Bringing the Brass Bling to producer Ken Lewis

Ken Lewis cranks it to volume #11

Ken Lewis cranks it to volume #11

Ken Lewis of the production team The Skywalkers got in touch with yours truly for help in making his MIDIs sound “real”.

With at least 50 #1 hits under his belt, Ken is great at getting the sound he is looking for, and he needed an extremely fast turnaround time and lots of options. Trumpeter Tony Gorruso accompanied me to Ken’s home studio and the three of us arranged the tracks at top speed, aiming for a deep monster brass sound.

Quick background on Ken Lewis: He is a mix engineer, songwriter, musician, vocalist … you name it.  Ken has done a lot of work with Kanye West including hits songs like ‘Gold Digger’ and ‘All Fall Down’. He has  produced for John Legend and mixed back-to-back no#1 album’s  with Danity Kane and Day 26. He has 6 Grammy Awards and a total of 29 nominations, 48 Gold and Platinum records and 30 no#1 album’s. (source: gearslutz interview)

Ken's Oktava ML52 mic in the foreground captured the audio ambiance of the room itself – the "acoustical space" if you will.

Our phat oval brass-tones were captured primarily using several ribbon microphones including a Royer-122, Octavia ML52 and my kick-ass custom designed one.

Making the end result NOT sound as if a single instrument has been recorded multiple times is a challenge.  A good sound engineer will strive to manipulate many takes into an “ensemble” sound and reduce phasing on the overdubs with three standard techniques.

  • mic positioning
  • player positioning
  • instrument variability

With Ken at the console, Tony and I pivoted around the the room with every few takes. Ken manipulated the microphone positions as well, and after about the 100th take, the two of us had completed several 360s around Ken’s well-designed studio. Engaging in mic and player positioning during recording session can feel like a very slow game of musical chairs, or dancing a start-stop version of the Virginia Reel square dance. This assures that the recording will not result in a brittle and thin (a.k.a. ‘phased’) sound from having been captured at one point in the room.

Instrument variability (my favorite part of the job), “phattens” the sound considerably. The heavy metal arsenal for Ken’s sound included French horn, trombone, bass-trombone, tuba, trumpet, bass-trumpet and flugelhorn … am I forgetting anything?  Oh! The Cimbasso. You know, I just have to say that Tony trumpeter range is crazy! He hit notes that only a dog can hear. I’m looking forward to the final mix and I hope to share it here on after the release.

Just another day at the office …

I’ve often wondered what a police officer would say at the sight of so many brass instruments piled in the back of my car. If I ever have the misfortune of being pulled over on the way to a recording session, I’d need evidence that I didn’t rob the local Sam Sash. Perhaps that evidence could be given by playing the theme song from C.O.P.S.

So if your driving down a New York parkway and see rolling lights and some dude playing tuba to the officer, its probably me.

BTW – although Ken’s studio is located at home – that is the only “home” thing about it … really really great equipment and sound.

More pictures: A Session with Producer Ken Lewis – a set on Flickr

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2 Responses to “Bringing the Brass Bling to producer Ken Lewis”

  1. Thanks for the awesome post, keep it up!

  2. […] the recording that Tony and I did back in May (featured in this blog post) was the brass for Kanye West’s “All of the Lights.” This track features Rihanna […]