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!