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Shure Notes

Shure Notes
November 2009

What I've Learned: She's all That - Inside and Outside red Lodge with Danielle Egnew

L.A.-based Danielle Egnew has seemingly done it all - from touring with the all-girl alt rock band Pope Jane to being voted "The Most Likely to Turn You into an Obsessed Fan" by Curve Magazine to appearing on the legitimate stage with the likes of Ally Sheedy in a production we'll just call, for the sake of modesty, "The V Monologues".

Along the way, she's recorded 15 albums, written, directed, and produced her first film, composed more than a couple

of film soundtracks and released her 16th CD, the solo acoustic Red Lodge to great critical acclaim. Have we forgotten anything? Oh, right – she also redefined solo with Red Lodge. She wrote all the tunes, played every instrument, recorded, mixed and produced it.

We asked her to take five (for once, already!) and tell us about it.

You wrote all the music for your new CD Red Lodge, plus you did all of the vocals, played all the instruments, recorded and produced it yourself. You've recorded over 15 CDs – some with band mates and some solo. Have you always taken this much control of the creative and production process?

Now that I look back on it, yes, and working in the production end of my own recordings was originally born out of necessity, but turned into something I just love doing.

It kills me when I hear artists say that they are not willing to learn the technical aspects of recording – that they are "artists", and it's "not their job". Well, if a painter never learns the different grains of canvass and how to stretch them, or how to march the painting down to a gallery once it's finished, then that painter is creating art in a vacuum, and that was never something I was interested in.

"It kills me when I hear artists say that they are not willing to learn the technical aspects of recording – that they are 'artists', and it's 'not their job'."

I've been really fortunate to still be afforded the position to affect the sound-sculpting process in my projects so much, as well as the artistic end of production, because where you place the mic and how you mix your project is nine tenths of what the project ends up sounding like, so to me, that's extremely important to the art.

What was the inspiration behind Red Lodge? Is this your first solo acoustic effort?

I came from a very large pop and alt rock production background, so I wanted to do a more "stripped down" sounding album, something much more personal and intimate. Well (laughs) that was the thought, but with some of Red Lodge's songs having up to 32 tracks, I still ended up getting pretty involved now and again!

Red Lodge is the name of my favorite mountain town back in Montana, my home state. It's a small and intimate town, and I thought reflected the personal nature of the album's lyrics. Yes, Red Lodge (the album) is my first commercial acoustic release. I have actually recorded many acoustic albums that never left my studio – I guess I was afraid that people wouldn't like them, as they were so different from the big alt rock stuff people were more used to me producing! But I've been blown away with the amazing accolades that Red Lodge has received, so I'm really thrilled.

About The Recording Process

Where, physically, did you record and what kind of set up do you have? Did you design your recording space yourself or did you use the services of an acoustician?

In an effort to keep my propensity for enormous productions on a leash, I made the decision to record Red Lodge in my home studio, which is located, literally, in my back room (laughs).

I do most of my recording there, actually. I love the space. It's very relaxed. I'm a complete frequency nut, so I designed the place myself. It's not a large enough room to demand drop- angled ceilings or anything like that, and if you know what you're doing with certain reflective corners, you can use them to your advantage. Partially bare walls are not always bad things.

The challenges came in that I live in a town home in Los Angeles, and though the room is well insulated, I share a back alley with neighbors, as well as walls. So I never recorded when people were leaving for work or coming home (laughs).

"And I can't say this enough – great mic placement when you are recording will make or break an acoustic track."

I think it's very important for artists to realize that you don't need a ten thousand dollar computer and fifty thousand dollars worth of recording gear to capture a great sounding album. I recorded Red Lodge on Nuendo, and I used an older Gateway computer that desperately needs to be "put out to pasture". It was an effort to keep the album stripped down with limited tracks, because the older processor gives way to stuttering (latency issues) when you start layering tracks and effects busses in the digital realm. And I can't say this enough – great mic placement when you are recording will make or break an acoustic track.

Many home studio musicians rely on direct recording and sampled sounds to avoid issues like bad room tones and bleed-in from "neighborhood" sounds. Do you sometimes record direct? What are your thoughts on how to achieve a creative balance between direct recording and acoustic miking?

I understand that running direct is sometimes a necessity – back in the day, I've done it before in a pinch, when I was short tracks, before all the digital home recording -- and it's certainly better than not recording at all.

"I'll wait until 3 AM to dodge neighborhood sounds, in order to avoid running direct, if I'm recording at home which I often am."

But honestly, unless it's a native digital instrument like a keyboard, I almost never record direct, and I never, ever record direct when recording an acoustic instrument. Because the expression of an acoustic instrument relies heavily (from a sonic perspective) on pushing the air around it and how it reflects off of surfaces in a room, so if you run it direct -- it really flattens the tone and tends to give the recording that "demo" sound. If direct recording on an acoustic instrument can be avoided, it should.

I'll wait until 3 AM to dodge neighborhood sounds, in order to avoid running direct, if I'm recording at home which I often am. The only time that I use direct recording is either with a keyboard, or when processing long sound waves, like an electric bass – since it takes 15-30 feet for one bass sound wave to cycle completely over the sine line once it comes from the cabinet (depending on the cone size), and a wave needs to cycle completely to sound decent. I'll run a bass line direct out the back of the bass head, or through a cabinet modeler, like the Line 6, or if I need some electric guitar "pad" textures I'll run a few electric tracks through a cabinet modeler to create a "thickening track" to the miked guitar cabinets I've recorded.

But really, an electric bass is the only instrument that I will immediately default to running direct, unless I have a large studio, but even then I will always mix the direct line with a room line when dealing with electric bass, for articulation.

As your own engineer, how do you audition the mic placement so you know you're getting the right sound or tones for a given track? Were there any special mic techniques you used to get the sounds you wanted on acoustic guitar, piano, or mandolin?

Since most of engineering is "what sounds good", auditioning the right mic placement is ALL about having great ears rather than a ton of training, so it's not as hard as you'd think.

I will tell any recording musician out there to get their hands on two decent mics for recording -- cardioid condenser mics are preferred because they hear a lot more like a human eardrum, just like ribbon mics, which are completely amazing but tend to be much more expensive.

"...auditioning the right mic placement is ALL about having great ears rather than a ton of training..."

Keep in mind that the mics don't have to be the most expensive, they just have to have a decent-sized diaphragm, like at least an inch wide.

For acoustic recording, start with miking the guitar in two places: one roughly at the 12th fret, and one at about a 45 degree angle from the sound hole, toward the back of the guitar. Use this pattern for any other acoustic instrument, like a mandolin, or violin, though the violin placement will be suspended from the top. Use your ears to really dial this in, to find where the tone is desired for your instrument, and often that will vary by a mere few inches, depending on if you want more or less finger noise, fretboard noise, etc. – then pan one track left and one right, and record them on two different mono tracks, NOT married in a stereo track.

You'll want to be able to EQ and augment each track separately in your mix, to really pull out the tone. Keep in mind that the mic on the 12th fret will be more "trebly" and the sound hole mic will be more "boomy", so if you don't have a separate stash of recording mics and only have live mics on hand, like a good Shure SM58®, as many of us do in our arsenals, you will want to place it up by the fretboard to maximize that 1.2 Khz – 7 Khz resonance range, as the "boomy" end is going to be more forgiving with a live or lower-end mic's inability to clearly hear the "shimmery" highs.

Were there any really unusual mic techniques you developed or used for this project? You've got some pretty unusual instrumentation there – everything from jingle bells to 'Danielle's lap'.

Actually, I stuck to the basics for the Red Lodge project, simply because I wanted a very organic sound. I always recorded every instrument and every take in two tracks (stereo, but not on a stereo track), with two separate cardioid condenser mics per instrument per take, and did a lot with mic placement and messing with that while wearing headphones, so when combined they would produce some unique reflective tones. I ended up with a lot of tracks to mix, but the resulting sound was very gratifying.

Danielle Egnew in Studio

And a tip when recording playing your lap – make sure the mics are on top of your lap, not to the side – you don't want the side-splash air creating spikes in your track (laughs).

Play Listen to "Still Town" from Red Lodge

There are real challenges in overdubbing – making it sound live and organic, for instance. How do you get that natural feel to the music? Do you still start with click tracks or do you generally rely on keeping time internally?

The click is your friend. Overdubbing is your friend, and it's all about having discipline to "stay in the zone", and sometimes, that is an experience issue, or simply, a practice issue. The more you do it, the more you get used to doing it without losing your "groove" from take to take.

"The click is your friend. Overdubbing is your friend, and it's all about having discipline to 'stay in the zone'..."

As much as I would love to never use a click, there is just too much room for variance and error if you don't record to one, and the song suffers. Plus, it just doesn't sound professional to be flailing with your tempo. That's not "art" – that's sloppy, and it's hard on your fans when they listen. I always use a click, unless I really, really feel confident that I won't vary more than 3 beats per measure one way or the other, but when you're focusing on the technical aspects of holding the guitar just-so in front of the mics, or your finger placement that you don't notice live is suddenly making all this finger noise, the last thing on the list you are typically listening for in the studio is tempo – unless you're a drummer (laughs).

Musicians need to change their thinking about a click "controlling" their session, or killing the organic feel – it doesn't. It's not a quantizer, which digitally slaps your tempo into place – it's a reference, and the musician is controlling where the beat pocket lies. A click frees you up to really think about your performance, while it keeps reminding you where the time bracket is. It's one less technical thing you have to think about.

"A click frees you up to really think about your performance, while it keeps reminding you where the time bracket is."

It takes a few passes to get into the groove with the click, to let it just hover in the background of your consciousness as a reminder, but it's quick and easy to record with a click once you hit "the zone". I always crack up when I encounter musicians who refuse to record with a click. That, to me, is the first sign of someone who is inexperienced in the studio, because they are intimidated by a click, or are still working out their personal ego issues – them vs. the click! (laughs).

As the artist and the engineer, are you more likely to keep trying for one good take or do you not mind putting a final take together from multiple takes?

For me, it's all about what sounds best for the song. My artistic ego would love to have it be all about the "one take" (laughs), but if the track sounds better being Frankensteined together with several moments of brilliance from several takes or punch-ins, so be it. Sometimes you get lucky, and one take is brilliant all the way through. That's a great bonus.

When you're wearing that many hats, can you separate Danielle the engineer from Danielle the producer or even Danielle the artist?

Is there a separation? Wow. If you find that fine line, let me know!

How do you know when you're
Danielle Egnew
finished? When do you know you've recorded the last track?

For me, it's something you can feel. It just sounds... complete. I've worked with musicians who just can't let it go, and keep over-doing and re-recording tracks even though they have perfectly good tracks in the hopper, and I don't work well with this personality type. It drives me nuts.

"There is a lot of insecurity in the artistic fields that masks itself as 'artistic perfection', when in fact it's just garden variety 'fear of failure', which is human..."

If you find yourself re-recording just to do it, ask yourself: Am I really worried about the track, or am I really afraid deep down of completing this song because then I will have to release it, and possibly receive criticism? There is a lot of insecurity in the artistic fields that masks itself as "artistic perfection", when in fact it's just garden variety "fear of failure", which is human. If you don't complete something, you can never fail at it. So my advice to all musicians out there is to put the music into perspective – it's joy, it's fun, it's MUSIC – it's not brain surgery. No one will die from a mistake you make.

The Amazing Danielle

You're a solo artist, as we know. You also perform with an all-girl band, Pope Jane and various other band mates in various other bands, plus you're an actor, a composer of film soundtracks and you've recently started directing and filmmaking. Where is this road taking you? Do you see yourself focusing on one of these areas or do you just trust your instincts and go with them?

I feel very blessed and very lucky, because for me, creativity is not exclusive to one outlet, so I would say that these are all part of one big road that I've been on. It's like the tide, ebbing and flowing, only with different genres and different creative applications. One thought or expression or message needs to get out, and the vibe dictates that it should be through music, then another thought or expression or message needs to come out, and the vibe dictates it would be best suited through film – so whatever it takes to apply the vision, I'll channel the creativity in that direction.

"I brushed up on a few things I didn't know about to add to the few things I already knew, working in production all my life, and voila! We have a movie."

I'm not afraid to learn new artistic techniques in order to achieve the proper placement for a project. For instance, I've never made a film prior to "Montgomery House: The Perfect Haunting", but the film needed to be made, so I brushed up on a few things I didn't know about to add to the few things I already knew, working in production all my life, and voila! We have a movie. There's a lot of truth to the Nike slogan: Just Do It.


If you want your demo to be "shimmery" and easy to listen to, the best tips I can give would be:

  1. If possible, record all acoustic instruments on two tracks, double-miked. This will give you a GREAT sound when panned left and right even if the mics are not studio mics. If you don't have two mics, run one mic on the 12th fret, and run a direct line-in on another track. Having the two tones panned left and right is key.

  2. When singing, make sure to stand as close to the mic as humanly possible, without blowing it out. The farther you stand away from the mic, the "thinner" the vocal tone is, and the harder it will be to separate in a mix.

  3. If you have vocals in your project, mix them so they can be heard. The days of buried vocals are long over, and were primarily buried in the first place either because of a lack of talent on the part of the singer, or a lack of technology in recording to separate the vocals properly. Nothing says "I'm ashamed of my project" faster than buried vocals. You're a rockstar! Let us hear you!

  4. Don't over-use effects. Sometimes they need to be employed in order to compensate for bizarre audio stuff that happens when recording, but the less effects you use, or the more tastefully you use them to enhance to the sound "on tape", not to design the sound (unless that IS your sound), the easier it is to mix.

  5. There's more to mixing than volume -- to achieve the best separation in a mix, use the panning fields and the EQ on each channel. You'll be AMAZED at how one channel can be separated from another simply by boosting 3 Khz here and 480 Hz there, and moving the track to 79% right as opposed to 48% right. Sound has many layers to it, in the form of frequencies and placement, so make use of them.

  6. All you need to showcase a great song or performance is a CLEAN RECORDING. Good solid mics are key to this and can be purchased for under $100.00, or even rented.

  7. The final step: When you're finished -- don't write on your CD with a Sharpie®. That's scary looking, and it disrespects all the hard work you put into your project. If the budget isn't there to press the demo, don't worry – just print out a label and stick it on. You don't have to spend a million dollars, but do present your music with dignity and with pride. You're worth it.



Last but not least, we just have to ask if you have a favorite Shure mic, a good mic story or if you can remember the first mic you ever used.

Back when my band Pope Jane was touring heavily, about ten years ago, we would hit some pretty outback clubs in rural Montana, where I am originally from -- it was a lot of fun, but often they wouldn't have much in the PA department. So you would dig and dig through piles of tangled, broken cables and crunched up no-name microphones that would all be tossed into one big bin that belonged to the bar, just hoping and praying there would be my live workhorse favorite, a Shure SM58®, or even a '57 – buried somewhere in there. And when you'd find one, it was like finding a chunk of gold on the bottom of a riverbed.

I associate Shure with years of countless successful live concerts, tours and performances, and of course the Beta for the kick drum – you know if there's a Shure onboard, the gig's safe!

Shure thanks Danielle Egnew for the uber-generous gift of her time and for sharing her time-proven recording tips and tricks.

Visit Danielle's website where you can get the back-story, find out what's she up to now, get free music downloads and purchase cool Pope Jane and Danielle Egnew apparel.

Here's how to connect with Danielle Egnew

Check out Red Lodge Watch the movie trailer
Montgomery House The Perfect Haunting

Play Listen to "Drive and Drive" from Red Lodge
Danielle Egnew - Red Lodge Montgomery House The Perfect Haunting

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