Studio Diary: Kingswood @ Newmarket Studios
Studio manager and house producer, Guus Hoevenaars, documents his work with Kingswood on their new album ‘Juveniles’.
Story: Guus Hoevenaars
Photos: Trevor Adlerson
My relationship with Kingwood’s Alex and Fergus started at the beginning of 2019 when I met Alex on a different project at Newmarket Studios. We hit it off straight away. Maybe my attention to detail is what did it or maybe our shared love for bourbon, either way we connected musically.
The recording of the album was an ongoing project over separate stints in the studio while the band were writing new material between sessions.
Before going into the studio the band finalised all the parts to make sure we wouldn’t lose time during tracking and we could spend time on the sonic character of the record.
Alex is really hands-on when recording, which makes for a great studio partnership.
DRUMS: NO CYMBALS
We had extensive discussions on how the recordings should sound. One big decision was to record without cymbals. The advantage is that you can really compress the overheads and the room mics. For some of the songs we would have four different compressors on the room mics and compressors on the overheads, all doing their thing, ticking away a couple of dB at the time.
It is great to have the time to really explore the acoustics and instruments, selecting the right microphones, microphone preamps, dynamics and even cabling.
The majority of the close microphones were quite standard: AKG D112 on kick, Neumann M149 kick out, Yamaha sub kick, Sennheiser MD421/441s on toms. Originally we started with AKG C12s on the toms with the diaphragms parallel to the drum heads but opted for the dynamic 421/441s instead.
For kick and snare I like to put the preamps in the studio so the mic leads are short runs at mic-level and longer cable runs at line level to the control room. It does seem to preserve the attacks of the drums better. When I used to record symphony orchestras with senior Philips Classics engineers, we would listen to different cables and their transients. At the time it seemed ludicrous and I didn’t understand but when everything is at its ultimate, the difference is very audible.
Yamaha Sub kick, AKG D112 & Neumann M149
Two overhead sets: Neumann U47 + U48 & 2 x AKG C12s
So its still something I consider and I like to record with quad-core cable as much as possible.
Even the 240V power leads to the preamps and the various valve microphone power supplies, I keep separate from the mic cables to minimise any interference.
On the ‘kick in’ and ‘kick out’ microphones I used a graphic equaliser. Beside the equaliser on the Harrison console for some general tone-shaping I used a Sansui graphic EQ to highlight specific frequencies. In my view you need to shape three elements of a kick drum: the drum head moving the air which creates the sub frequencies at 50-70Hz, the internal resonance of the drum at 125–500Hz (depending on the size of the drum) and the beater hitting the skin at 1.5–5kHz. We used a CAPI VP28 500-series preamp on the ‘kick in’ microphone and the on-board Harrison preamp for ‘kick out’.
On snare top we used a Neumann U67 and a Beyerdynamic M201. We ended up using a CAPI Heider FD312 as preamp on the snare. Alex brought those in and they are a favourite of mine now after an extensive shootout (it got a bit silly but if you can’t play in the studio, what’s the point?!). The U67 got compressed through the CAPI’s 1176-style FET compressor.
I had a Schoeps CMC-5 mic on hi-hat. I tend to point a small diaphragm condenser across the hi-hat at the snare, and try to stay a little away from the hi-hat as it can really accentuate the proximity effect. Recording hi-hats naturally is one of the hardest things to get right.
When I go and listen to a drummer play in the main room, and go back the control room, it never feels the same so I tend to record with compression on the overhead/room mics.
It might be the contraction of the muscles in the middle ear to protect our hearing but loud natural noises always sound compressed to me, probably by 1dB or so.
So when I apply compression to loud instruments, it feels more natural to me.
Alex and I experimented heavily with the overhead microphone combination, we settled on a set of Neumann U47/U48s through a custom DEX tube Preamp into a DBX162, a Pultec filter SPF2 through a Fairchild 663 into an Orban 418A and finally into a Calrec 1625!
I bought the Calrecs years ago when I was working at Manfred Mann’s studio, before anybody was really racking-up channel strips. They sat in a box for years and I finally had them put together. When I want a fast and open preamp, I use the Calrecs. They are superb on pop vocals combined with our Neumann U67.
I used a pair of AKG C12s as a secondary set of overheads for our clean sound.
For a band like Kingswood, the room microphones are important. In general a ‘drum sound’ comes from the overhead and room microphones, so its worth spending time on to get it right.
I really like recording with true omnidirectional microphones (instead of the dual-capsule version) or pressure microphone as they would be classified. Most people shy away from recording with an omni but they sound so even, without proximity effect and any spill is actually useful and balanced. Also if you get your head around the distance-factor you can use that to your advantage. Of course, a good sounding room does help.
We used Gefell M692 bodies with M58 capsules.
Much like life, recording is never pristine, so for that reason I use microphones like the RCA BK5B as a ‘character’ mic. It’s an early 1950s cardioid ribbon microphone designed to withstand high SPL levels including gunshots. We thrashed the signal through a Harrison preamp into an Urei 1176.
Guus adjusts the 500 series CAPIs in the live room used on the kick & snare.
After conducting a microphone shootout on Fergus’ and Alex’s vocals — Neumann M149, U47, U67 and Gefell M692 body with UM70 Capsule — we settle on the U67, through a CAPI Heider preamp, into the Capi 1176-type compressor into a Calrec compressor into a dbx 162. We recorded everything to 32-bit/96k.
I tend to record at higher rates as much as I can but its program dependant.
Sarah Curro & Michelle Wood of The Newmarket Collective.
Newmarket Studios has an in-house band called The Newmarket Collective which I can use when I am producing/engineering and need a solid band/musician. Part of The Collective came in to record strings.
Recording music is all about capturing emotion and if you find that level of emotion from a paid-by-the-hour session musicians who just comes cold into a session, make sure you take their phone number. The Collective is a bunch of musicians who can bring that type of emotion. Sarah Curro and Michele Wood come in to do violin and cello overdubs.
When session players come in, generally we’re on ‘the clock’.
The AKG C12’s had given me some headache the day before but sonically they were the sound we were after. As insurance, I put up an extra set of spot microphones on strings which were a set of Schoeps CMC-5.
I also set up an AB of Gefells with a combination of a dbx 162 plus Fairlight for compression.
DEALING WITH THE VAGARIES
Working with vintage equipment in an old studio is bound to throw up some curveballs.
In a split second a take that is going great can be thrown off by a little crackle or unwanted distortion. It can be one of the switches on the channel, it can be the preamp, it can be an unseated XLR, it can be a faulty cable, it can be a failing valve, it can be a corroded patch point, it can be a combination of things… was it on the record side or was it on the playback side?
You have to be ready to step in, control the damage and move on. Last year I had a session with ex-prime minister Kevin Rudd at Newmarket. Even after an extensive microphone setup and triple-check prior to his arrival, the microphone decided to crap-out mid take! Happy days.
2 x Gefells+M58 omni capsules; 2 x AKG C12 on the edge.
LIFTING THE LID ON RECORDING PIANO
When Kingswood came to record the first time around, a lot of time was spent fine-tuning the piano sound. We started with opening the lid on the big stick. We auditioned ORTF and AB stereo mic setups inside the piano but that didn’t give us what we needed. We experimented by moving the piano around the room till we ended with the lid fully open, leaning against the wall to reduce the reflections into the microphones.
Since there are quite a few microphone flavours to chose from, it took a bit to finalise the choice and their location. We ended with a set of AKG C12s looking in from over the edge into the piano.
This is more of a classical recording technique and it gives a very balanced image. You lose the attacks of the hammers and gain a round/broad piano sound.
Additionally, we rigged up two Gefell M58s. They were about a meter above the Kawai piano: one near the high strings, one near the end (low-strings). These were going through a pair of Fairchilds. We used CAPI preamps on the two C12s and Harrison preamps on the Gefell mics.
Alex on Gibson Hummingbird with 2 x Gefells+M58 capsules.
Kingswood has a great selection of guitars complementing Newmarket Studio’s bunch of great acoustics.
We ended up trying a Martin, a Larrivee OM-1 and a Gibson Hummingbird. Funnily enough we ended up using the Gefells set to omni again. We tried a whole bunch of combinations from large diaphram to small, some Sony electrets, some MXLs but the ‘Gefellies’ as we called them, won the shoot out. 1dB of compression on the DEX AL-200 compressor glued it all together.
EQUIPMENT: REWARDS OF EXPERIMENTATION
During the course of these sessions I reckon we tried out every single piece of gear in the studio. A blessing for sure. These kinds of projects are great to remind myself of the infinite sonic combinations possible in a well-stocked studio like Newmarket.
Understandably, we all fall into the trap of using the same microphone and preamp combinations we’re familiar with, but there’s always a reward in experimentation.
Ultimately, as someone who’s lucky enough to make records for a living, I’d like to think we owe it to the project to bring new perspectives rather than simply reverting to just ‘what works’.