Multiple-GRAMMY Award-Winner John Spiker Shares His Thoughts on Audio-Technica

Spiker is a Producer, Engineer and Multi-Instrumentalist

Audio Technica JohnSpiker

John Spiker is a multiple-GRAMMY Award-winning producer, engineer, mixer and multi-instrumentalist. Although perhaps best known for his work with Tenacious D, where he takes on the role as producer, engineer, bass player, and composer, Spiker also has a resume that reads like a who’s-who of rock, indie and alternative. Working with artists like Beck, John Carpenter, The Lonely Island, Steve Earle, Pete Yorn, Slash, Filter, Nine Inch Nails, The Killers, Suicidal Tendencies and more, Spiker serves these artists by drawing upon his unique skill set, whether that is playing on the road or recording/producing in his studio.

Recently, Spiker reflected on the first time he was exposed to microphones from Audio-Technica – microphones that he has now used for years and has come to rely upon. “The first time I was ever introduced to A-T was in my early days when I was assisting the late Ed Cherney on a session,” stated Spiker. “Ed had this huge trunk that he rolled into the session, and it was packed full of Audio-Technica mics and accessories. And I just remember seeing Ed put those mics up in some interesting places – places where I thought I would see some of the usual choices of mics, but this time they were A-T. I subsequently left that session and said ‘Well, if it’s good enough for Ed Cherney…’ And I went down to my local music store and bought a 4033. And that was the first-ever microphone that I owned. To this day, I still have it and use it all the time.”

He continues, “After shadowing Ed and seeing him use A-T on a bunch of projects, it really got me fired up about Audio-Technica. I started listening to different mics and realized that the A-T models were generally a lot more well balanced. Mics from competitors can give you certain nuances that are immediately exciting, but as soon as you actually try to use that mic, it starts to get really difficult with things like sibilance or harshness – things that you end up having to fix in the mix. And then I would come back to the 4033 and other A-T mics, realizing why a guy like Ed was so fearless about throwing those up on sessions: because they sound legit and they don’t add any of that kind of hype to the sound. There’s no one now that does this professionally who doesn’t know a 4033, 4050 or 4060. However, there are a number of sleeper A-T mics that I was unaware of. I remember years ago I was over at Dave Grohl’s place, Studio 606, and he had ATM25’s on the toms. I had never seen or heard of them, but once I did hear them I said ‘Whoa, this sounds serious,’ and after the session I got home and immediately went online and bought a pair.”

About nine years ago, Spiker built a studio behind his house in Sherman Oaks, California. “For years, I had thought about what this studio would be while I worked in second bedrooms or lofts, or just different spaces in my living situations over the years,” he remarks. “Finally, we took the plunge and built it. The studio has a control room with an isolation booth off of it and a drum room, which has another iso off of that. And then there’s a lounge and there’s a couple other iso rooms. The console is a Neve 50 series with Focal SM9 and NS10 monitors, and then I’ve got a small B room that uses ADAM speakers. We’re kind of always perpetually working on a Tenacious D project here at the studio. We just shot a performance for a Jimmy Kimmel show here with Tenacious D, and then we finished up a couple of different singles that are slated for release over the next few months. I used the AT5047 for all of the Jack [Black] vocals; in fact, I’ve used that mic on his vocals for three or four recordings we’ve done. We’re just wrapping up another project right now, a single that’ll come out in a couple of weeks, and his vocals were exclusively cut on that 5047.”

He continues, “The 5047 is a microphone that I’ve really been getting to know over the last year. Initially I didn’t know what to use it on when I first got it, and I remember I tried it on a mono overhead and it just lived there for a little while for a bunch of different drum sessions because the transient response on it is insane. And it was just one of those microphones where I put it up and just couldn’t bring myself to take it down. It’s really interesting because, again – and I don’t know what the psychology is of why we do or don’t think of certain microphones for certain applications – but again, the 5047 was just one of those ones where I think I had gotten so happy with it on the overheads I just left it. But then I decided to try it on guitar cabinets. I had recorded a whole record where every electric guitar had that 5047 in front of the amp cabinet. And I was recording it with another manufacturer’s mic as well, and it ended up that once I got into mixing the record, I bailed on that other company’s mic and only used the tracks with the 5047.”

Recently Spiker also used the AT5047 when recording kick drum for Suicidal Tendencies. “I put the 5047 in the normal FET 47 position, because that is the spot where it’s going to ‘blow up’ a little. And obviously that microphone has a super high SPL capability, and it’s not going to break up. The drums on this project were really defined and I really wanted it super clear - I didn’t want that FET 47 sound on it because sometimes it can be a little too round and a little too woofy sounding. So I just wanted to try something different, and the 5047 was another one of those, ‘What can I grab to throw out there?,’ because oddly it works in a wide variety of applications, just like the 4033. I’ll throw a 4033 in that position too a lot of times. Sometimes I’ll even leave the pad off so that I can hit the front end of the microphone a little bit harder - and that’s a microphone that breaks up in a really musical and pretty way, where it doesn’t sound like it’s breaking or overloading or distorting in a bad way.”

“The other place that 5047 spends a lot of time with the Tenacious D guys was when we are recording acoustic guitar, just because more than many other bands, that’s an essential part of their sound. There’s a big portion of Tenacious D songs where we didn’t cut the drums first and then build the track on top of that conventionally. We would cut those acoustic guitars and then the whole track is being recorded around those. So it’s a really essential and central part of the sound for those guys. I’ve also been using the AT4060 on vocals for Kyle Gass on Tenacious D projects. I did have some time to experiment with Kyle, tried a bunch of different microphones, and then the 4060 just won, it clearly won. His voice is darker than Jack’s and his voice tends to have a little more low-end to it. And again, for some reason his voice with that 4060, it just really works.”

Additionally, for monitoring, Spiker’s studio has multiple sets of Audio-Technica headphones including the ATH-M70x professional studio monitor headphones. “I’ve got the guys, the whole Tenacious D band actually, set up with them. Jack has bought a few pairs of those, just because he was using them here at the studio and called me later and said, ‘What were those headphones we were using the studio?’ And he ended up just snagging some pairs for his use at home. When he comes to the studio, he brings his own headphones now. And I always joke with him, that he’s like a pool shark going to a billiard parlor with his own personal cue stick. He shows up with his headphones and he takes them out of the case. I smile, it’s great.”

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