Shure KSM353 ribbon mic captures guitar sound on Conan’s bandstand

Sometimes things just work out. For Brian Lodato, music mixer on TBS’ Conan, the opportunity to try the Shure KSM353 ribbon microphone on bandleader Jimmy Vivino’s guitar amp just fell into his lap. “We had the mic on loan, and I knew that guitar amp is a great application for ribbon mics, so I gave it a try,” he recalls. “Now it’s six months later, and we’ve got it hard-mounted to the stage.”

Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band is a seven-piece group, comprised of a rock band with a horn section. The group plays the opening theme, music leading into and out of each commercial break, and occasionally serves as backing musicians for guest artists. Musical director and arranger Vivino handles lead guitar and vocals, and has been with host Conan O’Brien throughout his career as a talk show host.

“The band plays a really wide variety of styles,” notes Brian Lodato. “It could be hard rock, pop, R&B, or a little jazz thing. That means a lot of different guitar tones, so the microphone on Jimmy’s main amp is really important. It’s a hand-wired Vox AC15 tube amp, and the KSM353 is great for that.”

Lodato positions the mic close to the cabinet, roughly halfway between the center and outer edge of the speaker cone. “If you think of the speaker as a clock, I’ve got the diaphragm of the mic at roughly 11 o’clock,” he explains. “It can smooth out the really harsh tones when it needs to, but when it’s a clean sound, the mic is just pristine and transparent. It really gives the flexibility to capture the full range of Jimmy’s tone palette.”

Between the house band and guest artists, Lodato also employs a wide range of other Shure mics as well.

“We use Beta 91s and Beta 98s on drums almost every day, plus a ton of SM57s on snare, guitars, and sometimes horns,” Lodato said. “And, if the director lets me get away with using overhead mics on the guest band, I’ll use a couple of KSM32s.

“I like the Beta 58A for vocals, and our go-to vocal mic for guest bands is a UHF-R Series wireless SM58.”

A 2001 graduate of the music production and engineering program at Berklee College of Music, Brian Lodato worked in studio recording before teaming up with Conan O’Brien in New York, then making the move to Los Angeles with Team Coco. Lodato finds the hectic pace of live TV exhilarating, as it forces him to dial in his music mix with very little margin for error.

“In the studio world, you might spend hours working on just the kick drum sound for a project that might ultimately be heard by 50,000 people,” he reflects. “But for Conan, it’s obviously a lot quicker pace. We have an hour or two in the morning to get a rough mix going, then a couple more hours in the afternoon to tweak the mix. Then the band performs it live for the show, and suddenly I’m mixing for about a million people.

“Fortunately, everybody’s been quite happy with the sound, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”