LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 2010: Beginning with a string of hits in the 1970s that earned her the title “Queen of Disco,” Donna Summer has earned seventeen Grammy nominations and five wins throughout her career. Her latest chart-topper, 2010’s “To Paris with Love” came on the heels of her performance at The Nobel Peace Prize Concert in honor of President Obama and marks her fifth decade in the limelight. Danish producer, engineer, and songwriter Peter Stengaard (Pussycat Dolls, Jojo, Diane Warren) produced the song using his ATC active monitors to ensure translation wherever the song is played, be it a giant club system or a tiny pair of ear buds. For his forthcoming work with Summer, Stengaard is using a BOCK 507 large diaphragm condenser microphone together with the ATC monitors to highlight the magic of Summer’s timeless voice.
Access to Stengaard’s private home studio comes with his services as a producer. The studio centers on a fully-decked Pro Tools HD3 system with Lynx Aurora I/O. Crane Song Avocet controls the ATC SCM25A monitors, which brings ATC’s celebrated three-way system to a smaller-footprint design. For tracking vocals, Stengaard uses an adapted walk-in closet, which he says outperforms even the best purpose-built vocal booths. His search for a world-class microphone to match the room led him to the BOCK 507, which represents the top-of-the-line offering from vintage microphone guru David Bock.
“I was in the market for my own first ‘super mic,'” Stengaard explained. “I tried it out against all of the big name ‘must-haves’ and the BOCK 507 stood out as the very best of the crop. To my ears, it’s like a perfect U47 in the lows and mids, combined with the top-end of a 251. That combination makes it great on male and female vocals alike.” The 507 combines David Bock’s vintage-inspired electronics with a unique elliptical capsule that dramatically reduces within-capsule resonances. Stengaard pairs the BOCK 507 with a Neve 1084 preamp/EQ and a Retro 176 tube-limiting compressor.
“We’re working on some almost rock-ish material right now,” said Stengaard. “The BOCK 507 is a beautiful complement to Donna’s voice. It’s a lot of fun to crank the 1084 a little bit so that it distorts just a little bit in that ‘Neve way’ and yet still has the amazing open top-end of the BOCK 507. I roll off a little bit of low-end so that the compressor isn’t reacting to information that we won’t end up using. Then I can push it harder without distracting her.” Stengaard strives to bring the vocal signal in with sufficient processing so that it will sit nicely in the mix. That way, it sounds close to a finished recording at the start, which inspires a better performance from the vocalist.
Stengaard’s introduction to the ATC family of monitors came from Danish friend Paul Mathiesen. “Paul is a total hi-fi nut and I heard the ATC SCM300ASL in his living room,” said Stengaard. “It was crazy. The ATCs deliver a rare combination of excitement and accuracy. I can get excited and I can get everyone else excited too, and yet I still have all the analytical clarity that I need to do my job. The only other ‘monitors’ I use are my laptop speakers and my car. I don’t need anything else.”
Stengaard improves his production and engineering skills by listening critically to the work of others. The ATC monitors are perfect for this, giving him insights into what works and what doesn’t. Then he produces his own music in that very same listening environment, applying what he learned. In the case of Donna Summer’s “To Paris with Love,” that homework paid off in spades. The world waits for the next Donna Summer song to emerge from the studio of Peter Stengaard!