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Production Masterclass with Stephen Tayler

Recording Chris de Burgh | Steven Tayler

Stephen Tayler tells Richard Buskin all about recording and mixing Chris de Burgh's recent single, 'By My Side'.

Engineer Stephen Tayler gives us an in-depth look the production and recording techniques used in the recording of 'By My Side', from the Chris De Burgh LP, The Power Of Ten. Richard Buskin reports.

Engineer on the 'By My Side' Chris De Burgh sessions — Stephen W. Tayler.

Having graduated from London's Royal College of Music in 1974, Stephen Tayler began his professional life as a 21-year-old tea boy at the legendary — but now defunct — Trident Studios, where during the next five years he rose to the positions of tape-op and then engineer. Working mainly with producers Dennis Mackay and Robin Lumley, he became involved in the tail end of jazz rock, in addition to projects with Phil Collins' part-time band Brand X, Bill Bruford and Peter Gabriel, whose eponymously-titled second album, produced by Robert Fripp, he helped mix.

After a six-month hiatus in the USA, Tayler then hooked up with Genesis' management company, Hit And Run Music, in 1980, and it was by way of sharing the same manager with Rupert Hine that the two men first teamed up, recording a Hine solo album entitled Immunity. The partnership worked, and the result was that during the past 12 years Stephen has worked with Rupert on all of his production assignments, taking in around 40 albums. Over half of these were undertaken during an eight-year spell at Farmyard Studios, of which Hine was a director, and included recordings by Stevie Nicks, Tina Turner, Howard Jones, The Fixx, The Thompson Twins and Hine himself.

Since then, the Hine-Tayler team has been less confined geographically, working both at home and abroad on projects by the likes of Rush, Bob Geldof, and the international multi-star production One World, One Voice, in addition to Chris De Burgh's latest album, The Power Of Ten. This was the third occasion on which the three men had worked together, two of De Burgh's previous albums having been produced at Farmyard during the early '80s. This time around, pre-production took place at a private house in Dublin in October of 1991, Ireland, before recording proper began at London's Metropolis Studios in October of last year, lasting until February 1992.

Pre-Producing To Tape

The Irish location was close to De Burgh's own home, and this was a fairly large property in which Hine and Tayler were able to arrange the musicians and run things through the former's keyboard rig — basically comprised of the programming setup which Hine has in his home studio, based around an Akai Linn MPC60 drum machine with a Korg Wavestation, Roland D50, Prophet VS, Prophet T8, Emulator II sampling keyboard, Yamaha DX7 MkII, Emu Proformance piano module and Emu Proteus 2 orchestral module, all monitored through an Amek Angela console.

"Chris had actually rehearsed the songs with his live band," explains Tayler. "It's a curious situation, because this band has been with him for about 15 years, and while they're fine live players, he has never really used them all that much in the past on his studio records. In the main, he's tended to use a core of session musicians again and again, and so this time around Chris had written the songs, routined them with the band at a Dublin rehearsal studio and recorded them to DAT, and this is what Rupert was then presented with in order to pick and choose the songs that obviously worked, work on the formats, and look at how to change some of the elements. From that point, Rupert based his programming on these initial tapes, and he took some of the songs in a completely different direction, while on others he stuck pretty closely to what the band had been doing."

Work then moved on to Metropolis' Studio B, Tayler recording and mixing the album 32-track, utilising a 56-channel SSL G-Series board together with a Mitsubishi digital tape machine. "I always like to try to use just one multitrack, and 32 is the perfect number for me," he says. "Then, if we wanted to try out some extra vocal performances or a lot of guitar solos, we'd use a slave reel.

"We spent the first month in the studio really putting the basic versions as programmed down onto tape, with guide vocals, guide acoustic guitar parts and guide piano from Chris where necessary. A case, therefore, of still really pre-producing and tweaking the songs, so that we had the framework on tape. I always like to keep things on tape rather than having live programs running all the time — I feel more secure and efficient being able to put up the tape with all the latest versions of the programs. Rupert doesn't like to have program changes and everything set in the sequencer; he just has a working piano sound, a working bass sound, a working string sound, and that suits the songwriting aspect of the programming. So we'd get as much as we could on tape, and then on a day-to-day basis Chris would try a vocal with a track to see if it was in the right key, the right tempo and so on, and if necessary we'd make alterations and update the tape."

Recording The Album Piecemeal

"The first outside musician who came in was the bass guitarist, John Giblin, and he worked quite extensively on three of the tracks and then tried a couple of really quick run-throughs on other songs. He was with us for a couple of days before we did some more general tweaking of the keyboard parts, and on the songs where the bass had been recorded in a hurry but was still really very close, I then attempted to reconstruct the parts by just moving elements around on tape, using the Akai DD1000 [optical disk recorder].

"Next, Rupert and I brought in a German drummer called Michael Witzel, whom we had worked with the previous year on an album by a London-based band named Bliss. He's got a very efficient temperament, but he also has an amazing ability to change his feel. He's very, very flexible, and so he came in to do the drums within a period of about one week, playing on every track on the album, although at the end of the day we reverted to using a drum machine on a couple of them.

"Next to come in was Danny McBride, who actually is the guitarist in Chris's live band. He'd never played on any of the albums before, but we wanted to try him and he ended up doing the predominant electric guitar work on this record, n the later stages we used Jamie West-Oram, who was the guitarist in The Fixx, for some of the more wild and rampant parts, while on 6- and 12-string we also had Geoffrey Richardson, who is a bit of an all-round musician."

By My Side

"The song started as a basic program by Rupert," Tayler explains. "Drums from the MPC60, piano, strings, a keyboard pad and a melody, and some of these elements have actually remained. The first real replacement part that went on was John Giblin's bass, and this was recorded with DI, fed into a Focusrite preamp EQ and out of that into a Tube Tech compressor, then straight to tape — a clean signal path. John's basses always sound fairly accurate, if a little middly to begin with, so I used a little bit of EQ and some middle was removed.

"I like the Focusrites. They can give you not only a very nice, smooth, allround EQ, but also a savage EQ if you want it. I like to use them for individual recordings — for vocals, for bass, and for anything which I'm just recording one at a time, in preference to using an SSL channel EQ. This isn't particularly because I'm after a warmer sound from the Focusrites, but to me they're marginally cleaner. I'm probably one of the few people who really likes SSL G-Series EQ, and personally I find it very similar to using an outboard Focusrite. I like a harsh sound, and I'm not always all that keen on 'warmth and smoothness', which I often associate with that warm, squashy American sound — although it suits some recordings, it doesn't have quite enough control or aggression for the majority of things I do. So you won't generally find me working on an old Neve desk, for instance. I have worked on the new Focusrite console at Metropolis, which is fantastic, but on that the EQ is so versatile you can have warmth, aggression, anything you want, and it always sounds great."

"I've actually got this obsession about a drum kit sounding like an instrument rather than a collection of neat sounds, and so I tend to favour using a lot of room sound."

Drum Sound

"Drums were the next thing to go on, and for this Michael Witzel played his Yamaha kit in the live room. The bass drum was miked with a Neumann TLM170, positioned just outside the sound-hole in the back skin, as I never like to get in too close. I don't like that feeling of overload which you get from miking right inside the drum, and I always tend to favour using quite a lot of room sound as well. In this instance, recording with two pairs of room mics, I had a pair of TLM70s relatively close — about five or six feet away on either side of the kit — just to add a fairly natural, roomy sound. For a secondary room sound I was using Sennheiser Black Fire 509s right in the corner of the room, and compressed very severely just to give a really full sound that glues together all of the other elements of the kit. The 509s are very simple dynamic mics that don't have too much harshness, which you can sometimes get on drum ambients, particularly in a live room like that at Metropolis, which is full of wood, plaster and glass, and is very bright as a result.

"I've actually got this obsession about a drum kit sounding like an instrument rather than a collection of neat sounds, and so I tend to favour using a lot of room sound — whether it's an outrageous, cavernous room sound or a close but still fairly live-sounding recording. On some tracks on this album, the ambience as recorded was too rampant because of extensive use of cymbals, and in those cases I was more inclined to use a gate on the bass drum and snare, or even replace their ambience triggered by samples of that particular room's ambience. I don't use library sounds, I don't use other people's sounds, I always record samples for those kinds of instances in the environment in which we are recording, and generally I would be using samples of stereo ambience with the original bass drum or snare, and not replacing the sounds themselves.

"On 'By My Side', however, we kept to a fairly intimate room sound. We weren't trying to make a mega sound out of anything. There are a lot of acoustic guitars, and it sounds like a drummer playing along with them, so in this instance I used the room sound rather than the ambient sound.

Having recorded the bass drum on track 1, I then had the snare on track 2 miked with a Shure SM57, positioned as far away as possible without picking up too much else.

In this instance that meant about three inches, pointing more or less towards the middle of the drum. I'm not actually very fond of really close-miked sounds, but when control is required I'll compromise somewhat, always figure that the best place to actually record a snare drum is about three feet above it, but of course if you do that you won't get any separation.

"On the bottom of the snare I was using a secondary Sennheiser condenser mic out of phase with the SM57, gated just to add a bit of snap and rattle, and the hi-hat was miked with a Neumann KLM84, positioned diagonally above and slightly off to one side away from the stick, together with a pop shield to eliminate the 'whoomph' sound produced by the air coming from it. I try not to have the mic directly above the hi-hat, as I find you get a brighter sound off to the side, capturing more of the hi-hat's character — particularly when it's being played with the foot.

"For tom-toms I was using the new Sennheiser 521s, which are basically the same as the 421s but without the bass roll-off control, and these were positioned about three inches away from the top edge of each drum. The floor tom-tom, on the other hand, had a TLM170, while for the overheads on the left and right sides of the kit I was using Sennheiser MKH40 P48 cardioid mics, which have a very nice, airy top-end for picking up the cymbals; in the centre I used a Sennheiser MKH50 P48 super-cardioid just to pick out some detail from the ride cymbal.

"So I had quite a lot of detail from the close miking, and in the mix I decided to scrap the large ambience recording because it was inappropriate, and I also erased the tom-tom tracks. I would normally record bass drum and snare on their own tracks, hi-hat on its own track, two tracks for tom-toms, two tracks for cymbals, and four tracks of ambience, and then very quickly decide where the sound is going and bounce down the elements to two tracks. I always treat a Mitsubishi a bit like a 24-track with an additional eight tracks on the end, and I use these last eight for temporary recordings. So I would put all these elements of the drum kit on there and then bounce them — or digitally bounce wherever necessary — up to the first few tracks."

Moving With Akai

"If I want to move anything around, I'll do it with the Akai DD1000. Sometimes I'll take an entire track or pair of tracks off the Mitsubishi and feed them into the DD1000, edit the bits of audio I want, and fade out any noise and hiss. The DD1000 is also very handy for bouncing pairs of sounds together, as this can all be done within the digital domain. For overlapping guitar or keyboard parts, for example, it saves having to bounce via channels on the console. It's altogether a much cleaner way of working, and at the same time enables any fine adjustments which need to be done."


Chris De Burgh was miked with an AKG 414 for his lead vocal and a Neumann TLM170 for the backing vocals, and his experiments with these were committed to 12 tracks on a slave reel along with his guide vocal. The backing vocals were then mixed down to stereo using overall EQ and compression, recorded back into the DD1000 using a SMPTE reference, and back on to the main master and flown in at various parts of the song. Focusrite EQ and TubeTech compression were the main effects.

Then, at a fairly late stage in the recordings, the sounds emanating from an aircraft were subtly added to the song along with the cockpit mutterings of a certain Captain Rupert Hine — himself a qualified pilot — and the responses of another Hine character in the control tower, all heavily EQ'd and compressed in order to provide the appropriate radio intercom effect.

"I like to mix as quickly as possible," says Stephen Tayler, "and this song was mixed in about three hours. I've been mixing albums since before automation was around, so I like to get the whole mix happening manually before I turn the computer on, and my first mix will be emulating the movements I've been rehearsing in real time. I like to get everything happening quickly. Then once I've put my moves into the computer, I'll walk around and eavesdrop on the mix from the next room. That tells me a great deal about where my balance is going — and besides, I don't like to be permanently glued to the engineer's spot in the middle of the console!"

Recording Guitar - Tayler Style

"Chris recorded two guide acoustic parts which we ended up using. He was using a DI'd Ovation 12-string fed through a Focusrite, and then we recorded another collection of acoustics with Geoffrey Richardson. Chris didn't want to do all the parts himself, preferring to sometimes have a different character padding out the sound a bit more, because everyone plays an acoustic differently.

"So, with Geoff we recorded two 6-strings and two 12-strings, using a Neumann TLM170 for the main body of the sound, positioned about six inches off to the side of the sound hole, together with a Sennheiser MKH40 cardioid to get a bit more detail from the top end of the strumming. As we were multi-tracking these acoustics, I wanted the sound on each track to have something different, avoiding the kind of jumble which you can get when you record a lot of similar sounds in the same way. Experimenting with different microphones and different positions is something I really like to do, especially with backing vocals.

"Then we recorded a Gibson solid-bodied electric 12-string through a DI box, with a little bit of distortion, and this was doubling all of the acoustics which were basically just strumming away. The effect that we were after was a bit like a Travelling Wilburys kind of sound, and although we weren't trying to emulate that, we were aiming to give the song that rather jumbly, strummy approach from the acoustics and from the drums as well, which were played a little behind the beat.

"For the main electric guitar work, Danny McBride was using a Fender Stratocaster together with a pair of Soldano amplifiers, through which he was running a stereo sound. He was situated in the control room with all of his equipment, and we ran tie-lines through for the speakers. I had several sets of microphones available so that I didn't have to keep running out and changing things. I had a pair of AKG 414s about three to four inches away from one of the speakers in the cabinet; a pair of Neumann TLM170s — which keep cropping up, as I find them a very good all-purpose mic — in a similar position on another speaker in the cabinet; another pair of TLM170s for room sound where necessary; plus a couple of Shure SM57s, which I always like to keep around.

"Then, as usual, once we had settled on the sound and attitude that we wanted for the song, I just brought up the faders and, playing along with the track, decided on the colour of sound which really suited the song. You can work for two hours on getting a great sound, but I always like to work on things in context. It's just a question of a quick run-through, pushing up the faders on each one for about 10 seconds, so that by the time you get to the first chorus, you know which is the appropriate microphone to use. In this case I went for the TLM170s, because I wanted a fairly full sound. EQ was done through the desk channels, and I used a pair of dbx 160s to squash the sound quite substantially.

"There were essentially two electric guitar parts. One of these was playing a theme with an almost Duane Eddy-type twang sound, and while we were recording I introduced a bit of tremolo to it by using one side of a Yamaha SPX900 panner program, which is a sure way of emulating the effect of those old Fenders. On the electric guitar that was playing the chords in the song, we got a fairly full-bodied yet not distorted sound, and I subgrouped the mics from the guitars along with a 450 millisecond delay, some feedback and a little bit of modulation. This was compressed as a whole, but at the same time I was ducking the signal of the delay so that whilst the guitar was being played, the delay level was being held back. As the natural decay of the guitar died out, the level of the delays increased. This is a way of elongating sustain and adding a kind of ringing, chorusing effect to the tail end of the sound.

"The feedback on the delay was post-fade, post-ducking, meaning that when the level was quiet it wasn't regenerating, but as it increased so the level of feedback increased with it. Therefore, if the guitarist suddenly decided to play something fairly intricate or rhythmic, the delays wouldn't get in the way of the sound; but if he held a note, you'd get a nice wash on the end of it. I used a Drawmer gate for that, and occasionally to add a bit of a ring I used a very subtle pitch change left and right from an Eventide H3000 Ultra Harmonizer. This was all going to tape, and so the guitarist was reacting to the sound he was hearing.

"On a lot of occasions I add effects to a guitar as it goes to tape. I always believe that if there is a sound which is working with the track, then I should commit the effects along with it, and so this is how I work — particularly with keyboards and guitars, although not necessarily with vocals or drums. I like to see that each overdub adds character and helps steer the track in a particular direction that will influence further overdubs.

"If we're putting down a lot of guitar parts which occupy five or six tracks, be they double-tracks or parts on different sections of the song — as in this case, where the choruses, the bridges and the verses were all recorded separately — I like to do a lot of submixing and bouncing down to let the track take care of itself. In this way, when you next push the faders up, the song lives. In general, with arrangements featuring electric guitars that change their role throughout the song, and also keyboards which might change sounds or change effects. I'll commit this all to tape and hopefully end up with a couple of pairs of tracks which take care of all the keyboard dubs, and a couple of pairs of tracks which take care of all the electric guitar parts."

Previous Article in this issue

Band Aid

Next article in this issue

Mixing For Stereo

Recording Musician - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Recording Musician - Feb 1993

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman


Steven Tayler



Related Artists:

Rupert Hine

Interview by Richard Buskin

Previous article in this issue:

> Band Aid

Next article in this issue:

> Mixing For Stereo

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