torstai 13. helmikuuta 2014

Kekkonen elää! #5 Nuria - "The great escape" live at Studio Kekkonen

To celebrate Valentine's day (or perhaps by coincidence), our fifth Kekkonen elää! session is here! Brought to you by Soundtools and Luomustudio.

Kekkonen elää! #5

Nuria: The great escape

Our guest this time around Nuria may not be a household name (yet!), but the trio only released their debut album "Winter's end" on Rockadillo / Zen Master Records in late 2013. The recordings began already back in 2007 and after a somewhat extended period of waiting for the right moment to finish it, Mikko entered the picture, mixed the album and helped the band shop for a label, which resulted in Nuria and Rockadillo finding each other!

It's a great track and we're proud to present it! Enjoy!

Performed by Nuria
Written by Nuria

Recorded by Mikko Raita & Julius Mauranen
Mixed by Mikko Raita
Video by Luomustudio
In association with Soundtools


This was the first time we've recorded drums in the lounge and although the drummer Pekka Saarikorpi's dynamics on "The great escape" are on the soft end of the scale, it's not the most straightforward setup to have next to a finger-picked acoustic guitar and vocals (Markus Kahila) and a cello (Tuukka Helminen), so there was an element of challenge! (We kinda like that, though.)

The drums setup was the following: AKG D112 and C414 XLS on the bass drum, C

414 on the top and a Sennheiser MD421 on the bottom of the (very large) low tom. We had an Audio-Technica 

AT4047 on the Djembe / "snare drum”. 

Another 4047 was on the top, and a Sennheiser MD441 on the bottom on the mounted hand Cajon (the inverted pyramid-like wooden thing!). Our Neumann 

CMV 563’s were as overheads and were recorded through a Knif V804 preamp

 and into ProTools through RME ADI-8 DS converters. The other drum channels went through the customised MS Audiotron Multimix desk.

On the acoustic guitar we first tried the Neumann U48 in figure eight, but the leakage from the drums was overbearing. We ended up using a an Audio-Technica ATM350cw clip-on mic attached to the body with some gaffer tape (the mic is inteded to clip onto a tom, sax, violin or similar, but it worked like a charm!) and as a safety we recorded the piezo DI from the guitar. The AT was recorded through a Knif V804 as well. The song usually features a delay pedal on the guitar, but we opted to use a delay plug-in in the monitoring instead, to have better control over the delay.

On the cello we ended up setting up both an Audio-Techica AT4081 and our trusty U48 in figure of eight (freed from acoustic guitar duty) as alternatives, as well as 2 DI lines, pre effects and post Tuukka’s Line6 POD used for octave and delay effects. The mics were positioned with the null facing towards the drumkit to minimise leakage.

Markus' vocals were recorded with the trusty Shure SM7B through the remaining Knif channel.

There was a pair of ambience mics too, surprisingly very useable and useful Behringer ECM-8000 omni mics (their only real downside is the noise floor, but it rarely becomes a problem when there's a drumkit around).

The hand cajon setup.

Cello - AT 4081, Neumann U48 and two DI feeds.

Markus, ATM350 and the elegant gaffer tape solution.

As you can see the ambience mics in the back point upwards. Just to leave a little mystique.

The drums setup.

ABOUT THE MIXING OF "The great escape" (from Mikko)

In the beginning, "The great escape" looked like quite a difficult mix to pull off due to the fact that the drumset was right beside the cello and especially the softly picked acoustic guitar - but that was to be expected when we decided to do it as a true one room live take.

To begin with, I again imported in my trusty master section and effects, opting for summing amp crucnh via my Vintagedesign SU1 summing unit, as well as enabling Pro Tools’ own HEAT processing on a moderate bright setting. 

I started with the easy part, mixing the drums. Pekka’s drumset sounded beatiful in the room and very little needed to be done to the tracks except for balances and basic EQ. I started off by adding some parallel compression via my trusty Knif Vari-Mu as well as a tiny hint of parallel bite from a EMI TG12143 plugin limiter. Then I proceeded to slightly tidy up the low end and midrange on the tracks. The bass drum was very resonant so I cut a little 90Hz out of it, as well as clearing some low mids from the second bass drum setup as a low tom. For the snare drum- like djembe I ended up boosting the lows to have some more body and adding a hint of my beloved EMT 140 plate. The overheads got a tiny midrange dip and some high end boost from the Softube Trident A-range. The only thing that needed more processing was the small and relatively quiet hand Cajon played in the verses. I ended up muting the track completely in the loud sections and added a liberal low end boost to the bottom mic to make it sound slightly larger. It also got some EMT Plate. I added a modicum of the omni ambiences flat to the mix and the drum sound was done - keep in mind, that we did have quite a bit of drum ambience in the other mics as well!

The cello sounded very good but it indeed contained quite a bit of drum spill, though not bad sounding due to the quality mics used in figure of eight. We were undecided between the ribbon and the U48 during recording and ended up keeping both which was just as well, as I ended up using both mics muting them in sections. I found that the AT ribbon had slightly less bleed so I used it in the loud intro and verses where Tuukka was playing a bass line in combination of some line sound. But in the bowed chorus I found the U48 to have a more pleasing top end so I switched over to that. Tuukka also had some effects on in the song. In the intro and first verse I used the post FX line where he had a +1/-1 octaver sound, but in the later stages where he used just a delay I switched to the clean DI and recreated the delay as a stereo version.

 The cello received moderate EQ and some group compression via a Softube Summit TLA-100A plugin. I also added some plate and Reverb One to the cello for a similar sound as what I used on the album version of the song. The delay used was a Soundtoys Echoboy, automated to be used only in the parts Tuukka had his own delay on.

The acoustic guitar sound was very quiet and even though we managed to capture quite a bit of it due to the drastic taped-on goosenec hypercardioid, I ended up using roughly 50% line signal in the loud parts, but automated the mic up in the intro and choruses when leakage permitted. It was also EQ:d and compressed liberally with a Massey CT5 and Softube Summit TLA-100A. For the song’s signature delay I again used an Echoboy.

The vocal was relatively bleed-free and sounded very nice already. I used some Waves RDeEsser as well as mild EQing and HOFA IQ-EQ dynamic EQing to clear it up a little as well as compressing it with a Softube FET compressor. I added some EMT plate and Softube’s TSAR-1 for reverb, as well as quite a bit of Echoboy delay fed into the TSAR, automated from section to section.

After a bit of volume rides I sent a reference mix to the band. They were very pleased and in the end I only went back to do a very minor recall, taking just a hint of the vocal delay off in the choruses and lowering the djembe “snare drum” a bit. The whole mix took surprisingly little time in the end, not so difficult after all!

perjantai 17. tammikuuta 2014

Kekkonen elää! #4 Joakim Berghäll & Aki Rissanen - "Bamboozle!" live at Studio Kekkonen

New year, new Kekkonen elää! session! Happy 2014 to everybody from us at Studio Kekkonen and our associates Soundtools and Luomustudio.

Kekkonen elää! #4

Joakim Berghäll & Aki Rissanen: Bamboozle!

This time we're proud to present you another jazz duet session, this time the fantastic saxophonist Joakim Berghäll and someone you know from our previous session, great pianist and keyboardist Aki Rissanen! The duet was - conveniently for all! - recorded on the same day as the Verneri Pohjola & Aki Rissanen session. 

The duo collaborated on Joakim's Dialogues I album (released in september last year, it's first in a series of duet albums) on the track "Bamboozle!" which they also perform here, although with a slightly different choice of instruments: Joakim plays baritone sax instead of the alto. Also, on the album Aki plays grand piano.


Performed by Joakim Berghäll & Aki Rissanen
Written by Joakim Berghäll

Recorded by Mikko Raita & Julius Mauranen
Mixed by Mikko Raita
Video by Luomustudio
In association with Soundtools


The performance was pretty relaxed, Joakim & Aki laid down a couple of takes and chose their favourite. As this was a duet with only a single instrument each and no multitasking, it was a focused and concise session.

The setup was very similar to Verneri's & Aki's session (watch and read more about it here), as a matter of fact the piano setup was identical: A-B pair of Neumann CMV-563's in the back, a pair of AT4081 ribbon mics in the front side aiming at the hammers and a pair of workhorse SM-57's very close to the body of the piano in the back. Neumanns and AT's went through Knif Audio V804 mic preamps of which we have two at the studio.

Joakim's baritone sax was miked with our vintage crown jewel Neumann U48 just above the bell and a supplementary side mic (Audio-Technica 4047) to pick up some more body.

There were a pair of ambience mics: AKG C414 XLS behind Joakim and Line Audio CM3's facing away from the piano (see pictures!).


The mix here is quite similar to the one we already documented earlier about mixing “Hyperballad”, recorded the same day and with the same piano recording, and again with wonderful world class musicians just doing their thing.

I actually started the mix by importing some mixer settings from the “Hyperballad” session, though obviously it had to be tweaked to work here where the whole arrangement is just the piano and sax. I kept the same master section (Vintagedesign SU-1, McDsp AC-1, Waves SSL, parallel DUY DaD Tape & L2007) as well as moderate HEAT processing.

For the piano, I had to tone tone down the large low end boost I had created for the prepared low end on Hyperballad for a more natural upright sound, though in the end Aki ended up requesting slightly more low end hype - their album version was recorded with a quality grand piano after all!

 To sweeten things I again used a hint of my EMT 140 Plate and Valhalladsp’s ValhallaVintageVerb, as well as some room mics. Here I ended up favoring the 414’s behind the sax despite having the more piano-centric Line Audios available as well - the 414's just had a nice combined room tone.

 Due to the full acoustic nature of this track I ended up dropping the KNIF Vari-Mu parallel compression I had on the piano in the previous mix, though I did keep slight group compression on it from the Masssey CT5.

For Joakim's baritone, I ended up using both mics with the low side mic -10db, from which I also cut some low mids to make it less boomy. I then grouped these and added very mild compression with both the Massey CT5 (actually added already during recording) and a Softube TLA-100A, as well as just tiny midrange dips in the 750 and 1900 Hz ranges. To “top” things off I added a few dBs at 10k on the Softube Trident A-Range.

For spatial effects I again used the prerecorded Stocktronics plate but also added some EMT 140 Plate as well as Softube TSAR & ValhallaVintageVerb, both at a darkish setting and hovering around the 2,5-3s range. I also used the “1970s” color preset on the Valhalla.

From there, it was just a matter of balancing the 2 instruments with very small rides, mostly to get the end of the piano solo and the transition to the sax solo to really gel. I wish all mixes were this simple and enjoyable!

torstai 19. joulukuuta 2013

Merry Christmas! Hyvää Joulua!

With this video from Janne's band Sakilaiset Studio Kekkonen (with Soundtools and Luomustudio) would like to wish everyone a happy and peaceful Christmas!

Tämän Sakilaisten videon myötä Studio Kekkonen kumppaneineen haluaa toivottaa kaikille hyvää ja rauhallista joulua!

perjantai 22. marraskuuta 2013

Kekkonen elää! #3 Verneri Pohjola & Aki Rissanen - "Hyperballad" live at Studio Kekkonen

We (Studio Kekkonen with our associates Soundtools and Luomustudio) are proud and excited to present you the beginning of "Season 2" of our live series Kekkonen Elää!

Kekkonen elää! #3

Verneri Pohjola & Aki Rissanen: Hyperballad

Extraordinary Finnish trumpet player Verneri Pohjola and equally extraordinary pianist and keyboardist Aki Rissanen are no strangers at our studio: Mikko has worked with both on numerous occasions, with Verneri starting way back in 2005 with the second Quintessence album "5 AM" and since then on a fairly regular basis. Curiously enough, Julius recorded Verneri even further back in 1993 in one of his earliest studio experiences, though the recording (un)fortunately doesn't exist any longer!
Verneri Pohjola's latest album "Ancient History", featuring Aki Rissanen as pianist was recorded and mixed by Mikko and released in 2012 on the ACT label.

The track the duo chose to perform is Björk's "Hyperballad" which is also featured on the aforementioned album.
Performed by Verneri Pohjola & Aki Rissanen
Written by Björk, Nellee Hooper & Marius De Vries

Recorded by Mikko Raita & Julius Mauranen
Mixed by Mikko Raita
Video by
In association with


As jazz musicians generally feel most comfortable playing in the same space and leakage was not an overwhelming issue with trumpet and piano, we decided to record in the lounge. It's naturally quite a live-souding space so we damped the room with heavy curtains and a rug from our live room. After the initial setup of the room was done, it was time for some miking (and DI'ing!). Mikko - who was first-in-command of the session - presented what he had in mind for the recording and we set it up all together. Once everything was up and running, Verneri and Aki laid down three takes and picked the last one to be the keeper. Sounds easy, eh!

Verneri's trumpet was picked up with an Audio-Technica AT4081 ribbon mic (through our MS Audiotron desk) which he uses both live and in the studio and - conveniently for us - brought along his own. There was a looper pedal involved in the equation with a send from the control room that took a little while to set up, but during the keeper take it was not used. The performance is obviously largely improvised so there's always a chance that things can (and will!) change. It's an organic process by nature and the technology is there to make it happen, not dictate the rules. So no looper this time, folks!

Our Yamaha U3 upright piano was miked with three stereo pairs: Vintage Neumann CMV-563's in an AB formation in the back, a pair of the very same AT4081's as with the trumpet (provided by Soundtools) in front of the hammers to pick up the attack of it and a pair of the humble-yet-legendary Shure SM57's (AB as well) right in the back of the piano to pick up some body (this actually works like a charm). The Neumanns and Audio-Technicas had Knif Audio V804's for preamps and the 57's had Rantanen SSL clone pres.

There were two pairs of ambience mics: a main pair of AKG C414's (in omni) plus an extra pair (convenient little Line Audio CM3's) behind the piano, facing away from it to pick up some room ambience as the main ambience pair was a bit trumpet heavy.

Aside from the piano, Aki had a Micromoog for bass sounds that's been slightly modified to increase the filter range to the same as the Minimoog. The bottom end is indeed impressive. He also had a Native Instruments Kore 2 software with the controller as a platform for soft synths: the Reaktor GoBox drum machine with effects that he tweaks during the performance and Steampipe 2 with a layer of the FM8 synth. The synth is played with the tiny Akai LPK-25, which fits absolutely anywhere!

Verneri triggered sounds from his laptop using Ableton Live with the Push controller - the thing with all the nice blinking lights that's actually a pretty powerful music-making tool! Verneri got this from Soundtools a few days prior to the session to get used to it.

To pick up the electronic elements we had a pile of DI's (BSS and BBE's we got from Soundtools).

ABOUT THE MIX (from Mikko)

Mixing of Aki’s and Verneri’s duo performance was quite a straightforward affair.

I opened the tracks of the session up into my “mixer” which is in fact a ProTools template that incorporates a hybrid in-the-box/analog master section as well as a collection of my most used effects as a ready-to-go virtual rack. It also has interfacing for my analog equipment.

The sound of the master section is quite important for me to get things to gel and make it “like a record” - I have a few different setups I pick depending on the project but here I went for the Vintagedesign SU1 Neve- style summing amp pushed quite hard, in addition to some additional mix buss push from a McDsp Analog Channel 1

The whole mix buss was compressed gently vith a Waves SSL “quad” compressor which I have found quite faithful to the original. I used some additional “analog modeling” in the form of DUY’s DaD Tape, mixed just slightly in via parallel routing (it is a quite drastic effect if not done like this).

I also added Avid’s own HEAT processing to the inputs of all audio tracks, with moderate/bright settings. I then finalized the master section with a Massey L2007 lookahead limiter with a conservative setting to apply mild limiting/normalization as this track was not going to be mastered separately.

For piano, I ended up using a mix of all of the mics, with the CMV/ribbon combo most prominent and a hint of the dynamic body mics and the “piano ambience”. I applied slight group compression via a Massey CT5 and used HOFA’s IQ-EQ V3 dynamic EQ to soften up the midrange. I also ended up with a quite liberal 6db or so EQ boost with Avid’s own EQ in the low end to emphasize the prepared piano bass sounds - here I needed to jump a few hoops to make the low end slightly more “grand piano-like” but the end result worked nicely.

I also added some parallel compression from my beautiful Knif Audio Vari-Mu compressor (Serial number #002!), as well as reverb from my beloved EMT 140 plate reverb as well as Valhalladsp’s ValhallaVintageVerb.

Aki’s Micromoog bass synth went almost unprocessed, save just a hint of added high mid Avid EQ.

For Aki’s laptop, I ended automating some low and high EQ bands as well as using a bit of Waves’ C4 multiband compression, as all of Aki’s virtual instruments were premixed to 2 channels and I wanted to emphasize certain elements at key spots, otherwise it was left untreated with just some volume automation.

For Verneri’s trumpet I used slightly more processing even though his source sound in combination with the AT ribbon mic is already very, very good. I added just a tiny bit of saturation and crunch via SoundtoysDevil-Loc Deluxe, and again used Massey’s CT5 for slight leveling as well as a mild HOFA IQ-EQ V3 dynamic midrange cut, topping it off with some high end boost from Softube’s Trident A-range EQ as well as some more high end and mid tidying via Avid’s own EQ.

For reverbs and delays, I had a prerecorded track from control room 2’s (
Juppu’s and Janne’s) Stocktronic plate, but I used that just a bit because it was obviously pre-mix processing - due to my mix compression it ended up as a nice touch where it gets comparatively more loud when Verneri plays louder. But for the majority of spatial effects I again went for a combination of the EMT 140 plate as well as the ValhallaVintageVerb, adding a custom-made TL Space “stereo spring reverb” impulse I often use (Especially if control room 2’s Knif "K.Verb" Spring Reverb is not readily available which was the case here), topping it off with a hint of tape-like delay from Sountoys’ Echoboy.

After a few hours of mixing, and some passess of volume automation (also via my trusty ICON D-Command) I sent a version to Verneri and Aki who suggested a few minor balance tweaks to Aki’s laptop track, and after seeing the edited video we adjusted a few more balances but all in all, it was a quite swift mix despite some of the “tricks” employed.

lauantai 16. marraskuuta 2013

Hello blog, sorry I've been away.

Well well well... It seems like a year goes by VERY fast and - shamefully - I've not managed to write a single post into this blog in 2013. Sorry about that, dear readers.

Fortunately, that's changing now, as I type!

It's been a busy 12 months (obviously) and a lot of great music has been made at the studio helped by the bunch of us. There's been some new winds blowing, but the core of our operation remains very close to what it's always been: produce, mix and record music to the best standards of artistic and technical quality!

More about that later, for there will be a time for an epic end-of-year-post, but it's not quite yet (the year ends in 45 days, let's see when we get closer to that!).

Now, we've got news for you:

Our Kekkonen elää! Live at Studio Kekkonen series is continuing!

We recently did not one, not two, but three sessions for your enjoyment and sooner rather than later there will be even more of them!

What we learned from the first two (Matti Johannes Koivu and Suvi Isotalo) is that it's a good idea to keep the production as simple as possible so this time we teamed up with Luomustudio (who are experts in keeping things simple and elegant) as well as our friends and neighbours Soundtools, both of whom are very excited to be part of this!

The first session will be online soon, stay tuned by following us on social media!


torstai 29. marraskuuta 2012

Studio Kekkonen five... no, SIX years this month!

Well, well, what have we here? A finished blog post to celebrate our five-year journey THAT I FORGOT TO PUBLISH!

Yes, I am retarded, thanks for asking.

So here it is, our 5th anniversary blog, scheduled to have been published 16.11.2011. but worth a read anytime! For example now - to celebrate our sixth anniversary! A year goes by quickly these days...
This month we have a reason to celebrate! Studio Kekkonen in its current location in Vallila was officially opened in 2006 - five years (edit: SIX years) ago! 

In the grander scheme of things, five years isn't actually such a long time when compared to studios like Finnvox (since 1965) or Abbey Road (since the dawn of time, more precisely 1931). However, five years is nonetheless a milestone and in today's turbulent state of the music industry, we're fortunate enough to celebrate it - during the time at least three big studios in Finland have closed before reaching the mark. And what the heck, it's also a great excuse to have a party! (Shocking pictures will appear in this blog and on our Facebook Page!)

During the past five years we've recorded and mixed dozens and dozens of albums, singles, EP's and whatnot. Our goal since the very beginning was to run a studio where the first and foremost goal is to deliver excellent work. We've worked hard to keep that high standard and raise the bar constantly as we go. Initially we invested an awful lot of time, money, effort and good will of close friends into building the studio itself into what it is - a place where technical excellence meets a vibe and mood that make artists feel comfortable. Since then we've invested even more time, effort and money to constantly expand our collection of gear and further sharpen our skills and widen our horizons. A recording studio is an ever-evolving creature that's never truly finished. It's always in motion. (That also means it's always pretty heavy on the wallet, but let's not go there!)

It's been a great five years. We've had the continuing privilege to work with some of the brightest, most talented and influential artists and musicians of our time. There have been countless priceless, inspired, breathtaking moments within these walls. Stuff I used to dream of as a kid. Things I will never forget, however demented I may become. I may only speak for myself but Mikko and Janne would agree.

And speaking of Mikko and Janne, it's been a true privilege to work with and around them for the past five years, and I'm equally looking forward to following years. I could not imagine better studio partners (especially now that even Mikko makes tasty coffee!). I love you guys. <snif> <Cue: "We are the world">

Of course it's not all gone like in the movies. It's an unforgiving line of work to be in and running a studio in the 21st century isn't the easiest of tasks and as said above, the fact that we're still here is worth a little celebration. It's been a combination of hard work, stubborn determination, good relationships with our clients, colleagues and friends, moral support from our families and of course - sheer luck of being in the right place at the right time in the right circumstances.

But to elaborate more on the subject of what makes it hard to run a studio these days, I give you a short(ish) view on the state of things in our world:

The past five years (and much longer of course, but we zoom in to the last half a decade now) have marked a big change in the music and recording industry: record sales have dropped from poor to alarming to near-catastophic, digital sales has picked up too slowly, low-revenue streaming services have made something of a breakthrough to further ridicule professional music-makers, recording budgets have diminished - as has the number of major label projects each year. Many fine small record labels have called it quits, fallen into catatonia or have been swallowed by the majors, which are currently in the process of becoming a trio

The structure of the business has changed. The focus is not on the music or the record, but on things like merchandise, publishing, product placement, marketing, shareholders' interests, etc. Naturally, those are not new things and have been on the agenda for long, but the emphasis seems to have shifted to that direction quite a bit too much.

At the same time, more music is being made available than ever before. While the business side of music shrinks and changes shape and artists (and everybody else for that matter) look for new ways to make it possible to do music for a living, the actual need to communicate with the world through the means of recorded music has not disappeared anywhere. Nor has the will to listen to music (or "consume" it, as number-crunchers like to call it, that's a rubbish word).

Also, the miniaturisation and even further decreased cost of recording equipment has really brought recording tools of seemingly acceptable quality to the masses. The latest addition being Garageband for iPad and iPhone - a production studio available in your pocket immediately for 4€. That's really somehting that was beyond imagination in 2006 (not to mention 2001). That's real democratisation. Equal opportunities. Whether it's a good or bad thing in terms of music is a subject that's out of the scope of this blog, but the discussion goes on wild in all sorts of other places. But the truth is that bedrooms, rehearsal spaces and all sorts of smelly cellars have filled with Chinese-made recording equipment that allows recording at semi-acceptable quality (very much acceptable in the right hands!).

Audio software and hardware developers are catering for the home studio users to sell huge quantities of less-than-ideal products. It's more about how the GUI of a plug-in looks like than what the audio sounds like. Impression is everything. Quality, reliability and musicality of gear is secondary to cost and instant availability of a huge number of ready-made solutions ("Just add water!") and cheap shortcuts to somebody else's ideas.

All of the aforementioned things have affected the recording business directly. Many artists have given up, many studios have closed down, many engineers and producers have moved to healthier sectors of the business or changed careers completely. Competition has become tougher, average prices per studio day has been pushed down as hobbyists and semi-pros compete of the same clients who have less and less money to spend. Time spent in professional recording studios has decreased and more emphasis has been given to post-processing and production work (in the aforementioned grotty cellars).

Am I painting a grim picture of the state of our industry or what? 

Honestly, all of the above may sound like moaning, but it's really not meant as that. On the contrary, I'm actually quite content with the way things are. The fact that a lot of music is made and an increasing amount of it independently produced is not at all a bad thing for us. It has its good and bad sides, just like the old model of the majors producing and funding records in their own ways.

I'm happy we've made it this far, it's sure been one hell of a ride. Also, it looks very much like we're not going anywhere for the time being. I'm sure there will be demand in the future for a bunch of guys doing a great job recording, producing and mixing music. As far as we know, music's not going anywhere and as long as there is any point in putting it in recorded form, there is a good chance that someone will want to work on it with another one who shares a passion for it. A person with a work ethic, professional pride, ambition, musical sense, a whole lot of creative madness, common sense, great ears and lots of experience. A person a lot like us.

Business models change, client bases change, styles and fashions and economics and hairstyles and tools change, as do a lot of other things, but the essence of music and the love for it are not likely to change. 

And if it will, I reckon it'll take a lot longer than another five years.

Happy (sixth) birthday, Studio Kekkonen!


torstai 6. syyskuuta 2012

Kekkonen Elää! #2 Suvi Isotalo Live at Studio Kekkonen

We're proud to present you:

Kekkonen Elää! Live at Studio Kekkonen #2

Due to unforeseen circumstances we couldn't "quite" keep the pace we originally intended with the sessions (one roughly every two-three months), but we nevertheless are definitely going to do more sessions - hopefully a bit more frequently! We have some goodies planned for this fall - more about it a little later. Meanwhile, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter (we're @studiokekkonen and I'm @juliusmauranen).

So to the session! This time around we had the amazing Suvi Isotalo and her band (the great Timo Kämäräinen and Olli Krogerus) do not one, but two songs! What a great bonus! Suvi obviously has been mentioned here before as I (Julius) wrote a lengthy post about the making of Suvi's second album "P.S. Maj'lle" that was released last fall on the Sound Of Finland label. For those not familiar with Suvi's work, we strongly recommend you pick up the album from the above link (and don't forget her first album "Jollet Rakasta" as well). A new album is in planning stage and it will surely be a great one, too.

The two songs Suvi recorded with us are a previously unreleased track called "Vapaa" (that includes the angelic voices of Olli and Timo too!) and "Vastarakastuneet", a piano & vocal track which was released on the latest album and here recorded for your enjoyment.

So, sit back, turn up the volume and enjoy:

Kekkonen Elää! Live at Studio Kekkonen




Piano & Vocals: Suvi Isotalo
Guitar & background vocals ("Vapaa"): Timo Kämäräinen
Drums & backround vocals ("Vapaa"): Olli Krogerus

Music & lyrics: Suvi Isotalo

Arrangement: Suvi Isotalo, Timo Kämäräinen, Olli Krogerus

Recorded live in Studio Kekkonen by Julius Mauranen, Mikko Raita and Janne Riionheimo
Mixed by Julius Mauranen
Directed and edited by Olli-Pekka Komonen
Suvi Isotalo appears courtesy of Sound Of Finland


A big special thank you to Suvi, Timo and Olli!
Thanks to Elisa Visapää for piano tuning
Thanks Aapo / Sound Of Finland


As studio sessions are supposed to, this too was a thoroughly enjoyable session. We had a good time with Suvi, Timo and Olli - as always - and though a live session like this is always something of an undertaking to set up and run, things went smoothly - partly cause all three of us (Mikko, Janne and myself) were there and partly cause we were one session wiser than the first time!

We recorded "Vapaa" first. It took five takes to complete, including rehearsal runs for sound check and headphone monitoring. Aside the great vocal delivery, we felt Timo's two guitar solos were nothing short of stunning. Afterwards, Suvi recorded "Vastarakastuneet" on her own, in just one take. The intensity and fragility of the song was immediately there and it was quite clear there would not be another take. It was one of those takes and we were lucky to have it on camera too.

While setting up we had the chance to enjoy a little chat, a little afternoon brandy and I had the chance to Hipstamaticize (is that a word?) that:

Timo and Mikko.

We used our U48 for Suvi's vocals. Great sound!

Janne tried his wings as an assistant cameraman.

How many engineers do you need to mike a drum kit?

I think we deserved that drink!

Olli, a UFO and an out-of-proportion Avantone MixCube.

Timo told us all about his pedalboard/rack setup.

While I was sweating at the board, the lads took it easy.
ABOUT THE RECORDING (non recording nerds beware!)

The session started a day before with the usual cleaning operation - the studio is quite confined and we have a bad tendecy of piling stuff up in the lounge, where this session happened. The reason why we decided to record (partially) in the lounge is simply that our piano happens to be there and at about 230 kg it's 'a bit' of a drag to move! The piano by the way was upgraded during the Olavi Uusivirta album sessions last year to Janne's very nice Yamaha U3 upright - a huge step up from the old stinker... I mean my dear old Hellas we had before...

Olli's drum kit was set up in the live room but as there are large windows between the rooms, Olli could see Suvi from behind his kit and vice versa. That makes playing together a little easier and definitely more enjoyable. We could place Timo in the lounge with Suvi and his amp in Mikko's control room. This way we had great separation, but everybody was comfortable. Bingo!

The upright piano was miked with a pair of (cardioid or perhaps sub-cardioid) AKG C414's in a loose ORTF-type stereo setup from behind the piano. We piled some quilts and foam baffles on the floor to kill excess floor reflections, like this:

As you can see, the mics were a bit close to control spill and room sound (the lounge is quite "live"). The preamp we used was a vintage Telefunken V72, compressed gently with the original Knif Audio Vari-Mu (my favourite compressor in the world for piano).

For Suvi's vocals we used our vintage Neumann U48 into a Knif 804 Pre. The mic was set as cardioid, which picks up a little more spill than figure eight placed with the null point towards the piano, but the lounge is rather reverberant so the back lobe picked too much room (also, proximity effect is more pronounced with a figure eight).

Timo's vocals were picked up with a Shure SM7B - one of my favourite dynamic mics - into the Knif 804 and his guitar amp (Vox AC15) either with an MD421 or a SM57 - can't recall right now. Timo's sound is so amazing that generally speaking putting any decent, working mic in front of the amp and the result is great! There was a DI signal as well for the octave-divided bass notes.

The drum kit was miked with an AKG D112 and DIY Subkick on the kick, SM57 top (with my DIY hi-hat spill guard "Moltonkirves") and bottom of the snare, Line Audio CM3's on the toms and for overheads we used vintage Neumann CMV-563's with recently reskinned and stereo matched M7 capsules (which sound amazing, BTW - reskinning was done by Thiersch Elektroakustik in Germany). The ambience mics were a pair of 'affordable' (=dirt cheap) Thomann ribbon mics, the RB-100's (highly recommended "my-first-ribbon"-mic!). They were placed behind the kit with nulls pointing at the sound source. The reason is that we placed Olli and his drums so close to the window in order for him to see, so there was little space in front of the kit. They worked like a charm behind the kit too (though they didn't make it to the final mix). There was no need for a hihat mic so we didn't put one. The less, the merrier. Olli's vocals were miked with a SM58.

All drums and guitar mics went through the MS Audiotron Multimix with possibly a little EQ and no compression during tracking, save Timo's sub-octave bass track that was squeezed a little with a Rantanen 1178 clone to even it out a little.


As it goes with live sessions, the sound should be (and was) more or less 'there' at recording stage and mixing should ideally be mostly about musical balance, general tone and charatcter. While doing these sessions, I'm in a lovely position cause I'm in my most familiar mixing environment, so mixing really starts from the first listen.

For drums - this time - I used very little EQ, just a bit on the kick, snare and overheads - toms were left completely untouched (which I find rather rare!). I didn't gate anything, but used a touch of parallel compression from the Gyraf G10, Rantanen LA-4 clone, dbx 160 and 160X (mono parallel for kick and snare respectively).

On guitars, more or less the same thing applied - very little EQ - but a little more compression from Rantanen 1178 clone.

For the sub-bass I used a little Sansamp PSA-1 (plugin) already in the recording to get a bit more definition of the notes - it was a DI signal so there was a lot of sub-harmonic action compared to "high bass" and adding some harmonics (distortion) helped it out a little. It was compressed further with an LA-2A.

Piano was a tiny bit more processed, there was a little high-frequency compression (Waves C4) and a little low-mid cut and top end boost - a little goes a long way as they all within a range of 6dB...

Suvi's vocals sounded great to start with so little processing was necessary: bit of compression (I actually left the monitoring compressor - the humble but transparent Avid Dynamics 3 - on the track!), a bit of EQ (varying 12,5 kHz, 240Hz and 1,6kHz boosts), a bit of reverb (Stocktronic plate with EchoBoy delay before it) and an automation ride gave it what it needed. During the instrumental sections I turned the vocals down to get rid of unnecessary leakage.

The backing vocal tracks had to be cleared of leakage too, I ended up muting them where Timo and Olli weren't singing. Olli's vocal track required a little more drastic filtering to deal with the remaining drum leakage, but worked like a charm.

Master processing was my usual chain of MS Audiotron desk - master EQ - G-SSL - Otari MTR-10 1/4" tape machine (15 ips, RMG 900 tape)

Vastarakastuneet required even less processing on both piano and voice. The setup was "same, but less" though I used the LA-2A on Suvi's vocals. That was it - nice and simple!

perjantai 23. maaliskuuta 2012

Olavi Uusivirta: Elvis Istuu Oikealla

To celebrate the release of Olavi Uusivirta's new album "Elvis Istuu Oikealla" - produced, recorded and mixed by Julius Mauranen (me) right here at Studio Kekkonen - here's a little Making of-video of a few select tracks. You will notice something in common with some of the clips...


More videos of the making can be found here and here...

Oh, the album has just been chosen "Record of the week" at YleX and has received a very warm welcome indeed from the press (for which both Olavi and the increasingly tired-looking character in the video are very grateful for indeed), here's a little round-up:

Helsingin Sanomat
Lily / Kuuntelija
Sounds of unknown

And for my part, thanks to Olavi and everybody who was involved in the making of the record. That would be Jiri-serkku, Jaakko M., Jaakko K., Olli, Kiiski, Juho, Janne, Tero, Pauli, Risto, Noora, Timo, Suvi, Saara, Paula, Joel, Riku, Sami and Vesi.

Thank you. You were wondeful.


lauantai 25. helmikuuta 2012

A look at 2011... And next live session coming up!

Firstly, apologies for such a terribly long silence, there has been a lot of stuff going on and the blog has been sadly neglected! This will not be the case for long, as there's some cool stuff about to happen!

So the breaking news: Part two of our Kekkonen elää! - Live at Studio Kekkonen series is going to be recorded next week! And the artist performing will be the one and only SUVI ISOTALO! We're super excited about it!

As most end-of-year lists and similar have been released ages ago, we thought we'd join the party a little late and sum up the Year of the Rabbit by looking at what we've worked on in 2011. It's been a wild year with a lot of turbulence in the recording industry and life in general, but once again - a lot fantastic music has been made within these walls!

2011 - One hell of a year! 
(And one hell of a long blog entry)

So here's what we were up to last year, in roughly chronological order:

Julius finished work on Matti Johannes Koivu's highly acclaimed and successful album "Toisen Maailman Nimi". Most of the work had been completed in December 2010, but the finishing touches were given in January. That was a fun project! And intense!
(Matti of course visited us in October for an exclusive live session as you probably remember and if not, check it out here!)

Matti-Johannes Koivu - 80-luvun lapset

Mikko started recording the vocals and some instrumental overdubs for Leningrad Cowboys’ “Buena Vodka Social Club” which would continue on and off for the remainder of the spring with super talented vocalist Ville Tuomi and producer/multi-instrumentalist Marzi Nyman, as well as continuing work on recording the superb Mimmit album “Maailman ympäri”, a world tour of ethnic/fusion acoustic music aimed for kids. Mikko was also busy teaching a music recording course at the Theatre Academy Helsinki for sound design students, including a 2-day live recording session for the superb free exploration group Ma-A trio (Jone TakamäkiOtzir Godot and Tuomas Rounakari)

Mimmit - Panda

Janne was also working hard producing, recording and mixing the second Vesterinen Yhtyeineen album "Erikoismiehen jäähyväiset" (with Julius helping out engineering the band sessions) which was released in May. There's a slight case of déja vu here, as the calendar for January and February 2012 got filled with bookings for Vesterinen...

Janne was also asked to collaborate with Akukon Oy - the biggest acoustic consulting company in Finland. He was part of the design team (with Henrik Möller and Anssi Ruusuvuori) and an acoustical project manager, working on Logomo - a new multipurpose concert hall in Turku.

In February (cross-musical pun intended, even if you didn't think) Julius mixed Cykles' self-titled debut album, which was a blast. I hope the record didn't pass unnoticed, cause it's a great one. Read what NRGM thought of it in their review of the album. We did a rather unusual mastering road trip with Ilkka, the singer of the band to go see Jaakko Viitalähde and his Virtalähde Mastering at his new HQ in Kuhmoinen (yes, it's far away, but a lovely place).

Cykles - Car Crash Daydream

In March Mikko mixed the upcoming album for Reversion, good old hard hitting progressive metal! Svante Forsbäck from Chartmakers did a superb job on an agressive master, look forward to that one, slightly delayed but coming! Oh, and in March Svante also did a great job on mastering My First Band’s “Mercury & Glitter”, mixed by Mikko in late 2010. Mikko also continued work with LC & Mimmit, also doing music post work throughout the year for the kid’s TV series “Mimmikoto” hosted by Pauliina and Hansu from the band on MTV3 Juniori.

My First Band - Baby You're Too Young (I Wanna Make Love To Your Mama)

Later in the spring Anssi Kela set to record a song collaboratively with a group of people over the internet, a project called "Biisirinki" and Julius ended up recording both Anssi's and the duet's second half Yona's vocals and mixing the parts submitted by the participants. It was a fun little project to do! Anssi reported the project pretty well in his own blog where I (Julius) babbled a bit about my part too.

In early spring, Aves dropped by to mix "You, Lucid" (that was widely noticed by the music blogging community). The release of the track happened around the same time we started this very blog.

Somehow in the midst of all these things Julius managed to find time to mix Wiidakko's "comeback" album, simply titled "Wiidakko". The first single "Seis seis seis" was released in the spring and Fresh Tunes Finland put out the album in December with "Odessa" as the second single.

Wiidakko - Odessa

In April, Mikko recorded and worked on the backing for the "live band rock” played by the actors for the upcoming feature film “Miss Farkku-Suomi”, based on the book by Kauko Röyhkä and featuring his classic songs. The session was supervised by the great Riku Mattila who had also played on the originals, a fun session! Mikko also mixed and recorded overdubs for Big Blue’s self titled debut, released worldwide on the prestigious Italian Cam Jazz label. Nordic jazz at it’s finest!

Big Blue - Mini-Male

Later in the spring, Mikko finalized the mixes on the Mimmit album and TV series and mixed a beautiful album he had recorded earlier, “Cathedral” by finnish Jazz Emma-award winners Oddarang, released in Finland and the UK by Texicalli & Edition Records.

Suvi Isotalo's second album "P.S. Maj'lle" already got a lenghty blog post of its own, but it was another great Julius project, so worth mentioning another time! And obviously, as mentioned, Suvi will do a session with us!

Early in the summer, Julius visited Mankku with Hope Comes in Many Forms, a great band who will release their debut album in the spring or summer of 2012!

Delay Trees released a new (fantastic!) self-released EP titled "Before I Go Go" as a free digital download and limited cassette edition (this would be a spot for another pun) in the summer. Julius mixed it, naturally!

The mixing of Black Twig's debut album "Paper Trees" was definitely another highlight of the year for Julius. The album was produced by our friend Nick Triani, recorded by Kia-Sofia Ryhänen and Nick and sees the light of day on Nick's fairly newly set up Soliti label, by far the most interesting record label in Finland at the moment. The record came out 11.1.2012! Go buy it, now! It's great!

In the fall, Mikko had one of his most enjoyable sessions ever with the recording and mixing of Verneri Pohjola Quartet’s “Ancient History”. Motto of the session: “Jazz-Narnia” - released worldwide on the German ACT music label. He also got to record and mix the Emma Salokoski Ensemble track “Kuiva Maa” that was featured in the TV song competition “Syksyn Sävel”, documented in the blog earlier.

Mikko also recorded and mixed a part improv soundtrack by the great Pekka Kuusisto for a video advert for the Finland Festivals organization and mixed Arja Koriseva’s classy christmas album “Rakkaudesta Jouluun”, as well as tracking a rendition of “La Cumparsita” with Olavi Uusivirta to serve as the theme song for the Canadian documentary “Under the Red Star” by Shebafilms. He also held a mixing workshop for the talented people at Nokia’s sound design team. B2B!

Our friend Kimmo Antikainen also visited Mikko's Control Room to mix the album "En vielä tahtoisi nöyrtyä" by the cabaret band Kitkerät Neitsyet.

Julius crammed in a small mixing project for a yet to be launched Japanese group with producer Yoshio Tamamura. Also, mixing for the upcoming Suvi Koivu album began late in the autumn! Mikko also started yet to be unreleased mixing projects with the very talented "Voice of Denmark" competitor Bjarne Langhoff and the amazing duo Eva & Manu.

The remainder of the year Julius has spent on producing and recording Olavi Uusivirta's fifth album, also documented here. Pre-production and recording happened between September and New year, mixing was completed in early February. It's definitely one of the best projects... Ever? Quite likely. The album will see the light of day in March, so be prepared for something very cool!

Oh, and although Janne was extremely busy most of the year with the Logomo project traveling between Turku and Helsinki, he also designed quite a few nice studios: Rähinä records’ studios, Atomic Spa, Das Båt, AV-studios for Jyväskylä University and Heltech, a radio studio for GBMM, a functional workroom/studio for Timo Kämäräinen, few home theatres, a film studio for Janne Jankeri, modifications for HIP studios and Promix recording studio in Azerbaitsan, Baku.

And of course, our assistant Kia-Sofia Ryhänen was helping out with Vesterinen Yhtyeineen, Hope Comes in Many Forms and Olavi Uusivirta band sessions as well as recording the forthcoming Kiki Pau release!

perjantai 9. joulukuuta 2011

Olavi Uusivirta album in the making + thoughts about freelance engineers

As some of you may have noticed, I've been keeping myself extremely busy producing and engineering Olavi Uusivirta's forthcoming fifth album.

So far (and looks like this is unlikely to change [touches wood]) it has been a thoroughly enjoyable and otherwise fantastic project. Olavi and I have worked together in the past: on Soma albums and his own first two albums where I've done a little engineering plus featuring on the debut album (recorded, mixed and co-produced by our very own Mikko Raita) with - believe or not - my thighs. I'll tell that story another time. Back to the album!

I won't go into any details on what kind of an album we're making or any of that stuff. I think writing about it during the process is a bit silly - cause we as the makers of the album really only know what kind of an album we're making after it's finished. Also, it gives people some sort of a preconception on what they will hear, but I hate to say that it's usually completely distorted and weird. Fellow artists, producers and musicians can't really get a good picture of the record if they're given only a verbal or written description and for the layperson (whatever that means) it can be seriously misleading and even harmful.

So let's say we're really excited about the album, it's going to be fantastic and we're working our skinny arses off to make it fantastic!

Well, this wouldn't be a proper teaser if I just wrote that "I have a secret, but I'm not telling you". That'd be a bit unfair. So I give you a little snippet of one of our working days. This was not recorded at Studio Kekkonen (as you can see), but at Finnvox where we were recording grand piano for a day.

The video is shot by Olavi himself and portrays the almighty Jiri-serkku (better known as Jiri Kuronen) performing a piano track, which in fact is a keeper. One can spot yours truly producing the track by waving my arms around in a very producery way (that's what is taught in audio engineering schools: hand signals), but my part of the dialogue is cut, which IMHO makes it a much better teaser!

For the recording geeks: The piano was recorded with two Neumann FET U47's near the hammers (for some attack to cut through in the final mix), two DPA 4011's outside the instrument for a more natural sound and two Beyerdynamic 160 ribbon mics - this was a mono setup for another track. Also, I had a pair of DPA 4006's as ambience mics. The ambience mics went through the SSL AWS900 preamps and the other mics went through AMS Neve 1081 pres with some EQ. I tried the UREI 1178 compressor on the close up mics, but decided to rather compress the piano in the mix as one instrument (i.e. all the mics grouped together) rather than compress a single pair of mics. So no compression was used.

This trip to Finnvox reminded me of the old days, before we had our own studio. Back then, a mere few years ago, there was a legion (OK, not that many, but a whole bunch) of freelance recording and mixing engineers who hovered from one studio to the other depending on their personal tastes and availability of the studios. Most of us had preferences over what to use, but generally we worked in a variety of "big" studios: Finnvox, Sountrack (now turned E-Studio), Petrax, Sonic Pump, Seawolf, Mango (now turned Mankku) and HIP. I may have forgotten some. Before we entered the recording industry, this was normal practise, but additionally a lot of engineers had actual permanent jobs as staff engineers in studios (very few have that nowadays). Anyway, engineers were freelancing and the big studios were happy as they had a clientele who block-booked the studios for weeks. We as the freelancers were happy, as we had no debts to pay and studio rents to pay.

All that has changed now.

In 2005 when we started building our studio, there were signs of a lot of engineers building their own studios or developing close bonds to one big studio, doing practically all their work there. At some point, in 2008 or so, I kept hearing the big studio owners saying "Business is kinda ok, but it's more and more short projects and no block bookings and by the way, why have we not seen you here for the last two years?". That kept becoming more and more common and in 2010 we and some of our closest colleagues and friends thought of all practising proffessional recording and mixing engineers we could think of (there's not THAT many and we know practically all of them) and came to the conclusion that there were only two or three real freelancers left. Everybody else had built their own little place or exclusively used one studio. The big studios were and are still used regularily for large sessions with whole bands, or just drum sessions, grand piano, string ensemble or other session requiring a large space with good monitoring options, some special instruments (such as Hammond organ or grand piano) and a large collection of mics. But usually this is for only a coulple of days, maybe a week. After that, the project is moved to a smaller place, typically the producer's or the engineer's studio. Or rehearsal room. Or home.

Obviously, there are many reasons for this development: record sales are declining, so budgets are smaller. The amount of work for any given album has stayed constant, so work has to be moved to more affordable places. This is a no-brainer. At the same time, more people have made investments to build their own studios - just like we did. And when done right it's really not cheap, I can assure you. So either the studios are insufficient in quality (which results to poor-sounding records) or the owners have to take a big risk by investing a lot of money on the building.

So to be able to make records and make a living out of it, the producer/engineer (a very common combo these days) has to jump through some hoops to make the budget work in order to pay his bills. But to maintain high quality, this means expenses.


I could go on and on with this, but I want to conclude it by saying that I love having my own studio. It's an absolutely fantastic place and it's set up exactly how I want it to be. By having built it, ran it for five years, developed it to what it's become, I've also developed myself professionally to a completely new level and will continue to do so. I wouldn't change anything about that.

At the same time, I kinda miss my freelancing days, when I didn't have to worry when to switch to a new version of ProTools or when do we have enough downtime to do costly maintenance or who's turn is it to go to the wholesaler to buy coffee and toilet paper and where are all my receipts for the accountant and how much did that cost again? Those times when I worked at Soundtrack for a week and then at HIP for two weeks. Meeting colleagues in the lounge of Finnvox.

Ahh, the good old days.

OK, OK, I'm not YET old enough to really say that and feel entirely credible.

A lot of the stuff I miss from those days has to do with the element of change - which I find can be an inspiring and powerful thing. It can also be really annoying as it brings an element of (bad) randomness along with it. I'm talking about "Hey, where's that compressor that was here last month?" or "How was the patchbay wired here again?" or "Is there too much bass in my mix, or is it this room?" not to talk about "What was the security code in this studio again?".

In the end, the fact is that those days are gone and aren't coming back and that's OK too. I'm really content with the way things are, as said before, I love our studio, it's a fantastic place and I wouldn't go back if I could. But I do wonder sometimes how the new breed of engineers are going to learn to appreciate the notion of sonic quality over budgetary constraints and the idea of limited but sufficient studio time. In my part-time stint as a teacher of microphone techniques, mixing and ProTools trickery at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences I try to pass on the general idea and I'm sure that as long as there are ambitious aspiring engineers, there will be truly ambitious work done in the narrow field of recording and mixing music.