Producer Stocks Up On a Variety of Mics for Stage & Studio
Pictured at Paperchaser Studios is Blake Mills. Photo by David Goggin.
Award-winning songwriter, guitarist, producer, and composer Blake Mills recently acquired a sizeable stash of microphones from TELEFUNKEN Elektroakustik. The company, with headquarters in South Windsor, CT, has for 15 years been making faithful reproductions of classic microphones from the past. TELEFUNKEN also designs new microphones that combine the best of old technology with recently developed advances in circuitry and microphone components.
While on tour with his band, Mills stopped in at the TELEFUNKEN factory and research lab. "It was my first experience to see inside these mics and learn how intricate and delicate the manufacturing is," he recalls. "I got to meet the entire staff and it was immediately apparent how much care and devotion these guys put into their work, and how much it means to them to see how their microphones perform in the real world once they leave that Telefunken cocoon. It is totally centered on their appreciation of the music, not just the business of making top quality microphones."
Since quietly making his debut album, "Break Mirrors," which critics hailed as one of the best albums of 2010, Mills has been consistently busy. He produced the 2016 Grammy Award-winning sophomore album for The Alabama Shakes, and has worked as a producer with a wide variety of artists, including ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, John Legend, Sara Watkins, Conor Oberst, Sky Ferreira, Laura Marling, Dawes and Fiona Apple, with whom he toured extensively in 2013 and 2014. His second solo album, "Heigh Ho," was released in 2014.
As a session player and sideman Mills has worked with artists such as Beck, Lady Gaga, Frank Ocean, Band of Horses, Cass McCombs, Jackson Browne, Lucinda Williams, Moses Sumney and Neil Diamond, among others. Rick Rubin and T Bone Burnett frequently call upon his services as a guitarist, and Eric Clapton recently told Rolling Stone magazine "Blake Mills is the last guitarist I heard that I thought was phenomenal."
Mills continues, "After visiting Telefunken, they set us up with a great package of microphones that we tested out on tour. It was the first time I've been able to listen to how a wide selection of microphones performs in a variety of different environments, at different volumes, on vocals and all of the instruments in the band. We selected a matched pair of M60 small diaphragm condenser mics, and a third M60, as well. We have an M80-SH dynamic mic on the snare and a M81-SH underneath to pick up the bottom end, which is a great combination. We use an M82 on kick. We also have the full DD5 drum package with five mics. For my guitar, I like the M81-SH in front of the amp, with an M82 on the back of the amp."
Back in LA after the tour, Mills auditioned a number of high-end large diaphragm condenser mics in a large recording studio. TELEFUNKEN technician Phil Feinman brought in various models, including the ELA M251 with an assortment of capsules, a C12, and a new model, the AR-70 stereo. Mills has been working with engineer Greg Koller, who brought in a collection of mics owned by him and other classics from producer Jon Brion.
"I wanted to check out the subtle distinctions of microphones I would use in the studio," Mills continues. "We were able to compare a nice selection of new mics with some very old, very good classic mics. My favorite of that whole bunch was Telefunken's reproduction of the AKG C12. Everyone was amazed with that mic, and I hear that the folks in the Telefunken factory are telling friends that the new C12 is really kicking ass."
Mills explains how he uses his new C12 in the studio, "I've put it in front of acoustic guitars a lot and I've been really happy. It's also a great mic for my voice, which is a little irregular and inconsistent, and I like it as a drum overhead, as well." For onstage vocals, Mills uses the M81 dynamic. "It is so sturdy, has minimal feedback and it's easy to hear your own pitch. You can crank that with a wedge and it's more directional, and I'm just learning how to work best with that mic."
Mills recently toured with Mumford and Sons as an opening act, and occasionally joined them on stage during their headlining set.
TELEFUNKEN Elektroakustik strives for absolute perfection. By offering historic recreations of classic microphones alongside their own proprietary designs based around the distinctive tube mic sound, TELEFUNKEN has established a product line that expertly combines vintage style and sound with the reliability of a modern-day microphone design. TELEFUNKEN's commitment to both the sonic excellence and quality of all of their products is rivaled only by their dedication to provide the best possible service to their customers.