Katy Perry, Metallica use microphones invented in Cape Town
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
Far away from Cape Town’s inner city noise of hooting traffic and bodies colliding is a quiet Camps Bay music studio where invention is born.
Here, not only new sounds are created for a decades-old band, but gadgetry to enhance the sound of music has also been built from scratch.
Inside this studio, brothers and musicians Mike and Tully McCullagh are listening to beats off their recent album, Work In Progress.
While Mike has over the years produced musical shows, Tully has wrapped his thoughts around the technical side of making music and making it sound better.
The results have been rewarding, as Tully has invented a microphone that he confirms famous musicians from Katy Perry to bands like Maroon 5 have been using while either performing live or recording songs.
Tully’s Tul Mic, which he assembles by hand, is a combination of three microphones. Its magic is in how music or voices sound once projected via it.
Tully points out and exhibits that the sound is not altered in any way. What comes out of the microphone is simply a clearer, fuller and less polluted sound. It is far clearer than the noise that comes with standard microphones.
“It has a special circuit inside,” says Tully.
“Normally when you put a microphone in front an amplifier, it colours the sound. You have to fiddle around to get the sound right. But with this you don’t need to. You just pluck it in front of the guitar.”
About two years ago Tully was sitting in his studio when Mike’s son James McCullagh, who is based in the United States, asked him if he could find a way of combining three microphones into one.
James was working with a music producer at the time and they were recording American rock band Journey.
“The band journey has three guitar players and they needed to use three microphones per guitar player to get the sound right,” says Tully.
“I got the three top brand microphones (they were using) and strapped them together to see what the sound would be like.
“I examined the waveform and worked for weeks on the sound quality. That’s how invented this microphone and sent it to James.
“Then people started hearing the sound. And they asked for the microphones.”
Tully has since then been sending microphones to music producers, musicians and bands in the United States and Germany.
“And it’s all hand made. I get the cases made and assemble all the electronics myself,” he says.
Tully has produced two microphones: one that can be used in studios for recording, and another for live music playing.
Mike says his son James has been the main connector in the picture.
“He was a natural and was born into this,” says Mike.
Mike introduced James to the music business when he and Tully’s band McCully Workshop recorded albums and played live shows from the 1970s.
“James was my sound engineer from about 15. He worked with Tully and did studio recordings as well,” says Mike.
“When he was 22 years old he went to London. He got a break and became (English female singer) Josh Stone’s engineer in London.
“When INXS reformed in about 2004, he then became their sound engineer. He toured the world and became well known.”
That led to various links to world famous celebrities.
“His girlfriend at the time became Katy Perry’s production manager. Katy later ended up using one of Tully’s microphones,” says Mike.
Tully says another big break was when music producer Bob Rock, who worked with heavy metal band Metallica, got hold of the Tul Mic.
“Bob is just unknowingly the ambassador for the microphone,” says Tully.
“He has ordered two microphones to record artists with. Everywhere he goes, people want the microphones too and they contact us.”
Mike and Tully used the microphones to record their recent album, Work In Progress, which won the Best South African Group award in June at the Wawela Music Awards in Joburg.
Mike says it “made us sound better immediately”.
“It sounds more international,” he adds.
McCully Workshop intends to start playing live concerts again, while Mike plans to continue his work in musical productions.