Green Day Engineer Chris Dugan on Tracking for Film with Apollo and UAD Plug-Ins
Lights, Camera, Apollo.
Grammy award-winning engineer Chris Dugan helmed the console for Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown and the acclaimed Broadway cast recording for American Idiot. But until recently, he’d never set up a mobile recording studio on a movie set — in this case, for the Lee Kirk-directed Geezer, starring Fred Armisen and Billie Joe Armstrong as grown-up punk rockers giving the old band one more try.
A longtime UAD enthusiast, Dugan looked to his Apollo QUAD and Apollo 16 Thunderbolt audio interfaces — linked by the Apollo Expanded software to provide him the perfect portable environment for capturing a 100% live band in two very demanding environments: a bustling movie set, and an underground rock club. The results, he tells us, were universally excellent.
In most films, the music is pre-recorded and then lip-synched. Why record it live?
Honestly, the live aspect is what made it fun for us. Billie Joe, who wrote these songs, was a big proponent of the live approach, that watching music actually being played for real would add a lot of flavor to the film, and fortunately, with the help of UA’s Apollo, we were able to pull it off.
It also helps that Fred is a great drummer, and Lucas Papaelius is a blazing guitarist, and it was also so much fun to watch these guys meet, rehearse once before the shoot, and then hear them gel so well together live, especially since the idea of the film was that they’d all played together for years. In the end, there were no fixes, no overdubs — just all great takes. They simply learned the songs and played and sang them live.
Did you have much experience with recording a band in a film shoot environment like that?
Absolutely not. It was my first experience on a movie set, and being involved in a film production. There’s an awful lot going on at a film set, and you have to keep all that in mind even as you’re handling the recording aspect of it. What helped me a lot — as the guy tasked with recording everything into Pro Tools — was having the Apollo 16 and the Apollo QUAD working together using Apollo Expanded software and Console 2.0. It made my recording rig super mobile, but it was also incredibly flexible, in terms of the inputs and outputs, creating quick mixes, and routing.
Quite honestly, when the whole project was first conceived, there wasn’t a whole lot of discussion put into how the recording would happen, what my budget would be, and how the process would work. So I had to scramble a bit to find the best method, and I researched quite a lot of gear. I’ve always been a fan of UA, and have always loved their plug-ins and hardware, so I had this sudden brainstorm: “Okay, so I have this Apollo, but if I could only add 16 more channels and link them...” Well, it turns out that Apollo Expanded software was in development at that time, and it all worked out absolutely perfectly.
Tell us a bit about the actual recordings: where did they take place, and how did you set up for them?
We recorded two performances: one was on a movie lot in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and one was downstairs at the Bowery Electric nightclub in Manhattan. The scene on the movie lot was filmed in a huge space to accommodate all the production gear, with the stage set built out to look like a hotel room. I was basically operating my Apollo rig on the other side of this fake back wall, and the sound of the amps and drums were just ricocheting everywhere around this huge space. Even more difficult, I also had to rely on my in-ear monitors for the tracking, because I couldn’t have proper monitors going. But even with all those limitations, it came out great.
How were the Apollos configured?
For the hotel scene, I had the two Apollos talking to one another via Apollo Expanded and everything was miked-up running through Apollo’s onboard preamps, although most of the microphones were actually hidden, because of course, it’s supposed to look like a bunch of guys rehearsing in a hotel room. I couldn’t very well throw a couple overheads on the drums.
I used a Shure Beta 52A for the inside kick, a Telefunken M80 under the snare, a Shure Beta WB98H/C clamp-on for the floor tom, plus, Shure SM57s for the guitar amps, and Telefunken M80s for the vocals, and a DI for the bass. At both venues, I ran an Audio-Technica AT-825 stereo mic towards the back of the room to capture the ambience, and I hid a PZM mic somewhere near the drums, as well.
I also used these miniature DPA 4061 spot mics, the kind we often use on the road for a saxophone or an acoustic guitar, and I velcroed those to cymbal stands to capture cymbals, for example. I did whatever I could do to keep all the mics hidden from the camera, and it worked out way better than I ever imagined. All the mics were coming directly into the Apollos and I was getting time code from the on-set sound tech. “Using my Apollos with Apollo Expanded software and Console 2.0, I was able to front a live mix, do a monitor mix, and record to Pro Tools, all at the same time,” says Chris Dugan. “That’s pretty awesome.”
Did you track with any UAD plug-ins?
Of course! The key to all of this is that I was able to run all these rad UAD plug-ins while I was tracking. In my case, I printed using the Neve® 1073® Preamp & EQ Plug-In Collection on guitars, and used the Neve 31102® / 31102SE Classic Console EQ Plug-Ins and the 1176 Classic Limiter Plug-In Collection for monitoring and playback.
As a result, I became the go-to guy on the set for all the higher-ups to come hear the music. I’d have to bring at least a few extra headphones, because everyone wanted to hear the playbacks. Because of the Apollos, I was able to build these cool, quick mixes throughout the day, while still tracking, and tracking very smoothly. I’ve never worked like that on location — this was my first time, and it was just flawless. I was blown away by how well the system worked on the first day, and felt really confident the next day when we recorded at the club.
How was recording at the club different? Were you able to simply take outputs from the soundboard?
No. What happened at the Bowery Electric was really interesting. There was no set-up there to do a mic split, so I actually took all the direct mic signals into my Apollo system, and then sent the FOH guy the entire mix, sent out the monitor mix to the band, and recorded everything as well. So, basically, the Apollo system, with Apollo Expanded, was able to completely front a live mix, and do the monitor mix, and record to Pro Tools, all at the same time. That's pretty awesome.
Overall, I found working with Apollo Expanded to be very smooth, fast, and easy to get around. The graphic interface makes sense, and I definitely exploited the ability to save my presets, because we were in these two spaces that were quite different sonically, but I was still using pretty much the same input list. So it was a big time saver to have all my mixes set up, saved and ready to recall — then it was just a matter of fine-tuning for the space. The Thunderbolt connectivity was an absolute necessity, too, because I was working on a MacBook Pro which requires Thunderbolt, and that was magic. Honestly, there were so few cables; it was almost too easy!
Photo Credit: Niall David Photography
— James Rotondi
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