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Sister Hazel Records Christmas Album in Gainesville, Fla.

Sister Hazel lead singer/rhythm guitar player Drew Copeland records scratch tracks in Ken Kelly’s mobile studio.

Santa’s Playlist is Sister Hazel’s playful response to fans’ requests for a Christmas album. Each bandmember sat in the producer’s chair for three tracks, which were either revitalized versions of the classics, obscure holiday songs, or tunes written by the band. Ken Kelly engineered the project using his mobile recording rig.

The band recorded scratch tracks in anticipation of some down time while on the road promoting Hard Rock Park at a string of Hard Rock Cafés. With Kelly’s mobile rig, the band recorded vocals over those scratch tracks in their hotel rooms. At the end of the tour, they rented the Performing Arts Center in Gainesville, Fla. for several days to re-record the demo-quality tracks. Finally, Kelly and the band spent a week in a hotel suite in Gainesville finalizing the vocals.

Kelly says that his TRUE Systems Precision 8 and API 312s were essential to the project. “The TRUE Systems is absolutely transparent—what goes in is what comes out,” he says. “On the other hand, the API has a very pleasing color and warmth. It definitely imprints its signature on the sound. Between the two, the correct choice of pre depends on the application.”

Kelly used the Precision 8 for acoustic guitar, employing both a Neumann KM 184 and the Precision 8’s direct inputs. He used it for vocals with a Neumann KMS 105 live handheld condenser, as well as for three room mics, drum overheads and guitar ambience. The API 302s captured almost all of the percussion, along with the bass and guitars when the songs called for warmth.

For mixdown, Kelly used Pro Tools HD3 for automation, then brought the tracks out through an Apogee converter and into a pair of API 8200 mix modules. An API 7800 sums their outputs and returns the signal to Pro Tools, where Kelly makes heavy use of the Waves API plug-in bundle for digital EQ and compression. “They’re great emulations of the API 550A, 550B, 560 and 2500,” he says. “They’re so accurate, you can push them and they actually get that analog grit that’s so cool and so missing from every other analog emulation!”

Going through the API 8200 mixers, Kelly saves an identical mix that stays entirely inside the computer so that band can remix their tracks in the future without relying on his particular setup. “I play both mixes for them without telling them which is which,” he explains. “As far as you can describe in words, they’re identical. But these are artists and they know what they like. They pick the out-of-the-box mix every time! There’s something indescribable going on in the API mixers that people like. So, it’s worth it. I’ll keep going out of the box.”

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