This November marks the 25th anniversary of Shania Twain’s Come On Over–the multiple GRAMMY Award-winning album that broke records and catapulted Twain to global superstardom. With hits like Man! I Feel Like A Woman!, You’re Still The One, and That Don’t Impress Me Much, to name a few, the album has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide and remains a fixture in pop culture even today.

To mark the occasion we decided to go behind the scenes and talk to GRAMMY-nominated producer/mixer/engineer Jeff Balding who was the engineer on the studio sessions at The Tracking Room in Nashville where a majority of the album was recorded.

Jeff gives us an in-depth look at the mics and outboard gear used during the sessions, shares his process of sculpting the sound while tracking, and tells us what stood out for him from his experience of working with producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange in the studio. 

Let’s start with how you got involved in the project.

I had been working with Mutt on some other projects–he'd been working a lot in Nashville–so this was the next project he called me for.

What was a typical day in the studio for you while working on the album?

What was unique and great about this project was we spent one day tracking per song. Most days it seemed like we focused on the intro and verse until lunch, working out intricacies and licks; then we’d pick up, working out parts in the rest of the song throughout the afternoon, getting final takes in the evening and then work into the night, refining and fixing some of the parts. They were long and intense days but the end product was always amazing.

The majority of the album was recorded at Masterfonics – The Tracking Room in Nashville­­. How did the space shape the sound?

The Tracking Room had several recording spaces or booths and each had a different character to it. The room with the most character was the “stone room” which had stone walls and a stone floor. This is where I put the drums; this room had a lot of energy for drums. One thing that had influenced putting the drums in the stone room was that Mutt had stopped by The Tracking Room when I was working on another project. I had the drums on a riser in the stone room and he loved that idea, so we put the drums on a riser in the stone room for Shania’s project. The stone room had a big influence on the drum sound.

For the other instruments, the musicians were spread out in the other booths and rooms in the studio allowing them to play together as a band but retain separation. Part of the charm of making a record here is cutting all the musicians at the same time–great musicians feeding off of each other and taking a song to the next level. The drums, bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, steel and keyboards were all cut together at the same time.

You can really feel the energy of the band on the record.

That’s everything coming together the way it should: production, musicians, sonics and songs, and attention to detail to make sure that energy is captured. Mutt knew exactly what he wanted–even down to how the guitar player would strike the strings. He was very specific with everything in the production process, even pointing out specific frequencies to address in the EQ of the instruments, if needed. There was no stone left unturned–even before we started tracking we spent at least a day listening to snare drums and kick drums, and getting sounds.

So that is a true story? I had heard that was a part of the process on this record.

Yeah, we spent a lot of time picking out the three snares that were used on the record. I don't remember which ones they were, Paul Leim would remember that, but the ones that were chosen had the sound we all were looking for.

A lot of time was spent trying different miking placements and making sure I captured everything exactly how it needed to be; a lot of time was spent on the sonic detail of the record in the tracking sessions. It was amazing how tight the tracks ended up being, which really opened up the sonic landscape of the record in an amazing way. There was a lot of time and attention spent on every detail.

Let’s discuss some of the mics that were used on the album.

We listened to a few mics on the kick and ended up using an Audio Technica ATM25–one of the original ones–as the “inside mic” and a combination of a Neumann U47 FET and an NS-10 woofer for the “outside” kick sound; a Shure SM57 on the snare top and a Neumann KM 84 for bottom snare; U47 FETs on the toms and the Neumann KM 84 on the hi-hat. The overheads were AKG C12s and I used U67s and U87s for room mics–one pair in front and one pair in the rear behind the kit. 

On the guitars, it was a 57 and a Royer R-121, and the piano I believe was the AKG 414. For the acoustic guitar, we used a KM 84 and on gut string we used a Sanken CU-41. And for Shania's vocal, we used a Manley Reference Cardioid mic.

In terms of outboard gear, what pieces were invaluable during the recording sessions?

Neve 1073s and 1081s were definitely used a lot on drums, bass and guitar; API pres were used on some things; the studio’s SSL console was used for some of the instruments as well. In addition to that, Urei 1176, Urei 1178, a Fairchild 670, and the Neve 33609–among other classic staples–were used on various instruments. 

The fiddle overdubs were done at The Tracking Room after the tracking dates–six fiddle players around a pair of AKG C12s. The unique thing about this–besides six fiddle players playing the same part at the same time–was that the musicians would play the fiddle hook over and over throughout the entire song giving the option to choose the best-feeling hook to fly into the sections that needed it.

You’ve said before that when you're tracking you like to sculpt the sound as you're going along. Could you elaborate on that?

I think it’s important to sculpt a sonic picture for a song. Each song varies so the sonic picture needs to connect with the song. That would involve EQ, compression and mic changes if needed–the focus is always the song. The great thing in tracking is you're interacting with the musicians and they're interacting with the sounds as you're changing them and that then influences how they’re playing. For instance, if you're adding extra compression to an electric guitar, the guitar player is going to adjust how he plays so that the compression complements the part they're playing and it all contributes to the final product. That's the best thing about tracking with everybody in the room, everybody reacts to each other and to the sounds.

In 1996-1997, what was considered cutting-edge technology that went into the making of the record?

We'd been through the transition of the Mitsubishi 32-track with the Apogee Mods, but then the Sony 3348 came along and sounded way better and everybody gravitated to that–obviously for the track count. That’s what the basic tracks were cut on. 

Could you give us some examples of analog and digital components that contributed to the record during tracking?

It was all recorded through analog signal paths going straight into the Sony 3348– mainly Neve and API preamps, although the console pres were used on some things. Then everything went straight to the 3348.

I remember when the album came out, a lot of us listened to it on very basic consumer headphones which were really bad quality compared to what we have now but none of that mattered–the album was just so much fun to listen to.

The writing and production was definitely fun. Sometimes we forget that music should be engaging and entertaining to listen to. 

In several interviews, Shania has said that her intention with this record was to expand her audience and cross over into pop–how did that translate into any technical decisions that were made during recording?

I’ve always worked in different genres so I like to incorporate sonic elements from other genres into whatever I’m doing. I think that helps keep things fresh and a little more unique. One example on this album was using a riser for the drums and using a Clear Vistalite kick drum–the same setup I used on a Megadeth record a few months before.

For you, as an engineer, were there any challenges during the recording process that are now memorable?

I don’t remember any specific challenges other than just making sure the sounds were where they needed to be...

What stood out for you about working with Mutt Lange and Shania Twain?

Both of them were very focused; they knew exactly what they wanted and they knew how to get there–how to lead everyone to that place. That’s a gift–to be able to bring musicians along and keep everybody motivated, especially when you spend that much time on a song. So to be able to keep everybody motivated, keep them moving in a direction, and to have clarity about where they're going is a great quality. 

There was a lot of refining as we went along. There was a focus on the details but it was also about feeling the song and getting the emotion out of it–you felt it as parts would get refined. Mutt would make slight changes and ten minutes later you would go, “Oh, that made a big difference!” You kept feeling more emotion and getting more out of the track and I just remember them both being very attuned to making sure that stayed in the music.

What do you think of most when you look back at your time working on this album that has gone on to be much loved by people from all over the world?

A lot of good memories! The great blend of personalities and musicianship stands out the most to me. I’m still amazed to be part of such a great project. 

Kyle HuntIf you have any questions about the gear used to make this record, we're here to help! Please contact a Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 866.644.0160.