Zed Leppelin - Session 1 Reflection
So the big day finally came we had the boys from Zed Leppelin in the studio. Adam Higginson and I have been talking about doing this for a whole year now and the planning for this has been months of back and forth between the band and production team. So I was really excited to finally get into it.
You can see more about our planning here:
The Set Up:
I got really organised the night before there was lots of online chatting to ensure we were on the same page. I packed food, coffee and anything else I would need. (Hard drive, camera, headphones, hearing protection, torch, spare batteries etc...) I printed off copies of our plan, input list and an equipment list for the tech team. I got up early got ready, had a big breakfast and coffee, packed up the car and once I’d driven into the traffic I realised I had left all the printouts on the desk. I was sitting in traffic with no way out or back so I just kept heading in knowing we could access the information on Google drive.
I got there at 8:50 for a 9:00 start and Jaxon Arundell was already there setting up the sessions and the desk in the console room. We knew Adam would be there at 10:30 because he had a job interview which he'd let us know and was all good. I went to the tech team and got all the equipment we would need. And headed up to the studio. I started by attaching all the mics onto good reliable stands and just rowed them in the corner for when the band arrived. Jaxon and I had a big chat about how during our previous projects we haven’t chased the flame and how today we were open to experimentation and that we needed to not be afraid to step away from the plan slightly to find something that works. We moved the studio drums out of the room and discussed where we could set up drums and baffles etc…
Once they got there everyone came up and started dumping everything in the live room. One of the band members had his 2 sons to take some photos and video footage so with 6 people putting down bags and equipment it was total chaos. Once the band got there and saw the room was much smaller than they’d initially imagined, discussion started about live tracking vs layering I was still in favour of tracking the band live in the room together as written in the production plan but the unanimous decision was then we would track drums and DI the bass and guitar in order to get separation. This decision was based on the fact that we wanted to take care of getting a good drum sound first and layer the other elements up.
The fact that we did not have a really big live room or separate rooms made this make sense but I still wanted to see if we could pull a good live sound in the room first. The guitarist who actually had a lot of studio experience was the main one against this and he and I discussed all the pros and cons in person the main concern being, one bum note ruining a perfect drum take. There's a lot to be learned from this while we had all agreed in an online chat we weren't actually on the same page. Meeting in person before the session, rather than just in online chats and actually bringing them into the studio for pre-production really would have helped but the fact they all lived at the gold coast made this seem like an unnecessary endeavor.
Drums: With this decision made my first call to action was to get everyone to get all their gear out of the live room except the drums. Then with the drummer, i walked around the room hitting the snare until we found the sweet spot and we set the snare up right there with the rest of the kit around it. I got the mics set up in the Glyn Jones technique using a spare lead to measure the overheads from the centre of the snare. Adam arrived and patched the leads while Jaxon set the desk up and made sure we had signal he had also loaded Moby Dick by zeppelin into the session and was listening to it as a bit of a team reference. Once set up we went to the console room to check the drum sound. Oops yep, we better set up the drummers headphones and a talkback mic. Ok with that done we talked to him got levels sorted and I proceeded to show Adam and Jaxon what I’d learned last week about the Glynn jones technique from Kaab. We got the levels and the panning on the overheads sounding awesome and it was easier than we thought, we didn't have to go back in and move them just balance them right through the desk. The overheads by themselves sounded great and everyone in the room thought that was the finished drum sound. We still had to check the kick and snare by themselves and in relation to the overheads. The snare sounded really good especially with the overheads but the kick was a bit weak.
I put on earmuffs and headed into the live room to move the mic around. The bass drum didn't have a hole cut in it so this was a kick out only set up (which apparently was the same as Bonzo from Zeppelin) I originally had the mic close to the skin but through hand gestures and the team communicating through the drummer's headphones who relayed the messages to me we ended up finding a sweet spot about a half a foot back in the centre and off axis. (investing in a set of isolating headphones will be on the cards when I can afford too) I came back into the live room and we recorded a few drum passes and asked the drummer to come in and have a listen. He was very happy with the sound we'd achieved and so were the rest of the band.
We then set up the bass player straight in a DI in the live room and the guitarist straight into the back of the desk in the control room. We ran his guitar through a small compressor pedal he had just so he was playing responding to the compression and we would capture that light compression on the way in. we added some Guitar Rig simulation in ProTools just so it had the right vibe for everyone to play too. We used a hot plex cab and some vintage spring reverb to get a tone similar to jimmy page. We then set up a vocal mic in the console room with us but only sent it through to the headphones to avoid any unwanted feedback.
Tracking: Once we were ready to roll we started to record. This is where it got confusing because we had agreed on 4 songs and all the songs they wanted to play to warm up were not in the brief. Eventually, Adam said well it’s just a warm-up play whatever song you want. The played “What is and what shall never be and nailed it in one take, then they played “Good Times, Bad Times in 2 takes” So we thought its ok we can keep those takes up our sleeves and with the band warmed up we moved into the songs we’d actually planned to record. The Bass and Drum takes were solid as, but the guitar ended up being more of a guide and we decided we would re-track the guitar later to get it just right. We all went on a break and got some lunch etc and then returned to get back into it.
Adrian Carroll dropped in to see what was going on in the Neve and he had a listen to the drums his first comment was "Man, that sounds a lot like Zeppelin." That made our day and he hung around long enough to hear the band play Black Dog which he said also made his day. The band were tight and moved through the other songs in a few takes each. We then listened to all the songs the drums didn’t require any editing but there were just a few little bass parts we had to drop in and redo and one little section that required quite a lengthy edit with the help of Daniels knowledge of the song and ProTools wizardry. (We worked with him and all got a better understanding of Tab to Transient than we had)
Bass Re-amping: We then set about re-amping the bass. We have done this in the Audient 8024 console but this was the first time we'd done it in the Neve. With a different desk and different patch bay It took us a little while to figure it out but once we had it all set up we let the bassist get his tone just how he liked it and we miced the amp up. We still had the D112 on hand and decided that since the Mark Bass Cab had 4 x 10-inch speakers and one 15 inch sub-bass speaker, it wouldn't hurt to put the D112 on the sub speaker. For the low end. We checked levels, phasing and just tone in general.
The mics each served a different purpose tone wise: D112 - lows MD42 - Mids SM57 - Highs Slate VMS - Ambience We could find the tone we were after just by balancing the levels and the Slate VMS will allow us to choose through some vintage mic plugins for the room mic during the mixing process.
It didn't take long to play through the recorded signal and record the tone of the amp. By this point, our session was almost over but the guitarist was still keen to lay down some tracks so we booked out the last few hours, packed down a fair bit and got ready to start tracking guitar.
Guitar: We set Dan up in the room and miced up the amp. We placed an SM57 (on axis) and MD421 (off-axis) quite close to the left speaker just on the edge of the centre of the cone. We added a C414 to the mix and found the sweet spot a little further back and a picking up more of the outer edge of the cone. After checking phasing and levels and the overall tone We moved the room mic a bit further back to get a bit more ambiance and the C414 actually sounded better a bit lower. We compared options on Dan's pedal board to try and get the right tone. By this point of the day, it was hard to tell if it sounded like Led Zeppelin or Van Halen but we checked against the reference track and all agreed on a sound before we started tracking.
While the Drummer and Bass player were both solid as a rock, Dan was just exceptional he knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it. After getting a tone we were all happy with we started tracking. Our goal was to just lay down the rhythm tracks. Dan was very professional and got takes with ease, we double-tracked the rhythm track for good times bad times then panned take 1 hard left and take 2 hard right to have a listen and it was so spot on, it sounded like one guitar. We did the same for 3 more songs and then had to pack up. Adam got the sessions saved on both our hard drives. While I packed up the mics. We got everything back to the tech team and were out the door right on time.
There's so much to reflect on with this session. We really should have got on the same page before we got into the studio. A lot of planning went into this but when we got into the studio we threw it all out the window. I guess I really wanted to try recording the band in the room together but that was not really what they wanted. I think communicating via messenger was not the best method and we should have all met in person. I had met Tony a few times but the session was the first time I met the rest of the band. That aside though, once we agreed to change the plan we smashed in and got it done. We were open to change and did what worked for the situation. We added an extra mic to each of the cabs, but I think that was for the better as they both added something to the mix and the band worked relatively fast so we achieved our goals and then some. All in all a good session. It didn't all go to plan but we learned a lot in the process, which at the end of the day is what it's all about.