In The Studio: Mayorga, Philips, and Bottrill
The Preamp Question
A battle rages in pro audio on the relative merit of every expensive, vintage mike preamps versus off-the-rack everyman units. In this case, Philips sides with the former camp. “As far as preamps go, you usually can’t go wrong with classic Neve 1073s, 1081s or 1084s,” he says. “API 512s sound great on some things as well, and, in a pinch, SSL pres work well too. In this case, we were all set to go with a combo of Neve, API and SSL pres, but called Slipknot’s Shawn ’Clown’ Crahan, who had a bunch of Chandler TGI preamp/EQ strips. I used those for the kick drum mikes and the kick immediately jumped out of the monitors and sat in the mix way better than it had with the Neves (which were a bit spongy in comparison). The majority of the drums (snare, cymbals, overheads, and most rooms) were tracked through Neve 1073s and 1081s with the exception of the Royer room mikes and a couple of spot mikes on some cymbals and percussion elements, which were tracked through API preamps.”
And as for the standard practice of using tape to create warmth, Philips credits microphone and preamp choices – and well-tuned drums!
“It’s a combination of the mike choices [ribbon mikes for the rooms], Neve preamps, proper sounding and well-tuned drums, and of course, the large live room itself. The room itself was so large and so live that we actually had to go to serious lengths to dampen it. After a few days of rehearsal and preproduction in the studio, we had Stone Sour’s guitar tech, Martin Connors, bring in their massive stage backdrop from their Audio Secrecy tour and hang it over the back wall of the studio to cut down on the liveliness of the room. Before that, the room sound was actually bleeding heavily into the close mikes. Had we not done that, this would have been a very different-sounding record!”
Strong Foundations Make Strong Houses
Philips hates “the sound of digital reverbs on drums,” and prefers a classic EMT plate if needed. And he has plenty of advice for achieving an overall solid drum sound.
“The way to get the best sound, though, even with a small Pro Tools setup, is just to track it as best you can right from the start. No number of digital tricks will sound as good as this combination: Good drummer on a good drum kit with proper drumheads properly tuned in a nice room using the best available mikes and the best available preamps. When I was just starting out I would try everything I could to get a killer drum sound. Then I got to work with some killer drum engineers like Sylvia Massy and Matt DeMatteo, and they taught me that less is more. Just track it properly from the beginning using as little gear and tricks as possible, and it will sound amazing.
“Another thing that is helpful in a smaller Pro Tools setup, if you’re forced to mix in the box, is to stem your tracks out multiple outputs using a good summing mixer or even a small console. It’s not going to make a massive difference, but at least you will get a bit of analog warmth and you won’t have to rely on your DAW’s internal mixer exclusively.”
Of course, it all begins and ends with the drum tracking, and Roy Mayorga is a pro of epic proportions. But he credits Dave Bottrill with helping him to loom large on his own personal comeback trail.
“Dave had great ideas for drum parts,” Mayorga says. “He’d make me do a lot of takes on each part to get a certain attitude on some versions and mix and match them and edit them later like you would edit takes on tape. He’d take the best of the beginning and the end of a song, maybe a drum fill from a take, and then ask for my most off-the-wall drum fill and comp them together. You’re creating something that will last forever – you want it to be right. I am huge fan of Peter Gabriel’s Passion Sources record, which Dave Bottrill worked on. I put that up there with Led Zeppelin IV and Dark Side Of The Moon. Passion Sources got me into a lot of tribal drumming and world music, rhythms from Morocco and Egypt. So I was so happy to work with these guys on House Of Gold & Bones.”