Well we finally made it to our first recording session with tribute band ‘Zed Leppelin’, for their 6 track (originally 4 track), demo recording! I say finally, for we had booked this session a month prior as it was the only time all the band members could get together on the same day in Brisbane. The planning for this project has been extremely thorough and laborious and included a great deal of research into how ‘Led Zeppelin’ originally recorded their tracks, what mics and equipment were used and how they achieved such an unique vibe in their music. Shay Jagger Mitchell was outstanding in this area and his research was key to uncovering many of the techniques we utilised on the day including the Glyn Johns drum micing method (more on that later).
‘Zed Leppelin’ have played up and down the East Coast since the late 90’s and are widely regarded as the best ‘Led Zeppelin’ tribute band to come out of the country in recent times. I have been a personal friend to lead singer Tony Hollis for over 15 years and have attended many of their live gigs where their replication of the energy and musicianship of the original band are obvious. This project was born from the bands desire to have a current demo CD that they could send to promoters and venue managers in order to secure gigs. They had recently reformed after an extended hiatus returning with a new guitarist and drummer and wanted their demo to reflect this new format and sound.
Originally the production team consisted of just Shay and myself, but we were stoked to be later joined by Jaxon Arundell whom we had both successfully worked with before. Whilst we would all be collaborating on each role in the project, we determined leadership positions in each area as follows:
- Adam Higginson – Producer and Liaison Officer
- Shay Jagger Mitchell – Live Room Engineer
- Jaxon Arundell – DAW operator and Desk Engineer
The production team had formed a Facebook group with the band members months ago and had been regularly bouncing back and forth on what each party wanted out of the project and how these goals could be realised effectively. It was fortuitous that the guitarist had studied audio before and was therefore key in speaking our language, which greatly enhanced our communication on technical considerations. The full project plan and pre-production plan resulting from these discussions can be viewed here.
Upon arrival for our 12hr recording session we began the setup of equipment, focusing initially on the drums which we from experience knew would be the most demanding and time consuming element. After seeing the Neve live room, the guitarist Daniel (ex audio student), immediately stressed his preference for recording the drums and bass alone in the recording space with the bass through DI to be re-amped later. This was contrary to what we had (after much deliberation), decided via our Facebook conversations where we had determined that we would record the whole band ‘live’ in the studio using baffles and mic placement to minimise bleed. Fortunately, the option of recording this way had been extensively discussed, so whilst our plan was changed from the outset, we still knew what had to be done…minor hiccup, no problem! So, the new format meant that singer Tony and guitarist Dan would join us in the control room with inputs straight into the desk providing a scratch accompaniment for the drummer and bass in the live room.
Unlike previous recording sessions (where we have used upwards of 10 different microphones on a kit), we had planned to use the Glyn Johns 4 mic drum tracking method
which had been famously employed by the engineer to record bands such as ‘The Who’, ‘The Rolling Stones’, ‘Eric Clapton’ and even Aussie band ‘Midnight Oil’, amongst many others (including Zeppelin of course)! This method is unique in that it only requires 4 (or even 3), mics in a fashion that seems to defy common sense, but which sounds amazing when done correctly. The basic parameters of this method are:
- Overhead 1 – approx 2 1/2 drumsticks directly above the centre of the snare
- Overhead 2 – approx 2 1/2 drumsticks off to the right of the centre of the snare about 30cm higher than the floor tom.
- Close kick out mic – placed by ear to suit style and drummer / kit
- Close snare mic – typical snare top micing style
Now to the panning of the mics which is key to getting this mic technique sounding as it should. The snare and kick mic are panned dead centre as normal. The overhead above the snare is then panned 50% to the right and the overhead above the floor tom is panned 100% left. This panning spread on the overheads really gives depth and a rich stereo field to the sound of the kit. This particular setup had been practiced prior to the recording session to potentially identify any phasing issues and to get a feel for what needed to be done on the day. Fortunately, Kab from the tech team had done a workshop on this very micing method and was happy to come up to the live room and point out some rookie errors that may cause the technique to fail.
The initial setup sounded great (which surprised us), and all parties were stoked with the result. I believe this early success with the kit sound was directly due to the dry run undertaken the week before. The only adjustment was made to the kick mic which was originally off axis but ended up dead centre and a few inches back from the skin from its original placement. The hallway outside the Neve studio was stacked with cabs and heads and all manner of live gear which had attracted the attention of one Adrian Carroll. We knew we had nailed an awesome drum sound when he poked his head in to see what was happening and immediately commented “wow those drums sound very ‘Zeppelin”? He had no idea that our project was a Led Zeppelin tribute band…STOKED!!!
With the kit sounding great, the bass DI’d and all levels good, we moved to the control room to get the scratch vox and guitar DI organised. You can read Pt.2 to this first recording session reflection here…