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Slate Digital VRS – Truly A Game Changer

Blog cover page for Slate Digital VRS with photo of Tom Camp talking to the camera

The Slate Digital VRS is in a league of its own. Slate and his team have changed the game once again with their latest release.

Watch the video below as I discuss the different recording techniques I’ve used in the past and how Slate Digital’s VRS will change the way that we make records.

In the past, Slate changed the way that I mix records. Because of their technology, I was able to leave my big studio environment and to continue working remotely so that I could travel and enjoy life more.

In today’s day and age, companies like Slate Digital are creating The New Opportunity that we need to succeed. Slate Digital’s Everything Bundle was empowering. They set the bar high.

And they just raised it again.

Full Transcription Below:

My name is Tom Camp from Digital Recording School and today I’m going to talk about the Slate VRS system, the ML-2 mics, and what you need to know.

Where was the Slate Digital VRS Two Years Ago?

Two years ago I was working with an extremely talented artist named Drew Williams out of Orlando, FL. We were tracking his record in multiple studios all over Jersey and Orlando in between tour.

Drew had a very tall order. He wanted to do 6 songs that were all quite uniquely different in style, approach, and we had to track it live.

Mark Barrie and I engineered the record together and I would say that the best thing that we had going were the drums.

You see we had a problem that we needed to solve creatively. We only had one day to track the rhythm guitars, bass, and drums live. We couldn’t tear down microphones and switch out drum kits between songs. One song’s reference track was a D’angelo song, another was John Mayer track from Continuum, and another was Leon Bridges.

All great references and all different. These are three very different drum sounds and styles.

So how did we do it? Microphone selection.

We used multiple microphones to capture different characteristics of the drum kit and then blended them to taste depending on what the song needed. Here was our microphone list.

We had a Yamaha subkick on the kick drum to capture the deep lows, an E602 aimed at the beater to capture the clickiness and attack of the kick, and a SE4400 on the outside of the kick drum which gave us that round jazzy kick sound. Now we had three different characteristics of our kick drum. The D’angelo style track relied heavily on the sub kick, where the Leon bridges style track relied mainly on the roominess of the SE4400. We now had versatility and the ability to blend with all of them.

You can even think of it like this… the sub kick handled the super lows, the e602 captured more of the highs, and the se4400 outside captured the mids. In a sense, the three faders almost acted like eq with a lot of added characteristics.

The snare had an SM57 on the top and a MD441 on the bottom.

The hi-hat was mic’d with a KM184, toms with MD421s. Then we had a pair of SM81’s as stereo room mics and a pair of U87’s for the room as well.

The really interesting thing was the overheads. We used two pairs of overheads microphones. C414s and Royer 122’s.

C414s are bright condensers and the Royer 122’s are darker ribbon microphones. This was the perfect choice because of the versatility of the different characteristics. Some tracks used the 414’s, some used the Royers, and some used a blend of both.

When I mix drums I feel like most of the characteristics and image come from my overhead sound. Mark and I were able to capture two distinctly different overhead sounds and make decisions about the drum sounds at the mix stage.

Why is this cool? Because it allowed us to meet our tracking deadline. It gave us options when we mixed.

Why was it not cool? Because studios are expensive. Microphones are very expensive. Time is expensive. That mic locker probably costed over ten to twenty grand. Not to mention all of the preamps and other things that went into it.

Slate VRS Microphone Selection

With a system like the VRS8, I can engineer a record in a similar situation without worrying about getting a mortgage to buy these microphones or needing the client to rent out giant studios just to use their mic locker. With the ability to copy source material I wouldn’t need four mics on the overheads. I wouldn’t need three mics in the kick. Nor would I need to make the decisions on which mics to use before the session.

I could switch out the mics right there in the box after the client left. No need to shootout microphones on instruments and vocalists right there in the moment. This is amazing because if I’m to be honest with you, nothing kills production and performance more than engineering time. Sure, we LOVE engineering. We’re recording guys. Our client’s don’t care to hear our hour-long lecture on microphone polar patterns.

So far I’ve downloaded the demo of the source material of Slate Digital’s VRS Experience session and played with the mics. I experience that same level of magic, control, and feel that I have in my large drum session file.

Having access to this gives us options to all of the colors on our palette.  I’m particularly impressed by how each thing took eq differently the way a “real” microphone would.

When I track anything, I like to use my 4 point microphone system as a checklist to make the right choices.

The 4 Point Microphone System

  1. I think about the source material of the performance. I always consider what the source’s role is in the song and what the source is. It is a lead female vocal? Is it an acoustic guitar in a rock song or a ballad?
  2. Next, I think about the environment. Different size rooms will yield wildly different sounds. What acoustic characteristics does my room have? Is there a lot of negative room sound that would make me want a more direct sound that a dynamic microphone would give me? Or do I need the detail of a condenser microphone?
  3. Third is the microphone selection. Now that I’ve established the environment and the source, I can select my microphone based on what will serve the song, the source material, and the environment.
  4. Fourth and finally is mic position. Most people make the mistake of getting obsessed with microphone positioning and techniques. Microphone positioning is much easier than you think. A quick tip is to understand that sound is energy that is transmitted through air. You can hit a tom and move your hand around the drum to feel where that air or energy is coming from the most. This isn’t a one size fits all method, but it is a great starting point.

The VRS system just made all of that a hell of a lot easier! Now, these decisions can be made after tracking.

I can select my microphone and distance after the recording. This is game-changing.

This is an incredible release and I can’t wait to get my hands on a complete VRS system.

Since those days in the big studios in the US, I have moved to Thailand to travel the world because Jersey sucks and life is too short to be cold. Mixing on my laptop using Slate plugins have made it so that I don’t miss the studio environment for mixing. But damn, this makes me need to grab a VRS bundle and track a record again.

To everyone that has been telling themselves that their recordings suck because they don’t have the right hardware, they don’t have the right eq, they’re missing that compressor they’ve always wanted, and they can’t afford the right microphones are now officially out of excuses. You’re done. You aren’t allowed to lie to yourself anymore.

Yet again, Slate and his team have changed the game.

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