the “fast” setting that gives you a much faster, aggressive sound than a traditional LA-2A. I normally don’t like LA-2As for drums, but the 2-LA-2 is fantastic on drums. I set the 2-LA-2 to the fast mode, with 5 to 7 dB of gain reduction to harden up the performance and bring out the room a bit more. In hindsight, the overheads were a little bright, so I used a 6 dB per octave cut filter from Cambridge to soften the cymbals. In the "Tracks" folder I provide both the before and after overhead tracks. I should note that this track was very "right-heavy," and I needed to pan the stereo overhead track to the left a bit to compensate for the imbalance. I sent the overheads out and back in through the 2192, UA’s highly musical ADC and DAC product. There is no better way to get out of the box, in my opinion!
I tightened up the kick just a tad with the LA-2A plug-in (OK, I lied in the previous paragraph. I occasionally DO use the LA-2A on kick drum), with no more than 1 dB of gain reduction.
I used my usual 1176 plug-in as a 20:1 limiter on snare, with the slowest attack and fastest release with around 5 dB of gain reduction. This toughened up the snare. I also used the 1073SE to bring out just a touch of snap.
I used quite a bit of this mic. It is doing exactly what I wanted it to do.
Bob did not dig in very hard on the toms, (I remember telling him to hit the toms harder on several occasions) so I boosted the hell out of them on mixdown. Damn the noisefloor--I did no gating or cleanup on the toms. I liked all the noise and resonances coming from the mics on these tracks.
It is great to see a group of musicians actually play in a room together and make beautiful music, take after take, song after song.
I used quite a bit of this one as well.
I fixed one bass clam, stealing a downbeat whole note form one verse and adding it to another. I had to make sure the edit was really good, as the bleed from the mic was so prevalent, it was affecting the drums. The mic channel was panned a little to the left, and the line channel was panned a little to the right. I used Cambridge to bring out more articulation, bite and noise. A hefty boost at 3.25 kHz did the trick. I also used the high cut to filter out high-end noise. I ended using more of the direct than the mic, but the mic is definitely in there, with lots of drum bleed.
I used just a pinch of LA-2A for a little tightening, the meter was barely moving on the GUI. Panned just left of center.
Panned a fair amount left, fairly high in the mix. The part is pretty subdued anyway.
I used the LA-2A again, this time with a bit more grab. 3 dB of gain reduction seemed to be the average.
The 1176 was used to shrink the dynamic range a touch. The guitar is panned nearly hard right. For the solo, I used the Roland Space Echo with a fat slapback panned hard left. This was turned on with automation, as the solo was part of the electric guitar rhythm track. As the original session was recorded at 96 kHz, I was having a bit of a problem running the Space Echo with the rest of the inserts. I used the freeze function on this track to avoid having the Space Echo permanently inserted. I provide the original mono track and the "frozen" track with the 1176 and Space Echo effect mixed in.
For the piano, I created a buss so that I could affect both mono tracks simultaneously. First I inserted Cambridge adding a gentle 6 dB per octave cut filter to lift out any mud that might have been clouding up the bass and kick, and then boosted around 4 kHz for clickiness (tackiness?). I then used the Fairchild with a ton of grab. I used loads of threshold, with the time constant set to the fastest: 1. I wanted it to sound seriously compressed. The PZM is dead center, while the KM 184 is hard right.
The dobro sounded great—I just panned it to the left quite a bit, playing opposite to the electric guitar on the right. A nice balance.
The only buss used on this mix was with the tack piano, see above.
A very unusual move for me: I used the Plate 140 on the master fader, as I really liked the sound of the entire mix having the same space for this song. I used plate A, as it affects the low end the least of the three. I set the decay to the very minimum, with no predelay. I boosted the high shelf EQ on the plug at around 8 to 10 kHz to bring out a little more air. The mix control was set to 40/60, favoring the wet side.
I then sent the entire mix out to the 2-LA-2, before any EQ, again with the 2192. This time, I used the slow setting and just barely tickled the meters. The 2-LA-2 really shines in this application. It added a subtle glue effect like all the best buss compressors do, only better than the rest!
On the new master track, I put on my usual Precision Mastering EQ, this time with a little shelving boost on the low end at 175 Hz, and a midrange peak at the default 4.10 kHz for presence. Nothing too hyped--that just wouldn’t work for this one. I also added the low cut filter at 20 Hz.
Next came the Precision Limiter, as a safety net. As this track never went to press, it never went to a legit mastering engineer. Oh well. Sounds pretty good to me.
Download a zipped folder containing all the unmixed audio files of the session in MP3 format. The files are bounced as contiguous data allowing them to be dropped into any DAW. The VST presets are also included, which can be loaded in VST or AU format via the UAD’s VST preset loader, within each plug-in.
Photos by Jimmy Jackson, David Stepka and Will Shanks.