Unless you’ve lived under a rather boring rock for the last two years, you would have definitely heard of Pints. The East London based quintet that my brother sings for, that is putting the punk back into punk.
Their shows are energetic, covered in beer, usually dangerous to some degree, but undeniably and outrageously fun.
So naturally as much as they probably didn’t even notice, they’ve been picking up some speed over the past year.
So after finally convincing the band to get their shit together, maybe have one practice and try to make a record again - we had some scattered dates booked to record 3 great songs.
SESSION 1 - PREP
Starting with a Saturday for drums and bass, I decided to use the demos I had recorded on my phone (from standing in the practice room whilst they rehearsed) to iron out some decent guide tracks with some programmed drums so everyone could be clear on where we were with the songs - so there’d be no “oi I swear you don’t play that live” conversations arriving later on.
I decided to set up drum mics pretty methodically, I wanted a large shell sound with cymbals spread wide.
I used our Gretsch Catalina kit as it had just had a service and was sounding lush. It’s a 24" bass drum which I thought was going to be problematic as the music is so fast, but the head on the kick seemed to have a really nice attack, so to emphasise this further I started with sticking an AKG D112 as close to the front head inside the kick drum as possible, followed by a Sontronics DMB1 mic on the outside of the resonant head to capture the warmth and sub sound of the kick.
With the snare I made sure to look down the sm57 whilst placing it, to see for myself what part of the snare if be capturing with the microphone. I used a sennheiser clip mic for the bottom of the snare, but followed the same method of looking “through the mic” in order to get the desired sound.
I’ve been really enjoying the Sontronics DM-1S on the rack tom even though it is meant for snare, I find that it sound really good about an inch and a half away from the Tom also, pointed towards the centre of the head. I used an AKG D550 for the floor as I feel it’s larger diaphragm works well for capturing the low thud needed to punch through the guitars on a hardcore record.
For over heads I used the new pair of Sontronics STC-1S’, which are by far some of the best overhead mics we’ve had. I spread them as wide as I could, using the snare as a centre of phase. To brighten up cymbals a bit more and plus provide some bite to the shell sound, I stuck a Saturn mic centrally overhead, again set the same distance from the snare as the overheads.
As Studio 1 is by nature a very dead sounding room, more suited to something like vocal tracking etc. I wanted to create a nice warm room sound. I set up a Delta ribbon mic roughly 4ft from the kit, in line with both the snare and kick. I do this mainly because i for one mix kick and snares into tracks completely central, but 9 times out of 10 a drum kit is not set up with a snare directly in the middle of a kick drum, so I found arranging the room mics almost diagonally to the kick in line with kick and snare gives the kit a better image when mixing. I then stuck a Sontronics Aria 4ft from the ribbon (keeping to the same angle rule). I kept both of these microphones pretty low, to capture more shells and not cymbals. After this, I made a few corrections, the DMB1 on the kick was phasing with the AKG inside of the kick drum so I fixed that and also faced the bottom snare mic more towards the wire so get more of a “crack” with the snare sound, I then stuck a JM37 over the top of the kick near the snare as a “fat mic” to give more weight to both kick and snare in the mixing stages.
After drum tracking tracking was completed and we had recorded some basic sample hits, we decided to make the most of the time we had in the studio and move on to bass straight away, before editing any drum takes etc. (being completely honest, the drum takes we got were all pretty good, I actually felt like the very few parts slightly venturing from the click actually gave it more of the effect this band needed on a record, so ended up not editing anything).
I had planned out an idea for bass in my head for this already and was excited to put it into motion. We tracked bass using a fender jazz, recently re-strung (a biggie in punk music, probably one of the main contributors to “the punk bass tone”), into an Orange Dual Terror guitar head and Warwick 4x10 cab, micd up with the Sontronics DMB1, an SM7B along with a DI signal.
After some testing I decided to swap the SM7B for a 57 as it was giving me problems, but after that we were on our way. The tone we got was great, the guitar head gives the bass enough gain to sing through the guitars whilst the DI together with the DMB1 keeps a strong bottom end on things to stop it becoming too much of a mid-heavy mess.
That was the end of session 1 on this EP, finishing drums and bass for 3 songs in just shy of 9 hours.
SESSION 2 - GUITARS
The following week, on a Friday evening we started guitars. This is where a mini-disaster struck! My beloved JCM800 decided to not even turn on, which left me up the creek without a boat, nevermind a paddle - seeing as I was basically relying on it for all of the guitar stuff for this record, I even had settings planned out in my head before I got to the studio.
Live and learn, this has taught me not to rely on things like that and that even when I feel relatively prepared for a bands session, things can still always go wrong and surprise you.
Amps do break after time - and you should have always have a plan B especially when it comes to gear for guitar tone. I decided to roll with my own Orange Rocker 30, I figured it a good choice seeing as Pints use tiny terrors (mainly for convenience) for stage amps, although the rocker 30 is slightly more versatile, so I’d still have a little room to fiddle with things if needed.
I figured I’d try and push the high end a bit more than usual, seeing as Oranges are by nature pretty muddy/bottom heavy and fuzzy, so a brighter tone would help seeing as the music is so fast in places, I also went a lot cleaner than I would normally to help with clarity.
We used a Gibson Les Paul for the first guitar tone, no pedals - just straight into the amp and miced it up with a Delta ribbon mic, and AKG CS1000 and the venerable sm57.
As my comfort zone had already been smashed open by the JCM not working in it’s hour of need, I decided to steer away from my usual technique of closing a cab off and had it firing out into the live room. Although I was pretty happy with the result, seeing as most of the tone was “thinking on the spot” work I took a DI signal of the guitar incase everything went wrong later/I had shit in my ears.
This guitar tone was for Dave, the primary songwriter, so we tracked all the parts he plays live and panned hard to the right, keeping to the method I have had throughout of presenting the band ‘exactly as they should be’.
For the second guitar tone we used one of the Pints stage amps, into our JCM900 cabinet, on which I used the 57 and AKG again, but this time subbed the Delta for a JoeMeek JM37. I got a much bitier tone with this, which filled a hole in the first tone and evened out the overall guitar sound relatively well. Again, as these sessions were done on short timeframes and with the amp I had planned to use out of action - I took a DI signal for both guitars, incase I ended up hating the tones in a few listens time.
Overall, the guitar tracking was done in a similar fashion to drums, I kept the guys playing how they play live as much as possible in order to retain as much of their style as I could whilst still comping guitar parts together and being a tuning Nazi. We smashed through both the guitar parts for the three tracks in a good four hours and added some minor feedback/pick slide stuff before calling it a night.
SESSION 3 - VOCALS
Vocals were tracked in last evening session we had booked in, Pints have two singers, one of them being my brother who is the ‘frontman’ of the band and Tom who plays guitar doing the rest.
I decided as I was basically going to be tracking shouting and screaming all night, that the SM7B was the obvious choice for the job, especially with the fact that the whole band were present at the session this time (for gang vocals later) and this mic could take a few knocks etc. more than a delicate condenser mic.
Similar to the rest of the tracking, we tracked as closely to how the band play live as we possibly could whilst checking that things like delivery and diction were on point.
Luckily, both singers were pretty much shouting at similar volumes so I didn’t have to fiddle with the pre-amp much, making it easy for the guys to interchange between parts, show eachother ideas etc.
For gang vocals, I used the Saturn multi-pattern microphone, this thing is nuts, literally the most diverse mic I’ve ever used. I set it to figure of eight and got the band (who were now pretty plastered drunk) at equal distances away from it, I find this creates the illusion of more bodies shouting along, and after getting a healthy level with the pre-amp, we went through the songs and recorded each line about 5 or 6 times, panning each take at seperate places, which made it sound massive.
After this we were done! Now onto mixing, lord help me.