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Resolved Frustrations or How Bruce Swedien Lead Me to a Recording Truth...
Old 27th October 2008
Resolved Frustrations or How Bruce Swedien Lead Me to a Recording Truth...

So, sooner is better than later, but later is better than not at all...

Here’s my brief tale of discovery of truth handed to my by Bruce Swedien.

It all started at an AES panel discussion four or five years ago where Mr. Swedien was giving a talk about the recording sessions of some of the Duke Ellington recordings that he did. The recordings were beautiful and quite transparent. It was followed by a Q&A session where the subject turned to microphones. This is the point where I stepped up and asked if he was happy with mic’s that had modifications such as Klaus Heyne’s Neumanns. To my surprise, he didn’t use them. Not that he didn’t like them, but he wanted “an 87 when he grabbed an 87”. He knew what they were supposed to sound like and had expectations of the sound when he placed it on an instrument. Needless to say, I was taken back a bit by the response and knew I was being schooled although I hadn’t quite figured it out. Later that week, I had a mastering session with one of the “big” mastering engineers that was also at the presentation who told me that I was somewhat brave for getting into that subject with Bruce Swedien, At that point, I knew I was schooled but still wasn’t sure how.


I recently have been a bit more of an indie producer/engineer in my carreer, and that means booking time in various studios based an availability. So I scheduled some time at a local studio that I’ve had lots of great reports about. Disclaimer, I had a great time at this room and came out of there with a fabulous recording!

The room had lots of fabulous gear in terms of mic’s, mic pres, compressors, eq’s etc. but everything had a flavor. There was the neve clone the 47 clone, the takeoff of a 251 etc. If you making a drink analogy, there was a dirty martini, a maker’s manhatten, a cadillac marguarita. But there was no water! Not a 414, 87, 1073... pick your tried and true combination, in sight. It was fun discovering what all the different pre’s and mic’s sounded like, but it was no fun doing it on the client’s dime. I can now fully appreciate Bruce Swedien’s lesson. There are some basic combinations that work really well in recording. There will be new basic combinations as time goes on, but to walk in and have nothing but those potential new combinations can be very disorienting, especially when you must work fast.

I will go back to this room because I did enjoy the vibe, the result and now I know what to accentuate the room with out of my own arsenal of gear.

I know Bruce shows up here once in a while, so here’s a late thanks to that microphone response from a few years back. Your recording philosophy is well received here!
Old 28th October 2008
Lives for gear
BradM's Avatar
That's a great story! Thanks for sharing. I hope this doesn't come across as obnoxious, but didn't the studio have a published gear list that you could have checked out ahead of time?

I guess if one is running a commercial facility that caters to other engineers it would probably be prudent to have some tried and true pieces of gear around that most engineers might be familiar with. However, I think if you are running a studio that caters to musicians, then it's best to just have on hand whatever gear best compliments your sonic personality and allows you to achieve the results you desire.

Old 28th October 2008
Originally Posted by Brad McGowan View Post
I hope this doesn't come across as obnoxious, but didn't the studio have a published gear list that you could have checked out ahead of time?
Not obnoxious at all. Of course they had a list, I was just running with little prep time and thought I'd dive in with all the flavors, but once there found myself craving some basics.
Old 28th October 2008
Great observation!

Thanks for sharing the story. Bruce is a pretty generous and knowing guy. It's always good to see him here or over in Craig Anderton's forum at Harmony Central.

He used to get a little more involved but, unfortunately some folks didn't quite get it that they were fortunate enough to have a living legend who worked with some of the greatest artists of the latter 20th century posting among them, and tried to involve him in silly BB arguments. I'm all for a lively give and take but one ought to have a sense of time and place and context, I think.

Now he's more likely to start a thread on an interesting topic and then let it go on its own, which is still pretty cool. He's clearly thought a lot about recording and music and seems to want to give back to the broader recording community.
Old 28th October 2008
Lives for gear
Klaus's Avatar

KungFuLio's observation warrants some clarification from my end, without which the story he told about Swedien's approach to microphone selection would not be quite accurate.

I offer U87 and other mic modifications for exactly the opposite reasons from those of vintage mic copiers.

In my case, I consciously and explicitly engineer out of, let's say, a U87A, what I find objectionable. (The U87A as it comes from Sennheiser is not very attractive as a professional tool, in my estimation.)
I also make sure that if a potential client has an expectation of "the same, only better" I set him straight, before entering into an agreement.
Bruce Swedien and other engineers should therefore only want to use modified versions of well-known mics if they are familiar with what the modification does, and if the changes are perceived as an improvement.

It's a very different story with what you describe as 'clones' (if only they were!): here, manufacturers deliberately advertise their copied versions in closest proximity to the originals, regardless of the sonic outcome, and customers more often than not expect to hear the sound of an original when they plug in a copy.

The engineer would do well to separate his expectations of stock mics from those he has of 'clone' mics; and here, too, it is prudent to listen before choosing a copy 'cold'.

In sum, I don't find broadening the microphone palette beyond four or five bread-and-butter models objectionable, be it with modified or copy mics, as long as there is truth in advertising and familiarization of the choices by the engineer, before the session starts.
Old 28th October 2008
Motown legend
Bob Olhsson's Avatar

I'm with Bruce 100% on mike mods. Shooting out mikes while the performers get cold is putting the cart way ahead of the horse.
Old 28th October 2008
Originally Posted by Klaus View Post
It's a very different story with what you describe as 'clones' (if only they were!):
I've yet to hear a clone that's a clone. BTW, I'm in love with your Kung Fu 67 and I need to get you a recent McKinley recording with it. Some distortion (my intentional fault) but the mic was a perfect match for her voice!

Old 28th October 2008
Gear Addict

Here in lies the beauty of the 57. Many people bag it out here on the slutz but many a damn good record has been made with them and you know what you are getting.

Knowing your tools is so important on clients time.
Old 28th October 2008
Originally Posted by Companda View Post
Here in lies the beauty of the 57. Many people bag it out here on the slutz but many a damn good record has been made with them and you know what you are getting.
Knowing your tools is so important on clients time.
Which 57? The original Unidyne III's or the Juarez made current models?
They do sound different.

Older U-87AI's are all through hole parts with metal film resistors and polystyrene caps off the capsule, in the new models the preamp is all surface mount with monolythic ceramic coupling caps and metal oxide resistors.
Those also sound different.

It's not so simple to indentify these from outward appearances, you need to look under the hood to determine what you have.

Jim Williams
Audio Upgrades
Old 28th October 2008
Lives for gear
nosebleedaudio's Avatar

This reminds me of another point made by Bruce about mic choice, the first thing he did, if he was not familiar with the persons voice was let them sing in his ear, then he would put up different mics that he knew would be the better choice or best starting point...
But his many years of doing this, and his Golden ears is the key...
After all these years some of those great recordings are still a standard to a lot of people...
Old 28th October 2008
When you've worked with a list of people that includes Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Michael Jackson, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Quincy Jones, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Jeff Oster, Patti Austin, Natalie Cole, Roberta Flack, Mick Jagger, Jennifer Lopez, Diana Ross, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Barbra Streisand, Donna Summer, Sarah Vaughan, Paul McCartney, and others...

... you get a broad perspective.
Old 28th October 2008
Lives for gear
In 1987 I was outfitting the former Ace Frehley house with new gear. I got a lot of stuff that was new and hot at the time.

We started getting a lot of top guys from NYC in. Hit Factory and Record Plant types.

None of them would touch the newer stuff. I had a TC2290. Todays its known as a great ubit bet them...the ALL looked at it crosseyed. "Rent me a AMS"

At that point some of them still suspected a freaking 480L, lol.

there were always two issues. One of course was time. And the other was that they didn't want to look bad in front of X producer. If they didn't know exactly what was going to be the result.....they walked away from it.
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