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Microphone Month 2

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Recording death metal / metalcore


I've got a band that wants to record in my studio and it's a genre that I have very little knowledge in: death metal, metalcore, collectively deathcore I suppose. I plan on asking for sample CDs that represent the type of sound they're trying to achieve, but I figured I may as well ask all you fine folks about particular techniques. I'm certain that the kick drum needs to be just right, so I'll have multiple types of microphones on it for low end, transient click, all that. Sound replacement might get the sound they want if the tracked sounds don't. Maybe a dynamic mic for vocals, but I'll figure that out through auditioning during the session. At this time I don't have a ribbon.
I have plenty of experience with other modern rock styles so I've got a lot of bases covered, but maybe there are tricks that have proven to be de-facto standards for achieving the sounds of today's deathcore, and I wouldn't know what they are.
Thanks for the help
December 17, 2008 @03:13am

For a lot of bands, be ready to bust out some distortion unit on the vocals (whether it is Sansamp, a tape sat, even re-amping through a guitar amp), especially if they have a screamer.
SM7B has always been a workhorse mic on metal bands for me.
Samples on drums (not necessarily replacing, but perhaps in addition to the normal drums) are a likely event. Get ready to edit hard core, even if the band is super tight. The status quo is often to have an extremely well timed groove.
You are going to have to compress a lot of things, as I would assume they will want everything slamming (as per the usual for the genre). However, make sure to keep everything punchy (which can be a hard feat).
Also be very aware of how many guitar tracks you are racking up. Often I end up using more mono than stereo (or two/three mic, etc.) guitar tracks in metal bands since they often have a slew of guitars.
Finally, there is a LOT of potential for frequency-based masking in the mix (screaming, vocals, guitars, etc... are ALL sitting on top of each other). Really hone in to find a home for all of them. Subtractive EQ is your friend.
December 17, 2008 @05:55am

Hi Forbes,
I've been recording this type of music for a good while. It is definitely it's own animal and (in my opinion) much more difficult to get right than a simpler rock/pop recording. It's interesting if you think about it in the 'Phil Spector wall of sound' sort of way because that's the end you want to achieve even if the path to getting there is alot more laborious. You certainly have to shed some of the audiophile eccentricities that are afforded with other types of recording; for instance you may have to compromise on mic positions in a tightly packed 12piece drum kit and not worry about capturing distance mics or room sounds, etc. Alot of the 'size' of a record that comes from production has to give way to initial performance with this genre. I liken it to a news reporter being caught in a tornado. You're not going to film Gone With The Wind, you just keep the camera rolling and hope to catch some intense footage.
If I could also give you a bit of advice, this genre right now is being ruined by the 'loudness wars' even more so than most others at the moment; to the point that albums of this genre being released today are so crushed that audible crackles and distortion in guitars, drums, and vocals are becoming accepted. The metal records of the 80's and early 90's are practically ambient records by comparison. Even the new Metallica album is practically ruined. Have the courage to buck the trend. I think a slightly more rounded and reasonably leveled recording will mean less ear fatigue in the long run and have better chance of being enjoyed years later.
Back to the music. Vocals. Smithcok was right. The SM7a or SM7b will be your lead vocal friend (and backing vocal or any other vocal). Sometimes you can use an LDC to emphasize certain parts but the workhorse is going to be a large diaphragm dynamic. See the Metallica documentary 'Some Kind of Monster' and you'll see the mic in action on Hetfield's vocals. Recommend some kind of good 'big and warm' sounding channel strip for vocals, a tube channel strip if you have one. Avalon 737, PreSonus VXP (discontinued), Universal Audio LA-610, Vintech, etc. are all good ideas but alot of things will work. Look for something that has gain as well as level (or trim). The idea is to run the gain up a little into the red and pull back on the trim for safe recording level. This gives the lead vocal a bit of edge and soft-saturation as well as some natural compression. You'll find out with this vocal style that there are essentially 'low' and 'high' vocals and most performers use a bit of both. Large Condensers, in my experience, will exaggerate the level difference between these two to the point that the take will not be good (or at least require a heavy amount of editing and cropping). The low vocals are usually the ones requiring the greater lift and you will typically want to get the performer to double these passages later and when an initial take consists of one or more of the vocal styles you will want to get them onto their own track later in editing. I treat each different vocal style as a different instrument and give it different EQ, compression, and it's own track (even if all a part of one take, I will separate it all out).
Drums: the most often replaced instrument is the kick drum. Often the rest of it is kept but sometimes reinforced with a sample of the same kit. Some people replace everything. Some people don't even believe in re-amping. Some people use a processor instead of a real amp, some people consider it heresy if the amp doesn't have tubes in it. There's no right and wrong, this is a genre where people can make up alot of rather extreme rules. Learn to take it all in stride and work with how they feel. Some people replace everything using the sound of their own drums so as not to be 'generic'. If using Drumagog it's a good idea to get 'gog sample' hits from the kit before you begin recording. When you talk to the band, try to figure out what kind of death metal band they are. There are alot of different modes of thought within the genre and many people would rather sound not as good in order to be 'organic' and 'unique' and others have no such 'ethics' and want to have the most polished record out there no matter what you do to get them there. Feel them out, ask these questions.
If your band is doing blistering fast double bass and blast beats and you can forget about capturing subtle nuances and room sounds, the bottom end and 'spaciousness' of a bass drum, etc. You can throw all of that right out the window; this is triage. :) I've got many an album where the bass drums sound like a pencil hitting my school desk in elementary school and in many cases it was exactly what was wanted. I've had folks ride in my car while I'm listening to music and not realize that it was kick drums they were actually hearing on some CDs (while they sounded perfectly normal to me). This is due to how drastically they sometimes need to be carved in order to find their place in this wall of sound, it would make a jazz or pop artist shudder. Alot of top end is added, alot of middle is scooped out, and a sharper bump somewhere in the low end. The idea is control; get what bottom end you can out of it but not so much that it accumulates and muffles the next attack that comes right on the heels of the one before it. This is definitely the world of click, not of the 808. You want emphasis on the click sound and if you mic the drum it will be a mic usually focused on the beater and at least partially inside the hole if not deep into the drum. You can expect to make alot of position adjustments until you find the right one. Some of my favorite mics for kick are the D112, RE20, Audix D6, and MD421. Experiment with this as well.
Snare: I usually mic top and bottom. Mic the bottom around halfway between the snares and the rim. Work with the bottom position alot, a few millimeters can be the difference between a crappy and a fantastic bottom snare sound. If it sounds bad, just move it. You will find the right spot. Fav mics for this are the Heil PR20, Audix I-5, and the venerable SM57. Last session I did had the Heil PR20 (or PR22) on the snare and hi-hat and the results were very good. Use a dynamic to tame the hi-hat while I'm at it, pencil condenser is too shrill and picks up too much other movement. SM57 or Heil PR20 is a good choice. I've used a 58 in a pinch.
My favorite mic for toms is the Sennheiser 421. MD421 or 421mk2 both do well. Yeah, the original sounds a little butterier but this is not the genre for audiophile elitism... remember 'triage'. If the cymbals are mounted too low to the kit, and often are, and you can't fit the great 421's; don't cry and just clip some Audix D4's on the toms. It happens, you'll get over it. You can always use at least one 421 on the floor tom. Don't try to make the drummer re-arrange his or her kit. The cymbals and hi-hat are pulled in close for a reason; to enhance speed performance. It's about like asking you to move the seat and all the mirrors in your car and then drive a Nascar race.
Cymbals: If you are one of those who want a perfectly placed stereo overhead pair to capture a 'perfect stereo image' of the cymbals, kit, and room.... SORRY! bye bye! Go record a jazz trio. :) This is not reality recording. Seriously, you can do that if you have to but you'll end up drawing and editing a lot more in order to get every cymbal heard right and the stereo image you get will be the one you are stuck with. You are better off spot-miking each cymbal with a cardiod pencil condenser and editing and panning it out later. Don't worry about room ambience, don't worry about stereo imaging (at least not in the tracking stage, worry about all that later). Any Pencil condensers are good for this job, it's a hard thing to really ruin; there are too many to mention but I'll mention one that stands about above most in my book: the Peluso C6. Get about 4 to 6 of these and you'll be in overhead heaven. They come in stereo pairs also. If you need something more affordable, there are very good comparable models by Shure, Avantone, Rode, MXL, and others. BTW, you can actually get away with some dynamic mics in spot overhead recording. Heil PR40 is an excellent choice. Don't be afraid of this. The focused attention of dynamics lends itself well to this music.
Now let's talk about preamps. The objective here is punch and agressive midrange, most importantly on the toms and snare. I cannot recommend enough that you use API (or something marketed as closely equivalent such as Brent Averill Avedis or A-Designs, etc.) for toms and snare. You have alot more liberty with preamp choice on the kicks and overheads. Tube preamps like the ADL600 or Groove Tubes SuPre will work wonders on softening the overheads; if budget conscious you can still do well with the FMR RNP, PreSonus Blue Tube DP, etc. Kick drum preamp affords a bit of liberty since this is a signal that is going to be heavily EQ'd, compressed, if not replaced partially or fully later. Currently I use a modified MP20 (discontinued) for this.
Guitars: You need to retain alot of what I would call the microdynamics (edgy sound) of the guitar cab in order for it to cut through well and for this reason I don't recommend relying on a ribbon mic heavily (yes, I love them too and own three but hear me out). Ribbons have a tendency to soften or smooth out a guitar's microdynamics a bit too much though they do provide great 'body' for the sound. If you have a deep mic locker, try combining a Sennheiser 421, a Royer R121 ribbon (the definitive ribbon mic for electric guitar cabs), and an SM57. The ribbon and 421 is going to give you 'body' and size, and will help glorify the guitar sound. The SM57 is going to give you midrange and CRUNCH, and this is all important. Yes, the cheapest mic in the set is going to be the one that saves you and if you have to only use one mic on guitars, guess what: it has to be the 57. You can 'get by' with only that mic if you absolutely have to; the ribbon alone... unfortunately in my experience, not. With other styles of music, yes.
Other guitar tricks: I sometimes use a custom wooden single 12" cabinet that I built for guitar recording which is fitted with a N.O.S. Electro-Voice Black Shadow speaker. This speaker has tremendous low end and cutting midrange; and doesn't have to compete with 3 other drivers for the amp's full attention. If using a 4x12 cab, try to set the cab on it's side off of the wheels and onto some kind of decoupler like the Auralex Gramma... that is unless you want some mild floor/wall vibration as part of the sound. I've done it that way too. A baffle on one side of the cab, angled, is a good idea to minimize room interaction. I sometimes spend more time with mic position on the cab than I do recording the guitar take, and there's a reason for this, esp. when more than one mic is involved. When you have more than one mic involved, try to assign pre's that compliment what each mic is doing. A warm bodied pre (something tube or with big transformers) is good for the ribbon or 421, an aggressive pre (API'ish) is good for the 57. This will give you a good multidimensional guitar sound that is both fast and crunchy and big and warm at the same time.
Bass: I believe in attacking this from several angles. In essence, you're going to need a direct input to get some of the bottom end tightness that is required and you're going to need a mic'd bass amp to get some of the air and top end that is required. A third ingredient, when possible, is going to be a direct out of the amp or processor. Try to use a good DI box (Avalon U5, Radial, etc.) to get a split from the bass guitar before it goes to the amp. Take this DI signal and go through a good preamp and capture that direct. I will try several different DI's and preamp combinations sometimes. Then mic that amp. You can experiment with one distance mic (condenser) though I don't find it a necessity. An up front mic is, and a good choice is really anything that captures bass well. Try a D112 along with any number of LDC mics that can reproduce bass well. Keep in mind that some of the low end that can be a part of the band's live sound is not going to make it to tape and I will sometimes ask them to adjust their sound a bit accordingly. Also try to remember that you are creating not layers of bass tracks as you may with guitar but you are creating ONE 'composite' bass made from the tight low end of the DI/Pre track and the air and room of the mic'd track. The DI track will be completely void of 'air' and ambience because it is direct and the mic track's bass will not be ideal often because of room reflections and because of proximity of the mic to the speaker. So use accordingly... and it doesn't have to be 50/50, let the mix take you where it will....
Hope this helps you get started, have fun.
Chad Kelly
PreSonus Audio
December 17, 2008 @06:27pm

Wow, the help is incredible. I used to have a 7B about two years ago but sold it because I found myself never reaching for it... and now I'm kicking myself! I think I can apply the tips given for everything else though, except for specialized pre's (it's all the Yamaha board except for two $40 Art TubePre's). For vocals, I'll have to choose from some LDCs, RE-20, and hell maybe the 421 would do the best. Only other dynamics I have are live/stage and kick.
For the cymbal spot miking you mentioned, what position would you start with? Under, over, bell, edge, etc.
This project will be tracked sometime during the next 3 or 4 weeks so I'll come back to this thread if I run into a snag. Thanks again, and if anybody else has more keep it coming! Totally new experience for me.
December 17, 2008 @07:46pm

The SM7a or SM7b is a great mic to have. It also works well as a tomtom mic if you find you have room for it and don't have a 421. I would try the RE20 you have on vocals and see how it works; it, like the SM7, is originally a broadcast vocal mic. RE20's are interesting mics because when they work, they REALLY hit the spot; and when they don't, you will know pretty easily because the sound will be just hollow and wrong. It's a mic I personally seem to reach for less and less as time goes on; but I do keep a pair of them for the occasional use as outer kick drum mics and other purposes... and because they are built like a tank and look very 'military' and impressive. :)
As for the cymbals, I go over the cymbal and point close toward the edge... if the cymbal is worn out and full of cracks, I will aim a little closer to bell... adjust to taste.
December 17, 2008 @09:20pm

^^If you can get them, ribbons sometimes make AWESOME spot mics for cymbals
They help bring out the sounds of the individual cymbals, but usually with a sound more conducive to blending than a typical condenser (on account of the transient response, high end frequency response, etc....)
December 17, 2008 @10:20pm

Great thread. Can you guys help me out here? I think I'm too old or out of it to understand the terminology. I think I have a decent grasp of what death metal is. I'm not sure about metalcore. What is that? Or, what is the difference from death metal? A few example bands might help me. Thanks
December 17, 2008 @10:33pm

I'm feeling a bit old myself because what I consider 'real' death metal is Cancer, Obituary, Morbid Angel, Morgoth, Ressurrection, Morbius, Aceldama, Deicide, Cannibal Corpse, Sadus, Autopsy, Ancient Rites, Asphyx, Bolt Thrower, Darkthrone, Lord Belial, Unanimated, Crematory, My Dying Bride, Incubus - the real Incubus, please God don't you dare bring up that radio rock band, Winter, Amorphis, Exhorder, Cianide, Death, Napalm Death, Pestilence, Monstrosity, and the list goes on forever. What people unfortunately listen to and play now, and have since about the turn of the century, has been some further declining combination/derivitave of what they call 'nu metal' or 'metalcore' or 'emo punk'. My distaste for it is strong enough that I don't really even know how many of these bands are around and how to classify them but (and correct me if I'm wrong) I would put Godsmack, Slipknot, Devildriver, Spineshank, As I Lay Dying, Every Time I Die, and a whole host of wanna-be's into that dept. I find that stuff to be really sad for the most part; but not so much as the new bands that try to sound just like it. For the benefit of my ears and listening pleasure; my CD player lives in a pre-1994-esque state of arrested development. :)
So yeah, I'm old too I guess. When modern music begins to really suck, you are officially old. :) haha
December 17, 2008 @11:09pm

new bands that try to sound just like it

At the risk of judging the band before I even hear them, this might be just what they are. The guitarist who is a friend of mine has talked about As I Lay Dying a few times, so I'll have to check them out.
December 17, 2008 @11:37pm

At the risk of judging the band before I even hear them, this might be just what they are. The guitarist who is a friend of mine has talked about As I Lay Dying a few times, so I'll have to check them out.

Well don't let my old-age bias affect anything, all the same rules apply. :) haha If I were in my teens instead of mid 30's today then I'm sure it's what I'd be into... and believe me, my parents would never be able to discern the finer differences between the two... :) I try to keep the persective that to most people it is alot the same even though I could go on for pages about the finer differences between Scandinavian and USA and South American death metal. Until I started getting interested in coffee I thought it all was the same too... as with all things, there is a world within a world...
One of the really cool things written by Bob Katz in Mastering Audio was that he never tries to judge an artist by the genre they happen to work within.
I agree with Smithcok on the ribbon mic, btw. A good choice for overheads. I like ribbons. I just don't own enough of them to go all the way with ribbons and the ones I own are very different from each other... I have enough pencil mics (BARELY!) to do the job most of the time. Maybe I will check ebay for a few extra Oktava ML52II ribbons and build up enough to do all overheads with them one day. These can be rebuilt and modified with a Lundahl transformer, additional silicon dampening, removed ribbon baffles, and new wiring... and once reborn, can become one of the few 'affordable' ribbon mics out there that I think are actually quite good. I built a couple of these years ago but sold them, regrettably.
The Royer R121 is the best ribbon for electric guitars I've heard; but as I said, I find it has to be blended with some SM57 to give it back some of the crunch smoothed out by the ribbon.
December 18, 2008 @03:18am

Cascade Fathead with Lundahl =
And cheap to boot.
December 18, 2008 @03:23am