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Session with Richard Gilbert

I first met Richard Gilbert through a mutual friend, Jessie Frye, who stopped by the studio one day. I had seen him around town and knew he was a singer-songwriter, but I had never heard his stuff. We chatted briefly about what he was up to, and I gave him a brief tour of the studio. A few months later he called me up and said he was interested in recording an EP, which wound up being Daybreak. I managed to catch a couple of shows this year and really dug how the songs we had recorded together translated to a live audience.

Last Thursday he came in to the studio to work on a few more tunes, this time a couple of covers as well as a new song. Daybreak was recorded all on acoustic guitar, and I used a three microphone set up for the guitar plus one on his vocal. This time around he had switched to electric, and while live he normally goes direct into the PA, I am personally allergic to this approach in the studio. While always open to trying new things, in my world view an electric guitar is made to be plugged into an amplifier. There's just something about how the guitar and amp interact and respond to one another, and I was pretty sure my vintage silver face Deluxe Reverb was going to be the perfect complement to his semi-hollow body electric.

As I normally do, I set up a dynamic mic (Beyerdynamic M201) right next to a Royer ribbon a few inches from the speaker grill. I usually put the ribbon right in the middle of the cone, and the 201 right next to it. This avoids any potential phase problems. The ribbon captures a lot of low-end, warmth, and depth, while the 201 brings out the high mids and bite of electric guitar but in a way that is much more pleasing to my ear than an SM57. I set up the amp in the iso booth a few feet away from him so he could still hear himself, and then placed a Shure SM7B in front of his vocal in the tracking room. That way he wouldn't have to monitor anything and his performance would be much more similar to what he's used to performing live.

It may seem like a small thing, but part of engineering means creating an environment where the artist is comfortable and able to perform his or her best. I have found that musicians care less about what type of gear you are using, and more about how you make them feel in the studio. It's probably related to the truism that most people don't remember what you say but how you make them feel. And recording is no different. Yes gear is extremely important, especially matching the right gear to the strengths and particularities of a specific artist. But even more important is creating an environment where the artist can be...creative. Studios are familiar places for engineers, and we tend to relax and feel at home there. But for artists (i.e. clients), the studio may often represent a little bit of a challenge or produce a certain measure of anxiety or nerves: they are being called on to perform their best, and the clock is ticking, and money is being invested, and there are people watching.

My advice to up and coming engineers is to do everything you can to make the artist comfortable; it makes for great sessions and thus great recordings. When people sense that you care about them they can relax and just focus on why they are in the studio in the first place: to find the mental and emotional space where they can be vulnerable, inspired and able to play and sing their best.

I look forward to working again with Richard. He's a great artist who writes great songs. Be sure to follow him on Facebook to find out when this next round of songs will be released.

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