Rik Simpson recording Coldplay with sE Mics

Thursday 27th October 2011

Updated 7th March 2012 as Rik has given up cigarettes and so we have removed the cigarette from the image on the right! 

Producer Rik Simpson on recording Coldplay with the sE4400a and sE Rupert Neve RNR1, and his new love affair with sE mics ...

Rik Simpson has switched his vintage AKG 414’s for the sE4400a multi-pattern condenser mic and found the elusive character he wanted for Coldplay’s latest album. In this interview he talks about the revelation of using sE’s hand-crafted microphones and sE Reflexion Filter products and how they’ve changed his recording world.

  • sE Endorsee: Rik Simpson
  • Occupation: Grammy Award winning Engineer/Producer, Musician and Songwriter
  • Artists: Coldplay, Jay-Z, Portishead, Kasabian, PJ Harvey
  • sE Mics/gear: sE4400a, sE RNR1, sE Reflexion Filter Pro, sE IRF2, sE Stand 1

Key Quotes:                

“Having used the sE4400a’s for the piano parts on Coldplay’s latest album I wish I’d had them on piano duty for the previous record too, quite a statement to make considering how the band are renowned for their piano parts and sounds…” 

 “The first time I heard the sE4400a’s I realized that the personality I’d been missing from my vintage 414’s was back in reach, I haven’t looked back since”

 “The RNR1’s are amazing… the first mic I’ve ever heard that removes the speaker from the listening experience. It’s like the source you’re listening to is right there in front of you, all the technology seems irrelevant and non-existent... no other mic has had this effect on me… incredible!”

Rik Simpson Interview with sE Electronic's James Ishmaev-Young (Oct 2011)

Rik Simpson knows his stuff… his 2009 Grammy for Coldplay’s ‘Viva la Vida’ is testament to a man who is at the very top of his profession, but his roots, like most great producers, are modest, and he worked his way up from studio ‘tea boy’ to where he is today by working and learning alongside the best…

Young boys are interested in one of two things, being a footballer or being a pop star. I’ve always been s*** at football, and the pop star thing (although I gave it a good go) was tentatively out of my reach, so I settled with being a record producer, the next best thing!”

Rik started very young, moving to London as an assistant at Swanyard Studios, a large studio in Islington, unfortunately no longer there. Over the next 20 years he worked and learned from many of the big name producers and bands of the time, moving around the best studios in London. He eventually ended up as a Grammy award winning producer himself, which finally lead to him designing and building two studios for Coldplay in North London and most recently, producing two of their records.

He has also worked with Jay-Z on the ‘Kingdom Come’ Album and previously gained much critical acclaim for his work with Portishead, Kasabian, Black Rebel Motorcycle club and PJ Harvey to name but a few. As well as the technical sides of recording and mixing he often contributes musically, playing and singing on many of his productions, and is also one half of production duo ‘The Darktones’, with Coldplay bassist Guy Berryman.

Rik’s main kit is a Pro Tools rig, loads of nice mics and pre-amps, an SSL Matrix console and Barefoot speakers, but while these are invaluable tools he’s very candid about what makes a great record…

The main bit of the studio process for me has to be the music. A great album could be recorded on a laptop or a cassette machine as long as the songs and performance were right. My role is a conduit to the flow of the creative process. I know that sounds a bit w**k but it’s totally true, the band has to feel comfortable with me so they forget I’m there and can just switch off and play…

That said of course, you have to get the music down right, so the right gear plays an important role in that… we do a lot of band takes where everyone is playing together in the same room. sE’s Reflexion Filters have been invaluable for conquering spill problems between mics. I have both the IRF’s (Instrument Reflexion Filters) and the big Pro ones (Reflexion Filter Pro), on drum, guitar and piano mics, which massively cut down the bleed between the different sources.”

Mic wise, the 4400a’s have been a revelation. I always used to use the vintage AKG 414’s at Mayfair Studios in north London whenever I was recording piano, the mics sounded just how I thought piano should sound in my head. When the studio died I kicked myself for not buying them and ended up buying the new 414’s for Coldplay’s studio. Unfortunately, although they are decent mics, the new 414’s sound nothing like the vintage ones, they lack the flavour and character found in the originals. The first time I heard the sE4400a’s I realised that the personality I’d been missing from my vintage 414’s was back in reach, I haven’t looked back since. I need to get some more stereo pairs, as they’d be great on guitars and drum overheads.”

Rik has also fallen in love with the mics that sE have been collaborating on with Rupert Neve…

The RNR1’s are amazing! I use them on acoustic instruments and for room duties, to get the ambience you need to really give life to the recording and help ‘gel’ everything together. This is the first mic I’ve ever heard that removes the speaker from the listening experience. By this I mean it’s like the source you’re listening to is right there in front of you, all the technology seems irrelevant and non-existent. I know this sounds a bit far-fetched but I kid you not, no other mic has had this effect on me… incredible!”

The sE 4400a’s and RNR1’s Rik owns, have been used on every song on the new Coldplay album (Mylo Xyloto), as well as a record (‘You & I’) he produced with Guy, for New York band, The Pierces, which has just gone gold in the UK.

Having used the 4400a’s for the piano parts on Coldplay’s latest album I wish I’d had them on piano duty for the previous record too, quite a statement to make considering how the band are renowned for their piano parts and sounds…

Rik is now in the process of accompanying the band on tour around the world for the initial album promo gigs, making sure that any TV and radio broadcasts of live performances sound as close to recorded material as possible. Beyond that he plans to get more into mixing, and has a lot to offer in that field, so watch this space…!

As far as sE goes I’m intrigued to see how their ribbon range develops, I’m very much looking forward to searching for the ultimate guitar tone with the help of sE… I also have to mention at this point the mic stands. They are the easiest to use heavy-duty stands I’ve used… well-made and not unwieldy, they hold the weight of a large condenser mic (a very expensive one at that) and the Reflexion Filter Pro no problem.

…and a final note…

sE mics have saved my arse on more than one occasion…

...just put them in front of stuff, they sound the s**t…

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