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!

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