From left: Mercenary Audio’s Fletcher, Michael Wagener, Kings X bassist Doug Pinnick, guitarist Ty Tabor and drummer Jerry Gaskill
Photo: Rick Clark
When I first moved to Nashville almost 10 years ago, one of the first things I learned is that the region is loaded with all kinds of non-country music folks hiding away in hollows, farms and subdivisions outside the city. Take Michael Wagener, for example. His engineering and production credits include Ozzy Osbourne, Skid Row, Metallica, X, Megadeth and countless other head-bangers. Not exactly the type of guy you'd expect to find on a beautiful chunk of rural acreage east of Nashville.
Unlike many folks who have been working day-in and day-out behind a console for years, Wagener still seems truly excited to record and produce music. It's like watching a kid at play. And his studio, WireWorld, is a gearhead's dream.
Most recently, Wagener launched an educational service that he calls MOAW, Mother Of All Workshops. “I kept getting calls from musicians I had worked with trying to find out how to mike a cabinet or route something in their mixer,” says Wagener. “A lot of musicians had become studio owners and their own producers and now were looking to find out about the recording/producing process.”
That inspired Wagener to start his production workshops at WireWorld. During a period of nine days, engineers and producers from all levels of experience record and mix one song under Wagener's supervision. The sessions go into detail about room acoustics, placement of instruments, microphone choice and placement, gain staging, outboard gear selection, console automation and plenty more. The participants learn different recording techniques and tricks of the trade that Wagener has collected during his 33 years in the business.
In one recent MOAW workshop, Wagener teamed up with the always-colorful gadfly Fletcher from Mercenary Audio — himself a 30-year audio and recording veteran. Fletcher brought along a nice selection of high-end audio gear from his store in Foxboro, Mass. Instead of selecting a local rock band, Wagener invited rockers King's X (whom he met at a concert at Nashville's Exit/In) to participate. This particular workshop was a two-stage affair: Part one focused on tracking and overdubs and part two was on mixing. King's X managed to get two completed songs and two basic tracks out of a five-day session.
“It is a pleasure to work with such gifted musicians,” says Wagener. “A workshop is not the most creative environment for musicians because it's meant for engineers and producers, but Doug [Pinnick, bass/vocals], Ty [Tabor, guitar/vocals] and Jerry [Gaskill, drummer/vocals] handled the situation absolutely professionally and didn't let the questions from the workshop guests disturb their workflow.”
The first track was recorded with a traditional mic setup inside the WireWorld recording room. “Fletcher did an amazing job at tuning the studio's drums — they never sounded so good before,” says Wagener, “which goes to show that no amount of gear can replace experience in recording.”
Tabor's guitars were miked with a Royer R-121 on each cabinet through the Chandler TG-2 mic pre and the Crane Song HEDD 192 converter/tape emulator. Wagener aligned the microphones in front of the cabinet with pink noise to find the sweet spot and phase-align the mics.
Pinnick's bass was recorded through his Mesa Boogie preamp via a Pendulum Quartet II (Mercenary edition) mic pre/EQ/compressor combo. The Quartet II provided all of the processing necessary to record the Mesa amp direct into the Euphonix R1's converters. For the bass DI, the Tab/Funkenwerk V78 mic pre was used, which rounded off the bass' direct signal.
For the second setup, the drum kit was moved outside into the studio parking lot. The main microphones for the outside recording were a pair of Microtech Gefell M-930s with windscreens.
Fletcher had someone tap the snare drum as he walked around in the parking lot with one ear plugged up and searched for a couple of spots where the slap echo between the buildings would work in time with the song. The interesting effect of having no walls other than two buildings separated by about 80 feet allowed them to hang two Josephson 600 Series amplifiers with Microtech Gefell omnidirectional measurement capsules 20 feet in front of the drums. The effect is interestingly large in stereo and mind-bending when mixed in 5.1.
“There is a house on the other side of the WireWorld parking lot that provides a flutter echo between the two buildings,” says Fletcher. “The idea was to try to place the kit and the ambience mics where the flutter echo was kind of in time with the song. No hard measurements were made to determine timing; it was a guesstimate after listening to the track.”
The drums were then moved back inside the studio for the third variation. This time, minimal miking was used on the drums, employing a Coles 4040 microphone for the front of the kit, a Microtech Gefell M-900 over the center of the kit and a Microtech Gefell 930 aside the kit. Fritz helped a little with this setup, as well.
The King's X song, “Allison,” will combine all three miking techniques into one song. The drums were always played to the same guitar, bass and click tracks, so they can be intercut on different parts of the song.
It was an eventful and productive four days, and Wagener and Fletcher decided to add an additional day of recording with King's X. The workshop also revealed a solid chemistry between the band and Wagener, and it became apparent that they should finish the next King's X album together. The band will be back at WireWorld in December to do just that.
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