Engineers & Producers

The Ear Behind the Sound of Live Steely Dan, Mark Dowdle

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Photo: Mark Dowdle ( Click To Enlarge Photo )

For over 35 years, veteran FOH engineer Mark Dowdle has worked with some of music's most notable artists, including Latin superstar Gloria Estefan, Sir Elton John, Fleetwood Mac and Jackson Browne just to name a few. While mixing FOH on Steely Dan's recent "Mood Swings" tour, Dowdle relied heavily on a broad selection of TELEFUNKEN mics, including the large diaphragm C12 tube condenser mics, M81 and M82 dynamic mics, and new prototype M60 FET mics tested onstage for the first time.

Dowdle explained how he used the new TELEFUNKEN prototypes: "I tried out the new M60 FETs on the high hat and ride cymbal and was completely amazed with the results. The transient response is nothing short of magnificent and the audio was so crisp and clear that it almost seemed too good to be true. The M60 is by far the best high hat mic I have ever used, bar none. I can't wait to try it on other instruments, such as acoustic guitar and hand held percussion."

The TELEFUNKEN Elektroakustik M60 is a small diaphragm, phantom-powered condenser microphone featuring transformer-coupled class-A discrete FET circuit topology. Its sonic characteristic is highlighted by extremely fast transient response and exceptional phase coherency. The M60 is designed for use in both live and studio environments on sources such as drum overheads, hi-hat and ride cymbals, acoustic guitar and other acoustic instruments. The estimated release date of the M60 is early spring 2014.

During their 53-show tour, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker reprised the setlists of their classic albums Aja, Gaucho, or Royal Scam, performed in their entirety, start-to-finish. The shows continued with additional selected favorites, making for a wide-ranging, hit-strewn ramble through Steely Dan's extraordinary 4-decade catalog. Steely Dan's backup band for the recent tour was The Bipolar Allstars with The Borderline Brats, featuring Keith Carlock on drums, Freddie Washington on bass, Jim Beard on keyboards, and Jon Herington on guitar.

Photo: Steely Dan Drum Kit ( Click To Enlarge Photo )

Dowdle continues, "Having used TELEFUNKEN C12s in the studio, I knew going in that I would be pleased with their performance, but I had no idea how much difference it would actually make. The results were stunning. The drum kit sound was robust and truly amazing due to the sparkle and clarity provided by the C12s. I was able to capture every nuance from not only the cymbals, but the rest of the kit as well. The spacial effect proved invaluable when integrating the drums into the rest of the mix. The result was a completely open sound with a pleasing air that seemed to emanate from the entire drum kit. They'll have to pry these mics from my cold dead hands before I ever stop using them as overheads."

"Everyone knows that Steely Dan is famous for their incredible accomplishments in recorded audio," commented Dowdle. "Living up to the expectations of such an iconic duo, who are revered in the music industry for their attention to detail, is challenging to say the least. With TELEFUNKEN's new M82 mics I was able to capture and reproduce the kick, as well as the bass guitar in ways that truly emulated the original Steely Dan recordings. The filter switches on the mic itself, along with the internal shock mount system, proved to be an invaluable asset."

Steely Dan has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide and helped define the soundtrack of the '70s with hits such as "Reelin' in the Years," "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," "F.M.," "Peg," "Hey Nineteen," "Deacon Blues," and "Babylon Sisters," culled from their seven Platinum albums issued between 1972 and 1980 (including 1977's ground breaking Aja).

Dowdle concluded, "It can be very difficult to obtain the kind of clarity and placement on backing vocals that is required while mixing precision-based material, particularly when the mics are used in conjunction with traditional wedge monitors. The TELEFUNKEN M81 vocal mics produce such a smooth quality vocal range while maintaining an isolated, somewhat remote characteristic to the backing vocals that I was able to place them in the mix with pinpoint accuracy. I believe this was due to the inherent rejection of ambient interference of the stage across the board."

Steely Dan reunited in the early '90s, launching a string of sold-out tours. In 2000 they released multi-Grammy winner (including Album Of The Year) Two Against Nature, and released its acclaimed follow-up Everything Must Go in 2003. They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.


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