Abi Asks: Camilo Velandia

Abi Asks: Camilo Velandia

Howdy Safari Blog People!

This past week, I wrapped up a vibe-ullar production that featured multiple layers of electric guitar. Micing, recording, and processing said electric guitar opened my eyes to truly how many possibilities and ways there are to capture its sound. (*cue inspiring music*)  This enlightening and truly magical guitar recording experience compelled me to dive deeper into the topic on this week’s blog.

Hopefully it will strike a chord with you all (pun VERY much intended).

On that wonderful guitar recording note, I chatted with Latin Grammy Award Winning Guitarist, Producer, and Engineer: Camilo Velandia (Camila Cabello, Luis Fonsi, Julio Iglesias- to name a few).

I asked him: As both a guitarist and producer, what are your go-to recording techniques for guitar, and why those recording techniques?"

He said: “Hi Abi! Thanks again! Always love a chance to get geeky!

My work consists of either producing songs (in which I also play guitar, and some other instruments if I don't suck terribly, haha), and playing guitars on other artists' songs. Being in Miami, Fl, we have a big mix of cultures, so I have had to become fluent in lots of styles. First, I will say I am totally an obsessive music/recording/gear geek, and I am very fortunate to have daily session work, so I am constantly buying new gear/plugins just so I can keep things interesting, always trying new sounds. However, I'd like readers to know that you do NOT need to have a ton of gear to be a "successful" session musician or producer, and I know plenty of guys that stick to a few pieces of gear and stay working as well. My current interface is an Apollo X8, and I am a fan of the UAD plugins. Over time I have also bought some analog gear, like an LA2A, a Distressor, a couple API's preamps and a BAE. I have a lot of mics, from industry standards like AKG 414's and Neumann KM 184's to more obscure boutique mics and clones.

The first thing I think about, whether it's my production or someone else's, is what role the guitar will play in the song. I try to strategize ahead of time what the first batch of guitar tracks will be doing, and in doing so, I can orchestrate a little better so that, for example, the fifth guitar track I record can complement things I'm doing on the first guitar track I record. I ask myself, for instance, in the verse, is it one mono guitar? Is it two guitars? Are they doubling the same part? Or are they playing different, complimenting parts? Also, very important, how dark or bright do I imagine the sound, and how wide? Is it mono? Stereo? How forward (dry) is it in the track? Or is it in the back, creating more atmosphere (wet)? This will help me decide what guitar I will pick, and what signal chain will come after it.

Usually I will always start with acoustics. I am fortunate to have a collection of many acoustic instruments from many steel strings, to other string instruments like mandolins, ukuleles, dobros, etc. Depending on the protagonism that the part will take, I will choose which mic. If it's a brighter sounding acoustic guitar part, I have a couple ELAM 251 style clones (Roswell, and Circle Audio) that I could use, or maybe a Neumann KM184 if it's a more "focused" sound I want.  I mostly use a single mic for acoustic guitars, unless it's a part where one single acoustic guitar carries a whole song, or a verse, in which case I will find a couple mics that compliment each other well.  Phase can be a tricky thing when you are your own engineer and you're also playing the instrument, so I don't get too experimental with stereo mic'ing.  If I do stereo, I will do one around the 12th fret, about 6-12 inches away, and one behind the bridge, same distance.  I am familiar with other stereo techniques like mid/side, XY mic'ing, etc, but I pretty much stick to that same one if I do stereo. For single mic, I usually start with the mic in front of the 12th fret, about 6-12 inches away, and if I need more body, I will turn the mic towards the soundhole, or slightly move closer to the soundhole. Viceversa, if I need more brightness I will aim away from the soundhole towards the fretboard, or move further from the soundhole and towards the lower frets.  Usually I will run the mics into either an API512c (for faster transients, clearer sound) or a BAE 1073 (for a more vintage, slightly sweeter sound). I then run the preamp into an LA2A, and I generally don't compress at all, but I run through the circuit just to get some tube mojo. If it's MY production, I may compress a bit since I may be more clear on what I want the end result to be. I generally high pass starting around 90hz. Some high strung acoustics I may high-pass as high as 150hz-200hz if their function is more of a high end strummy thing. Every now and then I will also record the direct signal plugged in, but that's not very common for me.

For electric guitars, I can get more creative. I have created a very versatile setup where I can use amps mic'ed, amps through a loadbox with IR's, or a Fractal Axe FX III all without getting up from my chair, which is important, because I know if I have to set something up, I'm too lazy and I won't use it. I also have three different pedalboards on the floor, and two other pedalboards on pull out racks, always ready to go so I can run them in front of any amp, or the Fractal. I usually run through either API or BAE depending on the sound I want, and at the end of it all, I have some compressors and EQ's on the UAD console, because I do most of the heavy EQ'ing at that stage. I very commonly do serial compression on the way in, always very light, but I find it really adds some mojo to the sound. I have many electric guitars, so again I generally ask myself what the role of the electric is. Is it more of a Nashville type thing where one guy is playing one take from top to bottom, a "performance" type of thing? Or is it more of a guitar part that should almost sound more like a sample? I get much more creative with depth, reverbs, delays.  I very often run reverbs into other reverbs. For example a plate into a hall, or a spring into a plate. I have my signal routed so that I have a mono or stereo "dry amp" signal that has no delay or reverb, and there is a stereo "wet" signal that will be 100% full of effects, and I generally record both simultaneously. This way the producer has the flexibility of blending my wet signal in as much as he wants it, or maybe dump it and use his own effects. I don't ever record any DI guitars. In my entire session career, only one person has ever asked me to do that and that was probably over ten years ago. 

After all the guitars are recorded, edited, quantized, etc. I will generally listen critically, and print some EQ on to the tracks. I will often high pass anything that really needs no unnecessary low end.  Or maybe I will add a very subtle additive top end shelf EQ to strumming acoustics.  Almost trying to "Pre-mix" the tracks a bit more, so that when I send them to the producer, it already sits where I think they should go. Of course I am always conscious of leaving room for more tweaking in the mix stage. If I am ever daring to print something a little more drastic, I will always keep a backup of the original track, in case it is needed later on. As important as it is to record guitars, it's also important to back them up! I always keep all the guitar sessions I do backed up in the cloud, and in two different hard drives. Often, someone will ask me for a session I sent months ago, and I like to have them at hand. In general, when I do sessions for other artists, I try to think that for a few hours, I'm producing the song, and I try to ask myself what I would want the guitar player to play, and then I try to make that happen. I also keep many playlists of different styles of music, or different styles of guitar playing, or even different styles of guitar sounds, so that I can always reference them before I start a session, to get my mindset into the sound texture of the song. I'm very open to share any info if anyone has any questions, so feel free to contact me via email or social media. Thanks for reading!!”

I learned SO much from Camilo’s answer. Here were the 3 biggest takeaways for me:

1) Putting thought into WHAT the guitar’s role in the track is beforehand, so the amps, mics, micing position, and FX can be chosen accordingly. I mentioned this in last week's blog: nowadays with the rapid pace of releases, there is often a rush to wrap up tracks as fast as possible. This served as another great reminder to SLOWWW down, be thoughtful, and choose the right gear for the song. All with the intention to serve the music. 10/10 slays!

2) Overall GREducation (Guitar Recording Education, and yes- I made up that word, hehe). I honestly have not experimented with recording stereo guitars, nor have I tried different mics on acoustic guitars or amps for the sake of knowing what they sound like. Camilo’s answer made me realize that I MUST invest more time into investigating these things, as it’s important to know what you’re doing/talking about, right? ;) hehe! If a blog about phase issues drops in the next few weeks it probably means that my stereo guitar recording endeavor was a bust. Stay tuned!

3) BACKING STUFF UP. Wildly underrated. I love that Camilo records both a dry and wet track simultaneously, which allows for ultimate flexibility and backup slay. I plan to implement this practice into my next session, and am excited to have that extra level of flexibility and “safety” knowing a dry version of my track is backed up as well in the session. After a few backup mishaps, I have been meticulously backing all my sessions up, so this is definitely going to level my backup game up even more!

Camilo’s insightful answer had so many gems, and I will absolutely be referring back to this as a guide!

Thanks Camilo for your awesome answer!
Catch y’all next week!
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