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.


torstai 20. lokakuuta 2011

Whoa! We have ! is now open!

Five years ago when we opened the studio, we decided that in the next month or so, we will design a website to promote our studio.

But we were a bit busy at the time.

Then we got even busier.

And even busier.







Then we realised that five years had passed and here we were still busy. And we still had no website.

Finally, we decided that it's time to do something about it and here it is!

(In case you missed it, here's the link again)

Fabulous photos by Esko Pettay
Our beautiful wallpaper is Ritva Kronlund's "Paratiisi", Pihlgren ja Ritola Oy
Web design by Antti-Veikko Salo / Kolhoosi
All fabrics at the studio are from Marimekko

Huuuuge special thanks to A-V who had the patience to read through the 150 emails we sent him during the last week. He made it happen and didn't murder us although he probably wanted to.


keskiviikko 12. lokakuuta 2011

Kekkonen Elää! # 1 Matti Johannes Koivu Live at Studio Kekkonen

As we promised, it's here!


We at Studio Kekkonen - that is Julius Mauranen (me), Mikko Raita and Janne Riionheimo - were playing around with some ideas to celebrate our five years in existence (we all have made records for much longer, but these premises have been here since 2006) and do something fun. Our friend, producer, record label guy, radio guy, everything guy Nick Triani gave me the spark by mentioning that we could ask permission to use leftover tracks and post them on this blog (thanks for the push, Nick!). We developed the idea further by making little sessions with artists performing live in the studio, film and edit them with a modest, slightly homegrown fashion and put them out here. And that's exactly what we've done.

Each artist will pick what they want to perform and how they want to perform it - as long as it's not been released elsewhere or then it's something extra special. Something they might not usually do.

We will make these as often as we can, but as we are extremely busy here, it will be roughly every two months. Future artists in the series include Suvi Isotalo, Vesterinen Yhtyeineen, Delay Trees, Murmansk, Vuk, Iconcrash and Nuria. (+ Some other very nice ones we can't even talk about yet). More will be announced as the series goes on! Follow us on social media to hear about the series! Twitter, Facebook

But to the point! We are proud to present you the first part in our live session series! Enjoy!

"Kekkonen Elää! - Live at Studio Kekkonen":


Vocals and guitar: Matti Johannes Koivu
Guitar: Antti Rajala
Bass: Topi Karvonen
Drums: Tuomo Laakso

Music & lyrics: Matti Johannes Koivu

Arrangement: Matti Johannes Koivu, Topi Karvonen, Tuomo Laakso, Antti Rajala
Recorded live in Studio Kekkonen by Julius Mauranen with Mikko Raita
Mixed by Julius Mauranen
Directed and edited by Olli-Pekka Komonen
Matti Johannes Koivu appears courtesy of M.Dulor.


Firstly, a big, huge thanks to Matti Johannes Koivu and his band for doing this! If you liked this, but haven't got his latest album, I suggest you order it right away from the M.Dulor label shop!

Secondly big thanks to O-P Komonen for his guerilla skills with the camera and editing board!

Big thanks to Kiiski for the pulla.


"Buddha" was originally recorded for Matti Johannes Koivu's fourth solo album, the brilliant, critically acclaimed Toisen Maailman Nimi (released on the M.Dulor label). The record was mixed by Julius Mauranen at (you guessed it) Studio Kekkonen. FWIW, Julius also recorded the acoustic parts of the album that featured the unique talents of pianist/harpist Iro Haarla and bassist Ulf Krokfors.)

The track, however, was left off the album at the very last minute. It was mixed and ready to go, but Matti with co-producer Tuomas Ilmavirta thought it didn't fit comfortably on the album after all. Matti also had second thoughts on the original arrangement and the decision was made to leave "Buddha" off the album.

This is the sort of thing that happens every now and then when making records, we have to proverbially kill our darlings that have been laboured over by a number of people for hours, days, even weeks. It feels bad at first - when you're making records with a passion, you fall in love with every great song you work with, but eventually, you realise it's for the greater good (i.e. it serves the artist's creative vision and the album entity) and live with it."Buddha" became one of those darlings that had to be laid down.

Luckily, we had another chance to make "Buddha" available to the world, and this time in a different form!


The session itself was a blast! The band were in top form, the atmosphere was really good and we had a great day. Besides, we had pulla. And everybody knows that you can't go wrong then.

Pulla makes sessions tick. Proven fact.
After the setup (which takes quite a while when done right) - the band nailed the song on the third take. We had to do a few more to get some more video footage, but what you hear is take number three, unedited and without any overdubs (nor added sugar or preservatives and most definitely no monosodium glutamate).

Now as this session was the test drive for the whole concept and in hindsight there are a few things concerning the technical aspects of filming and marrying the sound to picture we should have thought a bit further beforehand. On the other hand, it is a new thing for us, so there's bound to be something that goes funny. But it turned out fine and the little things will iron out over time.

ABOUT THE RECORDING (Now there's just nerdy stuff ahead!)

The setup was such that the band (drummer Tuomo Laakso (who's also a visual artist!) guitar player Antti Rajala, and bassist Topi Karvonen) were set up in our live room. Antti's and Topi's amps were set up in other rooms (storage space and office, respectively) to avoid uncontrolleable leakage (the thing that happens when a microphone picks up the sound of instruments it's not meant to pick up). We put Matti in our other control room and his amp to another space - again to avoid leakage, mainly to his vocal mic.

So all in all, the four musicians occupied five spaces, but three people were in the same room. Sounds much more confusing than it is!

Matti wanted to hear some of the drums and his guitar acoustically (as well as through headphones) to feel more comfortable with the sound he hears - which is absolutely vital when recording - so we left doors a little open. We could control the leakage and how much he heard of the drums and his guitar with the door. Simple and elegant. The guy who invented the door probably didn't realise that it was actually a piece of recording gear.

Matti plays Finlandia instruments guitars into a Rikstone amp. The setup sounds amazing as it is. All there is to do is to capture what it is. This time I had the pleasure to record it using a Sandhill ribbon microphone. (All Finnish products, strangely enough!). The mic preamp I used was also Finnsh, Knif Audio V804 into a vintage dbx 160VU. He was singing into a Neumann U48, one of the most sought-after vocal mics in the world. The signal went likewise into an V804 and compressed with a handmade LA-2A clone.

Tuomo's drums were mic'd with two AKG C414-XLS's as overheads, an AKG D112 + a DIY subkick on the kick drum, SM-57 on top and a mad old Grundig lo-fi mic in the bottom (I wanted to try it and it sounded great!), toms were mic'd with Line Audio CM3's (very neat little mic!) and the room mics were Neumann CMV-563's with MK55 capsules (our M7 capsules are being reskinned at Thiersch Elektroakustik at the moment!). There was a Sennheiser MD441 on the hi-hat, but there was no need for it so it stayed muted. Oh, and underneath the ride cymbal was a Karma Audio K-Micro mic for giggles (they're tiny tiny mics and cost practically nothing). Well, we didn't need it either. All mics went through our heavily modified MS Audiotron Multimix with a little EQ here and there.

Antti's guitar is a beautiful old Hagström that he played through a Creamsound amp. That was mic'd with a SM-57 and compressed with a dbx 160VU. As with Matti's guitar, the sound is superb to start with.

Topi played a Fender Telecaster bass - something of a curiosity, but it sounded exactly right for the track (we tried a Precision bass too). This time instead of going to his Orange amp (that has a bottom end that could start wars), we chose to use a Music Man 65 that could be driven a little more with less seismic action. The cab was an Ampeg 1x15, mic'd with a Shure SM7B (I never tried it on bass before this, but I can highly recommend it!). There was a BSS DI signal too.


The whole sound was there right away. All I had to do in the mix was to make it glue a little bit more and add a little reverb on the track and do a little general sweetening. I compressed the drums a bit with our Gyraf G10 compressor, Knif Audio Vari-Mu, and a dbx 160VU. I squeezed the ambience mics with an Alesis Micro Limiter (wonderful lofi thing). On bass I had a Rantanen 1178 clone. On guitars I only had a touch of parallel compression (Rantanen LA-4 clone) and vocals were further compressed with an LA-2A (I can't get enough of it, can I?). I used a Roland Space Echo inserted before our Stocktronic Plate for vocal reverb and for guitars I used the one-of-a-kind Knif Audio K.Verb spring reverb. On the master I had a little bit of EQ from the magic stereo channel of our desk, light compression from the G-SSL and some saturation from real tape (Otari MTR-10, 1/4" RMG 900 at 15ips). Some plugins were used, mainly for EQ and a little help for the drum ambience from a convolution reverb, the Waves IR-L.

There was no mastering on this particular track, I brought up the volume a little bit to save you the trouble of touching the volume knob.

I hope you all enjoy the track!


sunnuntai 9. lokakuuta 2011

Emma Salokoski: "Kuiva Maa" at the Syksyn Sävel song contest

Mikko checking in for blog duty, "hello, world"!

So, turns out both me and Julius have a song we worked on in the legendary TV song contest Syksyn Sävel this year, it's a situation of double Kekkonen trouble! I'll share a few words about my work with the great Emma Salokoski and her amazing Ensemble recording and mixing the beautiful track "Kuiva Maa". Click on the 2nd video with the vinyl picture to hear the song!

Juppu already blogged about his work on the great 2nd Suvi Isotalo album that has the track "Kaikki Sanat" also featured in the competition, check that out too!

Anyway, about recording and mixing "Kuiva Maa"...

To start off, it's a very nice song written by jazz trumpet great Jorma Kalevi Louhivuori, with evocative lyrics by Emma and a powerful arrangement by Emma and her Ensemble. I was tasked with recording the band and mixing the song for release in Syksyn Sävel.

(Warning, this will get technical and even audio engineering-nerdy, so if you're not in to that kind of thing and happen to know finnish just skip to the links above and listen to Emma's own words about the song and the making of it instead, or better yet, listen to the song!)

Recording the basics

The band track was recorded live in a quite hectic session at a nice larger Helsinki room called E-Studio, on their freshly installed NICE Studer A994 large format analog console utilizing both Pro Tools HD and a 16 track 2" Studer A800 for recording mediums. (We only have a modest recording space home at Kekkonen and no grand piano, one reason for picking this particular room was also the fact that they have a very nice sounding Estonia full-size grand)

Hectic, because the go ahead for the session was made in regular music business fashion (quite late) and, as normal with the caliber of musicians Emma has in her Ensemble (Tuomo Prättälä, Lauri Porra, Mikko Kosonen and Marko Timonen), there is always some work juggling shcedules. As it happens, the best compromise for this particular session was that we had only a few hours after Emma had returned straight from the airport (from London performing in Aamu Song's Reddress) To when our drummer had to leave. As we were aiming for, and succeeded in, a live take from the band, those few hours were precious indeed. Thankfully these people are superb players who nailed the song in a few takes, with Emma providing the necessary guide vocals to set the right mood for the players. This includes the live guitar solo too!

Tech talk about the recording

We tracked the band simultaneously to digital as a clean safety and to 16 track analog with boosted levels for some tape saturation, via recording the tape returns off the delayed reproduction heads. This allowed us to have the charasteristic tape-abuse sound but also the mixdown option of using the cleaner digital only-tracks if preferred (via nudging the tape tracks by the amount of the head gap delay after each take), maintaining perfect sync between the two sets of tracks without having to sacrifice our precious few tape tracks for a timecode track. This kind of "advanced routing" can be daunting especially on a high-profile live tracking date like this but having super flexible routing options on the Studer desk certainly helped!

Despite the live playing, we were aiming for a slightly drier and easily controllable, and dare I say, "70's" overall sound so we utilized 3 iso booths to acoustically separate all the players.

Mic highlights would be a pair of fantastic prototype Sandhill ribbons on the piano along with regular joe AKG 414's and SM57's. The drum tone was mainly in the U89 overheads set up Recorderman style (my favourite OH technique) as well as close SM57 for snare, Sennheiser 421's for toms and 441's for the kick and hihat. A big part of the drum sound is just the fat tuning of Marko's drums, his mellow but precise playing and the fact that we had him in a fairly small dry-ish room. Mikko's Martin acoustic guitar was picked by a pair of AKG C 451 B's, and we decided for a DI electric bass warmed up by Lauri's own GT Brick preamp/DI.

After the basics, the multitrack visited Musicworks for some Clavinet and Jupiter overdubs by Tuomo and Emma's lead vocal recordings with vocal production guru Leri Leskinen, returning to me at Kekkonen for mix preparation and some last recordings in the form of a meaty Rhodes track by Tuomo and last-minute addition vocal doubles by Emma with our trusty Neumann U48.


The track was mixed by yours truly in my room at Kekkonen, accompanied by Tuomo who also acted as the music supervisor/producer and band representative, as well as Emma herself and Warner Music's A&R/Executive Producer Lasse Kurki. The mixing process was relatively smooth except for the fact that we only had one shot at it; Mastering with Svante Forsbäck at Chartmakers was already scheduled for the next day, early morning too!

This meant that instead of leaving the mix overnight and doing recall tweaks in the morning (or later, read below) we had to nail it during that one day like in the old days. Thus, we took the evening slow, created a reference file that we listened to on various systems, before I commited the final mix and sent it to mastering.

Svante did a great job of taming the slight midrange build up of the mix and there you have it, less than a week later it's on a TV competition site ready for your enjoyment! Ah, modern times...

Tech talk about the mixing

Notable mix outboard on this track was my trusty EMT 140 Plate reverb, used mostly on piano and guitar as well as little on the vocal, and the great Jonte Knif's Vari Mu compressor on drums, and his amazing old prototype Tube spring reverb "K-Verb" on keyboards. The full mix was routed through a Vintagedesign SU1 for additional crunch by its Neve-esque summing amp to be recorded back to Pro Tools to a "master" audio track. Key plug-ins used were the stock Digirack EQ-3, MDW EQ, Echoboy, TL Space and Massey CT4.

Oh, about the tape vs digital basic tracks: We ended up using everything else from the Studer A-800 "tape" tracks, except for the quiet piano intro and outro.

As hinted above, a few words about the way I like to mix. I work in a hybrid Pro Tools HD DAW/analog outboard environment, with an Avid ICON D-Command controller for tactile control and automation, which means that along with some digital photographs of rack units and audio samples of my plate reverb I can return to any mix with 99.9% reliability in "total recall" fashion. I've grown accustomed to abusing this nice possibility. Even though my best mixes are usually built in creative "old school" mixing spurs, often only a few hours on a song after mix preparations, I can still evaluate the finer details of automation, translation et al over the course of days or even weeks on various systems and do a tweak recall later on (if needed) - and still be able to work on different songs, even different projects, in the meantime. Many clients obviously like this possibibility for easy recalls.

Anyway, I guess that's enough for now. Go listen to the music if you didn't already, and don't forget to check back here for the upcoming "Kekkonen Lives!" video!

lauantai 8. lokakuuta 2011

Live at Studio Kekkonen series begins!

To celebrate our fifth anniversary, we at Studio Kekkonen are happy and proud to officially announce a new feature in our studio and this blog:


Exclusive live-in-the-studio sessions with some of our favourite artists performing unreleased material - recorded, mixed and filmed at Studio Kekkonen!

Basically, we decided to sacrifice the final remains of our free time and do something that would be inspiring, interesting and fun! We ask our friends / artists / bands / clients to come and give us little live performances right here at Studio Kekkonen. We record and mix the performance and arrange it all to be filmed and edited, then we post the results here for your unlimited enjoyment - for free!

We ask the artists to pick a song (or more) that has not been released elsewhere, such as brand new songs, outtakes from albums, maybe unexpected cover songs, maybe avant-garde noise experiments or klezmer-versions of the first songs they ever wrote when they were 13, anything they feel is worth recording and sharing to the world in this format! It's up to the artist.

Of course cynics will point out that this idea is by no means new or original. Abbey Road does it. Nigel Godrich does it. YLE does it. Many others do it. Why should we do it?

Well, why should we not do it?
Firstly, lots of unbelieveably talented, interesting and generally cool and amazing and beautiful and wonderful people (see sidebar) visit our studio all the time, working with us on their records. A lot of the time that final record (and maybe a blurry photo) is the only remaining document of them spending time at Kekkonen - in a way fair enough, that's what we do here (excluding blurry photos)! But it'd be nice to have something more as well. Besides, those people very often become personal friends of ours, some very close. This is a great excuse to get together and do something nice!

Secondly, practically all of our clients love the atmosphere at the studio. They like spending time here, some have practically made it their living room. And hey, why shouldn't they, it's a fantastic and cosy place where there's always music in the air (accidental Twin Peaks reference), nice people and great coffee (that's Dale Cooper again)! Artists feel at ease in our studio. It's easy to get inspired here. It's nice to make music here. There's a vibe.

Thirdly, making records is not only about having fun (though most of the time it is GREAT fun!) - it's also really, really hard work. It's exhausting, stressful and consuming - especially at the final mixing stage which is where we do a lot of our work at Kekkonen. Then the aforementioned coffee often isn't a nice little treat, but an absolute necessity to keep going at unsociable hours for the umpteenth day in row. We wanted to create something that would be a sort of therapy or antidote to that stress for the artists (and maybe even for us?). A day of only the fun side of music-making! No outside pressure, no deadline, no worries. That's the way we want to approach this.

Fourthly, we like to try out new and exciting things! We've been here for five years and I think it's about time that we do stuff we've never done before. We all (as human beings do) spend lots of time on irrelevant, boring and anything-but-fun things in our spare time, so why not take the time and make the effort of doing something worthwhile musically, sonically and socially?

Finally, we love you - our dear blog readers, supporters, fans of our artists, record-buyers and other hippies - so much that we want to give you a special treat! We really hope you find our series of live sessions musically interesting, entertaining and of course great-sounding - and even visually pleasing - we decided to outsource the visual side of things to somebody who actually knows (unlike us) what he's doing with moving picture no matter how little space available (yes, yes, we ARE smaller than Abbey Road) - OP Komonen, who I got to know during the making of Anssi Kela's "Aukio" album, OP documented it all reality-style and even made a little music video of the lead single "Aamu".

The first session has been recorded and it'll see the light of day next thursday! So stay tuned to this blog and if you don't yet, follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook so you won't miss a beat!

And a little teaser of our first session, in the form of a (blurry!) photograph:

Who could these guys be? Not a very difficult mystery to solve, especially if you take a look at recent photos on our Facebook page...

We'll be announcing performers later (I DO like cliffhangers), but I promise you that they are the crême de la crême!

And just for the sake of repetition: the video will be published right here in our blog on October 13th (that's next thursday).


perjantai 23. syyskuuta 2011

Juppu's past adventures in hi- and lo-fi #1: Vesa-Matti Loiri, part one

This is the first post in a series of recollections and memoires from some of the most memorable sessions Julius has been involved in. Some of these will be more in-depth than others, some will be not much more than funny stories or anecdotes.

This one is very long and divided into parts for several reasons: it is possibly the most memorable session I've ever been in and it involves Vesa-Matti "Vesku" Loiri, who's one of the most influental, loved and respected performing artists in the history of Finnish recorded music, film, theatre, opera, football or falling over (and yes, all of those qualify as art). Also, there were only three of us involved in the sessions that took place near the town of Ivalo, in northern Lapland, 1100 km from Helsinki. I also have a feeling that the other two (the artist himself and producer and my dear friend Hannu Pikkarainen) may remember different sides of the sessions. Or then not. They may or may not have written down or recorded them. I don't know.

And the part about dividing it into parts, well, it is about three albums and there are a lot of things to remember. I hope this makes it a better read!

Anyway, here's my take on the subject of 

The making of Vesa-Matti Loiri's "Ivalo", "Inari" and "Kasari".

Part one: Background

In the spring of 2006, before my involvement on the project, the record label (Warner Music Finland) had come up with this idea of making a record based on Johnny Cash's fantastic "American Recordings"-series of records - mostly acoustic, low-key, slow tempo versions of Finnish classic pop songs - with emphasis on songs with strong and moving lyrics. They had the artist (who, interestingly enough, never had been a big fan of Johnny Cash's music), they came up with a guy who would be just the right person to produce it (Emma-winning producer and guitarist Hannu Pikkarainen, more about him later), they had a release date, but they also had a problem.

Loiri likes to spend his summers in a little hideout cabin near the town of Ivalo in Lapland - about as far you can get in Finland and still have some services of the modern world (such as an airport, decent grocery store, two hotels). But due to the projected release date, the record would have to be made during the summer and Vesku had absolutely no intention of coming to Helsinki to make the record. Why should he? He had everything that he wanted there and he wasn't originally that keen on the idea of making a new record. He had other things planned, such as spending time with his two sons and taking it easy. His message to the record company was loud and clear: he wasn't coming, the record would have to be either postponed or cancelled altogether. The guys at Warner (at the time Pekka Ruuska and Pete Eklund) were under a lot of pressure, they had counted on this record to be one of their major products for the final quarter of the year (you know, Christmas and stuff... When people used to buy records in the old days) and it looked like it wasn't going to be made. Shit.

After a number of very stressed hours or days, Pete came up with a solution of taking the studio to Lapland. The artist agreed, as long as his other plans weren't going to be affected and I was contacted by Pekka to gather a mobile recording set and go do the record. Why they called me was because Hannu, the producer had mentioned me in a discussion about engineers. What's interesting is that we barely knew each other at that point. We had worked together on a very short overdub session for an artist he was producing. I remember having to be talked into doing the session by colleague and friend Juha Jäntti (thank you for insisting!), since it happened in the most rushed, stressful and panicy phase of the building of our studio. I agreed to do it and we got along really well with Hannu and based upon the vibe he got from me during those maybe three hours, he recommended to hire me.

(Side note: I don't know what would've happened if I hadn't done that overdub session but I guess the moral of the story is NEVER to look down on a gig, no matter how minuscule it may seem, you never know what may come out of it.)

So there I was, going to record Vesa-Matti Loiri - whom I had never met - with Hannu Pikkarainen - with whom I had worked for three hours - in a makeshift studio more than a thousand kilometres from home and we were told to come back only when we had a finished (save mixing) record, preferably one that would have the potential to be very successful.

But to be honest, I didn't have the time to think about all that, I was busy trying to work out what to take and how to make sure we had everything we needed. That was sort of difficult because I had no idea what our to-be-studio was like (to start with, I didn't know whether it had electricity or not). For some time I tried to inquire about it, but as it was a remote, rented house that had just been bought by a new owner (whose contact details we, conveniently enough, didn't have in the Helsinki end) and the old owner was something of a hermit (whose contact details we didn't have either for that matter) - my attempts were in vain. At this point I just had to figure out all the things that could possibly go wrong and work out ways to overcome those things - part of the job description, as any self-respecting recording engineer knows.

For a few weeks, I was all "What if such-and-such-part breaks?" and made historically and hysterically frequent visits to Yleiselektroniikka, our then-local supplier of audio connectors and such to get the oddest audio adapters, fuses, wire, AC splitters and maybe a little more than enough spare XLR and 1/4" connectors. And a few RCA's that probably won't hurt.

But then a few days before the trip I was all set, I had absolutely everything covered. I had the core studio equipment (more details next time), I had every possible audio connector and cable I might need (and of course a soldering iron and connectors), I had the phone number of the closest audio related and IT companies if there was a catastrophy related to those things and I even had the phone number to the local electricity company in case there was a need for a diesel-powered generator. However there was a technical hurdle waiting for us in Ivalo, but I'll leave that to next time (yes, I just needed to have a cliffhanger).

I was quite confident everything was going to be ok, or if not, I could come up with something. I was nervous, of course, but prepared. Until the last evening when my mother casually asked the question:

"What happens if you don't get along with Vesa-Matti Loiri?"

Thanks, Mum, I really needed that.

Part 2 coming soon! Until then, enjoy the Spotify playlist I made of the records.


maanantai 19. syyskuuta 2011

Delay Trees song featured on "Grey's Anatomy"!


Again, this is concerning the wonderful Delay Trees! "Gold", the title track of their eponymous debut album - produced, recorded and mixed by Julius Mauranen here at Studio Kekkonen - will be featured in the next episode of the immensly popular and - here musically speaking - very influential TV series "Grey's anatomy". The episode will air this weeks thursday in the US.

For those of you who don't know, Grey's anatomy is not only watched by millions and millions of people around the world and is one of the highest revenue earning shows on US television, it's also known for acting as a platform for highlighting and promoting music - as a matter of fact, Grey's anatomy is something of a pioneer in the field (Yes, I did learn a lot of that on Wikipedia).

For those of you who don't know, Delay Trees are the greatest band in Finland and you should all go and buy their self-titled debut album now, either on CD from Levykauppa Äx, on vinyl from Cargo in Germany or as digital version in iTunes in the US. And if you're a sceptic, have a listen on Spotify (where the opening track is misspelled as "Cold" (facepalm...)) and THEN support new music and its makers and go buy the album so we can make a new one. You can also download their new Before I Go Go EP for free on their website! As said before, the album is produced, recorded and mixed by Julius Mauranen, the EP is produced by the band, recorded by Teemu Vilmunen of Ultramariini, mixed by Julius.

We don't obviously yet know the scene or how the song is featured in it, but even if it was only three seconds of leakage from a patient's iPod headphones while he's being rushed in the ER in the background with Meredith and Derek getting divorced and re-married in the foreground by a priest dressed as Elvis (do not ask how I know the characters, I don't even have a television), it'd be HUGE news. Why's that? Well, a LOT of music is being pushed to the show and to get through - especially as an indie debut act from some peripheric european country - it really, really must have made an impression on someone who's willing to put it out to millions of viewers. Credit for that goes to Dan Koplowitz and his whole hard-working team at the mighty Friendly Fire Recordings, GREAT WORK! Naturally, credit also goes to Delay Trees themselves (and of course their producer/engineer who made it sound so amazing - watch out for future blog posts about makings of great past records, Delay Trees will be most definitely be featured).

Gold by Delay Trees

Very happy Julius

sunnuntai 11. syyskuuta 2011

51 songs from Studio Kekkonen

Here's a little (well, ok, it's 3 hours so not really little) Spotify playlist for your enjoyment!

51 songs from Studio Kekkonen

We just gathered a lot of the stuff we've done over the years into some sort of a manageable thing. We did leave out a lot of stuff, honestly.

On the playlist you find anything from Joonatan Rautio to Fireal to Delay Trees to Ismo Alanko to Sakilaiset to Vesa-Matti Loiri. This is just to present the scope of projects we've gone through. A lot of the stuff isn't on Spotify, some of you may not have Spotify, so watch our Soundcloud for more music (in the future, too!).

This playlist is as much (or even more) of a reference list as a playlist. I mean, we don't really expect the same audience to dig all of this stuff (or on the other hand why not, it's all good?). It simply portrays what we've been up to for the last 5-7 years and isn't categorised by engineer (Mikko, Janne or me) or genre or anything else, but serves a purpose, if not for anyone else, perhaps for us - at least when amnesia creeps in.

I promise you that there will be more concise and thematic playlists in the future! Meanwhile, you can listen to this and go through a lot of different worlds...


keskiviikko 7. syyskuuta 2011

Suvi Isotalo - P.S. Maj'lle

Here's a video off one of my favourite records that I've mixed this year, Suvi Isotalo's second album "P.S. Maj'lle" (out on September 21st 2011 on the Sound Of Finland label).

About the record...

It was such a fun record to work on. Produced by the ultra-talented Timo Kämäräinen, the album is something a bit different than Suvi's first album "Jollet rakasta" - which, BTW is great too! Whereas the first record leaned more towards 1970's singer-songwriter tradition, on "P.S. Maj'lle" Suvi and Timo wanted the record to have an edgier feel to it. There's more experimentation and playfulness in terms of the soundscape, but at the same time the themes of the album are very personal, some of them very dark.

Well, as this is not a record review (that'd be really weird) and I most certainly aren't a music journalist, I won't delve any deeper in this wishy washy description of music - which anyway is practically impossible. But maybe a few words about the mixing? I did - after all - mix the album!

Slightly geeky stuff about the recordings...

The album was recorded in various places, two (or three?) studios and different other locations. Timo recorded a lot of it by himself and his tracks sounded excellent. With such great musician as Timo (who is an extraordinary guitarist, check out anything out of his discography), Olli Krogerus (drums, they also have a duo called Toot toot with Timo) and of course Suvi herself (amazing singer and songwriter!) you can't go wrong. The arrangements were spot on (including some great strings, though edgier than on the first album), so my job was really just to enhance what was there and go crazy when it was appropriate.

Technically, as the music was recorded in different locations over some time (and one of the tracks was originally a demo), there were some variation in the sound of the recordings. That sometimes introduces problems, but in this case it felt like every sound had a reason, so there was no need to jump through hoops to get everything up to some imaginary line or standard. Having great musicians, great arrangements and a charatceristic sound to start with is really the optimal situation to start mixing a record!

Very geeky stuff about the mixing!

A little bit of something for the geeks (like me) then... The album was recorded in 96kHz (save that one song that was a demo originally) and recorded and mixed in ProTools at Control Room 2 in Studio Kekkonen, by yours truly, Julius Mauranen. My way of working is a kind of hybrid, balancing, routing and part of the processing is done "in the box", but I use a lot of analog processing. When mixing a record in 44.1kHz or 48kHz, I often sum the mix on our heavily modified MS Audiotron Multimix desk, but as the outputs to the desk are via RME ADI-8 DS D/A converters (ADAT optical) that only operate up 48kHz, I opted to keep the material at 96kHz and just bring the 2-buss into a custom-made stereo channel on our desk, where I could use the fantastic onboard EQ as a master EQ.

By the way, the MS Audiotron was modified and the custom channel with its Sontec-style EQ were done by Jaakko Viitalähde of Virtalähde Mastering a great mastering engineer who's built practically all his gear himself. And some things for us too! There's a mod in the desk that allows me to use outboard preamps as a summing amp, which is just great! On Suvi's album, I used the Knif Audio V804 preamp - possibly the best pre I have ever used - as a summing amp. The preamp (as well as some other gear we have) is designed and built by Jonte Knif, a Finnish genius tube equipment designer / god. His gear is absolutely stunning. Anybody who has anything to do with recording, mixing or mastering should try out his products. They are simply mindblowing. More of them in a later post, I promise you.

From the desk, the signal went to a Gyraf G-SSL built to order by my friend, ex-SSL tech Dave Evans (link to be added!), who did some nice quirks into the design. The album was mostly mixed with a ratio of 4, attack of 30 and release of either 0.3 or "auto". From the compressor (inserted inline), the signal went to our Otari MTR-10 1/4" tape machine (with RMGI SM900 tape at 15 IPS) and then back to ProTools. This is my master chain 90% of the time. I love it.

Suvi's vocal chain, if I recall right - was LA-2A clone "Laakkonen" into a 1178 clone built by Tapio Rantanen, tech at Finnvox. For reverbs I used our Stocktronic RX4000 plate reverb (also used by Tore Johansson), a Roland RE-201 Space Echo and various plug-ins, including Soundtoys' Echoboy and TL Space.

(On this particular track, I don't remember exactly what I used for the filtered vocal sound, but I'll update it when I can check it out.)

Meanwhile, enjoy the song and video and check her stuff on Spotify! And of course, support new and fresh music and go buy the album on September 21st!


Suvi Isotalo - P.S. Maj'lle video on Vimeo!

perjantai 2. syyskuuta 2011

Prehistory of Studio Kekkonen: The old place

So, this year Studio Kekkonen as it's known these days has been in its place for five whole years. There will be more posts to come on the subject, but we'll kick off by looking at the very beginnings of what has become one of the finest studios in Helsinki (if you don't mind me saying that).

So here we go:

Prehistory of Studio Kekkonen (From 2003 to 2005)

Back in 2003 or so, Mikko and Janne were looking for a shared studio space (Juppu joined in a little later). They even had a starting point: Janne had previously done some work for a real character called Toni, a keyboard player who was a known figure in the Finnish scene of traditional popular ("Iskelmä") music and a kind of gear collector. Any gear. As in ANY. He had a few (rather grotty) spaces in Pitäjänmäki, north west Helsinki. Some of the spaces were for storage of his stuff and one was a office space, converted into a studio. Well, the converting had consisted of putting a window on one of the walls, running a multicore and calling the other room "control room". Really, it was a room with speakers and other recording gear in it. We knew this, but were happy to have something. These days a lot of people call that kind of space "a studio", but that's another story. This place was dirt cheap and it was something.

The gear we had in the beginning was a PC, a pair of Genelec 1030's, NS-10's, Digidesign Digi 001 (later 002), a few instruments (guitars, amps and keyboards), a few mic stands, cables and semi-pro mics. So really, nothing to write home about. By then we had already been around the block enough to know that it wasn't much. But then we had Toni's gear, of course. Now when I said he collected gear is a bit misleading. He really just gathered stuff. Any stuff. In the dark corners of his storage rooms you'd find a dozen 12"-17" VGA displays, none of which worked, some sort of automatic line mixer they use in malls, karaoke machines, PC components, semi-pro patchbays, bits of PA systems. Et cetera. Rubbish. Junk. Stuff. But there in the middle of the stuff, there would be a Neumann U47 (arguably the most wanted mic on the planet, besides the ELAM 251). Or an AKG BX-20. Or ANOTHER Neumann U47. Then another 4 broken VGA displays. Then a RCA 44. I kid you not. He had absolutely AMAZING vintage mics and outboard gear, yet it was all stashed in with the rubbish. Then he kept praising some dreadful Spirit digital console or a pair of hideous-sounding Russian mics. He REALLY is a character. So we got to use this weird mix of very pro-sumer, average stuff and this amazing, classic but poorly maintained gear (one of the U47's was later named "Frankenstein") included in the rent. Just a few years later we were fortunate enough to acquire some fantastic vintage equipment of our own, but only one mic - the Neumann CMV-563 - was originated from Toni's "collection" - I actually found it fallen and forgotten in the back of our mic "locker" (and even that (and some cash) we traded for a stereo pair of the same type). That was mostly due to two factors: firstly Toni didn't really keep his gear in great shape and secondly he was very difficult to deal with - purchasing that one mic from him required about thirty phonecalls, three meetings where he just didn't show up and when he finally did, the first thing he did was drop the mic on the parking lot (in its case and only from the car floor height, so it wasn't damaged - miraculously).

Another great feature of his was the fact that you NEVER could guess whether the gear would be there when you got to the studio. Twice I remember walking into the studio and to my horror see that the mixing desk (yes, that same horrible Spirit digital thing) was MISSING and once I got there seeing that it was not only missing, but replaced with a Behringer desk. Toni had other strange habits, such as suddenly changing languages in the middle of the sentence. Even in the middle of a word. Finnish, English, Swedish all happily mixed up. At the time these things were both hilariously funny and extremely annoying, but later I've thought that my life wouldn't have been quite as fulfilling had I never dealt with this guy. He's a warm-hearted and well-meaning chap and secretly we all really liked him despite his certain absurd traits. Plus we had access to his great gear.

Mikko left the place at some point in 2004, cause he got accustomed to working in places like HIP Studiot and Finnvox and the now-defunkt Crystal Sound and did not really need the old place any longer. Juppu and Janne continued working there until the summer of 2005 (that's when the dub collective next door started rehearsing a bit too often for comfort) and then began the hunt for the new studio - what we thought would be just a "slight improvement" to the old premises. Little did we know...

I wish I could post pictures of the Old Kekkonen here, but there is only one known picture of that place (Janne has it, I'll post it when I have it). That sort of tells something about that place. It wasn't really too photogenic... If any reader of this blog has any pics from the old place, send them to us!

Stay tuned for more history!


torstai 1. syyskuuta 2011

Aves video!

Our aforementioned friends at Stereotype Helsinki are keeping busy, they've just put out an amazing video for Aves' "You, Lucid" that I posted earlier - expect more tracks to appear as time goes by. But until then, you can watch this on repeat. It's one jaw-droppingly stunning visual experience. Plus early on in the video, there's a figure who seems to walk amongs gigantic rhubarbs. Nobody can resist gigantic rhubarbs, that's a proven fact. And if in my earlier post I said the track itself takes you on a journey - this takes you on a complete trip. Director for the video is a visual artist called Juho Risto Aukusti Lähdesmäki. That's a very long name. The song was mixed at Studio Kekkonen by yours truly, Julius Mauranen. Enjoy:

Aves - You, Lucid from Stereotype Helsinki on Vimeo.

maanantai 29. elokuuta 2011

Baby You're Too Young!

So, the boys from My First Band will be releasing their energetic 2nd album Mercury & Glitter one month from now on 28.9. 2011 on Äänivallila records. Mixed by Mikko at Kekkonen, take a peek at their raucous 1st single and video on Youtube!

Oh right, this is also a "welcome to the blog"- post by me so, welcome!


perjantai 26. elokuuta 2011

Aves - You, Lucid (mixed in Kekkonen!)

Our friends across the road at Stereotype Helsinki just put out a new track by Aves, mixed right here in Studio Kekkonen by Julius Mauranen. It's a hushy and dreamy track filled with details, that wraps you in a comfortable haze. It's like taking a short vacation with someone who keeps blowing lots and lots of bubbles silently. It's also very hard to describe, so why not have  a listen!

Here you go, enjoy!

tiistai 23. elokuuta 2011

Whoa, we have a blog!

This is the first entry to Studio Kekkonen's blog, which is pretty exciting!

What's more exciting is that I'm currently in the process of mixing the forthcoming debut album of Black Twig, a fantastic Finnish dreamy-noisy-guitary-indie-shoegaze band on Nick Triani's new Soliti label.

Stay tuned for more info on us, the music we work on and other nice things. Meanwhile, go and downlad Delay Trees' Before I Go Go EP for free. Mixed by yours truly - Julius Mauranen - here, in Studio Kekkonen.

More coming soon!


P.S. This is the Technorati token: YR9HYK8R5FVV