Music Industry Veteran Ron Fair talks microphones with PAD Group’s Drew Townson
Fairly Famous: Ron Fair poses with fedora.
PAD: Ron, I would imagine you have a pretty formidable collection of good vocal mics in your cabinet. Do you have a favorite, and if so, what is it?
Ron Fair: As a “music and records guy” who happens to have a lifetime of engineering experience behind me, I never got too immersed in collecting mics. For years I would always use the best available in the locker and concentrated more on the singer, on the lyrics, on the musical architecture. Having said that, my favorite was always a pristine c-12 or a Telefunken 251. These have become so desirable that they are virtually unaffordable and require a really seasoned maintenance man to keep them in tip-top shape. That’s why I’m so intrigued by brand-new-in-the-box gear. My entire new studio in Nashville is a “no-vintage allowed” proposition. If the artist wants to go tube-vintage-old-school – we will walk four doors to Blackbird where John McBride has the Smithsonian of every superb piece of vintage gear ever made.
You are known for helping launch the careers of some of music’s biggest female artists - Christina, Fergie, Queen Latifa, Lady Gaga and more. Choosing the perfect microphone match is key. What is your process for finding the right mic for the singer?
I just did a mic-shoot-out for Sony Pictures “The Star” on four women, Jessie James Decker, Zara Larsson, Yolanda Adams and Kelsea Ballerini at Chicago Recording. I set up a Neumann M49, a Neumann U-67, a Telefunken 251 and an AKG C-12. They sang a verse and chorus on each mic. In Zara’s case – the M49 won hands down. We listened together and chose together. On Yolanda we used a Neumann 67. Kelsea sang on the Neumann M49.
But the big surprise was Jessie James Decker on the Sontronics Mercury. That microphone is a stunning shocker. I wish I had ten of them.
Ron, how did you first hear about Sontronics mics?
PAD’s Dave Malekpour left a pretty snazzy case behind during his last visit to Nashville. He asked me to try it out. At first I thought it was just a fancy shell and some cool-looking throwback. I was completely wrong. It is a stupendous piece of gear; world class.
The aforementioned Mercury tube condenser?
Yes, we used it on Jessie’s recording of “Breath of Heaven” for “The Star.” Flat – no EQ – nothing special pre-amp. Absolutely perfect!
How does Mercury compare to your other go-to mic(s)?
The Mercury is a world-class competitor to any of the old great mics – the 251 or C-12 or U-67 or M-49. It’s a glorious full-range giant sound.
So I take it you’ll have Mercury in your mic closet at your new Nashville studio?
I will have a pair of Mercurys for sure, as well as a handful of Sontronics' other models. For my studio, with it’s “no-vintage-new-new-new” edict, this is my Rolls-Royce.
Do you think Sontronics mics could be a suitable for some of the artists you produce?
I’m starting to put my list together; and Sontronics is at the top.
Other than vocals, have you tried Mercury on any other sources?
I have not had a chance to use it on instruments yet. I am looking forward to hearing it on my 9-foot Bluthner piano.
If you were stranded on a Desert Island and could only have one microphone (made of coconuts, of course), what would it be?
Probably an SM-57; which can be used as a weapon, a torch, a door-stop and firewood!