Recording with the Black Daniels Popcorn Makers

28 Dec

Today in the morning I have been to Rec House Studios (near my home) to watch the Black Daniel’s Popcorn Makers in their first recording session for their upcoming EP, comprised by 6 songs. These guys come from Tres Cantos, in the north of Madrid (Spain), and although their style variety is quite wide they can’t deny the funky and soul-y heritage that runs through their veins.

This band is formed by Guille (drums and percussion),  Álvaro (bass), Carlos and Pablo (lead and rhythm guitars), Dani (lead vocals & trumpet), Javi (keyboards),  Álvaro “Peri” (sax) and Victor (trombone). Quite a few as you can notice!

The reason for me being there, apart from Álvaro the bassist being my cousin, is that I love to see how other people record, which equipment they use and in general, pick their brain in their recording and mixing methods and techniques. Rec House Studios are located in the basement of a common 4 flight residential building in the Lucero quarter… but it is a really big basement! It comprises an acoustically treated control room which can act as live room for guitars and bass, and an isolated booth suitable for a full drumset, vocals or any other instrument. The control room and the isolated booth are separated by a double glass window that rolls open when you need to go in or out of it, but that is also acoustically isolated from the control room.

Drumset in booth (Rec House Studios)

The recording powerhouse is a special, rack-mounted PC fitted with Nuendo 4, connected to a RME Fireface 800 audio interface along with a RME Octamic 2 microphone preamp. The inputs run through a dual-channel SPL Goldmike unit and the RME Octamic 2 preamps, which go directly through ADAT to the RME Fireface and through Firewire connection to Nuendo. A clean signal path, with no mixing desk whatsoever apart from the software mixing desk for the RME interface.

The way they decided to record was live, no overdubs except for punctual errors and flaws, but separated in two rooms. The drums were in their own booth, and the rest of them were setup to record in the control room directly, so it required some silence from the engineer and viewers. In the control room we found the keyboards, two guitars and the bass. The two guitars were plugged into valve amps, located far from each other,facing to the wall to maximise separation and very closed miked with Shure SM57’s. The bass and the keyboard went straight into the interface, to the instrument inputs, so they didn’t have to worry about spill. Quite an unusual setup, but it worked really well!

The mic setup for the drums was as follows:

  • Kick: Audix D6 inside the shell. Kick drum without outside skin
  • Snare: Shure SM57 in the top and bottom, near the rim.
  • Overheads: Rode NT 5 (x2)in A-B arrangement.
  • Hi-hat and Ride accent: Samson C02 (x2)
  • Toms: Sennheiser E908D (x2)

Of those mics, the Overheads went straight to the SPL Goldmike to infuse some tube love to the ambience. The remainder of them went to the RME Octamic Pre.

The rest of the instruments followed the next path:

  • Bass: DI into an instrument input in the RME Fireface
  • Keyboards: Stereo, straight into RME Octamic Pre II
  • Guitars: Close-miked with Shure SM57’s, into RME Fireface

Javi, grooving with his keyboards

To tackle the timing, they kept a pre-made click track in a WAV file which they listened through the headphone cues. The drummer, the engineer and the keyboard player had a different headphone mix than the other players, with the click track’s level higher in order to keep the beat. The RME Fireface software has a virtual mixing desk which allows to do so, sending Aux tracks to a headphone amplifier.

I couldn’t stay for very long, but I enjoyed a really good morning with them, having fun and enjoying their music. I’ve learnt a thing or two about acoustic treatment in rooms and also about headphone cues. Not a day without learning!

I wish these guys the best of all with their recording and as soon as they have it released, I’ll try to spread the word here!

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