"Smiling Underneath" | Ani DiFranco
SINGLE: "Smiling Underneath"
ALBUM: Red Letter Year (Righteous Babe)
DATE MASTERED: May 2008 at Kitchen Mastering in Chapel Hill, NC
PRODUCERS: Ani DiFranco and Mike Napolitano
ENGINEERS: Ani DiFranco, Mike Napolitano, Tony Maimone, Jack Miele, Ken Rich, Todd Sickafoose, Jesse Voccia
MIXER: Mike Napolitano
MASTERING ENGINEER: Brent Lambert
OTHER PROJECTS: Lambert has mastered projects for artists including Cowboy Mouth, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Royal Crown Revue, the dBs, Caleb Caudle, the Bo-Stevens, and Mitch Easter.
SINGLE SONGWRITER: Ani DiFranco
MASTERING MONITORS: Duntech Sovereign loudspeakers with a Pass Labs X250.5 amplifier and a JL Audio Fathom f113 powered subwoofer
MASTERING SIGNAL CHAIN: Weiss EQ1 7-band equalizer; Pacific Microsonics D/A converter; Dangerous Music S&M analog sum/difference controller with Kevin Carter-modified Manley Massive Passive EQ, modified Millennia NSEQ-2, and Requisite Audio Engineering L2M Mastering Limiter; Pacific Microsonics A/D converter
RECORDERS: Merging Pyramix DAW (playback) and Steinberg Wavelab DAW (recording)
SELECT MASTERING PLUG-IN: PSP MasterComp stereo dynamics processor/compressor ENGINEER'S DIARY
A couple of years ago — upon the recommendation of producer, engineer, and mixer Mike Napolitano — dynamic urban folk icon Ani DiFranco chose to work with mastering engineer Brent Lambert at Kitchen Mastering in Chapel Hill, NC. One Ani album project (Reprieve) led to another — a rather outstanding one, actually; released on the last day of September 2008, Red Letter Year features the standout track, "Smiling Underneath." The song — an earnest yet humorous description of a loving relationship mired in American middle-class reality — allows DiFranco's distinctive voice to gravelly and expertly lilt over a bed of meticulously crafted acoustic-instrument-loop-based "low-fi" orchestration.
"On 'Smiling Underneath,' you'll hear all these rolled-off tones and sounds," Lambert explains, "but when it's contrasted with Ani's pristinely recorded vocal, you get this amazing sense of depth, clarity, and juxtaposition."
Brent Lambert DiFranco and Napolitano are touted by Lambert for their mastery of modern folk music arrangement. "They are amazing arrangers, and that's a huge part of making the engineering part of the production equation easier," Lambert insists. "Good arrangements facilitate clarity and contrast; I can't emphasize enough how good arrangements are related to successful projects — both an aesthetic and engineering perspective."
In his mastering work, Lambert notes that any first pass of any song in his sessions incorporate "very little to no dynamic processing — only EQ. The reason I do that is because a lot of projects end up being re-purposed in various formats, such as film. [Red Letter Year] is going to vinyl, and the mastered vinyl version has a different limiting and compression scheme than the CD version; the CD has a bit of limiting on it, while the vinyl version is mostly EQ. By working this way, I have a bit more flexibility on the back-end, which facilitates minor changes without having to recall everything."
According to Lambert, the Chapel Hill lifestyle is quite conducive to his business. "Immediate benefits for me are lower operational costs and a higher quality of life," he says. "Chapel Hill is a university town with excellent food, art, and intellectual pursuit. Personally, I can walk to the studio, or it's a two-minute drive. And the artists feel really comfortable here; anyone who comes here usually comes back."