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Zen of Recording

Situational Musicality

by Sven-Erik SeaholmAugust, 2013

I am sweating. Drenched, really. My hair is matted to my forehead, my eyes are stinging, and I am mostly smiling as I tap out a rhythm on the steering wheel. I just left the Parkway Bar in La Mesa (www.the, where I host an open jam and just finished performing about three sets of music. I am now on my way to another gig 40 miles away, to play another two or three sets. Hopefully, I’ll be a little more dry by the time I arrive. The week before, I crossed off a bucket-list entry by performing the national anthem at a soccer championship, shared the stage and swapped songs with seven other singer/songwriters, and recorded three completely different kinds of music projects in the studio: Instrumental jazz, Christian rock, and a punkish power pop band. This is the life.

There is an enormous amount of musical fulfillment and personal satisfaction that comes from the variety of styles, people, and situations. There’s also the confidence that results from the successes, as well as the lessons we learn from our failures.

In the studio, our gear choices can take us on similar journeys of discovery through musical diversity. I recently spent a period of time where I changed the first choice “go-to” microphones on my list, just to work in with a different palette of colors for a while. So I utilized an MXL R77L Limited-edition Classic Ribbon microphone with Swedish Lundahl transformer ($549.95) and an MXL V67Q Stereo Condenser microphone ($219.95).

The R77L is a limited-edition version of their R77 ribbon microphone and features a 1.8 micron aluminum ribbon with a figure-8 pickup pattern (it hears from the front and back equally). Swedish Lundahl transformers are known for their sound and reliability and this mic’s ability to handle high SPLs makes it ideal for use as a vocal, amp or instrument mic. It comes complete with a wooden case, desktop stand, cleaning cloth, and 25-foot Mogami XLR cable. I love it’s retro, ’40s era gold on chrome look, too!

The V67Q is a different animal. For one, it’s a phantom powered condenser mic, with more highs and as a result of having two diaphragms set at a perfect 45 degree angle (or x/y configuration), more depth. The difference is easy to assess: Sit front of someone who is playing an acoustic guitar. Turn your head to one side and close the ear that’s farthest away with your finger. That’s what a regular mic hears. Open your ears and face forward again. That’s what the V67Q hears. This mic comes with a proprietary five pin to dual XLR stereo cable, as well as a 10-foot Mogami XLR cable and a mic stand adapter. Personally, I felt the V67Q deserved better packaging than the cardboard box in came in. A wooden box and an elastic shockmount would be worth the small amount they might add to this mics very affordable price, in my opinion. Both mics feature genuine Mogami wiring and shining gold accents that are as pleasing to the eye as they are to the ears.

The rules were simple: Reach for one or the other or both, first. The results were not only interesting, but in a few cases, they were astonishing.

The first thing I tried was using the R77L ribbon to mic an entire drum kit. I knew it as an old-school technique, but never tried it with this kind of microphone. I set it up about three feet high and three feet out in front of the kit. This yielded a LOT of kick drum boom, so I eventfully settled on a placement that was 9 inches higher and angled down slightly toward back of the snare. This produced amazingly punchy, vintage-sounding drums with all of the rich low mids that Lundahl transformers are known for. I also dug the amount of the room that was picked up as well, which lent a certain excitement to the sound.

Ultimately, I felt the cymbals were too fatiguing with this setup, so I moved the V67Q stereo condenser mic into place, with the same three feet high and three feet out setup I had started with originally. This time, I was greeted by a deep soundstage with amazing imaging and a stereo spread that reminded me of engineer Ken Scott’s ’70s work with Bowie and Supertramp. This is a sound that he took particular pride in, spending weeks to achieve at times. Yet, here I was in a matter of seconds. I have since continued to use the V67Q on several projects and I find it very to be a very consistent performer, keeping my drums deep and wide, but tight enough to make room for other elements easily.

The next experiment was to utilize them both at one time. I recorded an artist using the stereo mic on the acoustic guitar (right in front of the sound hole, which the diaphragm angles avoid completely!) and the ribbon on the vocal. This turned out to be a very lovely sound as well. The acoustic guitar sounds very detailed, as if the player is seated right in front of you, minus the distracting string squeaks that can plague other stereo miking positions. The vocals were captured by hanging the ribbon about a foot from the top the singers face, angled slightly downward and a pop filter was used. I don’t usually like ribbon mics on vocals, because they’re just so neutral sounding. The R77L, however, grabbed those broadcast-worthy low-mids and de-emphasized some of the singer’s nasal vocal qualities at the same time, making it sound more like a tube mic than a ribbon!

I continue to explore with these mics and really enjoy the new and unique vibe they impart. I did percussion overdubs alternating between the two and found that the V67Q is great for capturing congas & bongos, while the R77L did a beautiful job of capturing tambourines, cowbells and maracas in a way that they could blend into the mix at a higher overall level. On saxophone, the R77L was silky, sexy and smooth. The V67Q was a revelation on fiddle and dobro and makes a fantastic room mic. On guitar amps, the R77L will remain my go-to for some time, as it handled all of the abuse I could throw at it and always gave back a meaty, open tone. I must admit that I really love it in this role!

Basically, you find new things by doing new things. Or at least, by doing a variety of them. With the R77L and the V67Q, MXL has developed two workhorses that can fill myriad roles. The future’s always brightest when your possibilities are endless…

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning international record producer, singer, and songwriter. or Facebook him!

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