Austrian singer KTEE has been singing since the moment she spoke her first word, so nailing a vocal performance at 2:00 am in a freezing warehouse is just up her alley. This was, in fact, the setup for this one-take acoustic live video showcasing our Sphere L22 microphone. Performing together with her producer and guitarist Bern Wagner, she delivers an intimate, yet fully captivating rendition of her latest single ‘Melody’:
Bern Wagner became a Sphere owner at the beginning of 2018 when he and his studio partner Markus Weiss purchased their pair of L22s. At Lords of the Sounds studio, half an hour’s drive outside of Vienna, Austria, the L22 has become one of those investments that just keeps on giving. Thankfully, Bern invited us to have a close-up look behind the scenes of the production and his work with KTEE and our Sphere microphone modeling technology. In the interview, we talk about why the recording took place in the middle of the night, but also how Bern uses Sphere on a daily basis. As the cherry on top, Bern is letting us hear some isolated tracks of the L22 used for a variety of instruments in KTEE’s single production of ‘Melody’.
Q: Watching the video, the first thing that strikes me is the detailed and intimate quality of KTEE’s voice. How did you accomplish that?
"For the most part, it is indeed KTEE’s voice that makes it so compelling, so I just needed to augment it with a little bit of processing to really make it shine. On location, the L22 went through a Focusrite ISA preamp into a Motu Traveller interface. Nothing super special, but a good, clean recording. In the mix, I went with the BP-251E from the UAD Putnam Collection expansion for her vocal. This got me pretty much almost there. All I had to add was a touch of UAD Curve Bender EQ, some compression by an LA-2A into a Distressor, and a de-esser to make the vocal sit in the mix. It was all quite minimal, really, and completely in the box."
Q: The location for the shoot certainly looks cool. How did that come about and how much does the warehouse add to the sound of the recording?
"We originally chose this location for the shooting of the actual music video to the song. After the shoot was wrapped up, we had the spontaneous idea to film an acoustic live version, too. So we went back to the recording studio to get the L22 for the vocals, the guitar, and a couple of extra mics. I used two Neumann KM 84 for the acoustic guitar because I wanted to capture it in stereo.
It was a very cold night and the warehouse obviously wasn’t heated, which is why KTEE’s breath can be seen in the video. She was shivering from the cold, but that didn’t keep her from delivering a stunning performance.
There already was quite a good natural reverb in the warehouse, which was captured by the microphones off-axis. It adds quite a bit of character to the recording. To supplement that, I used the UAD 480L additionally to add width and more space. And a touch of Waves H-Delay always works on vocals..."
Q: How did you deal with the separation between the guitar and the vocal in this live recording?
"The cardioid setting picked up a bit too much guitar bleed, but I didn’t like the figure-8 pattern in terms of vocal sound. Therefore, I played around with the variable polar pattern until I found a good compromise."
“It’s one of those few pieces of equipment that are actually new and innovative.” - Bern Wagner
Q: How do you use the L22 at your studio?
"I’m a guitarist by trade and I use the L22 almost daily on acoustic guitars. Compared to my vintage Neumann KM256 tube condenser, the OW-54 (from the UAD Ocean Way Microphone Collection) is so darn close sonically, but the L22 has a much lower noise floor. I love those vintage mics, but for finger-picked acoustics, the noise is often unacceptable. Another example where the low noise floor of the L22 saves the day is recording echo chambers. Here at Lords of the Sounds we have our own echo chamber adjacent to the studio that I like recording with my L22s."
Q: What’s your secret to recording acoustic guitars?
"I typically record acoustic guitars in stereo, but I prefer coincident techniques like MS (mid-side) or XY since they are more mono-compatible than a spaced pair. Depending on the guitar’s role in the arrangement I will change the guitars stereo width, which is why MS is so ideal. An MS pair of L22s is now my go-to setup for recording all acoustics. With the mid-side stereo setup and Sphere’s modeling capabilities I can completely change the sound even after tracking.
I also find that I need to use less EQ when using Sphere because the different microphone models will bring out or hide specific sound characteristics. Sometimes you don’t even notice an annoying frequency in a guitar track until you change the mic model and that frequency is suddenly not as accentuated."
Q: Any other instruments you like to use the L22 for?
"Oh absolutely! I really like the L22 for recording electric guitars, because it sounds great and it allows me to work very quickly. Sometimes I might add a Shure SM57 as a second mic, but often it’s just the L22 by itself. I also regularly use the L22 for percussions and backing vocals. On KTEE’s single ‘Melody’ I recorded all acoustic and electric guitars, percussions, and her backing vocals with my Sphere L22s and the Undertone Audio MPEQ-1 Preamps/EQs. That’s a killer combo that is hard to beat. Only her lead vocal was recorded with an original Sony C800G."
Have a listen for yourself
Bern has been so kind to export a few isolated tracks of the L22 on guitars and drums that he recorded for the single version of KTEE’s song ‘Melody’. Here's what the final result sounds like:
Would you like to dive in deeper and explore these files on your own? Download the archive of files including the "Sphere Direct" (raw) versions straight off the L22 and run them through the Sphere plug-in in your DAW of choice. Simply download the free, fully-functioning installer of Sphere to get started. You can also see Bern's own settings in the screenshots included in the download package:
Q: Why is working fast so important to you?
"It helps me to keep the flow going, to be creative and to capture performances at their best. I love trying different mics but that can kill creativity sometimes. Setting up an L22, pressing the record button, and postponing the mic choice to a later stage helps a lot."
“This is a professional tool designed to make great records and not a toy.” - Bern Wagner
Q: Are there any interesting ways you work with Sphere for percussion?
"What’s cool about Sphere is the ability to change the amount of room ambiance pick-up by adjusting the polar pattern. It’s kind of an essential feature to me for percussion, because you can control where the part sits in a mix long after tracking. Some percussion tracks also might need a pretty healthy dose of compression or EQ to sound interesting. The same would be true for a trash mic on drums where you would add a ton of compression and/or distortion. Often times it’s not quite clear which mic model is the best choice before you start adding all the other processing. So I often find myself going back to Sphere and trying different microphone models to find the one that works best with the processing."
Q: Were you a Sphere lover from the beginning?
"Honestly, I was pretty skeptical in the beginning. I actually didn’t really want the L22 to sound as good as some of our vintage mics. But over time I quickly realized the benefits of using Sphere. It has become a true workhorse microphone at the studio. It’s one of those few pieces of equipment that are actually new and innovative. This is a professional tool designed to make great records and not a toy."
Find out more about KTEE here.