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Suggestions for Recording Acoustic Folk Ensemble
Old 15th March 2014
Here for the gear
๐ŸŽง 5 years
Suggestions for Recording Acoustic Folk Ensemble

Hey Gearslutz,

I'm a guitarist who's taken on and embraced the role of amateur producer/engineer for my rock band's recordings. My side project is an acoustic folk group that plays Greek folk tunes, and I've been asked to engineer a recording of a few songs for that group! Over time, I've been able to get together some basic equipment and knowledge to record decent enough recordings of my rock band, but I am at a loss for what the best recording technique would be for an acoustic group, and I was hoping that you all might be able to help suggest what I should do. I'll give you the rundown and my best guess at what I should do--feel free to poke holes in it or suggest new ideas altogether. I've been a lurker for a while, but I finally registered an account here so that I could post this--thanks for the wealth of information that you guys have always provided!

The Task:
Record a Greek acoustic folk group playing around 10 songs over the course of 2-3 three-hour recording sessions. The group will take the basic tracks live as a band, because the group really feeds off of one another to build energy over the course of a song. We will likely record in a carpeted classroom or small banquet hall at a church. Since we have limited time to record and because I'm also playing acoustic guitar in the group, I can't experiment too much with wildly different placements, unless I tweak things between each session, so I'd like to get a "best practice" from you guys that I can set up and fine tune at the beginning. We're not expecting to get anything studio quality, but I'd like to maximize the sound with what I've got.

The Group:
Bouzouki (also vocalist)
Acoustic Guitar
Electric Bass

My Equipment:
Very limited set of mics/equipment. I'd like to do the best I can with what I have, but am willing to go buy a piece or two as needed.

Tascam US-1800 interface (8 mic, 2 instrument, 4 line inputs)
Presonus Studio One Artist
Presonus Eureka Mic Pre/Channel Strip

Blue Bluebird (LDC)
2x Audix f9 (SDC from drum mic set)
1x Audix f6 (dynamic kick drum/bass cab mic)
5x Shure SM57
2x CAD CM217 (SDC from cheap drum mics)
Potentially another pair of stereo condensers used to mic church choir.

Proposed Recording Concept (open to tweaks or completely different ideas):
We'll record the band all together in the room. I would think it would make sense to set the group up in an semi-circle arc facing each other, with microphone(s) in the middle of the group to capture the group/room sound. The vocalist will not sing during group takes, and we'll the add vocals after the fact, along with some bouzouki overdubs. I'd like to individually mic/DI each instrument as well to have some more control over dynamics/tone of each instrument in mixing, but I think I'll probably have to rely a lot on the room sound because of my limited gear.

Room Mic: Either the Bluebird in mono (probably my best mic), or a pair of the SDC's in a stereo pattern of some sort.
Bass: Audix f6 on the cabinet
Acoustic Guitar: DI and SDC or DI and pair of 57's (this is the meat of the rhythm section, so I thought maybe two mics would make it seem wider/bigger)
Bouzouki: Pickup DI and SDC or 57 (the lead instrument)
Mandolin: 57 or SDC (often harmonizes the bouzouki)
Flute: 57 or SDC
Viola: 57 or SDC

If anyone can help at least let me know if I'm on the right track, or even give suggestions on how I can make this a success, I'd appreciate it.

Old 15th March 2014
Gear Nut
๐ŸŽง 5 years

Check out this Sound On Sound article, it relates to the recording method (of using one mic to capture a band) that you described. It also mentions some of the challenges involved.

Jim Sutherland: Producing Aberfeldy

Bottom line: it can absolutely be done.

I tried something similar once, and I can say that it will require a lot of careful placement EQing to capture something that rivals the sound you would get from individually mixing instruments.

However, I think if you just let the sound do it's thing, you'll end up with something pretty unique. Check out the album by Aberfeldy mentioned in the above article and you'll hear it.

I think you're on the right track though, from your description I presume you'll be micing individual "lead" instruments? That sounds like the right idea to me.

One suggestion, try to capture both the DI and mic sound of the bass track. I personally have not had much success with micing a bass amp, and usually find myself using the DI sound more often than not. It'll be good to have the option to do so.

Best of luck, shoot me a private message if you'd like, I'll gladly listen to any rough mixes you've got and give you a second opinion.


Old 15th March 2014
Lives for gear
bigdoghat's Avatar
๐ŸŽง 10 years
I would do stereo mic on the room for sure but more on the "group" rather than mic'ing the "room" - what I mean is don't place those mics too far away. How usable they are, or how high they go in the mix will depend on your placement and how good the room sounds. If the room sounds amazing and everyone's dynamics in relation to each other are very balanced, you may end up preferring the sound of the stereo mics and filling in any gaps with the spot mics

Or, if the room is not so great or for some reason you don't get something amazing with the stereo mics, then the spot mics will be your main mics in the mix and the stereo mics will supplement the ambience and the live feel, at a lower level in the mix

Stereo mic'ing the room rather than mono mic'ing the room will allow your more options later in mixdown. Just do some research on which stereo configurations give you the widest sound. Some of them, can sound more like they're positioned at 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock in the stereo field, even when both channels are panned hard left and right so look into that too.

I'd say place the stereo mics and have everyone play without you of course, stick on some headphones and find your ideal mic position, listening to how much of the instruments versus how much of the room ambience is coming across. The nearer you go to the players of course, the louder the instruments will be and the less obvious the room ambience will be. Then I'd sit down a record a little bit with yourself playing too, just to make sure you're instrument is blending in well also. You might have to get some players to come nearer or move further back to get a nice balance

Edit: I'd also think about baffling off that bass amp and just feeding it to the headphones in case it overpowers the room mics, everything else is an acoustic instrument apart from that so good isolation might be another thing to think about to give you the best shot at having nice tracks to mix. Or maybe there'll be no headphones?!! Anyway, watch out for the bass bleed on your room mics, this will be a big one to keep an eye on and make sure it's not over the top
Old 18th March 2014
Here for the gear
๐ŸŽง 5 years
Thanks for the suggestions, guys! Upon further discussion with the producer today and some thoughts around gear limitations as well as to mitigate some chance for performer error during group takes, I am now thinking about reserving the "group" takes for the rhythm section only (guitar, bass, bouzouki), and then coming back with overdubs for the other instrument and vocal layers. Do you guys think this approach makes sense to reduce complexity of the sessions?

I would close mic each instrument in the rhythm section, and combine this with a pair of stereo room mics. The question is--since i'll be overdubbing the other instruments individually with a close mic, should I also mix in a room sound for those as well by keeping the stereo pair in the same place for overdubs?
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