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Tracking Robert Ellis with Apollo & UAD Plug‑Ins

Tracking Robert Ellis with Apollo & UAD Plug‑Ins

Producer, engineer, and mixer Jacquire King has achieved multi-platinum success with various artists including Of Monsters and Men, Kings of Leon, Tom Waits, James Bay, Norah Jones and Modest Mouse. To date his work has received 30 Grammy nominations and in 2010, he received his third Grammy Award, the Record of the Year Grammy for Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody."

Last year, King produced and mixed the Robert Ellis album, The Lights From The Chemical Plant, mainly using API and Neve® hardware along with starting the initial recording on an Ampex 440 tape machine. In this Producer’s Corner, King wanted to demonstrate to UA users — and himself for that matter — that he could replicate the same analog workflow entirely “in the box,” and show off the capability of the Apollo platform.

Setting up an informal performance at the Peter Nappi Leather Shoes and Goods store in Nashville, King tracked Robert Ellis and his band live with two Apollo QUADs — piano and backing vocals were added as overdubs. The song chosen off the album for this “Apollo-Only Project” was "Good Intentions."

Apollo Workflow

All of my input paths started with the API Vision Channel Strip plug-in and then ended with the Studer® A800 Multichannel Tape Recorder plug-in, with the exception being the kick drum where I inserted the legacy version of the Neve 1073®/1073SE® EQ plug-in, and the lead vocal, where I ran through an LA-2A compressor from the Teletronix® LA-2A Classic Leveler Collection.

Being able to commit to these settings is absolutely a game-changing feature for me.
The choice for the API Vision plugs was about two things mainly. First, that they are complete signal paths with mic pre, EQ, and dynamics, and second, it's primarily the sound of what was originally used in the analog world for Robert's album recording.

Tracking the Lead Vocals

Vocal Tracking
Vocal Mixing

The album vocal was cut using a Sony C-37a condenser microphone, but it would not have been isolated enough onstage to avoid feedback from the floor wedge monitor and leakage from the band.

Instead, I used a Shure SM7 dynamic mic, which has lower output — hence the gain being way up on the API Vision plug-in. I didn’t EQ the vocal input. I feel it’s never a good idea to EQ a vocal to tape — it's more about picking the right mic and signal path.

Here is the lead vocal we tracked:

The output on the LA-2A is pretty close to standard. Nothing fancy here, just good signal into the LA-2A before I hit the “tape.”

The main thing of note about the vocal in the mix process is the use of phase reversal. Typically it's desired to have every track playing back into the final mix with the correct polarity, but in this case it was better to flip the polarity to manage and reduce the sound of other instrumentation building up as a result of leakage.

Here is the vocal at mix down:

I also used the legacy version of the Neve 1073/1073SE EQ plug-in, the 1176 Rev A from the 1176 Classic Limiter Plug-In Collection, the Fairchild 660 from the Fairchild Tube Limiter Plug-In Collection, and I bussed out to the Roland RE-201 Space Echo and the EMT® 140 Classic Plate Reverberator plug‑in.

Capturing the Guitar

Guitar Tracking

I miked the guitar amp with a Neumann U87 and used low preamp setting on the API Vision plug-in, as it’s a condenser mic on a loud guitar amp. The tone goes from cleaner to driven, depending on the part — and the force with which guitarist Kelly Doyle played. He also stepped on a gain pedal occasionally. To that end, I used a little of the API’s 225L compression module to keep the levels on a very dynamic sound reigned in a little before hitting the Studer plug-in, being careful to not oversaturate it. I also applied some upper EQ boost and low-mid cut to highlight articulation.

Here is the printed guitar track:

For mixing guitars, I often find the classic combination of the Helios™ Type 69 EQ plug-in and the 1176 Rev E from the 1176 Classic Limiter Plug-In Collection couldn't be better. That combination is the sound of so many records from Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones just to name a couple.

Guitar Mix

Here is the mixed version of the guitar track:

The high frequency characteristic of the Helios is so unique and tied to so many great rock recordings of the past, it’s part of the sound that we know is right for guitar. I also used the EP-34 Tape Echo plug-in to add some dimension and stereo width.

Recording the Drums

Kick Drum
Overhead Stereo Mic
Drum Bus

The drums were tracked in a simple manner — a stereo mic for the overhead, a mic on the kick, and a mic on the snare. For the kick I wanted that familiar low end “bump” that is specific to the Neve EQ sound, so I used the Neve 1073/1073SE EQ. I opted for a cleaner internal setting on the API Vision plug-in, and cranked its output to push the Neve’s input some.

On the snare, I used a high output condenser mic, so I padded the gain setting and used the API Vision plug-in for sweetening EQ into compression before hitting the Studer. I always find it's better to EQ into compression and then follow up with additional EQ for further shaping if needed.

For the stereo overhead mic I used an AEA R88 ribbon mic, the EQ setting represents adding air and splash to the drum’s overall picture as well as control some of the mid tone of the drums themselves.

Here are all of the drums as tracked:

In my opinion, the most essential thing to a balance of drums in a mix is blending in parallel compression. In this case, the FATSO™ Jr./Sr. Tape Sim. & Compressor plug-in was used to give the essential aggressive treatment to be blended back into the mix, along with and uncompressed path of the drum mix.

Here is the drum bus after mixdown:

Notice how the Spank setting and Tranny options are engaged, as well as a Warmth setting of 5 to get a drum sound that is very punchy and aggressive to blend back in.

Photos by Sundel Perry

— Jacquire King

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