Sometimes great things happen through careful planning and preparation but often, amazing things happen when you least expect them and sometimes they happen totally by accident. There have been many of these “happy accidents” in studio history and I’d like to tell you about two of them. One very famous happy accident and then my moment of studio serendipity.
The Truth Behind The Legend
Back in the very early 80’s, Phil Collins was working on his album Face Value with producer Hugh Padgham at the greatly missed Townhouse Studios in London. Phil was at his kit in the studio 2 live room while Hugh was sitting in the control room behind the SSL console talking with him. If you have ever tried to listen to a drummer speaking to the control room without a dedicated talkback mic you will know how difficult it can be to hear them. Even though the drummer is surrounded by mics on the kit, the gain on this mics is normally set low, due to the impending “tub-thumping.” This talkback mic would be muted during recording or playback. On an SSL console, these mic feeds are called the Listen Back mics. The mics that were used in the Townhouse were STC-4021 “Ball and Biscuit” omnidirectional dynamic mics hung far up in the ceiling.
The Listen Back feeds pass through a very very aggressive limiter within the console, so when you open the Listen Back in the control room you are not going to have your head taken off by a random loud guitar or drum blast.
The story goes that Phil was demoing something or just noodling around on drums with the listen mic open to the control room. The Hugh heard this super-compressed, massive drum sound being picked up by the Listen Back mic being smashed by the SSL Listen Back compressor, loved it, and wanted to record this extra mic for the track, but at the time there was no way to route the Listen Back mic to tape for recording. So a call was made to the studio technical department (and I suspect to SSL) to work out a way of routing the processed Listen Back feeds to tape. The rest, as they say, is recording studio history.
Most, if not all subsequent desk from the SSL E Series onwards have this compressed mic feed available on the patch bay so you no longer have to call the tech department if you want to record it.
Thanks to Andy Bradfield for the history lesson.
My Not Quite So Glamorous Happy Accident
I was doing some drum recording for a client and had my normal 13 mics set up on and around my Sonor SQ-2 kit. These channels are marked up as Kick in, out and Solomon LoFreq sub mic, Snare top and bottom, Hi Hat, 4 Toms, under Ride mic and stereo overheads. What I refer to as my normal “kit and caboodle” .
This particular session was the day after I had been recording the Production Expert Podcast using a new microphone that our friends at JZ Microphones had just sent me, their Vintage V67 large diaphragm condenser. I’ve also been using the Vintage V67 on vocal and acoustic guitar recordings and it sounds really nice and rich, attributes I also really like on spoken word. Like all the JZ mics the design is kind of “funky” but I like it. The stand mounting is very original but gives you a good range of movement allowing the mic to be placed where ever it is needed. There is no shock-mount for the V67 and getting it to fit an off the shelf Rycote mount might be a challenge but thus far this has not been an issue.
Back To The Story
For some reason when creating the I/O for the session I pulled in 14 channels not just the required 13 and mapped the I/O of Pro Tools 1-14 to the I/O of my Audient Console channels 1-14. Channel 14 was the JZ Vintage V67 still patched and set to record from the evening before but pushed back above one of my racks close to the wall. Channel 14 however was not in the headphone mix being sent to the drum room. Now for some reason, and I have no ideas why, I left the drum room sliding door open. Not something I ever do as I have neighbours but I did a couple of passes of the track then stepped back into the control room to take a listen.
The drums sounded massive. Channel 14 also had a compressor and limiter engaged and set up for a spoken voice and it gave that extra channel a ton of punch and allowed the drums to breath and made my room sound much bigger than it 2m x 3m footprint. I did a rough mix and sent it off to the client who loved it.
Swapping Out The Hardware For Software
After a bit of playing and tweaking I decided to swap out the hardware compressor and limiter for an SSL style buss compressor (can’t think where I got that idea from). You can see below how I set it up to give me plenty of attack and a bit more sustain to the drums.
I have included 4 audio examples of the different states of the drum mix.
The first track is just the unprocessed JZ Vintage V67 room mic. There was a time in my recording career that I would have been very happy with this as a drum sound in its own right.
The second track is my “normal” drum mix with no extra room mic.
Track 3 is the full kit including the room mic, but this is unprocessed, no slamming buss compressor.
The final track is the finish drum track that went off to the client.
I hope you will agree that the final track sounds much bigger yet more natural than the Drum Mic With No Room Mic version. This mic set up now gets employed on all drum sessions, where I am able to leave the door open.
Let us know if you have had any moments of studio genius or discovered a new trick or technique by accident that you now use as standard when recording. We would love to hear them.
Thanks also once again to our friend Andy Bradfield for his help researching the Townhouse story.