421 Day Recording Session Using Only Sennheiser 421s!
During a break from an evening session on 4/14, I was grabbing a snack from the Sweetwater diner and checking Instagram when I came across an appreciation post for the AKG 414. It took me a moment to connect the date with the microphone. That made me wonder what would be the next “important audio date.”
It’s April 21, 4/21!
The Sennheiser MD 421 has been a staple in recording studios for decades. Being a dynamic microphone, it handles high SPL like a champ, which makes it a great choice for drums. Its great frequency response from 30Hz–17kHz allows it to pick up the thump from a bass and the detail from a guitar. For years, the MD 421 has been engineers’ go-to mic on toms, horns, guitars, and more. Thinking about its versatility got me to ask, “What would happen if we did an entire recording session using only 421s?”
The idea was born.
So, the following day, I mentioned the idea to bassist and fellow engineer Dave Martin. He chuckled and loved it. He took the reins on the musical end of the session, finding a song to play and writing a chart for the rest of Sweetwater Studios’ in-house musicians. He settled on a classic blues tune that’s dripping with vibe, “Sweet Home Chicago.”
After scheduling the musicians for the following morning, we began gathering the mics for all the instruments. In addition to the studio’s 421s, we borrowed a couple from The Clyde Theatre and the rest from a Sweetwater Sales Engineer who had a stash of them.
Since we were recording in Studio B, we decided to track the musicians individually due to the smaller space. We started with Nick on drums; but, instead of completely isolating him, we had Dave and Don play through DIs in order to get down the feel of the song. That resulted in going to a slightly faster tempo than we initially planned. Having the other musicians play scratch tracks along with him really helped solidify the song’s groove. From there, each musician laid down their parts as overdubs.
We used Daking mic pre’s for everything in the session. We also incorporated Daking EQs on the kick and the snare in order to shape the sounds going in. To tame some of Bob’s vocal dynamics, we used a Daking FET III compressor.
A happy accident happened during the session involving a room mic and Don’s guitar solo. We had a 421 live in the room for him to use as a talkback mic, and, during the second pass through the track, I hit record on it, as well. Afterward, I delayed that track a couple of milliseconds and created that roomy slapback sound you hear in the song.
There was another surprise. This session was my first time using a 421 as a vocal mic, and I was pleasantly surprised! I’ve used them on guitar amps and drums plenty of times, but I was amazed at how forward and clear it made Bob’s vocal.
Mixing this track presented a unique challenge. Using only 421s culminated in a bump in the 4k–5k range, which started to become overwhelming, so I found myself cutting more of those frequencies than normal.
Using the 421 for all of the tracking definitely gave the track a cool energy that I believe suited the song properly. I’m super pumped we were able to make this fun, goofy experiment of a session come to fruition on such a short timetable.
Click Here to learn more about the Sennheiser MD 421.