Fab Dupont on Recording Monsieur Periné on a Remote Caribbean Island

Fab Dupont on Capturing Island Vibes with Monsieur Periné

Live, Raw, and Remote

Producer/engineer Fab Dupont is the NYC-based owner/operator of Flux Studios and the mastermind behind the excellent audio tutorial site pureMix.net. Dupont's impressive discography spans everyone from folk-rock great David Crosby to global pop upstart Lolo Zouai, but his mixing work with Colombian superstars Monsieur Periné is particularly noteworthy, earning Latin Grammy nominations for Best Song, Best New Artist, and Best Album as well as US Grammy nominations for Best Alternative Latin Album for both albums he mixed.

Revisiting the band’s delightful 2018 Latin Grammy-nominated track “Encanto Tropical,” on the remote island of Providencia, Colombia, Dupont confirmed that, even in extremely non-studio settings, recording with Apollo X and a laptop is, as he puts it, a “totally no-compromise” tracking and mixing solution. Back at Flux, Dupont ran us through this unconventional Apollo Artist Session and the fresh insights he gleaned.

Fab with Colombia’s Monsieur Periné, who have racked up several Grammy nominations, most recently for their international hit “Encanto Tropical”.

You’ve had great success with Monsieur Periné, a Colombian band whose rise has been meteoric. What led to this beachfront session for UA?

Yes, they’re huge superstars in Colombia and South America, and increasingly the world, and they are a unique case because in the times of all-reggaeton-all-the-time, they are very successful making their own variation on an organic Afro-Colombian sound and style. I mixed two albums for them. The producer on those records is Eduardo Cabra, aka Visitante, who is from San Juan, Puerto Rico. He is also a superstar in his own right, with his group Calle 13. A few years ago, he hired me to mix an album of theirs called Caja de Musica, which was nominated for Best Song and Best Album at the Latin Grammys and best Alternative Latin Album at the US Grammys in 2015. I brought them to Anaheim last year as the UA artists for the NAMM show, and seeing how successful that was, I thought it would be a great idea to capture an acoustic version of one of their songs using Apollo X.

Last year we did an epic Apollo Artist Session in London at AIR Studios with Jacknife Lee, the band Two-Door Cinema Club and the London Metropolitan Orchestra, so I thought it would be cool to do the exact opposite — let’s just put a small bunch of people in a room that’s not a studio, limit the gear to Apollo Twin and x8p, and still make a badass record out of it.

Apollo Artist Session Vol. XIV

Sounds like a great idea, but why give yourself the added challenge of recording on a remote tropical island? Did you just need some Vitamin D?

Well, I always say, why keep things simple when you can make them more complicated? [Laughs.] The song is called ‘Encanto Tropical’, so it felt like a good idea to record it in its natural habitat and see what it does. To get to Providencia, which is a fairly remote island in Colombian waters off the coast of Nicaragua, I had to fly from NYC to Bogota, then Bogota to San Andrés, San Andrés to Providencia, and of course, I brought my Mac laptop and my Apollo Twin, which I always have with me.

We all convened on a lovely house on this island, but although it was a nice house, I just thought it sounded awful inside, with a really low 8' ceiling I could touch. Not good. So I said, screw this, let’s record the band outside, which of course comes with its own challenges, number one being the wind – and then there’s the ocean.

Recording this session ‘in the round’ meant Dupont was posed with unique panning challenges during mixdown.

So with Twin and an Apollo x8p you presumably had ten inputs at your disposal? Talk a bit about the mics you used and how you got everyone set up to record.

Yes, we had a total of ten mics and lines using Apollo Twin and the x8p. Now, on the mix you heard, every mic is on — there is no automation in terms of cutting out mics — all the mics are on all the time and that’s what you’re hearing. There’s some very slight riding, but there’s no gating or strip silence or anything. So you hear the full ambience of the whole session all the time. It’s wide open. And we recorded in the round, so that everyone was facing each other, which I found out later presents its own challenges when you start mixing and panning to picture! We used Apollo's Console app cue system to send everyone mixes to their cans.

The lead vocal sounds amazing. How did you track it?

I chose a fairly new Lauten LS-208 microphone that has very good off-axis rejection, and a two-stage low-cut, so it’s ideal for settings where there’s ambient noise, like an ocean. I ran her voice through a UAD V76 Preamplifier and a UAD Pultec EQ with a little bit of bottom added at 100Hz.

For two of the background vocalists, including guitarist Elkin Robinson and bass player Adinda Meertins, we used a couple of Beyerdynamic M88s, with Unison UAD Neve 1073 preamps. We had a Lauten LS-308 on the kick drum, which is also high-rejection, going into the Apollo with a UAD Neve 1073, UAD SPL Transient Designer, and the UAD Oxford EQ with a high‑pass filter.

“There’s no practical compromise now between buying an Apollo X and buying some $10,000 converter. I’ll track any record through the Apollo X, mix with it, and sum with it.”

The percussion is natural sounding, yet present. How did you achieve that?

Santiago Sarabia, who is the other half of Monsieur Periné with lead singer Catalina García, brought this British-made percussion instrument called the Logjam Rattlebox, which is both electronic and acoustic — a piece of wood with a piezo pickup inside and a line-out — and it sounds like the front-half of a cajon, the slap of a cajon. We put that on a snare stand, and ran it through a UAD Neve 1073 as well.

Darwin Baez, the drummer, brought this very nice drum set, and I said, “I thought we had agreed on percussion?” But we ended up using his kit — a real kick drum and real hi-hat, since he brought no percussion in the end. On the snare (aka the LogJam), we used a Shure KSM313/NE ribbon mic which I had brought two of with me, along with the two Lautens. The KSM313s are Figure-8, so we put them in between the snare and the hi-hat, with the bright side toward the snare, and the dark side toward the hi-hat. I added a ton of gain, about +65dB with a UAD Neve 1073 preamp, using Unison, of course.

For Adinda Meertins’s ultra-short-scale fretless Kala bass, which uses these weird polyurethane strings that go ‘ooomb ooomb’, we used the Hi-Z input on the Apollo and sent it to a UAD Helios Type 69 Preamp/EQ, UAD Oxford EQ, and a UAD SPL TwinTube Processor. Santiago, meanwhile, was playing a cuatro, which is a traditional South American four-string instrument, a bit like a ukulele, and we put a Beyerdynamic M160 in front of that as well, going through a UAD V76 Preamplifier. Their regular guitarist couldn’t make it, but Elkin, a friend of theirs on the island, came in and played on the song; we miked his guitar with a BeyerDynamic M 160 hyper-cardioid ribbon microphone, through a Unison-equipped UAD 610B Preamp, with the gain cranked.

A good deal of the instrumentation ended up being a surprise and came together on arrival or during rehearsal, but we made it work. The other unforeseen element was the wind since the original and probably more sensible plan was to record indoors. So we had to cut faux wind-screens out of a huge yellow synthetic sponge we bought at the local store. It helped tame the wind gusts on all mics that were parallel to the ocean. Gaffer’s tape is your friend, always.

How did you capture the ocean sounds?

We used a portable digital recorder and I laid that stereo track under the music tracks later to add a tropical ambience. When I first mixed the track to picture, the great bleed rejection of the mics and lack of wall reflections made the super clean mix feel weird. The video showed the band playing literally right above the surf, no more than 20' above the ocean with the waves crashing, but you could not hear the ocean, it felt fake. So I had to add the ocean for the music video to feel real. After rehearsing the first day, we just did a few live takes on day two, and take four was clearly the one. What you hear is 100% live — vocals included.

Fab opted to monitor with headphones during the session, allowing him to make detailed adjustments on the fly.

Monitoring must have been...interesting.

Yeah, we had no real monitoring capabilities down there, and the ocean was a permanent white noise presence, so I used my Focal Spirit Pro headphones, and my Focal Sphear in-ears for perspective, so I could roam around on the deck and adjust things. Daniel Sanint was a great engineering partner and sanity check. He knows what I like since we work at together at Flux all the time. I suppose we recorded it more conservatively than we might usually, since we couldn’t be 100% sure of the sounds we were getting.

That said, I knew there was no low-end rumble, I knew there were no major phase issues, and that nothing was too bright or too dark. In fact, I really discovered exactly how things sounded when I got home. But honestly, the mix was very minimal, the sounds were great as-is. Most of the frequency sculpting work was in making the bass and the bass drum work well together, so there’s very little additive EQ on this mix, it’s mostly subtractive.

What are some examples of after-the-fact sculpting?

I removed some low-mids on the bass drum and bass, so that they can hang and meet each other without frequencies conflicting. I added a little compression on the bass, but zero compression on the other instruments: not on the drums, the guitar, or the cuatro. Then, on the lead vocal, I introduced a little bit of compression from the UAD Fairchild 660, maybe just 1 dB. There’s also a tape plug-in on the channel but the UAD Oxford EQ on the vocal is flat except for where I automate it a bit toward the end when she leaned into the mic more than elsewhere, creating a little bump around 210Hz. I also used an UAD Oxford Dynamic EQ around 3kHz for the same lean-in reasons. I did that to keep the vocal sound as consistent as possible. I added a UAD Precision De-esser to keep “Ss” in check and a UAD Pultec Pro Legacy EQ boost at 100Hz and 200Hz in the last moments of the mix to add bottom and body to the vocal in the context of the fattened instrumental behind it.

"200Hz is the devil. 200Hz is the sound of cardboard and sheetrock. 200Hz is the sound of an 8'x8' room. It’s unfortunately the sound of many home studios."

You have a lot of strategies for mixing. I’ve learned a lot listening to you talk about frequency shaping, especially. I seem to recall you having strong feelings about the 200Hz range, in particular.

200Hz is . . . the devil. 200Hz is the sound of cardboard and sheetrock. It's the sound of an 8' x 8' room. It’s unfortunately the sound of many home studios. Now, because we were outside, I didn’t have a lot of issues there, so very few of my cuts were at 200Hz, interestingly. Instead, looking at the session, I see I have a cut at around 60Hz on the bass drum, because it was an 18” bass drum — it was woofy as hell with very little punch— and oh, yes, I did have a cut around 130Hz on the bass drum as well, so there you go. On the bass guitar, I have a hi-pass filter fairly high up at 47Hz and a cut around 100Hz as well as a bit of a cut around 550Hz, since I used a DI and I needed to make more room for the lead vocal.

“The important thing is not the ‘tips and tricks’ you find online...The key is listening in a clear and focused way. Listening to everything with intent. And never losing sight of the music itself.”

There’s a nice warm quality to the overall mix. It's simple and clear, but not clinical.

Y’know, there’s just one reverb on the whole mix, the UAD EMT-140 Plate Reverberator, and everybody’s going into that same reverb, and there’s a very, very subtle, -37dB send into a UAD EP-34 Tape Echo that’s meant to add a little bit of a “cushion” under the vocal.

The whole mix is running through a Helios Channel Type 69; for the master bus, I was looking for a color that’s a little gentler and sweeter, a little less clinical and “real,” something that would actually degrade the signal a little from the very pristine sound that I had.

I also have a UAD Studer A800 on the master bus, and I always have a UAD Dangerous BAX EQ that I use to add bottom and shine, then a UAD Fairchild 670, hitting about -1dB on the whole mix in parallel, mostly for transient softening thanks to the plugins very good transformer emulation. And then I have a UAD Sonnox Oxford Limiter v2 for gain staging, I’m not really limiting anything, I’m just using it as a fader, basically. And that’s it.

I’m also using a high-pass filter on the ocean sound to get rid of wind sounds and stomping noises, as well as the UAD Precision K Ambience Recovery plug-in with the MS (mid/side) Gain stereo function to make it a bit wider, more like what I heard standing on that deck. I wanted it to sound like you were enveloped in the ocean.

I understand that your NYC-based studio, Flux, is now fully outfitted with Apollo X. Talk about what that means for your work, and what it represents as part of your evolution with UA gear.

The people at UA are all really open to feedback, they’re really smart, and they all make music of one kind or another—playing in bands, mixing, DJing, etc. — so they actually use the equipment they make every day and are sensitive to what works and what doesn’t.

From experience I can tell you that it’s incredibly difficult to make great gear, so when the first Apollo was released, I was really proud to have been a part of that launch. Apollo came out of Bill Putnam Jr.'s genius understanding that people wanted reliability — when everyone else was going with native systems, he recognized the need for stability and processing power. A decade later, with all that R&D behind them, and a few generations under their belt, when UA released Apollo X, they took the converter and interface game to a whole new level in my opinion.

There’s no practical compromise now between buying an Apollo X and buying some $10,000 converter. I’ll track any record through the Apollo X, mix with it, and sum with it. It’s great.

"I know I can make an entire record with just an Apollo x8p and my Twin. I really don’t need anything else."

You work in many different genres. What values constitute a through-line in all your projects?

I am fortunate, because of my website pureMix.net, to be called to work with, and watch, a lot more mixers and engineers making different kinds of music than most other people ever will. It gives me perspective beyond the already rather large range of styles and people I work with myself. In the past, engineers and producers most often came up assisting someone else in commercial studios, everyday was different and new, and an opportunity to learn and grow. But that’s changed a lot, so many people work completely alone, in one genre, and true mentorship has become rare, which is why we created pureMix.net. Here’s what I have come away with from personal experience and from interacting with my fellow professional music makers during pureMix shoots:

Proper musical listening is the key.

The important thing is not the “tips and tricks” you find online, the secret bass drum EQ setting or the loudness of your mix, none of that. The key is listening in a clear and focused way. Listening to everything with intent. And never losing sight of the music itself.

Are you really listening, or are you looking at the meters and how pretty the UI of the plug-in is? Are you just excited about a new trick or does it serve the song? And that goes for everyone on the team, from the drummer to the singer, producer and mixer. Less thinking, more listening. More music. That’s why, when I’m 99% done with a mix, I still turn the screen off and just listen to what we’ve got - it helps turn my, and everyone else’s, eyes and thinking brain off.

Ironically, because of all the readily available information about recording and mixing on the countless sites and forums (including pureMix.net, I know) there’s a lot more reading, knowing, discussing than there ever was in our community, but in the end I think it comes down to critical listening. That’s the single most important skill for a producer or an engineer in my opinion, and the hardest to develop.

— James Rotondi

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