One mic, two singers, and a universe of emotion. Watch this soulful, one-take interpretation of Daniel Caesar’s song ‘Best Part’ performed by Alana Alexander and Nico Gomez on a single Sphere L22 in this “Sphere Sessions” episode.
Find out how our product expert and engineer Julian David made the most of Sphere’s patented features and our Sphere 180 stereo mode to record and mix the two singers in this blog post.
Please listen using high-quality studio monitors or headphones to hear all the details.
The Sonic Vision
It all began with a spontaneous home studio video that our three featured artists posted on social media catching our attention. The two singers Alana Alexander and Nico Gomez, and keyboardist Christian Frentzen have all worked together for years and share a mutual love for groovy and soulful tunes. Nico had always been meaning to record a duet with Alana and loves singing with her. When we heard their rendition of Daniel Caesar’s Grammy-winning hit “Best Part” featuring H.E.R., it was immediately apparent that it deserved to be captured more elegantly.
“We chose this song because we all love R&B/soul, we all love songs that leave enough space to tell a story, and we all love making music with each other.” - Nico Gomez
Apart from a flawless, highest quality recording, the main goal for this session was to capture the raw emotion and give-and-take of the two singers.
Townsend Labs' product expert and producer/engineer Julian David recorded the group at Tresorfabrik recording studio in Germany. From the beginning, the session was conceived as a single camera, continuous one-take recording of the song. To create an inspiring setup for Alana and Nico to interact, everybody agreed to use a single Sphere L22 with the vocalists on each side. Facing each other, the singers had the freedom to communicate and connect.
One key element of a “one-mic” approach like this is that the performers balance themselves as best as possible. While Sphere provides some wizardry that goes far beyond what’s possible with traditional microphones, the performance itself is still paramount. Especially considering that this was going to be a one-take performance, Nico and Alana had to pay close attention to their mic technique and carefully play with their position and volume to get it right over the whole song duration.
Christian, performing on a lovely vintage Wurlitzer keyboard, was positioned further in the back with a clear line of sight to the two singers. The Wurly was recorded going direct into a DI box.
To add a little bit of space and natural ambience to the recording, Julian added an AEA R88 ribbon microphone as a room mic.
- Vocals: Single L22 microphone in Sphere 180 mode capturing both vocalists
- Wurlitzer: DI
- Room Mic: Stereo pair of AEA N8 ribbon microphones
- Preamps: api 512c for vocals and Wurlitzer, Chandler Germanium for room mics
- Conversion: DirectOut Andiamo
- Recorded at 24 Bit / 96 kHz in Pro Tools
- UAD Capitol Chambers reverb and some light compression added
How to Record Two Singers With the Sphere L22
The dual-diaphragm capsule of the Sphere L22 is ideally suited to record duos and groups of vocalists or instruments on each side. The two-channel capture of the mic then provides two different workflow and processing options:
- Splitting (Multing) the signal into two separate tracks with the regular Sphere plug-in on each channel. One instance of the Sphere plug-in is set to a forward-facing cardioid, the other is set to reverse.
- Treating the signal as a stereo capture using the Sphere 180 plug-in on a single track in your DAW.
Both approaches are basically sonically equivalent, but they feature different workflows that are worth understanding when working with Sphere.
The first approach provides the most flexibility and a more traditional layout for your mix. Each singer can be treated individually on a separate track with its own fader. Once the Sphere plug-in is inserted, it collapses the two-channel recording to mono. With the polar pattern set to cardioid, you can quickly select a mic model that suits the singer best, adjust the proximity effect, and add additional effects, such as compression or EQ. Using the pan controls in your DAW, you can also freely adjust the positioning within the soundstage and Aux sends.
The second approach using the Sphere 180 plug-in, on the other hand, delivers a true stereo signal of whatever happened around the Sphere L22 microphone. Selecting back-to-back cardioid patterns, you will hear the two voices hard-panned left and right in this setup. But you can quickly narrow the stereo spread by adjusting the polar pattern in the Off-Axis-Correction section or improve the balance from left to right. Once again, you have the freedom to change the microphone models for both sides individually.
Because Julian wanted to retain the natural dynamics, sonics, and positioning of the two vocalists, he went with this second approach for this session.
Mixing Alana Alexander's & Nico Gomez's vocals for Best Part
As a result of using the Sphere 180 technique described above, the singers share a single fader in the DAW. This also means that any EQ, compression, and reverb would be applied to both singers equally.
Despite recording with a single, two-channel microphone, the Sphere 180 plug-in allows selecting different mic models for each side. For Alana's side of the microphone, Julian chose the LD-017T model of a current production Soyuz tube condenser. This is the same mic model Julian used in Alana's stunning performance of her original song 'Mama'. Nico, on the other hand, sounded particularly great when paired with the LD-251 model.
Since the goal of the session was to capture the raw and pure performance, Julian consequently applied very little processing. Apart from a small low-mid dip to Nico’s side of the track and very minimal compression, he only added some reverb with the Capitol Chambers plug-in from Universal Audio. The mix was then all about riding the singers’ fader to even out some dynamics and balancing all the elements. Alana and Nico are very dynamic singers with very soft details but also some loud parts. Instead of squashing those dynamics with heavy-handed compression, volume automation is usually a more natural-sounding solution. Julian also harnessed a parallel compression bus with a UAD Neve 33609 compressor to bring out the soft details.
The final touch was just a little bit mix bus processing to get the mix up to a conservative loudness for YouTube streaming (-14 dB LUFS).
The Artist Perspective
Let’s hear from the artists how they experienced the recording session with the Sphere L22:
“It was definitely a brilliant experience recording with a single mic. You’re face-to-face with the other singer, and both can interact on an emotional level. It’s something I had to get used to a little bit because normally you’re by yourself in a vocal booth. Here, you’re right in front of your duet partner. So for a love song, in particular, it takes some guts to let go and let those emotions play out. But I find it genius for duets!” - Nico Gomez
Alana Alexander adds:
"Nico is my favorite singer and I absolutely adore working with him in any capacity. Performing this particular song in the style we recorded was so intimate and fun!"
About the Artists
Alana Alexander (vocals)
Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, this soul songstress and daughter of a Bishop, began her musical education in her father’s church surrounded by a very talented and artistic family. Alana exhibits a unique sound resulting from her exposure to musical influences such as gospel, soul, latin, jazz, and calypso. She has performed with world-renowned artists and in iconic venues like Carnegie Hall. Alana has lived and performed in Germany for several years but is now back home in New York City.
Hear more from Alana here.
Nico Gomez (vocals)
Germany-based singer-songwriter Nico Gomez played his first tour in his mother’s womb before he was even born. Raised in a family of artists, music has been flowing through Nico’s veins from the start. Nico began playing drums and piano in his early childhood and soon got into composing, producing, and singing his own songs as well. He loves to perform live and lets no opportunity pass to do so. During his career, Nico has performed and worked with One Republic, Glasperlenspiel, Wincent Weiss, Max Herre, Mousse T., and many more. He is currently in the process of releasing his debut album one single after another. Dedicating his attention to detail and lots of emotion, he invites the listener into his personal music universe.
Hear more from Nico here.
Christian Frentzen (Wurlitzer)
Christian Frentzen is a keyboardist, pianist, and audio engineer living and working in Cologne, Germany. He has performed as a sideman of artists such as Marla Glen, Julia Neigel, Stefanie Heinzmann, and Rüdiger Baldauf. He also is currently working on releasing the debut album of his jazz quartet. Apart from his work as a keyboardist, he also produces bands and has been sampling vintage keyboard instruments under his 'CFrentzen' moniker.
Find out more about Christian here.
With Sphere you now can:
- Record with the sound of microphones many have only dreamt about
- Change mic type, polar pattern, and other microphone characteristics, even after tracking!
- Audition the sound of different microphones without tiring the vocalist
- Reduce bleed, undesirable room coloration, and other common issues using Off-Axis Correction™
- Record in stereo from a single microphone
You are invited to install the free, fully-featured Sphere plug-in for all major platforms and DAWs. Try it now and reimagine our library of pre-recorded tracks.