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bluegrass mixing?
Old 3rd February 2009
  #1
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🎧 10 years
Question bluegrass mixing?

Hey was just wondering if anyone had any experience with bluegrass and could describe the recordingprocess (how to lay out band and how to place mics) and mixing/processing techniques necessary to achieve a great sounding bluegrass recording.

Instruments include fiddle, banjo, acoustic guitar a madolin and upright bass. Not sure what mics im gona have yet. Cheerz
Old 3rd February 2009
  #2
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GZsound's Avatar
 
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🎧 15 years
I've been recording bluegrass for years. Both live and in the studio.

I have found the best system is to record a scratch vocal and all the rythm tracks at the same time in the same room with the band being able to watch each other.

I normally use SD condensers on the acoustic guitar and mandolin and a Beyer M260 on banjo. Fiddle gets either a SD condenser or the Beyer ribbon.

Most breaks are recorded as overdubs and I'll use a LD condenser on acoustic guitar, mandolin and fiddle breaks and the Beyer M260 on banjo breaks.

Vocals are overdubbed and I put harmony parts on their own tracks even if they sing them at the same time. Makes it easier to get the proper blend if the band is off a bit.

Most of the time we end up using a click track
Old 3rd February 2009 | Show parent
  #3
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🎧 10 years
Thanks. Do u use any processing or effects at all.
Old 28th October 2009 | Show parent
  #4
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🎧 10 years
GZsound, I wonder how you record scratch vocals in the same room? How do you prevent/minimize bleeding into the instrument mics and still allow the band to see each other?
Old 28th October 2009
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ass_tronaut ➑️
Hey was just wondering if anyone had any experience with bluegrass and could describe the recordingprocess (how to lay out band and how to place mics) and mixing/processing techniques necessary to achieve a great sounding bluegrass recording.

Instruments include fiddle, banjo, acoustic guitar a madolin and upright bass. Not sure what mics im gona have yet. Cheerz
Granted I'm a live sound guy, but I'd record them live in the form they liek to use live. Make them do takes until they get it right! Only partly kidding...

Bluegrass is a live form of music. You need to set them up so they are comfortable hearing each other as they play - getting isolation is far less important than getting the peformance right!

In fact, the best bluegrass musicians I work with use only one mic. ONE LDC. I add a side mic to get the instruments in stereo, and do an MS mix. That will really work if the band is worthy of the name bluegrass...

Just a perspective,

Lou
Old 28th October 2009 | Show parent
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SkullsAndWrench ➑️
GZsound, I wonder how you record scratch vocals in the same room? How do you prevent/minimize bleeding into the instrument mics and still allow the band to see each other?
It's easy.. We simply record all the instruments and the lead vocal track along with a click track if necessary, at the same time. Bleed isn't an issue since the scratch vocal is ony for a guide vocal track used when we record the rhythm track.

I then play the scratch vocal and click back in the headphones while recording the instruments again.

There is some bleed, but in acoustic music and bluegrass, that makes the music actually sound more organic and less sterile than a recording with every instrument isolated.

I have been recording that way for years with good results.
Old 28th October 2009 | Show parent
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by loujudson ➑️
Granted I'm a live sound guy, but I'd record them live in the form they liek to use live. Make them do takes until they get it right! Only partly kidding...

Bluegrass is a live form of music. You need to set them up so they are comfortable hearing each other as they play - getting isolation is far less important than getting the peformance right!

In fact, the best bluegrass musicians I work with use only one mic. ONE LDC. I add a side mic to get the instruments in stereo, and do an MS mix. That will really work if the band is worthy of the name bluegrass...

Just a perspective,

Lou
I also run sound at several bluegrass festivals and events throughout the year and you are correct.

I have some pretty nice reocordings of bands using just one mic or a single LD and a SD side mic.
Old 28th October 2009 | Show parent
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ass_tronaut ➑️
Thanks. Do u use any processing or effects at all.
I rarely use any effects, but I use lots of processing, depending on the instrument. For example I normally use a high pass filter on acoustic guitar to keep it from interfering with the acoustic bass. I use compression on the bass and maybe on lead and backing vocals.

Here is an example of my latest bluegrass recording project. We did four songs in two days last month.

The Bluegrass Regulators on MySpace Music - Free Streaming MP3s, Pictures & Music Videos
Old 28th October 2009 | Show parent
  #9
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Aarhus Lydstudie's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by GZsound ➑️
I rarely use any effects, but I use lots of processing, depending on the instrument. For example I normally use a high pass filter on acoustic guitar to keep it from interfering with the acoustic bass. I use compression on the bass and maybe on lead and backing vocals.

Here is an example of my latest bluegrass recording project. We did four songs in two days last month.

The Bluegrass Regulators on MySpace Music - Free Streaming MP3s, Pictures & Music Videos
Nice production!
Old 28th October 2009 | Show parent
  #10
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I have some sessions scoming up with a BG group. Left to right: Dobro, mando, guitar, bass, fiddle. I will be recording them in a high ceilinged sanctuary of a local church. I planned to put an AB omni set and an ORTF in front of them and possibly a Blumlein ribbon set. They will be arrayed in their usual performing arc around the mics.

I could also spot mic them and then MS or ORTF them, too, but like to keep it simple and "clean." I am pretty much in the "less is more" school. I can do up to twelve tracks but want to avoid that and the hassles of mixing twelve tracks.

Does they AB/ORTF/Blumlien setup sound like a good one??

Thanks
Old 29th October 2009 | Show parent
  #11
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alvagoldbook's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by loujudson ➑️
Granted I'm a live sound guy, but I'd record them live in the form they liek to use live.
I couldn't agree more. I grew up on bluegrass. My dad played mandolin in a bluegrass band. I grew up listening to Jim and Jesse, and Bill Monroe.

If the band you're recording is more of a traditional bluegrass band (not New Grass in the Sam Bush vein) then I would record them as they play live.

Back in the day the way to record was with a single instrument mic and a single vocal mic. For breaks the various musicians would get closer to the mic and then get the hell back so the singer could come back in. A lot of shuffling around. Obviously, we don't have to use such pain in the ass techniques today, but it does produce the classic bluegrass sound, especially if the band knows how to do this correctly.

If you want to make the mixing a little easier then I would record the band together live. If the upright bass is acoustic with no pickup at all, then I'd put a condenser in front of it, perhaps 2 or 3 feet in front of it. Mic the guitar as you normally would with a condenser. For the fiddle, mandolin, and banjo consider using a ribbon. Don't try to isolate the musicians, bleed is part of the charm here. Just use the 3 to 1 rule.

If the band can play through the song without vox, then record it that way, and overdub vox later. Experiment with tracking the harmonies. It might be worth trying to record all the harmonies at the same time with a single mic. Try switching the pattern to omni if you have that option, but be careful with the lower frequencies, you might need to use a low cut on the mic, or a HP filter.

If the band can't play without vox, then I would do a scratch track of guitar and vox. Feel free to use a click track on the scratch tracks, but otherwise don't use a click. Getting a raw good performance is far more important than things being 100% perfect.

I wouldn't overdub the breaks. Have them play their breaks as they do live. You may have to ride a fader in mixing, but that's how blue grass should be done.

when mixing, put the guitar and bass and lead vox in the center, pan the mandolin and banjo to opposite sides.

when tracking vox see if you can use a pre that has a lot of color, I would try using a ribbon on vox as well, it creates a wonderful classic country/bluegrass sound.

just my 2 cents.
Old 29th October 2009 | Show parent
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boojum ➑️
I have some sessions scoming up with a BG group. Left to right: Dobro, mando, guitar, bass, fiddle. I will be recording them in a high ceilinged sanctuary of a local church. I planned to put an AB omni set and an ORTF in front of them and possibly a Blumlein ribbon set. They will be arrayed in their usual performing arc around the mics.

I could also spot mic them and then MS or ORTF them, too, but like to keep it simple and "clean." I am pretty much in the "less is more" school. I can do up to twelve tracks but want to avoid that and the hassles of mixing twelve tracks.

Does they AB/ORTF/Blumlien setup sound like a good one??

Thanks
If you are trying to get a classic live sound then yes, putting up condenser mics or even ribbon mics would capture the sound.

However, you only have five instruments to deal with plus vocals, so you could easily mic each instrument to it's own track and have way less than 12 tracks..pretty much only six or seven tracks depending on the vocal needs of the band.

What is the goal? Are you trying to get a live bluegrass band vibe or be able to control the mix later? I have done both and if the band knows their stuff, just using a pair of SDC's or a couple LD mics out front can work just fine.

I have run sound for a group that uses a Rode NT4 as their only mic with great results.

My wife's bluegrass band uses three LD mics much like Rhonda Vincent and they record very well also. It all depends on what kind of a vibe you are after.
Old 29th October 2009 | Show parent
  #13
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MattJazz's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by GZsound ➑️
I rarely use any effects, but I use lots of processing, depending on the instrument. For example I normally use a high pass filter on acoustic guitar to keep it from interfering with the acoustic bass. I use compression on the bass and maybe on lead and backing vocals.

Here is an example of my latest bluegrass recording project. We did four songs in two days last month.

The Bluegrass Regulators on MySpace Music - Free Streaming MP3s, Pictures & Music Videos
Great job - I am thinking of how to apply your strategy.
Old 29th October 2009 | Show parent
  #14
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boojum's Avatar
 
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by GZsound ➑️
If you are trying to get a classic live sound then yes, putting up condenser mics or even ribbon mics would capture the sound.

However, you only have five instruments to deal with plus vocals, so you could easily mic each instrument to it's own track and have way less than 12 tracks..pretty much only six or seven tracks depending on the vocal needs of the band.

What is the goal? Are you trying to get a live bluegrass band vibe or be able to control the mix later? I have done both and if the band knows their stuff, just using a pair of SDC's or a couple LD mics out front can work just fine.

I have run sound for a group that uses a Rode NT4 as their only mic with great results.

My wife's bluegrass band uses three LD mics much like Rhonda Vincent and they record very well also. It all depends on what kind of a vibe you are after.
I am a "less is more" and also a fan of the "live vibe" so I think you answered my question. I will just go with the six mic pack and pull out the best track or blend what I get. Spot mic'ing does not have the same feel as one well placed mic does.

There is to be a test run and if it goes well I may just try spot and one pair ambient. But I do think you are right that one good pair will give me the best "live vibe."

Thanks for your advice.
Old 30th October 2009 | Show parent
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boojum ➑️
I am a "less is more" and also a fan of the "live vibe" so I think you answered my question. I will just go with the six mic pack and pull out the best track or blend what I get. Spot mic'ing does not have the same feel as one well placed mic does.

There is to be a test run and if it goes well I may just try spot and one pair ambient. But I do think you are right that one good pair will give me the best "live vibe."

Thanks for your advice.
Just as a side note, I notice you're from Astoria. There's a good chance I'm going to be running sound at the Clatskanie Bluegrass Festival next summer in July. You should try to make it.
Old 1st November 2009 | Show parent
  #16
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by GZsound ➑️
Just as a side note, I notice you're from Astoria. There's a good chance I'm going to be running sound at the Clatskanie Bluegrass Festival next summer in July. You should try to make it.
GZ - tell me more. ;o)
Old 2nd November 2009 | Show parent
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boojum ➑️
GZ - tell me more. ;o)
Well.. I understand the former sound guy isn't going to do it anymore and I have put my name in the hat to be chosen. Not sure yet, just hoping.

I do other BG festivals around the NW already.
Old 2nd November 2009 | Show parent
  #18
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If you are doing other BG festivals you have the track record. I assume you have the portable gear you need to show up and do the job with, so you should be a shoo-in. There are some other folks out there but many are shoe-makers.

What is your usual setup for field recording of the BG groups? I know the "standard" is a "pair" in the middle and the singers bob back and forth according to their solos. I have seen some interesting mic arrays with some of the local groups. I can only assume they are reading the reference manuals upside down. We can be flexible with arrays for sure, but what some folks do amazes me.

I had a fellow here in town record of the local theater stage with a mic at either side of the stage. That is kind of a wide AB spread. Stuff like that. So much information is available in the good reference books - Eargle and Bartlett are a couple of my favorites - and there is so much help available on boards like this that I am surprised that folks do not refer to either the books or the boards. Oh, well. It makes it all the easier for you to shine. ;o)

So, fill me in on how you are doing it.

I guess I will see you next year in Clatskanie. Is it a big deal and are the groups good?


L8R
Old 3rd November 2009 | Show parent
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boojum ➑️
If you are doing other BG festivals you have the track record. I assume you have the portable gear you need to show up and do the job with, so you should be a shoo-in. There are some other folks out there but many are shoe-makers.

What is your usual setup for field recording of the BG groups? I know the "standard" is a "pair" in the middle and the singers bob back and forth according to their solos. I have seen some interesting mic arrays with some of the local groups. I can only assume they are reading the reference manuals upside down. We can be flexible with arrays for sure, but what some folks do amazes me.

I had a fellow here in town record of the local theater stage with a mic at either side of the stage. That is kind of a wide AB spread. Stuff like that. So much information is available in the good reference books - Eargle and Bartlett are a couple of my favorites - and there is so much help available on boards like this that I am surprised that folks do not refer to either the books or the boards. Oh, well. It makes it all the easier for you to shine. ;o)

So, fill me in on how you are doing it.

I guess I will see you next year in Clatskanie. Is it a big deal and are the groups good?


L8R
I normally record off the board without setting any additional mics. I may go direct to my DVD burner with audio and video or I might record to a Zoom H2 for a stereo audio file. Sometimes direct to a CD burner.

If I do need to use outboard mics, I'll normally use a couple SD condensers in X-Y placed about thirty feet in front of the FOH speakers.

The mic setup at a typical bluegrass festival is all over the map. Some groups use individual mics on every voice and instrument, some use a single LD condenser mic, some use multiple LD mics, and some use combinations of an LD mic with satellite mics. Some use monitors, some don't.

Bass guitars vary from an occasional electric bass to basses with pickups, basses with on board mics and basses that need a mic.

At the last festival where I ran sound there were fifteen different bluegrass bands with all kinds of different instruments, even a wash tub bass that needed to be mic'd. I've encountered musical saws, harmonica, mountain dulcimer, jews harp and others. You just never know what will show up.

So, typically, a board mix works just fine.

And yes, I have been doing it for a while. My first bluegrass band sound gig was in 1973.
Old 3rd November 2009 | Show parent
  #20
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🎧 10 years
Cool guys, I live in Portland. Great acoustic music scene here in Oregon.

I've never heard of Clatskanie, but might have to check it out.

Ken

Wayward Vessel on MySpace Music - Free Streaming MP3s, Pictures & Music Videos
Old 3rd November 2009 | Show parent
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SkullsAndWrench ➑️
Cool guys, I live in Portland. Great acoustic music scene here in Oregon.

I've never heard of Clatskanie, but might have to check it out.

Ken

Wayward Vessel on MySpace Music - Free Streaming MP3s, Pictures & Music Videos
Ken, there are actually several small bluegrass festivals going on around here. Goldendale, Washington is in May, Tygh Valley is in September, and there are multiple festivals going on throughout the year in between those events.

Clatskanie is on hwy 30 going towards Astoria from Portland. It's a small regional festival with some pretty good bands playing.

Coming up the 21st is a bluegrass event with a great local band off 160th and Stark. I'll be running sound for that too. .
Old 3rd November 2009 | Show parent
  #22
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🎧 10 years
Hey, thanks. I've been to Goldendale, but I missed Tygh Vally this year because of gigs. Thanks for the tip on the Stark show. I just checked it out on the OBA website. Looks interesting. If I can make it, I'll stop by the board and say hi if that's ok.

Ken
Wayward Vessel on MySpace Music - Free Streaming MP3s, Pictures & Music Videos
Old 4th November 2009 | Show parent
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SkullsAndWrench ➑️
Hey, thanks. I've been to Goldendale, but I missed Tygh Vally this year because of gigs. Thanks for the tip on the Stark show. I just checked it out on the OBA website. Looks interesting. If I can make it, I'll stop by the board and say hi if that's ok.

Ken
Wayward Vessel on MySpace Music - Free Streaming MP3s, Pictures & Music Videos
Yeah, make it if you can. Bluestone County is playing and they are a great group.

I've been running sound at Goldendale for three years and Tygh Valley for ten.

Great festivals.
Old 6th November 2009 | Show parent
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GZsound ➑️
I normally record off the board without setting any additional mics. I may go direct to my DVD burner with audio and video or I might record to a Zoom H2 for a stereo audio file. Sometimes direct to a CD burner.

If I do need to use outboard mics, I'll normally use a couple SD condensers in X-Y placed about thirty feet in front of the FOH speakers.

The mic setup at a typical bluegrass festival is all over the map. Some groups use individual mics on every voice and instrument, some use a single LD condenser mic, some use multiple LD mics, and some use combinations of an LD mic with satellite mics. Some use monitors, some don't.

Bass guitars vary from an occasional electric bass to basses with pickups, basses with on board mics and basses that need a mic.

At the last festival where I ran sound there were fifteen different bluegrass bands with all kinds of different instruments, even a wash tub bass that needed to be mic'd. I've encountered musical saws, harmonica, mountain dulcimer, jews harp and others. You just never know what will show up.

So, typically, a board mix works just fine.

And yes, I have been doing it for a while. My first bluegrass band sound gig was in 1973.

Mark -

You relinquish mic control to the performers? It sounds like that. Tapping out of the SBD would work fine, if they get their mics right. Is it impossible to set up your own pair? Sounds like a total nightmare but you seem to have been at it long enough that you can handle it alright. ;o)
Old 6th November 2009 | Show parent
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boojum ➑️
Mark -

You relinquish mic control to the performers? It sounds like that. Tapping out of the SBD would work fine, if they get their mics right. Is it impossible to set up your own pair? Sounds like a total nightmare but you seem to have been at it long enough that you can handle it alright. ;o)
In bluegrass, when the group uses a single LD mic or perhaps a satelite mic, you basically relinquish control to the group anyway.

If the group uses multiple mics, a pair of SD condensers out in front can work just fine and certainly give you the live vibe, but taking a feed off the board when there are only one or two mics works just fine.

For years, I recorded individual channels off the board to an ADAT and mixed everything later in my studio. Ideally, having a multitrack recorder with the ability to mix later is the ideal choice, but, like I said, when the band only uses one or two mics, a board feed is just fine.

My wife's bluegrass band uses three LD mics on stage with success for the very reason that it takes most of the control of the sound away from the sound guy and makes the band responsible for their own vocal and instrumental mixing.

You would be amazed at how many "professional" sound guys don't have a clue how to mix bluegrass music. Especially festival gigs where there is a mix of rock, country, vocal, bluegrass..etc. music going on over a period of days. Most of the systems are set up for rock and roll music, all high end and extreme bass. Acoustic music lives in the midrange.

I actually cringe when I see FOH systems with multiple subs and usually end up asking the sound contractor to turn them off or down and just use the tops.
Old 11th November 2009 | Show parent
  #26
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Shim's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
If they're real bluegrass they'll sound great standing around one mic, just taking turns stepping into an LDC (usually a c414 or an at4033)....sometimes with an added 57 under the bridge of the bass in case it's getting lost. This ticks both the "live" and "less is more" boxes. I would use convolution reverb to taste, just to make it sound like a room.
For added effect, place band in a cornfield or the deck of an old shack and add ample amounts of liquor in XXX jugs.
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