Recording Journal: 9/28/2009  

KMRC Presents : Family Wagon

Over the last couple years, Keith Milgaten has either recorded, mixed, or remixed about half the bands in our fair city. Sezio has teamed up with Keith to begin documentation of his studio hours to shed some light on what goes into the music that fills San Diego's iPods. The first project is with a band that doesn't need that "indie" word in front of their genre. Keith's weekend with Family Wagon has rock and roll written all over it with the state of the studio, the live tracking process, and parking lot escapades.

On July 26th, 2009 at twenty after noon, I met up with local throw-back rockers Family Wagon to track 3 songs at Rafter Roberts' Singing Serpent recording studio.

A few months back I helped Rafter and Lizette's wedding planner set up their entire reception at the Spanish Art Village in Balboa Park. In exchange, Rafter gave us the go-ahead to track a session in the still-under-construction live recording room (designed by the same guy who created the blueprints for all of Capitol Records' live rooms). In other words, it was an ideal place to spend the day working on music!

Family Wagon is a classic power-quartet set up. Gareth plays bass, Ryan plays guitar, Calen sings, and Brian plays drums.

To begin our session, we threw Gareth's Ampeg in the far corner of the studio where the vocal isolation booth will one day be. To achieve an ideal, thick rock bass sound, I ran a D-112 dynamic low-end mic into a Peavey compressor/ limiter from the 80's (which Rafter claims is the only quality piece of equipment ever made by Peavey). For a powerfully gritty electric guitar tone, I put a SM57 in front of Ryan's amp out in the 30 ft. hallway adjacent to the live room. The length of the hall provided a natural room sound, and amp isolation dramatically minimized guitar bleed in the drum microphones. I cranked that signal up through the remaining open channel in the Peavey to create a nicely horizontal wave form.

Once the guitar and bass were ready to track, we threw up an AKG condenser mic on top of the gigantic work table in the center of the room. Normally I choose to go with stereo room mics, but the pristine sound of the room only called for one high-quality, well placed mono mic.

I then proceeded to slap a D-112 in front of the kick drum, and several 57s on the toms and snare. Once levels were set to capture the highest amount of gain without digitally clipping our pre-amps, it was time to rock and or roll.

The Family Wagon guys blazed through the live instrument tracking for 3 songs in a little over an hour, which meant that overdubs were next on the to-do list. Ryan and I listened back to the songs and brainstormed for guitar overdubs.

We surmised that there were several places in the song "Hi & Goodbye" that would sound even fuller and more powerful if Ryan matched his guitar with a double track. After successfully punching in those licks, we applied the same theory to the other two songs, which completed our instrumental overdubbing process.

Tracking lead vocals can be approached in many different ways. You can record the lines of the lyrics one by one, creating an utterly perfect "studio style" version of your song. This method is best used when a vocalist is having trouble nailing a full take, and will explicitly familiarize you with every nuance of the lyrics. Another approach to tracking vocals is fairly obvious: get a solid take of the whole song! This approach is rarely successful in the end, but in this particular situation, Calen delivered the vocal goods. Once the melody was there, we experimented with harmonies. After orchestrating 3 part harmonies with my brothers in The Vision of a Dying World for 6 years, I have become obsessed with the possibilities one can discover in this realm. Fortunately, Calen and the guys were quite receptive to my ideas, and we ended up with much more than we bargained for.

All Photos by Michael Spears

After harmonies were tracked, we realized that Gareth had been passed out on the ground in the parking lot for some time, clenching an unopened bottle of Sessions Ale. Some of the neighbors were definitely giving him weird looks, but it was all worthwhile when he woke up to hear his band's brand new EP!

Hi & Goodbye

Get a copy of the Family Wagon EP @ The Ken Club on Friday, October 2nd.

To hear more from Keith Milgaten Recording Collective artists, visit

Tags: Recording, Keith Milgaten, Family Wagon, KMRC, Rafter Roberts


one other quality piece of Peavey studio gear is the VMP-2, two channel tube mic pre. Not trying to debunk Rafter or defend the Peav, but just adding what I know to the collective internet knowledgebase.
Roy made this post on 9/30/2009 at 5:02 pm
hahaha I love you Gareth! I feel smarter after reading this..awesome entry!!
Carly EaleyCarly Ealey made this post on 10/1/2009 at 8:24 am
Love the pictures, who took them?
Devin made this post on 10/7/2009 at 10:28 am
Good question... I'll ask Keith.
Zack NielsenZack Nielsen made this post on 10/7/2009 at 12:29 pm
Michael Spears is the answer... thanks for the reminder Devin. (credited above)
Zack NielsenZack Nielsen made this post on 10/7/2009 at 12:36 pm

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