Michael Hegner is an audio engineer and producer from Midlothian, Virginia, best known for his work on Julien Baker's album, "Sprained Ankle". He is an up and coming engineer with a degree in Audio Production from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN and years of experience as a staff engineer at Spacebomb Studio in Richmond, Virginia. He can be reached at Hegner123@gmail.com for booking.
The first thing we hear in the album is a very deep toned, finger picked acoustic guitar. I’m interested in your mic choice and placement on the fret board.
I used two Nuemann km184's for the acoustic guitar and a Nuemann TLM-103 for the vocal. This song was recorded live, playing and singing at the same time, so the bleed of the guitar is very much present in the vocal track. The placement of the mics focused on the twelfth fret and the sound hole, about 9" away facing straight at the guitar. This resulted in some phase issues that went uncorrected in the mixing phase resulting in a bassier sound as some of the brightness of the guitar was canceled out.
A heavy contrast to this is the acoustic guitar in “Everybody Does”. This song features the brightest and most present instrumentals on this record. What microphone did you use to record the acoustic guitar on this song and was it recorded in stereo? (Please tell me everything. This is the acoustic guitar tone of my dreams)
It's kinda funny, but the mic choice and position hardly changed at all between the recording of "Blacktop " and "Everybody Does". These songs were recorded right after each other, and we did "Everybody Does" first. The km184's were placed at the 12th fret and sound hole about 9" away facing straight on. For "Everybody Does" I wanted a more present sound, and I wasn't happy with the sound from the km184's so I added the TLM-103 in between the two, about 17th fret or so. When we went to record "Blacktop" I just moved the TLM-103 from the guitar to her voice.
Why was just the one song so bright and present?
I wish I had a better answer then "that's just how it happened" but that really was the case. The songs that I worked on were all recorded in two days, on a whim, for free, before I had started my major course work.
What did you use for the pads in “Sprained Ankle”? Are we hearing synth pads or very processed electric guitars at the 1 minute mark?
No synths were used on the songs I worked on. What you're hearing is Julien’s guitar.
What amp and microphone(s) were used to record electric guitar? Do you record and blend in a DI signal?
Every song was recorded with Julien’s Fender amp and an sm57 placed directly on the speaker with less than an inch of space between the mic and grill, except "Good News" which was recorded in Tennessee at my house. We recorded that song DI and used Pod Farm 2 to achieve that tone.
How was the bass guitar in “Something” recorded and mixed?
There is no bass guitar in "Something". What you're hearing is the root notes of the finger picked part Julien plays. The reason it sounds so low is that the mic was probably too close to the amp so the proximity effect made it sound bassey. I think I boosted the low end of her guitar in that song to make it fuller.
Is the piano in “Go Home” an acoustic piano, synth, or MIDI piano? (If acoustic, please talk a bit about the microphone choice and placement)
It's acoustic. The piano is a Yamaha upright, and I used two Nuemann km184's placed at about ear height, space, and distance. They were spaced further apart but the idea was to capture the sound you would hear sitting at the piano.
In many of the songs on this record, there seems to be a lot more depth and distance on the vocals than on the instrumentals. How do you put them into such different spaces but still maintain so much cohesion?
Pure luck. This was before I really knew what I was doing when it comes to mixing. I just used my ears and tried my best to put the two together. Julien likes verbed out vocals, and her rig consists of really beautiful reverb/delay pedals and a great amp. Most of the songs were recorded live so maybe the bleed helped.
What vocal microphone did you use on this record, an do you recall the signal chain?
I used four different microphones for her vocals. "Blacktop" was a Nuemann TLM-103, "Go Home" was a Cascade Victor, and most of "Good News" was a Sterling Audio ST-69. "Sprained Ankle", "Something", "Everybody Does", and "Rejoice" were recorded with an SM-7B. I used an Avalon-737 as the preamp on all of the songs except good news which was recorded at my house with an M-Audio Profire 2626.
I’m also interested in the vocal reverb and delay used on this record. It’s done very differently and tastefully in every song, but do you have a go to processor for vocal effects?
I used Waves R-verb on Julien's vocals for every song. No delay was used on any song I used.
Was pitch correction used anywhere on this record?
Did Julien come to you with the songs at 100% completion or were things hashed out during the recording process?
Julien had every song 100% done when she walked through the studio door.
What was the most challenging aspect of recording this album?
Picking up Julien in Memphis and driving to Richmond, then driving her back. Julien is so easy to work with, and most of the songs are first take vocals and guitar. The version of "Rejoice" you hear on the record was the first time she played the song for me, you can even hear me shut the live room door at the beginning of that song.
When tracking and mixing the tracks for this album, did you use any reference tracks to find the right tones? If so, what were they?
I didn't use any reference songs. The only challenge was getting rid of all the hiss and noise behind the tracking.
Are there any digital or analog processors that you would be totally lost without?
iZotope RX noise reduction. This was before I really knew what I was doing in the studio, and their was a lot of noise in the recordings. The hardest part of mixing the record was getting rid of all the noise I captured during the recording process.
Is there anything else you want to say about this record? Anything you feel you really learned while working on it?
This record created my production philosophy. The entire premise for the project was to give Julien a record that was her. By letting Julien be Julien and not trying to get her to be anybody else we got a record that is an accurate representation of her soul.
What’s next for you?
Trying to find other artists to work with and finding work so I can pay rent. Resumes available upon request.
I’d like to give a HUGE thank you to Michael for taking the time to answer these questions. These interviews are geared towards up and coming producers, and it's always awesome to hear stories from producers who don't have decades of experience and multiple Grammy's under their belt. With such an amazing and successful album in his catalog, there's no doubt he's well on his way to a Grammy in the years to come. If you or someone you know is looking to record a great album, feel free to reach out to Michael at Hegner123@gmail.com