Last February I received an Instagram message asking if I record beginning songwriters. ‘Yes!’ I replied’. Little did I know it would be the start of something beautiful.
With beginning musicians, I tend to tread carefully. There is little to no experience and having your music recorded can be daunting. It’s the jungle of microphones, unfamiliar people, new environment, and tension that can break it, or make it! With MAURO. it quickly became clear that he had a good understanding of what can be expected within his own limitations as a performer. I packed my gear and traveled to Brugge, Belgium to record MAURO. debut EP in a greenhouse.
A greenhouse sure isn’t a regular recording location and we came to the conclusion that it would be great to include the ambiance in the recording. With this in mind, we used the following stereo pairs of microphones: OMNI microphones (DPA 4090) as A-B, Cardioid microphones (Rode NT5) as ORTF, and a pair of Sound Projects C4 as XY on the guitar. For the vocals, we went with the trusty Shure SM57 which came out as the winner against the AKG C414. The C414 turned out to harsh sounding and having a dynamic microphone on vocals helps against bleed from the acoustic guitar. I even placed an Omni microphone (DPA 4090) in the toilet stalls after hearing Mauro play, which sounded amazing and ended up as an intro on one of the songs.
The downside to using multiple microphones is the transit time (the time it takes for a sound to reach the microphone). One pair of overheads and a support microphone is easily fixed with any delay plugin. But when the vocal microphone records guitar, and the guitar microphones capture those same vocals, and the overhead record the total, we have to deal with multiple transition times which means comb filters (coloration of the sound). This is easily recognized when you combine tracks and certain elements start to sound thin (roomier). This is partly the reason why many bedroom producers record separate instruments, but I like to encourage everyone to get into using multiple microphones. It’s all about proper microphone placement and the reward of having that shared space or ‘glue’ as they call it, which tends to make mixing easier. How did I fix this you might ask? With the A-B pair as main overheads, I delayed all microphones towards that one main pair. I spend extra time on the XY stereo pair playing with the timing until I found a color that doesn’t thin out the vocals and still leaves enough body for the guitar. Including EQ to shape the sound can help create space and dialing EQ in properly can help solve the obvious comb filters, keeping in mind that it creates new coloration.
Mauro told me his wish to include drums and bass, and so another challenge arose! Recording drums after recording without click-track (metronome) tends to be tedious and difficult. A songwriter by their own, within limited fluctuations, is fine and carries a natural feel based on what they want to convey. Rhythmical instruments with the sole purpose of keeping the groove stand out more when it falls out of line. And here enters Cees Oosterhuis (Audio Engineer, Drummer) who does an outstanding job understanding his role within the wishes of what the given context desires.
Recording the drums we went with two different approaches where one is partly inspired by Glynn Johns using one (Shure) SM57 as overhead, another SM57 on the side with an equal distance from the snare as the overhead, and an SM57 as kick. This creates a trashy, crunchy mono drum sound that works well if you intend something more vintage-sounding. The second approach is a more traditional setup with one Sennheiser MD421 on the snare, another MD421 on the floor tom. For the bottom of the snare we used a Shure SM7B and the overheads are an XY stereo pair of ribbon microphones by Samar. Lastly, we used Line Audio Omni1 microphones as an A-B pair to capture the ambiance. In the end result, I chose to combine both setups, leaving out the Samar pair and going with the SM57 overhead in combination with the ambiance of the A-B pair. The main reason is simply being able to glue the different rooms together with the A-B pair which is more diffuse sounding. Having a more diffuse sound means I can easily create depth in the mix while using less reverb (or room) on vocals making Mauro stand out in the mix.
The bass is recorded at my home studio, straight through my Focusrite Saffire Liquid Pro 56 which gives me the advantage of finding the right tone without time pressure. Recording in three different spaces (the greenhouse, the studio, and direct-in) is a challenge on its own but using the A-B pair of the drums gave me the possibility to define a background, with the bass being the bridge to Mauro and his acoustic guitar.
The song Moonspliff is inspired by an insanely, impulsive chill session with friends and the good vibes I had with this one girl. I just started writing music and I tried to combine these two experiences into what is now Moonspliff.
Debut single ‘Moonspliff’ is available right now on all digital streaming-platforms.
Mauro de Decker – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Cees Oosterhuis – Drums
Barend Spaan – Bass, Producer, Recording & Mixing Engineer