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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bruce Swedien's Mic Closet

Bruce Swedien at his Harrison console image
Bruce Swedien at his Harrison console
Bruce Swedien is truly the Godfather of recording engineers, having recorded and mixed hits from everyone from Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie to Barbra Streisand, Donna Summer and Michael Jackson. He's a mentor of mentors, as so many of his teachings are now handed down to a generation now just learning (his interview in The Mixing Engineer's Handbook is a standout).

Bruce is also a collector of microphones and will not use one he doesn't personally own, so he knows the exact condition of each. Recently he posted a bit about the mics he uses on his Facebook page, and I thought it worth a reprint.

A couple of things stick out to me.
1. His use of an Sennheiser 421 on kick. I know it's a studio standard for some reason (especially on toms), but I never could get it work on anything in a way that I liked.

2. His use of the relatively new Neumann M149, because it's

3. His synthesizer advice (under the M49) is a real gem.

Here's Bruce.

Constantly being asked about my mics, so here goes:

My microphone collection, spanning many of the best-known models in studio history, are my pride and joy. My microphones are prized possessions. To me, they are irreplaceable. Having my own mics that no-one else handles or uses assures a consistency in the sonics of my work that would otherwise be impossible.” 

“My first application would be for first and second violins. It’s really great mic for the classical approach for a string section.”
Hear it on... the first and second violins in Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’.

Altec 21B
“This is a fantastic mic, and I have four of them. It’s an omni condenser, and [for jazz recording] what you do is wrap the base of the mic connector in foam and put it in the bridge of the bass so that it sticks up and sits right under the fingerboard. It wouldn’t be my choice for orchestral sessions, though.”
Hear it on... Numerous recordings for Oscar Peterson between 1959 and 1965.

RCA 44BX & 77BX; AEA R44C
“[The 44BX] is a large, heavy mellow-sounding old mic with a great deal of proximity effect. This is very useful in reinforcing the low register of a vocalist’s range if that is desired. If I am asked to do a big band recording of mainly soft, lush songs, I almost always opt for ribbon mics for the brass. I suggest AEA R44C or RCA44BX on trumpets, and RCA 77DX on trombones. Ribbon mics are great for percussion too.”
Hear it on... trumpets and flugelhorns in Michael Jackson’s ‘Rock With You’ (at 0:54); percussion in Michael Jackson’s ‘Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough’.

Sennheiser MD421
“The kick is about the only place I use that mic, and I mike very closely. I frequently remove the bass drum’s front head, and the microphone is placed inside along with some padding to minimise resonances, vibrations, and rattles.”
Hear it on... the kick drum in Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’.

Shure SM57
“For the snare I love the Shure SM57. In the old days it wasn’t as consistent in manufacture as it is now. I must have eight of those mics, and they’re all just a teeny bit different, so I have one marked ‘snare drum’. But the ones I’ve bought recently are all almost identical. On the snare drum, I usually go for a single microphone. I’ve tried miking both top and bottom of the snare, but this can cause phasing problems.”
Hear it on... snare drum in Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’.

Telefunken 251
“These mics have a beautiful mellow quality, but possess an amazing degree of clarity in vocal recording. The 251 is not overly sibilant and is often my number one choice for solo vocals.”
Hear it on... Patti Austin in ‘Baby, Come To Me’, her duet with James Ingram.

Telefunken U47
“I still have one of the two U47s that I bought new in 1953, and will still frequently be first choice on lead vocal. This is a mic that can be used on a ballad or on a very aggressive rock track. It has a slight peak in its frequency response at around 7kHz, which gives it a feeling of natural presence. It also has a slight peak in the low end around 100Hz. This gives it a warm, rich sound. For Joe Williams, another mic would never have worked as well. I figured out that it was the mic for him when I heard him speak. After you’ve been doing this for as long as I have, you begin to have instinctive sonic reactions, and it saves a lot of time!”
Hear it on... Joe Williams in the Count Basie Band’s Just The Blues

Neumann M149
“I have a pair of these that Neumann made just for me, with consecutive serial numbers, and they sound so great. That’s what I use now in XY stereo on piano.”

Neumann M49
“This is very close sonically to the M149, but not quite the same. It’s a three-pattern mic and the first that Neumann came up with which had the pattern control on the power supply... you could have the mic in the air and still adjust the pattern. I use these for choir recording in a Blumlein pair, which is one of my favourite techniques because it’s very natural in a good room. When I was recording with Michael and Quincy I was given carte blanche to make the greatest soundfields I could, so what I also did was pick a really good room and record the synths through amps and speakers with a Blumlein pair to get the early reflections as part of the sonic field. The direct sound output of a synthesizer is very uninteresting, but this can make the sonic image fascinating. You have to be really careful, though, to open up the pre-delay of any reverb wide enough to not cover those early reflections. They mostly occur below 120ms, so with 120ms pre-delay those sounds remain intact and very lovely.”
Hear it on... Andre Crouch choir in Michael Jackson’s ‘Man In The Mirror’, ‘Keep The Faith’.

Neumann U67
“The predecessor to the U87, and an excellent microphone, but it’s not one of my real favourites, as a purely instinctive reaction. It’s just a little bit too technical perhaps, and it doesn’t have sufficient sonic character for me to use it on a lead vocal, for instance. It’s a good choice of microphone for violas and cellos, however, and the U87 can also work well in this application.”
Hear it on... violas and cellos in Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’.

I'll post a bit of Bruce's interview from The Mixing Engineer's Handbook in a future post.

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