Point-to-Point 5: Vanessa Peters

Submitted by riprowan on Wed, 08/15/2012 - 16:34

Hi all,

It's been a while since my ProRec days, and I miss writing. I thought I'd share a little bit about my latest (decent) project, and invite some Q&A.

The album is [="http://vanessapeters.bandcamp.com/album/the-burn-the-truth-the-lies"]The Burn The Truth The Lies[/]="http://vanessapeters.bandcamp.com/album/the-burn-the-truth-the-lies"]The Burn The Truth The Lies[/] by [[url=http://="http://vanessapeters.com"]Vanessa Peters[/]="http://vanessapeters.com"]Vanessa Peters[/], an unsigned but fairly popular singer/songwriter. She did a Kickstarter that raised enough money to get into a decent studio for a few days of tracking, and as the producer I got to have a say in the selection of the studio.

Vanessa writes straightforward singer/songwriter music that reflects her roots in classic pop, rock, and Americana / folk. "Sounds-like" artists would include Aimee Mann, Sarah Harmer, and Kathleen Edwards. Like these artists, Vanessa has a clear, understated voice and songs with clever lyrics and strong, hooky melodies. The words and melodies are definitely the focal point of her music.

I mixed her previous record - the 2009 "Sweetheart, Keep Your Chin Up" - which had strong Americana influences (fiddle, banjo, mandolin, tack piano, etc.). It has great songs and performances but I felt that I failed that record by keeping too much in the mix. It got cluttered. This time, I wanted to make a record that bucked the "bright, loud, and cluttered" trend and instead make one that was round, warm, and mostly simple & straightforward. I wanted to "hear the band playing together." It's definitely not minimalistic, but I took a stern view of every added track. About 75% of the record was cut as a band. Virtually all of the parts are first- or second-take.

The songs were arranged in the studio as a band. Not every band can work like that, but this wasn't your ordinary band. On guitar was Grammy-winning [="http://www.myspace.com/joereyesmusic"]Joe Reyes[/]="http://www.myspace.com/joereyesmusic"]Joe Reyes[/] who has his own excellent solo project, plays in the cool and quirky indie-rock band [[url=http://="http://www.myspace.com/buttercult"]Buttercup[/]="http://www.myspace.com/buttercult"]Buttercup[/], and backs killer songwriters like [="http://www.salimnourallah.com/"]Salim Nourallah[/]="http://www.salimnourallah.com/"]Salim Nourallah[/]. Joe is an idea factory. On bass was Jason Garner - best known for his work as the drummer in the [[url=http://="http://thepolyphonicspree.com/"]Polyphonic Spree[/]="http://thepolyphonicspree.com/"]Polyphonic Spree[/] and [="http://www.thepaperchase.net/"]The Paper Chase[/]="http://www.thepaperchase.net/"]The Paper Chase[/] - but he's a slick bassist in his own right with a great sense of groove. [[url=http://="http://www.applesinstereo.com"]The Apples In Stereo[/]="http://www.applesinstereo.com"]The Apples In Stereo[/] drummer John Dufilho hit the skins - you may also know John from his recent project [="http://www.kirtlandrecords.com/JohnSingerSergeant.htm"]John Singer Sergeant[/]="http://www.kirtlandrecords.com/JohnSingerSergeant.htm"]John Singer Sergeant[/] or as the writer/singer in [[url=http://="http://thedeathraydavies.com"]The Deathray Davies[/]="http://thedeathraydavies.com"]The Deathray Davies[/]. I love John's "less is more" Keltner-like drumming. [="http://www.buffijacobs.com/"]Buffi Jacobs[/]="http://www.buffijacobs.com/"]Buffi Jacobs[/] (Polyphonic Spree) played cello on a couple of songs. Yours truly played keys.

Given the type of record I wanted to make, the [[url=http://="http://www.texastreefort.com/"]Texas Treefort[/]="http://www.texastreefort.com/"]Texas Treefort[/] seemed like a great place to track the band. Stepping into the place was like stepping into a dreamland of vintage gear. For example they have 12 channels of Gates preamps, at least 6 channels of V72s, a bunch of John Hardy / Jensens / Manleys, a pile of 1073s and 1081s, a Fairchild 670, etc. etc.. Lovely like-new U47s, 251s, U67, U69, and even an M50. Piles of ribbons. A great modded Neve board. 24 and 16 track 2". A bunch of shit too esoteric for me to remember what it was. And on and on and on.

I needed a drool cup.

We hired the house engineer, [="http://recordgeekheaven.wordpress.com/2010/04/05/the-top-ten-record-makers-of-today/"]Jim Vollentine[/]="http://recordgeekheaven.wordpress.com/2010/04/05/the-top-ten-record-mak…"]Jim Vollentine[/], to record it, and he indeed delivered with amazing sounds he coaxed from his knowledge of the multitudinous possible signal chains. Jim's a badass engineer with a badass attitude and he totally delivered on the kinds of tones we wanted. Tracks were cut to Pro Tools HD at 24/96.

We used the Treefort to cut pretty much all the rhythm tracks, and then took the tracks back to my studio for overdubs and vocals. 7 of the songs are presented almost entirely "as-tracked" together at Treefort. Two of them needed drum recuts and extra overdubs. And as the album progressed, a couple other songs matured and we ended up cutting them entirely at my studio. I only have a few pieces of fancy gear (a pair of BA 1073s, an ELOP, a Manley 60db pre, and a True P8) and a few decent mics (M147, ELAM 251, GT MD2a) and a MOTU 24i/o - nothing at all like the Treefort (at the Treefort there are a few dozen pieces of gear that cost more than my entire studio, soup-to-nuts).

Mixing was performed at my studio. I mixed the record entirely ITB using Sonar (still my day-to-day DAW). We had the opportunity to mix some of the songs at the Treefort, but the test mixes didn't quite work out, and in the end, the budget forced us to stay in the box. Plus we figured "if it sounds good, it IS good" and just ran with that. Plugs are almost all Waves and IK Multimedia. The nifty ValhallaRoom made quite a few appearances. I'd be happy to do a detailed rundown if that's interesting to anyone. I could also post some raw tracks if anyone wants to hear some A/B comparisons between what was tracked and how it arrived in the mix.

I invite everyone to listen to the record. Vanessa has generously agreed to price the record at $0.35 exclusively to Recording.org readers (lossless FLAC) as part of this case study (it is not possible on Bandcamp to give the record away using an unlimited free download code, and $0.35 seems like a more-than-fair price).

So please, do check it out. Here's how. Go to the [[url=http://="http://vanessapeters.bandcamp.com/album/the-burn-the-truth-the-lies"]Bandcamp[/]="http://vanessapeters.bandcamp.com/album/the-burn-the-truth-the-lies"]Bandcamp[/] page and use discount code tbtttl at checkout. BOOM! All yours.

Rather than write exhaustively about the recording, I'd prefer to turn this into more of a Q&A. What songs sound best to you? Do you hear something you like and wonder how we did it? Want to deep-dive about signal chains on particular parts / songs? Is there something that bothers / annoys you that you want to point out? Let it fly!

Also - I'm really curious to do an informal experiment - can you pick out which 2 of the 11 songs were tracked entirely at my studio? I was very pleased at my ability to approximate the tones we got at the Treefort with the small amount of boutique gear I have. Can you tell the difference?

fun post,

I'll start out by guessing you did tracks 3 and 10 or 11. Why I think this is they sound sonically more similar than the others although I plan on listening to this in my studio(on my laptop right now). Track 3 is one of my favourites but I would have mixed the vocals more aggressive. They are not up front enough. She does have a great sound and I like the instrumentation. Sorry I don't have questions right now, busy month for me however I'll spend more time listening soon!!!


audiokid, post: 392461 wrote: fun post,
I'll start out by guessing you did tracks 3 and 10 or 11.

Halfway right :) But 10 and 11 were tracked totally at the Treefort.

Thanks for the feedback on #3. I really like that song as well. The problem I had mixing those vocals is that it's a harmony / doubled vocal line throughout. You think they should be hotter? Or more compressed / edgy?