Frank Ocean In The Studio - we discuss the gear Frank Ocean used on Channel Orange
Almost half a million album sales in the US and a Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary album make Frank Ocean one of the biggest names in urban music at the moment. No fly-by-night, talent show chancer either, Frank had to hold down 11 jobs (including Subway, he makes a mean sandwich) in support of his music making craft. Furthermore 'Channel Orange' is a critical success too, as loved by the Guardian as it is by Spin Magazine. We decided to put together a Frank Ocean gear guide, so you can capture that 'Channel Orange' sound too.
Writing Channel OrangeThere's some classic synth, drum machine and guitar tones on 'Channel Orange' but it is mixed very contemporaneously with a full, lush and quite dry sound. Frank worked with producer Malay who describes them working as equal partners, rather than putting his own imprint on it.
Frank Ocean's MicrophoneIt's not a big surprise to find a Neumann U47 and Telefunken 251 being used, unfortunately, they're out of production and these vintage mics command a hefty price on the second-hand market (when they turn up!). Malay does also say that an M149 was used, one of Neumanns flagship microphones, a real work of art and perfect gear for capturing a talent like Frank. Apparently, an SM58 was used too, best known as the world's favourite live vocal mic the 58 turns up in the studio more than you might think. Bono is known for recording using a handheld 58, singing in front of the studio monitors rather than on headphones. Quite possibly the 58 was used at the same time as one of the tube condensers to give a little grit and mid-range punch in the mix. The trick is to get the capsules of the SM58 and the other mic lined up perfectly to avoid any phase issues. Our guess for where the SM58 was used would be Forrest Gump, with a layered quality to the vocal and mid range bump it may well be blended in there.
For the rest of the vocal chain there's a few more classic pieces of gear that have been used on pop records for decades, the Neve 1073 Microphone Preamp, Fairchild 670 and Studer tape machine help give weight and warmth to Frank's vocal. The original hardware units can be hard to find but Waves have distilled all that analogue voodoo into spot-on digital recreations in the V-Series. Universal Audio have their own stunning Neve recreations in the Neve Pak, they also have Fairchild and Studer hardware emulations that run on their UAD Accelerator packages.