Puddlegum

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Conversation with J.T. Oneal of Riarosa On Writing 100 Songs, and Recording Gear.

Riarosa – Gravity (YouTube)

Last night, I talked to a friend, J.T. Oneal (pictured second from right). He’s a drummer for Baton Rouge dream pop band Riarosa. He’s also a recording engineer, and records bands in his studio. We talked recording gear, and a challenge that Riarosa is embracing.

His band, Riarosa, are challenging themselves to write a hundred songs, while rehearsing in Oneal’s studio on a weekly basis. The goal is to strengthen their songwriting, and to select the best songs to move forward with.

J.T. shared, “We’re writing as many as we can. It’s an interesting approach. We’ve never done it like that, so a lot of weird ideas are coming up. Everyone has different influences. We get together once a week and we’ll hit each one and try to get at least an arrangement while each person tries to solidify their parts. All the while dropping ‘not so strong’ ideas and keeping the better ones.”

As they do this, they’re posting videos as a vlog on Instagram and YouTube, documenting their progress. “I just bought a camera for social media and YouTube content ideas that we wanna do and that’s one of them,” he shared. Video editing is new to him, but it’s giving him ideas of what they can do. 

Riarosa – Vlog 5-3-20 (YouTube)

Riarosa is an active band that performs and rehearses a lot. When they rehearse in his studio, he leaves the mics set up so they can plug-in and play. He records every rehearsal so they can listen back, reference, and improve. “Being able to record ourselves is great.”

“When we practice at my house I have everything mic’d all the time over here,” he explained. “So I have dedicated mic and preamps/inputs for a full band and vocals that stay ready to go. I multi track all of or rehearsals. I even have the first time we ever got together as a band multi-tracked. I can track up to 25 simultaneous inputs at the moment.”

On recording gear preferences

The first time Oneal and I talked was during a Instagram live video I was hosting while recording Saeyers. We’re both engineers, so our conversations gravitate in that direction.

Some artists and engineers do not like to “reveal their secrets,” while others are very open to sharing tips. Oneal has no problem sharing what he’s learned (neither do I). “If I’ve learned anything, it’s that the source is by far the most important things,” he stated. And this is so true. It doesn’t matter how great a microphone or preamp is, the musician must hone in on their skills, and be prepared (this includes their instruments).

Engineers have their favorite mics that they rely on for certain applications. Of course, a go-to mic isn’t fail safe, and you’ll always find yourself trying different angles, microphones, preamps, compression, etc. Oneal is wise by leaning on conventional wisdom and uses microphones that have been deemed “classics” by countless engineers.

Riarosa – Change (YouTube)

For vocals, he uses a Shure SM7b, a favorite among many engineers. “Pretty much always works. But I sometimes use a Warm Audio WA87,” microphone. He uses a Universal Audio Apollo, which opens up the world of the amazing UAudio plugins. He uses the Neve 1073 preamp plugin, and 1176 rev A plugin for compression. The Neve is silky smooth and warm coloration, and the 1176 brings presence and makes the vocals pop.

When recording guitar amps, he shares, “[Shure] SM57 stays on guitar amps. If I’m double miking I’ll throw a [Sennheiser] MD421 on there too.” Both of these are standard mics for amps.

I asked him about tracking snare. I’ve seen many configurations, and each snare sound calls for a different angle, mic, preamp, etc. Drummers usually bring their own snare if someone is providing a kit, so it’s good to know how other engineers (especially if they’re drummers) approach the snare. Oneal is a drummer, so I knew he would have great insight. “I’ve actually been using the [Sennheiser MD]421 on snare for quite some time now. It may introduce a little more high hat bleed, but it has a nice smack that’s hard to beat with my mic selection.”

Each engineer has their own favorite mics for tracking kick. “I’ve been using Beyerdynamic M88 on kick lately and I’m loving it. It’s a ’Swiss Army’ mic. It sounds great on everything. I usually put it just inside.”

While tracking bass, he usually uses an Acme Audio Motown WB-3 Passive DI Box.

We discussed cymbals and overheads. As I mentioned, he’s a drummer, so I knew he would have great input. “I use a 20 and 22 inch Dream Vintage Bliss crash ride.” He said the difference in sizes make them, “sound pretty different.” He doesn’t close mic the cymbals, but uses a pair of Warm Audio WA87 for overhead mics. He sometimes uses Shure SM81 mics for overheads.

If you haven’t heard Riarosa, check them out and follow them on the socials. Look him up (Instagram) if you’re wanting to record, and keep your eye on Riarosa’s Instagram as they vlog their hundred song challenge. They’re a great band, and are fun to listen to.

(Riarosa is on Puddlegum Mixtape: tape one, and will certainly be on more in the future.)

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