James Farber on the Making of the New Rebecca Martin Album

Rebecca Martin and James Farber. c 2010 Todd Chalfant (all rights reserved)

It was determined before the session that all three musicians (voice, bass, and saxophone) would play in the Clubhouse’s main room, and that I would mix live to 2-track, with a multi-track backup. I also knew that I would record Rebecca’s voice with the RCA KU-3A ribbon microphone. This is the same mic used, with excellent results, to record Rebecca on her previous album, “The Growing Season”, which was also recorded at the Clubhouse in Rhinebeck, NY. The KU-3A, also sometimes referred to, because of it’s shape, as the “Shoe Mic”, is a rare and special ribbon microphone. Originally designed for film sound, the microphone, unlike other ribbon mics, employs a cardiod (unidirectional) pickup pattern and has an extended high frequency response, with a “silky” sound which produces none of the sibilance associated with condenser mics. At the risk of getting too geeky here in the first paragraph, if you’re interested, you can read more about (and look at) the KU-3A, HERE.

Since, amazingly, the Clubhouse actually has 2 [!] Shoe mics, I decided to use the other one for Bill’s saxophone. In keeping with the desired vintage sound, which seemed appropriate given the material, for Larry’s bass, I chose yet another ribbon mic: an AEA model designed along the lines of the classic RCA 44, but with much higher gain and, therefore, much quieter. I also set up 2 pairs of ambient room mics – one close and one far. However, since the Clubhouse room was quite live, only a minimal amount of these mics was used in the mix.

Prior to the actual session, I actually wondered if it might be possible to record the group with just these stereo pairs of room microphones. But, upon hearing the natural balance of the musicians in the room, it instantly became apparent that the voice was so much softer than the bass or saxophone, and that close miking would be necessary to achieve a musical balance.

The musicians set up in a semi-circle, as if on a stage, not too far apart from each other, with no baffles between them. When facing the band, from L>R were the voice, bass, saxophone. It was this stage image which is reflected in the mix. Mixing the voice to the Left, is highly unusual (if not daring), but seemed to work well in this context and (at least to us) did not seem strange, gimmicky, or distracting.

The Clubhouse room is quite live, so little reverb (an EMT plate) was needed in the mix. The bass had none, the saxophone a little bit, and the voice a little more. Because Rebecca’s voice was the softest element, and did not “excite” the room by leaking into the other mics, at the beginning of the session it seemed a bit close and dry in comparison to the bass and saxophone. Clubhouse owner/engineer Paul Antonell then suggested a solution to bring the voice “into the room”. He set up a live echo chamber in a tiled bathroom. I sent the voice into the chamber and miked it with, you guessed it, another ribbon mic, and added that back into the mix.

More info about the gear …
The centerpiece of the Clubhouse is it’s Neve 8058 Console, with it’s fabulous 31102 preamps. Minimal EQ was used only on the voice. The voice was also compressed with an LA-3, and an Alan Smart stereo compressor was used on the mix. Protools HD was used for the recording, clocked by an Apogee Big Ben. The ADC used for the original live mixes was the Universal Audio UA2192. The file format was 24 Bit – 88.2 KHz.

After the first 2 days of recording, upon listening to all the takes, Rebecca felt that she could improve her performance on some of the tunes, so she, Larry and Bill went back into to the Clubhouse for a 3rd day of recording with Paul engineering. Paul, fortunately, had documented my setup and came pretty close to replicating the sound of the original recording. I then returned to the Clubhouse and remixed Paul’s tracks so, what’s on the final album is a combination of my original live mixes and some remixes. Expert mastering engineer, Greg Calbi, applied the finishing touches as he brought the 2 sessions into the same world.

There you have it. Now enjoy the record of these songs you know (and some you might not).

James Farber, Engineer