James Richmond,Irene Ketikidi: Pro Series - Recording Irene Ketikidi's Martial Arts & Magic Tricks

Irene Ketikidi Ripping it up!

James Richmond talks about the process of recording Irene Ketikidi's Martial Arts & Magic Tricks album for the new Pro Series. The article should give you some insight into the recording process and techniques used in production.

Recording Irene Ketikidi's Martial Arts & Magic Tricks

James Richmond: Martial Arts & Magic Tricks (MAMT) was an interesting album to make, mainly because people were rarely in the same place at the same time (in fact I've never once spoken to Darby Todd, the drummer, face to face). We chatted a lot on Facebook though.

It took around a year all up I think, although there was a lot of work before that going on in the background.

Irene Ketikidi made demos of all the tracks, using sequenced drums.

Studio gear

The rhythm section (Bass and Drums) were tracked together to Irene's rhythm and lead guitars demos.

And this is the point where I came in - before that point, I didn't do much other than request a couple of things in terms of how the drums and bass were presented.

Dave Marks did a great job tracking the rhythm section and it is much easier to mix a project when the performances were so good. He also did some great work with the hammond/electric piano parts. Very talented guy and Darby - man, what a drummer!
Irene then re-tracked her guitar parts against this new rhythm section takes.

The differences from her demos to the final copy were sometimes subtle but it was something we all agreed was necessary.

Irene did this tracking on her laptop, completely dry - monitoring with Amp simulator plugins.

I then took all of Irene's dry guitar tracks and re-amped them through the Axe FX.

Some small parts were done here in my studio but the for bulk of it Irene did it solo.

Because Irene is so diligent I received 3 takes of all the leads - most of the time I used the first take.

One of the funny things about the record was Fractal Audio kept updating the firmware of the Axe FX so with each new firmware update I found I was going back to the early songs and reprocessing the guitars. That took a lot of time but I am glad we did - each firmware update got a little closer to the sound of an amp in a room and the album is better for it. The Axe FX is an amazing bit of kit!

I do a lot of sound design and avant-garde music where I make the guitar sound like other things and it is perfect for that, as well as good old, balls-to-the-wall guitar tones.

There are a few instances where what sounds like a synth is actually a guitar processed in the Axe FX using pitch and modulation effects. The end part of Distance for example.

Part of the challenge of a record like this is getting it to sound like it was a band playing in a room together, because this didn't happen and some of the songs were worked on in different environments.
The drums were augmented (but not necessarily replaced) with some samples - for instance I blended Darby's wonderful sounding Pork Pie snare with a multisampled DW Craviotto that I recorded some time ago. The mix of the two snares, one bright and one darker give a really nice snare sound - I spend a lot of time on the snare tone- it is really important to me to sound right and fit well. 

I then mix around that snare sound and I try to get the snare sounding consistent from track to track. Similar techniques are used on the toms and the kick - the stereo overhead signal and room mic is untouched. The former is lightly compressed and the room mic is crushed and mixed in at quite a low level. The compressed room mic gives weight to the drum sound, making it bigger and more powerful.
in the studio
In terms of the mix - I mix "in the box", meaning I don't use a console, but I do process audio in the analog domain and then re-record it into my DAW (I use a mix of Pro Tools and Logic, the mix was done in Logic 9). Plugins are a lot closer to the analog hardware than they used to be though. I spend a lot of time on the drums- it is really important for the snare to come through- there are a bunch of techniques to allow for this (sidechain compression, various EQ curves) but it takes time. Also getting consistency from one track to another is something I pay attention to.

Irene was with me for a lot of this - we'd get together for 5-10 hour sessions when time allowed. As time went on this was more regular- we tried sending files back and forth over the internet but it was a very slow way to approach it when it came to mixing.

We have a great rapport and I think she's incredibly talented and a great player.

The guest players -Justin Sandercoe, Phil Hilborne and Dave Kilminster all tracked their parts in their own rooms and emailed the performances to Irene, who sent them to me. All very professional and well recorded- it made mixing a pleasure. I knew Justin before this project, his studio is around the corner from mine but this was the first time mixing Dave or Phil.

Irene... "what it's three takes for every solo?!"

The album was mastered by Andy 'Hippy' Baldwin at Metropolis at my suggestion.

Andy did a great job on it- I wasn't present for the mastering but Irene and I talked about what sort of treatment would be best. I'm not a huge fan of 'crushed' records- they are exhausting to listen to. I'd rather sacrifice a bit of loudness to preserve the dynamics. He nailed it.

James Richmond: You asked about me and my playing/services etc. Well I started as a gigging/touring guitar player in Australia - I started in the industry back in the late 80's/early 90's and quickly found my way into recording. I've worked in Oz, UK, USA, Switzerland on a variety of projects in that time.

These days I mostly produce and engineer but there is still a bit of playing in there as well as teaching. I've also done commercial house music, remixing, sound design, voice-over work and I was a writer for Australian Guitar Magazine and various other music/audio tech magazines.

I work out of my own studio in West London- I don't advertise, everything is word of mouth and I only work on projects that I find interesting.

I've recently started building guitars- I'm particularly interested in ergonomics of guitar playing and I'm studying acoustic guitar lutherie at London Metropolitan University in London.

I like to keep busy so a lot of this stuff all happens at once and the task is juggling, keeping all the balls in the air.
another view of the studio
I find the best work happens when under a bit of pressure and this is one way of keeping the pressure on. The danger with working digitally is you can literally tweak forever and never finish anything.

I see this a lot on internet forums- hobby musicians previewing their latest song and always end with a caveat of 'it isn't finished/mixed yet'. Well... finish the damn thing!

Having said that- my computer has loads of unfinished things on it- maybe I should take my own advice?

One thing I kept saying to Irene throughout the album is "You don't finish an album, you give up on it'.

It is slightly tongue in cheek but there is an element of truth to it- you can tweak forever you always get to a point where you aren't improving the track, you are just changing it.

You have to get to a point where you say 'Enough... it is done'.

That takes a bit of courage because at that point you are committing to this being the best that you can do at this time.

There is always the tendency to go back and say 'oh, just one more thing'.

That is the road to hell.

Working with Irene was great in this respect because she doesn't try to rush things, but also she doesn't dither about. She is very focussed and driven and I think she is really going places.

You can connect with James Richmond on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sevendeadlyguitars

James Richmond did a great job with the mix and his work combined with Irene's song writing / guitar playing have garnered some great reviews... including the awesome Greg Howe!

Greg Howe: "Damn Girl.. you mad shred! and I love the whammy pedal stuff! awesome album"

You can purchase the album online (reviewed on Shreddelicious)

Irene Ketikidi - "Martial Arts & Magic Tricks" album release