Tales from the road: Recording with Robert Plant
Imagine a cool summer night in Toronto, Ontario, over 700 miles from your home base in hot and humid Nashville, Tennessee. You’ve been playing sold-out shows for months, and the tour has been extended—further delaying your personal recording project. Your deadline looms large. And then, rock legend Robert Plant volunteers to sing on a track for your album—but you only have a quick break between sound check and dinner to make it happen. What to do? If you’re seasoned Grammy nominee Buddy Miller, you gather your most trusted friends, set up your M-Audio ProFire 2626 interface and Sputnik mics, and nail it in just two takes.
Take us back to that night on the Robert Plant/Allison Krauss "Raising Sand" tour.
We had about an hour, so I quickly set up eight mics, plugged them into the ProFire 2626 interface and got Pro Tools M-Powered running in the band dressing room. The whole system worked so great, it was just flawless. The band consisted of me on guitar, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Dennis Crouch on upright bass and Jay Belerose on drums. My friend Gurf Morlix showed up at the venue so I put a lap steel in his hands. I felt sort of guilty keeping the band and Robert from dinner, so I miked up the instruments, put up a couple of room mics and played the song twice. We set up in a tight circle, sang it live together, with the band. We don’t play to a click or anything so we didn’t need headphones.
Wow, it’s amazing that you tracked the vocals at the same time as the band. How did it turn out?
We didn’t have the time listen to it right after. I just said, “We got it. I'm sure,” and we walked away from it. After the gig, I went to my hotel room and listened to it. The sound was incredible. I loved it. It's my favorite-sounding track on the record. It just has a great, real quality to it that's hard to get. I did have to do a tiny bit of editing to my vocal part. I hate even saying that 'cause really it was just a matter of taking three words I messed up from the other take. Otherwise it was all live.
What did Robert Plant think when he heard it?
I made a rough mix and gave Robert a copy a couple days later, and I think he was really surprised at how great it sounded. You know, when you just set up a few mics somewhere, you don't always know what you're gonna get. But it just sounded wonderful, he really liked it.
Have you done much other recording while on the road?
Yeah, I’ve also used the Fast Track Ultra I take it with me all the time. I actually used it in hotel rooms out on the road to overdub some guitar parts and percussion for the new record.
How do you choose what gear to bring on the road with you?
I have a lot of old mic pres, mics and guitars. But there’s always problems with old gear like sputtering tubes in the middle of a session. My M-Audio interfaces are like my secret weapon, I bring them on every tour I go on. The mic preamps on the ProFire 2626 are completely transparent, they sound so wonderful. Some vintage pres are good for a certain sound, but you can’t use them on everything. I wouldn’t hesitate to use the 2626 pres on anything.
Have you been using M-Audio gear in the studio too?
Yeah, I use the Sputnik and Pulsar II mics all the time. I really like the Pulsars on acoustic guitar. There’s a lot of reality in the midrange. And they get some really nice sound off the wood. They’re great mics with their own sound. They not a copy of anything, and they don’t have that irritating 4-6k bump so many other small-diaphragm mics have.
The Sputnik is just such a flexible mic, I've used it on pretty much everything—from vocals and acoustic guitar to upright bass. It’s difficult to record an upright bass, and we got a great sound with Sputnik. Our bass player, Dennis Crouch, completely flipped. He’s one of the best upright bass players in Nashville, and brings his own mics to his sessions. He's very, very picky—but he loved the sound of the Sputnik.
I also have M-Audio hardware—ProFire 2626 and the Fast Track Ultra interfaces and the Project Mix I/O controller. The ProjectMix kinda blew my mind the first time I turned it on. Everything's great. Everything works.
So what projects are coming up next for you?
I’m producing a record for Patty Griffin. I felt it should be recorded in a church, and I found a beautiful church in downtown Nashville that was built in 1949 in the Egyptian Revival style. So we're going to be recording there for about a week. I'm gonna bring all my gear down there and set it up. There'll be M-Audio mics all over the place, and I’ll be using a Pro Tools|HD system. Patty lives in Austin, so if there's something additional she wants, and she wants to work down there, I can always just take my M-Audio system in a suitcase and go.
Look out for Written in Chalk, the new record from Buddy Miller and Julie Miller available in March 2009. For other news and tour dates, visit buddymiller.com.