Dave Cobb's approach to recording is simple — but as artists like Chris Stapleton, Rival Sons and Jason Isbell have found, it's very effective.
It's the early '90s, and a young Dave Cobb is staring intently at an old photograph of Elvis at work in RCA studios. He concludes that Mr Presley is singing into a single RCA 77DX ribbon mic, and his backing singers, the Jordinaires, are grouped around just the one RCA 44. DJ Fontana's drums have a 77 overhead and likely one mic on the kick, there's yet another 77 in front of Scotty Moore's guitar amp, and there's probably a single mic on Bill Black's bass. Six mics. And yet everyone around Dave at the time was talking about the desirability of multiple mic setups.
"Six mics, that was the whole thing!" he says today, sitting a short stroll away from the spot where that picture was taken over 60 years ago. "And those '50s Elvis records sound massive. I couldn't Figure out why for the longest time. How did they do that?"
Eventually, he discovered how the engineers took advantage of the mics' polar patterns. "The way Elvis was angled from the drums meant his 77 nulled the drums out, and the Jordinaires' mic was slightly angled from him, to null out Elvis and the drums. I was starting to put the pieces together and understand microphones."
Back then, Dave pored over as many classic studio pictures as he could find, and almost all of them revealed working methods that were so much simpler than the complex setups fashionable in the '90s. "I think recording was overly complicated in my head," Dave says, "because when you talked to people or read about recording at the time, it really was made overly complicated. Today, though, at this point in my life, if I mic a drum kit myself, it's going to be probably three mics: a kick, snare and overhead. When I have a great drummer who knows how to hit, I'll get a bigger sound out of that than 15 mics on a kit."
Dave's preoccupations with simplicity and with the sound and vitality of real musicians in a room have led him to a sparkling career as a producer. He has four Grammys up on the shelf, for Best Country Album with Chris Stapleton's Traveller (2015) and From A Room Vol. 1 (2017), and for Best Americana Album with Jason Isbell's Something More Than Free (2015) and The Nashville Sound (2017). He's cut records with artists ranging from the Oak Ridge Boys to Rival...
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