Oxford, MS (March 31, 2004)–Just over a dozen years old, Fat Possum Records was started by Matthew Johnson to seek out and record local Blues artists in the North Mississippi area. Bluesman like Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside were their first signed artists with seminal records recorded live in local ‘juke joints.’ Bruce Watson, who’s engineered and co-produced all of Fat Possum’s releases, and Johnson opened a studio as critical acclaim and financial reward came to Fat Possum, where nearly all the mics are either Neumann or Sennheiser.
Watson took over and converted an old school building in Water Valley Mississippi into the studio he calls The Money Shot. “My first Neumann mics were a pair of KM 184 cardioids,” recalled Watson. “They were incredibly flexible. I like them for drum overheads, piano, acoustic guitars and for string basses, it’s the best overall mic we own.”
When asked how long it takes to do a Blues album, Watson exclaimed, “We’ve done them in three hours or in a whole year. Our basic Blues record top to bottom takes on average about three weeks. Ninety percent of the time we record everybody live all together and then sort it out afterwards. Most of our artists are two piece: electric guitar and drums with vocals–or just two guitars. You’ll find that a lot in the hill country music–just two pieces. There is nothing that sounds like North Mississippi Hill Country Blues.”
According to Watson, the miking set-up at the studio is fairly simple. “For electric guitars I use the Sennheiser MD 421 II dynamic and a single Neumann TLM 103 drum overhead with maybe a kick and snare mic–that’s it. We record straight into our Studer A-80 two-inch 16-track and transfer to Digidesign Pro Tools. I only use Pro Tools for editing and mixing back to my MCI console.”
A few years ago Watson bought a pair of TLM 103s and they quickly became his main vocal mics. “On vocals the 103 makes the singer jump out of the mix,” Watson continued. “I run the 103 through a Neve 1073 pre-amp and add a little compression from an old Gates tube compressor and that’s it. On drum overheads, the 103 is smoother on the top and fuller sounding. It picks up more of the kit. A lot of times I’ll use the sound from just one 103 for my whole drum sound!”
Recently a new Neumann TLM 127 arrived at The Money Shop and it has already seen use on three sessions. The TLM 127 is a multi-pattern mic with a K 27 capsule derived from that used in the TLM 103. Watson said, “I last used the 127 on an R&B-flavored song where the acoustic had to be full and out front and the 127 was perfect. It sounds very comparable to the 103.” Watson has started using the 127’s omni mode even though all the musicians are playing and singing in the same room. Watson added, “I make a deal with the leakage, since there are virtually no overdubbing or fixing later in this music. We edit from take to take. My Neumann mics always sound consistent all session long. I’m set with omni mode on the TLM127 that’s great for acoustic guitars and the TLM103 for vocals and drum overheads. Both these mics let me record this authentic American music the best it can be.”