I have been thinking about writing this article for a long time. Now I finally managed to collect my thoughts and find some time for it. Ok Fab Dupont. Some of you may have watched his PUREMIX tutorials. The only workshop he did in Europe was in August 2015 in Paris at the Red Room audio recording studio. I had the opportunity to attend this two-day course. It was organized as a hands-on course over two days – with the first day dedicated to recording a song with all acoustic instruments, and the second day mixing and mastering. There wasn’t much time left for the master, because time “drank” the cocktail after the course 🙂 Wine and snacks… and sweet interesting stories. Then Fab shared quite a few things “off the record” that were quite thought provoking and helpful at least for me (they are at the end of the article).
I have no desire and aim to cause unnecessary controversy, but only to share what I heard, saw and understood.
The studio where the workshop was held was good, at least for our criteria. SSL console, early model Focusrite ISA 110 preamps, NEVE 1073. Fab wore his Apollo UAD and Focal SM9 monitors and doesn’t use the studio monitors. The name of the studio is Red Room. His team included his partner and the person dealing with the Puremix project – Guillaume. With them was the solo artist Will Knox, whose song we recorded.
Besides the one in the studio, they had also brought some Dangerous and Elysia hardware to the workshop. EQs and compressors. Fab uses them when recording vocals. All other instruments were recorded with the studio equipment through their Linx Aurora preamps and converters. They recorded on their computers with Pro Tools 8 which “never crashed” …. So said Fab and after 15 minutes he nailed it 🙂
He uses his personal Apollo UAD and Macbook pro 15 inch only for mixing. I asked him if this was the computer he usually works with and he confirmed. Given that this happened in August 2015, the laptop model must have been Mid 2014 – 2.5 GHz Core i7 (I7-4870HQ) with 16Gb RAM.
He gave advice when buying a computer for audio to aim for the second best new Macbook Pro.
We recorded drums, bass, guitar, cello and vocals.
All instruments were fully acoustic with no samples or added synths. Mixing was in the box 100%.
My idea is not to retell the seminar, but to share some moments and speeches that made an impression on me.
The studio: a completely normal nice studio with control room and live room. Designed by a specialist and equipped with technology that is proven to work and give good results. Wiring was Mogami. There were 2 guys working in the studio who took care of everything. Fab shared that he has toured almost all the major studios and it’s normal to have problems and mistakes at some point. Maybe there are only 1-2 places where everything is flawless. One is Atlantic. He said this on the occasion that there was some hum in one of the ribbon microphones on the overhead. About half an hour the studio guy changed cables and preamps to fix it. So these are completely normal things – to have a problem and look for a way to fix it. Everyone took it quite calmly.
During this unexpected hiatus, Fab revealed that he was running a 4-studio complex in New York. Every month there’s a minimum of $500 in unexpected expenses – broken equipment, inventory, (note) stolen microphones…:) To eliminate hum, Fab said it’s good to do grounding by driving a metal rod deep into the ground outside and leading the earthly to him. I thought that only here in Bulgaria we have such problems and sharing this practice cheered me up a lot. For the studio, I can end with quotes from Fab “Recording business is a hard business!”. And one more, which is much more interesting, although it is not some world secret – “A modern home studio is much more powerful than the best professional studio from 20 years ago!”.
Another statement that is very basic and conceptual was about the most important things for a studio. According to him, in the first place are good headphones. (We were gifted a pair of Focal Spirit Professionals at the workshop, which are pretty good. Well, gifted is an understatement because the workshop fee included them). The second most important thing is good monitors. And the third most important thing is a good room. According to him, there is no ideal room. You just have to get used to it. He said, “If you find the perfect room, give me a call, I’ll come mix in it!” 🙂
The consoles: As I previously shared, there was an SSL analog console in the studio. In this case, it was used as a pad in the literal sense. Only indications were used from the console. The signal from the microphones was fed into other preamps and then into the converters. The signal in the console was from the Pro Tools outputs as control indications. Then it became a question of the standards in the levels. It was interesting to mention that Universal Audio tune their units instead of -18 to -16.3 db. Fab said he hasn’t heard back from them as to why? Most likely marketing. As well as whether there is a difference between the new and old Apollo interfaces. According to him, there is no difference.
Regarding the consoles, Fab said that the studios where they are still used, almost never turn them off, because the probability of not being able to release them anymore is very high. The millions of components in them when played generate an electrical spike that causes devices in the studio to burn out. In addition, the heat they emit during operation is an unpleasant factor. So, according to him, analog consoles are very rarely used and are not at all a factor in achieving a good result when recording, and even less so when mixing.
For mastering… I will quote one of Fab’s statements about his colleagues from Sterling sound (NYC) – “These guys are next door to my studio in NY. They have none one an analog a piece a shit of gear!” I have no comment. Sterling sound is one of the most popular studios specialized in mastering. Pictures of this studio show analog devices. However, the fact is that “In the box” is practiced more and more often and big names in mixing and mastering do not deny that the results are good.
The Microphones: A set of Radial Engineering microphones and active DI boxes. The interesting microphones that made an impression on me were several. They used Josephson 22S on the toms. Cardioid condenser custom developed for Steve Albini. Old tube Shoeps with replaceable spools. We used it to record the drum solo, the guitar and then the lead. Neumann U67 – we used to record the vocals. For him, Fab said that it is rare to find a normally working U67 microphone, but this one was ok. For the sub mic we used an NS10 speaker mounted on a low mic stand. Coles 4038 set – only about 50-60cm – good result as overheads. AKG C414 room set about 2.3 meters above the floor. D12 for checkout. No mic under the drum solo. The drummer plays with brushes.
For the bass, they tried a ribbon AEA, but in the end it was the new Sennheiser MD421 (black). There were no other “unknown” microphones. Regarding the microphones, Fab shared that there is no standard because of the quality. Rather, producers, going into the studio, are aware of what result they will achieve with familiar brands and models. This has made it necessary for the studios to have exactly these microphones. Not because they are better than others, but because they are the standard imposed by customers. There’s no guarantee that a much lower-priced microphone won’t fit better. The use of DI was not mentioned at all. There was a question as to why the speaker from the NS10 was plugged into the DI, but it never became clear 🙂 They are a must in all cases when recording instruments and such passive sources.
The recording: The recording was very fast and accurate. At the beginning in the live room we all listened to the performance of the song by all the musicians. The bass player, drummer and cello player were French. Will Knox wrote the song and he had prepared it for the recording perfectly. With fingerstyle playing and singing, he did this many times until the drummer replaced the drum solo with another. We chose the most suitable one for the occasion. The same thing happened with the bass guitar. There was a Fender Jazz Bass and a Fender Precision. The way to choose between them was by playing both. Jazz Bass suited the song much better. They recorded drums and bass together. The two musicians were together in a live room. The bass combo (Roland bass cube 60) was in the hallway with a microphone, and besides that the bass was recorded with a DI.
The musicians were perfect. During the song, Fab suggested that the drummer slightly change what he was playing on the second verse. After two or three rehearsals, the drummer forgot about the change. This was followed by Fab’s statement about the difference in the level of musicians in New York and those in Paris. He said those in the states are never wrong. You tell them once and that’s it. Like machines. 🙂 I’ve always moved the comparison elsewhere 🙂 you probably already guessed it… The whole time they were recording bass and drums, Will Knox was singing rum to them from control in real time and playing the guitar at the same time. He didn’t make a mistake once.
After bass and drums, he also recorded the guitar. It was an acoustic replica of a Gibson ES125. Godin 5-th Avenue Kingpin with one neck adapter. We recorded it on 3 channels. Acoustic with the Schoeps directional tube condenser, and one through the same combo that recorded the bass after the DI. The third channel was DI. Will knew the song so well that he recorded it in 3-4 plays.
The song is very similar to Sting’s Shape of my heart. I put this in only to get an idea of what mood was sought during the recording.
After the guitar, we recorded the forehead. The musician played several voices, which added a lot of volume and made the song much more produced. The forehead felt like a quartet in the song. The special thing about the forehead recording was that, in addition to a microphone and DI, they recorded through the combo amplifier.
Finally recording vocals. There was also a Telefunken AR51 tube, but they didn’t try it. The choice remained on the Neumann U67. There was a slight problem with the C. Experiments resulted in a singe of almost 50-60cm. They tried turning the microphone at a slight angle, but without much success. An interesting technique that they didn’t try is putting a pencil example in front of the microphone.
The Mix: The mix was easy and nothing special happened with a few exceptions. Sort by groups and colors. Preparing levels. The most important rule that Fab shared is that when making a mix it’s like putting together a puzzle. We look for the effect that best suits the instrument or voice, but not alone, but together with all the instruments. So, for example, on the guitar, after he had already done the bass and the drums, he put the LA2 UAD2. On its own, the guitar sounded very good with it. Then he tried the Pro Tools compressor. The guitar didn’t sound that good on its own, but in the mix it made a noticeably better picture.
Another interesting fact was the importance given to file names and that they should be seeded regularly. Because several mix engineers work in his studios, when someone sits down and touches something on a project before it is done, it is important to name it with a name describing what was done and who did it. Due to an omission and failure to comply with this requirement, he said he fired someone….
In the mix he mainly uses UAD plugins, Oxford, native Pro Tools plugins. Clean up the noise with Izotope. Such things in general. On the bass of the track recorded with a microphone, put a simulation of a bass amplifier of UAD – Bass Amp Room. Do not put a limiter on the master. In general, the levels of the recorded channels were about -18. He said: “Low levels are good, high levels are not good” 🙂 He shared that when mixing pop music, you can put limiters on each channel. On the vocals it uses 2 De-ess plugins together.
The strength with which it mixes is enough to fill the room, but not too loud. After shaping the rough mix, we also listened at low volume. Then finishing some small details. Replacing a revrb with another one. Listening again. Ready mix. Natural and natural. No 1000’s of channel plugins and no fine detailing – a little loud here, a little quiet there. Yes … indeed such automations are made where compressors are not enough. Also, at the beginning of the song, the volume of some kanakas is lower and when the chorus starts, they increase. But it’s a matter of producing the song.
Before the start of the most interesting part and after the end of the mix, I spontaneously asked: “It turns out that the mix is super fun and easy as long as you put in quality sources!” The response, in typical his style, was: “Exactly!!!”
And here comes the most interesting and important part of the seminar. Rooftop party. So it was announced. There was no roof, but there was a party! And as they say: “In vino veritas!” They took out the wine and started interesting questions and even more interesting answers. Someone asked for an opinion on the analog hardware in the studio. There were 1176s, LA2s, some boutique EQs and compressors. Still good stuff 🙂 Fab took a look at them and started sorting them out …. He pointed to some EQ and said… “You don’t need this!”, pointed to the next one and said the same. For the rest, he said – “The plugin is better than this!”, … and that’s how he ordered almost all of them. There were no bragging about which was better and irreplaceable. And how analog devices are the key to the “perfect” mix and we can’t do without them. Nothing of the kind.
Rather, the key is in quality preamps and especially those suitable for the specific case. Sometimes with an expensive preamp that is not suitable, the sound is bad. But if the preamp fits… it becomes fantastic. Whereas with a simple low-end preamp there are no surprises. He sounds… what he sounds like. On the other hand, the variety of microphones and the possibility to try several different options allows to choose the best one for the occasion. It is possible to achieve the best result with the cheapest microphone in the collection. So it’s good to have more choices of microphones and preamps.
And here comes Fab’s interesting statement: “The good instruments, always deserved!”. I think everyone will agree with that. Although a good instrument in the hands of the wrong “musician” is a bad instrument! So the analog myths and legends about how you can’t make a sound without some compressors, eqs, microphones for over $5000, a tape recorder and a console …. are just not very true. Excuses, excuses… We’ve heard recordings made with such devices that don’t sound right. We’ve also heard records made with far less resources that became and continue to be hits. The truth about technology lies behind who uses it and how. In general, however, if it is recorded in good quality with the appropriate microphones through nice preamps and through class converters, there is no reason to think that our recording is devoid of potential possibilities in the sound. If we have one or two compressors to shape the sound and record with them… Perfect.
See also: What exactly should a music producer mean these days