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True Systems And API On Santa

United States
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA - 7 NOVEMBER 2007 — "Santa’s Playlist" is Sister Hazel’s playful response to the requests of their many fans for a Christmas album that might inject some contemporary cheer into the stale rotation of classic Christmas recordings that return to haunt malls, living rooms, and otherwise respectable radio stations year after year. Each band member sat in the producer’s chair for three tracks, which were either revitalized versions of the classics, obscure holiday songs, or tunes written by the band. The band sought the help of long-time collaborator Ken Kelly to engineer the project.

Drew Copeland, lead singer/rhythm guitar player with Sister Hazel records scratch tracks in Ken Kelly’s mobile studio outfitted with TRUE Systems and API Audio gear.

The recording schedule was anything but normal. They recorded scratch tracks in anticipation of some down time while on the road promoting Hard Rock Park at a string of Hard Rock Cafés. With Kelly’s mobile rig, the band recorded vocals over those scratch tracks in their hotel rooms. At the end of the tour, they rented the Performing Arts Center in Gainesville for several days to re-record the demo-quality tracks. Finally, Kelly and the band spent a week in a hotel suite in Gainesville (subsequently commemorated as the "Sister Hazel Hot Tub Suite" with a plaque on the wall) finalizing the vocals. Kelly’s ability to quickly dial in consistent, high-quality preamplification with his TRUE Systems Precision 8 and his API 312s proved essential to the success of the project.

"They’re two essential tools," said Kelly. "The TRUE Systems is absolutely transparent - what goes in is what comes out. On the other hand, the API has a very pleasing color and warmth. It definitely imprints its signature on the sound. Between the two, the correct choice of pre depends on the application."

Kelly used the TRUE Systems Precision 8 for a nice, clean acoustic guitar sound, using both a Neumann KM 184 and the Precision 8’s direct inputs. He used it for vocals with a Neumann KMS 105 live handheld condenser, as well as for three room mics, drum overheads, and guitar ambiance. The API 302s captured almost all of the percussion, along with the bass and guitars when the songs called for the API warmth.

For mixdown, Kelly used a hybrid "in the box/out of the box" approach. He used Pro Tools HD3 for automation, then brought the tracks out through an Apogee converter and into a pair of API 8200 mix modules. An API 7800 sums their outputs and returns the signal to Pro Tools, where Kelly makes heavy use of the Waves API bundle of plug-ins for digital EQ and compression. "They’re great emulations of the API 550A, 550B, 560, and 2500," he said. "They’re so accurate, you can push them and they actually get that analog grit that’s so cool and so missing from every other analog emulation!"

Going through the API 8200 mixers, Kelly saves an identical mix that stays entirely inside the computer so that band can remix their tracks in the future without relying on his particular setup. "I play both mixes for them without telling them which is which," he explained. "As far as you can describe in words, they’re identical. But these are artists and they know what they like. They pick the out-of-the-box mix every time! There’s something indescribable going on in the API mixers that people like. So it’s worth it. I’ll keep going out of the box."
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