Every musician and singer who participated in the sessions did so for the first time there and then. There were no rehearsals and there was lots of learning and sight reading on the spot there on the day. Any pre-recorded or preparation was minimal and normally just a quick listen to a demo or glance at a rough score a day or two before. We winged it, but I was certain we'd get good results and we did. The quality of the performance and audio isn't perfect but I see this as an antidote to ultra polished production which often serves only to leach out the interesting bits of recordings. We've got all sorts of quirks and happy accidents captured on these recordings which was kind of the intention right from the beginning!
Here's the album on Spotify. Please do add songs from this collection to your playlists.
Recording engineer on the majority of the tracks.
Josh set up the sessions and operated the recording side of things for all but two. One he wasn't available and the other he was busy being one of the artists. I've always done my own engineering and technical so I had to get used to someone else setting the microphones up and getting the gains right. Of course as producer I could fiddle around with positioning my beloved collection of microphones and interrupt Josh's duties as recording engineer, and indeed there were things I observed where my technical ego was thinking "I would do it different to that", but after the first session it wasn't a struggle to unplug that part of my ego and watch Josh go about his business safe in the knowledge that the technical side of the recording process was taken care of and that I could get on with working out how to produce each session. Josh is also an accomplished producer, mixer, composer and performing artist himself. I was really pleased that he and his band mate Beth accepted my offer to collaborate on a track for SPACES and we came up with Strangers together with some others. We've joked about how photogenic he is and the potential he might have with a modelling career! Shane has taken some really excellent photos of Josh during our time. I've thoroughly enjoyed Josh being an essential member of the SPACES team and appreciated the way he has made the effort to make the people I've invited to the session feel welcome and valued. It has been an immense privilege and pleasure to work with him. Check out his band with Beth - BAAST.
I came across Katie via Sontronics' instagram feed. I'm always interested to find out more about women who work in technical roles in the music industry so I googled Katie and found some articles referring to her involvement as a workshop leader on #normalnotnovelty, a project by Red Bull that provides training opportunities for young women interested in these sorts of roles. At the time I was exploring Aethelflead and strong female role models with Eloise, the project artist. We had a brief chat about equality and what it means and I realised that it was important for me to be an advocate of gender equality as best I can within the projects I work on.
Shane had suggested another mastering engineer (a well known man) and I had already enquired at few of the more well known places in London to get mastering done, but I wasn't convinced any of the affordable options were value for money. I feel I should really know more about mastering because my first and only industry technical job as an employee over 20 years ago was for a mastering company in London, but it was right at the beginning of the analog to digital transition and I didn't stick around long in the big smoke to go any further with the role so my experience has been limited while the technology has evolved massively.
I contacted Katie and commissioned her to master the Aethelflaed single in May. I was pleased with the results and figured her into plans for the album CD. Katie had recently relocated to London and gave me the heads up that a friend had arranged for her to have one of the studios at Metropolis for a week if I wanted to book in the album for mastering while she was there. I jumped at the opportunity. The amazing thing is that before I had found out about Katie I was probably going to send the mixes to Metropolis for mastering anyway. You can hear Katie's mixes on the CD and the Spotify streams.
I had a crude go at mastering the sound for the films myself because there were lots of continuity issues meaning that the films needed different audio with subtle differences in the arrangements. I'm content with my efforts but I'm certain that the superior quality of the audio on the CD will be evident when compared to the films!
If you need a mastering engineer then I can highly recommend Katie. Find her here.
Recording assistant on Coals
Matt was working with Emma (who sang on Illuminations) at the time of the session. I needed someone who could deputise for Josh at short notice and Matt fitted the bill. He's also known as "Shimasu". Check out his music.
Recording assistant on Coals
Rose is an old friend of mine. She came along to the session with guitarist Charlotte Ayrton. Along with Matt, she took on the role of recording assistant helping me to set up the session and then went beyond requirements and applied her talents and considerable experience as a front of house/production manager keeping everything ticking along nicely. She has a really lovely personality and great sense of humour which contributed to the great vibe at the Coals session.
we used a range of microphones here's the list:
Sontronics Aria valve (pictured below)
Sontronics Apollo stereo ribbon (pictured below)
Matched pair of Oktava MK219 large diaphragm condensers modded by Michael Joly
2 x Matched pairs of Sontronics STC-1S small diaphragm condensers
Sontronics SOLO dynamic
Audix D6 dynamic
Matched pair of Oktava MK012 MSP6 + a third individual MK012 small diaphragm condensers
Audio Technica ATM33a small diaphragm condenser
Shure Beta58 dynamic
Share SM57 dynamic
Sontronics Aria valve microphone
This was our main microphone used on all lead vocals and a range of prominent instruments. All the usual descriptive words can be used here: smooth, character, quality, warm, rich, clear, accurate, colourful, but really you have to use it and hear it to understand how good it is. The high quality became even more obvious when I came to mix. Getting a quality mix was easier than ever. It has become the first mic. I reach for in the studio for serious productions now.
Sontronics Apollo stereo ribbon microphone
This is the mk1 version of the Apollo. The current version is mk2 and that looks good. This was used on all of the sessions to capture the sound of the choir and the room for live group and solo overdub performances. It's faithfully reproduced the sound of the room and created a fader channel for reverb so I haven't had to use a reverb plug-in which was one of the starting points for the recording process - to capture the sound of the SPACES. You can hear the unadulterated sound of this microphone on the track Little Waltz which I used to record the piano in the Chapterhouse of Gloucester Cathedral and is included on the CD and the digital release on Spotify and other digital distribution. Another notable feature is that it is phantom powered so it is more robust unlike other ribbon microphones I've had that were wrecked by not being careful enough with the +48v switch on the pre-amp.
A project long review of Sontronics Microphones
I don't know how to write a review like the music tech publications do, but I can say briefly that I've used 4 different models of Sontronics' range of microphones over the course of 6 months at 8 location based recording sessions in 8 different old buildings with beautiful acoustic properties as well as overdubbing in my cellar studio on a variety of vocal performances, choirs, drum kits, stringed instruments, a trumpet, accordion and pianos. I could write down all the superlatives that are used to describe the quality of a microphone but I'm off the opinion that it's best if you can get your hands on these and try them for yourself rather than rely on what someone like me might write.
The Aria has become my most useful microphone and the Apollo is great for when I want to record more than an isolated sound source, for when I want to capture the sound of the whole space I'm in. I'm only tending to use the Oktava MK219s (my previous prime microphone) when I'm lazy and can't be bothered to set up and plug in the Aria's power supply. The MK219s have been relegated to drum kit overheads when the Aria is being used and the Apollo on overhead is a little too special to eq brutally in the mix.
I used the Aria as a drum overhead (SM57 on snare, MK219 across the kit and D6 in the kick drum) in a 4 mic recorder man set up on the track Coals. I think the drums have a special sound on that track as a result (Duncan also has a new Yamaha 9000 Recording Custom, a Noonan snare drum and the very best vintage Paiste cymbals I've ever heard).
The best value microphone on the market as far as I'm concerned is the SOLO. At the price point it is so much value. I've been using them once a month at the Guildhall for an open stage night instead of the in house Beta 58s and there is a clear quality difference - i much prefer the SOLO.
The STC1 holds up against my long term favourite the Oktava MK012 in the small diaphragm market. It's hard to let go of a favourite microphone so I still use the MK012s all the time. Both microphones have interchangeable capsules and I prefer the omnis on both for guitars. The cardioids are great for string sections and I like to use the MK012 cardioids on toms and snare drums - I haven't tried the STC1 yet for that application. Whilst recording acoustic guitars I observed that the STC1 imparts a softer flavour which is quite easy to listen to, whereas the MK012s seem to capture more of a crisp airy tone. . Both characteristics are useful to me so I'm really pleased. I got the MK012s when the UK£ was super strong. On balance the STC1 is better value given that the exchange rate no longer favours the UK £.
The most valuable thing about these microphones for me with what I've been working on is how easy my mixes were to construct and manipulate to good effect. I put this down to the microphones doing an excellent job imparting either accuracy or colour as I directed when setting up.
I have absolutely no hesitation in highly recommending Sontronics. I will purchase some of the models I haven't tried in the near future and anticipate making some great recordings with those too. Check out Sontronics here.