Hand-made, authentic, and live - the German singer-songwriter Nico Gomez goes back to the roots on his latest acoustic EP. His most personal song on the release, "Höher" ("Higher"), was tracked with Sphere L22 microphones all around in our latest Sphere Session. Watch the performance video of his expressive vocal delivery, then learn how our product expert Julian David recorded and mixed it:

Please enjoy using high-quality studio monitors or headphones to hear all the details.

The Sonic Vision

From the beginning, it was clear that this performance was going to be extremely personal and intimate. The focus would be on Nico singing and playing the grand piano. Even so, rather than just performing solo, Nico invited his friends and fellow musicians Alana Alexander and Christian Frentzen to join him in the session. Christian role was to add depth and texture with his Dave Smith Instruments Prophet-6 and a Wurlitzer. The latter would go through a series of effects pedals for delays and filtering.

Alana Alexander is an exceptional singer in her own right, and we've already featured her in other videos. Her voice provides an entirely new, dreamy dimension via an expressive, reverb-drenched interlude after the first chorus. She also joins Nico with a harmony in the outro.

All three musicians were excited to perform simultaneously so they could react to Nico's incredible energy on the spot.

Nico Gomez Höher Sphere Sessions group shot 1500px

Setup

Townsend Labs' product expert and producer/engineer Julian David recorded the group at Tresorfabrik recording studio in Germany. As part of a series of shoots, the session was conceived as a single camera, continuous one-take recording of the song. The setup had to facilitate good sightlines for the musicians but also work well for the picture. This typically requires a bit of negotiating, but you have to make it work for the artists in the end.

To avoid excessive spill between Nico's vocals and the piano, close-miking was imperative. Julian positioned a spaced pair of Sphere L22 microphones inside the lid right over the 1920s grand piano's strings. A third Sphere L22 came in on a large boom stand from the side for Nico's vocals.

Nico Gomez Höher Sphere Sessions piano setup with Julian David 1500px

The piano setup required careful positioning to reduce bleed from Nico's vocal and capture a balanced piano sound.

Christian's keyboards station marked the left side of the setup. With all DI or line-out connections, recording the keys was a simple process.

Situated between Christian and Nico, Alana's Sphere L22 microphone was poised to get some spill from Nico's vocals. Julian made sure that the crosstalk was in an acceptable range by monitoring the single in isolation and selecting a figure-8 pattern in the Sphere plug-in.

To add a little bit of space and natural ambience to the recording, Julian added an AEA R88 ribbon microphone as a room mic.

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Nico Gomez Höher Sphere Sessions Alana Alexander 1500px

Alana's vocal mic was positioned so that the nulls of the figure-8 pattern would reject Nico's vocals and piano.

Tech Notes

  • Vocals: Sphere L22 microphone with LD-017T model
  • Grand Piano: Spaced pair of L22 microphones inside the lid
  • Backing Vocals: Sphere L22 microphone with LD-67 model
  • Keys: Dave Smith Prophet-6 and Wurlitzer (both DI) 
  • Room Mic: Stereo pair of AEA N8 ribbon microphones
  • Preamps: api 512c for vocals and Wurlitzer, Focusrite ISA 428 for piano, Chandler Germanium for room mics
  • Conversion: DirectOut Andiamo
  • Recorded at 24 Bit / 96 kHz in Pro Tools
  • Reverb and some parallel compression added

How to become friends with polar patterns

Microphone polar patterns are incredibly powerful in the studio and for live recording sessions alike. Make them your friend, and your recordings will most likely improve significantly. Whenever you have multiple artists or instruments in one room, choosing the right polar pattern becomes critical.

In this case, the deep null-plane of the figure-8 patterns rejects Nico's vocals and the piano in Alana's microphone. 

Nico Gomez Höher Sphere Sessions Alana vocal Sphere plug-in screenshotx

The settings of Alana's Sphere L22 microphone with a figure-8 pattern and OAC engaged.

Our patented Sphere technology not only gives you more access to polar patterns, our Off-Axis-Correction (OAC) further helps you get a better sound. In a nutshell, OAC creates more ideal polar patterns far beyond what even the best-designed traditional microphones can achieve. Here, Nico's highly dynamic vocals, on the other hand, were at risk of being jeopardized by the piano crosstalk. So Julian engaged OAC to reduce low-frequency bleed in the vocal microphone.

Nico Gomez Höher Sphere Sessions vocal Sphere plug-in screenshotx

Nico's Sphere plug-in settings featuring the LD-017T model on a cardioid pattern.

Learn more about polar patterns and the frequency-dependent response of microphones in this tech talk.

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Mixing the Sphere Session of Nico Gomez' Höher

Mixing "Höher" for the Nico Gomez Sphere Session was all about nailing the dynamics. This applied to the individual instruments but also the overall song and its arrangement. Nico's vocals go from extremely quiet to very loud throughout the song. Instead of squashing Nico's performance with compression, Julian chose minimal processing and extensive volume automation. Additional parallel compression (UAD Neve 33609 plug-in) helped to reduce the dynamics in a very transparent fashion. 

Nico's vocal chain starts with the Sphere plug-in. The LD-017T (modeled after the beautiful Soyuz 017 TUBE microphone) on a cardioid pattern compliments Nico's vocal character very well. Julian also applied the built-in 60 Hz high-pass filter in the Sphere plug-in. This is followed by the Fab-Filter multi-band compressor to add some body in the quiet parts. Finally, oeksound's versatile Soothe 2 processor controls some boxiness (around 700 Hz) and harshness (around 5 kHz). 

Nico Gomez Höher Sphere Sessions vocal chain plug-in screenshot

The vocal chain for Nico with the Sphere plug-in, Fab-Filter Pro MB multi-band compressor, and oeksound's Soothe 2.

Managing crosstalk and its side effects is inevitable in a live recording. To ensure that the vocal bleed in the piano mics is as natural-sounding as possible, Julian engaged OAC on the piano channels. Here, the LD-414 Brass (modeled after the AKG C414 with the original brass capsule) worked best. Because the piano was recorded up-close, Julian removed some boxiness and added top end with two EQ plug-ins. Again, there was no need for compression other than on the parallel bus mentioned above.

Nico Gomez Höher Sphere Sessions piano chain plug-in screenshot

Piano plug-in chain with the Sphere plug-in, Fab-Filter Pro Q3, and UAD Maag EQ.

Effects and Mix Bus Processing

To establish depth and enhance the song's dynamic flow, Julian used three different reverb effects in the mix. A medium ambience courtesy of Valhalla's Vintage Verb adds an underlying sense of space, especially for the keyboard tracks. A combination of a plate program and Valhalla's unique Shimmer plug-in then build up the dreamy atmosphere. Again, Julian used dynamic automation to create the sense of flying higher and higher ("Höher" means higher in German). Rather than just increasing the reverbs' level, he also automated the plate decay of Soundtoys' Little Plate plug-in.

Nico Gomez Höher Sphere Sessions plate plug-ins screenshot

Plate reverb setup with Avid's Mod Delay (for pre-delay), Softube's Little Plate, and additional EQ.

Nico Gomez Höher Sphere Sessions mix effects plug-ins screenshot

Valhalla Vintage Verb with medium ambience and the unique Valhalla Shimmer plug-in.

Plate plug-in chain with Softube's Little Plate, Avid Mod Delay (for pre-delay), and additional EQ.All of the tracks in the session were bussed to a stereo aux track for some additional tone shaping, stereo width, and just a touch of glue compression. Check out the screenshot below for details, including the parallel compression bus. Finally, the song got its finishing touch at Alex Kloss Mastering

Nico Gomez Höher Sphere Sessions mix bus plug-in screenshot

Mix bus processing and parallel compression path with the UAD Neve 33609 compressor.

Hear the final result on Spotify:

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About the Artists

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.

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.

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.


Unless otherwise noted, all brand and product names referred to in this article are trademarks of their respective owners, which are in no way associated or affiliated with Townsend Labs.