Anyone doing bluegrass?

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by GZsound, Feb 1, 2010.

  1. GZsound

    GZsound Active Member

    I spend most of my time recording bluegrass these days. Anyone else?

    It's a lot different from just about any other genre I've recorded over the years.
  2. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    How so? And yes, I have recorded a lot of Bluegrass.......or something like it.
  3. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Mark- What do you usually record, and why do you find bluegrass different. I have not recorded and straight ahead bluegrass, but I've been recording a lot of dobro and mando and a little banjo lately. I've found that ribbon mics usually work well with all of these.
  4. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Dave- You up early or late?
  5. GZsound

    GZsound Active Member

    First off, a little history. I just retired from full time playing (sax and keyboards) in rock and roll bands for the last 50 years. I have been recording rock and roll and blues bands since the early 70's.

    Twelve years ago I "married" into bluegrass and two years ago I sold my studio drums and concentrated on bluegrass, acoustic and folk music.

    Bluegrass is different in that there are no drums, but the "drive" has to be there. The bass is the bass drum and the mando or banjo chop is the snare. Those two elements must be balanced. Vocals are important and must be brought out more than with rock or blues.

    I use a ribbon mic on percussive banjo and occasionally fiddle, I have several LD mics I use on upright bass, vocals, etc. and typically use SDC mics on other instruments. I normally record the acoustic guitar in stereo with other instruments on mono tracks. Getting a decent stereo spread can be tough with a four piece band.

    Here is a site with one of my more recent bands. They have four of the songs we did posted on their Myspace page.


    Let me know what you think..
  6. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Both! Listening party for the new CD. Gotta go back in and fix a couple of things........
  7. hueseph

    hueseph Well-Known Member

    Dude! That's not bluegrass. It's Jazz/Grass Fusion. Awesome! Loved Red House. That's the kind of thing that has to be heard live. Great playing all around.
  8. GZsound

    GZsound Active Member

    Thanks! They are an impressive bunch of kids. The youngest is 15 and the oldest is 20.

    One thing I learned in the studio with them is that they have ears like dogs and hear stuff I had no idea was there. Great fun and a group of great players.

    And they are more in the Chris Theile realm of bluegrass than traditional I admit, but they do it well.
  9. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Ya still havent told us what you find different in the recording and production of Bluegress that makes it so different from traditional recording sessions.

    The techniques for recording a Bluegress ensemble really havent caused me, personally, to change much in the way of mic choice and placement. Even if they all want to 'campfire' the sessions. The relatively similar pitches of the instruments brings a certain need for discretion of placement at the mix, but thats sort of a regular thing with all music.

    I'd be interested in your views on these things......ya kinda prepped us all and then didnt deliver....As well as gear selection and isolation techniques if you're having a 'live' in the studio session.
  10. GZsound

    GZsound Active Member

    I'm sorry, I thought I explained what some of the differences are.

    Here: "Bluegrass is different in that there are no drums, but the "drive" has to be there. The bass is the bass drum and the mando or banjo chop is the snare. Those two elements must be balanced. Vocals are important and must be brought out more than with rock or blues."

    I thought that did say what I considered a difference in recording bluegrass and other types of music, especially rock and blues. I apologize if it was unclear.

    Other ways the recording process is different are the fact that all the instruments require microphones on the instruments. Upright bass is considerably different to record than an electric bass. Acoustic instruments that don't use amplifiers are different. It is more difficult to get a good sound out of an acoustic instrument than simply sticking an SM57 on an amp and dialing in the sound you want.

    Plus, in the mixing stage, you don't have multiple drum mics to balance with the bass, there are fewer effects used, in fact, I rarely use any effects at all on instruments and very little on vocals. Also, you don't double track instruments or vocals as a rule in bluegrass since the goal is a more "organic" sound that is less processed.

    Other than that, you're right, there is no difference.

    I typically use SDC mics on all the instruments except banjo which gets a Beyer M260 ribbon. The upright bass, if it has a pickup, gets run through an LR Baggs Para DI and mic'd with an AT 4047 going through a DBX 160 compressor. I blend the two tracks to taste.

    My main vocal mic is the AT 4047 or 4050 and I will use a CAD M179 on some vocalists. Since I have a single room studio, I do use the "campfire" analogy to recording. Everyone in the same room. We typically record all the rythem tracks at the same time and then overdub instrument breaks and vocals.

    I have a Soundcraft Spirit digital console into a MOTU 2408 into my PC running Adobe Audition. Three sets of monitors, Events and Auratones. I only own one preamp, a Symetrix 528 that is very clean. I find that the Soundcraft mic preamps are very nice for bluegrass.

    I have a fairly nice collection of mics, from Shure 57's, 58's, Beta's, SM81, AT small condensers, ADK small condensers, CAD small condensers, Beyer ribbons, CAD ribbon and four CAD large diaphragm condensers, plus an AT 4047 and 4050.

    Again, sorry if I was vague.
  11. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    So when you are using the 'campfire' method, do you use the nulls in your mics or do you find it acceptable to make the bleed your friend? I did understand your earlier point of the instruments actually replacing the elements of a trap kit. That is certainly the approach you have to take to move the music and is the natural rhythmic method found in most acoustic music styles. Do you use any gobos to ,at least, get some separation? I find that if you have a great headphone mix, you can take this method and use it to an advantage although some traditional bluegrass musicians rebel at any change of their group mix of the sound. Its certainly understandable.

    Its not that you werent clear, I just wanted you to elaborate for the general populations' sake. A lot of folks dont do this kind of music and arent really exposed to it on any level.

    Thanks for youre time and please feel free to elaborate even more.
  12. GZsound

    GZsound Active Member

    I actually don't use any separation at all in the studio other than a few feet between the musicians. I use SDC mics that have pretty good off axis rejection, but the bleed actually adds to the "organic" nature of the sound. Most of the bluegrass musicians I record don't seem to mind the headphone mix. I normally have up to six individual mixes available so they each get whatever they want to be comfortable.

    Some of the musicians only use one ear for the headphones so they can hear the others, which is what they are used to when they rehearse.

    Most of the bleed comes from the banjo and a fiddle, if they have one. For some reason, my room works well enough that even having the bass in the same room isn't much of an issue.

    I used to use separation by placing some instruments in other rooms, but read an article on the recording method for the movie "Oh Brother Where Art Thou" and all the songs were recorded with the band in the room in a semi circle. It has worked out pretty well since I still have control over individual tracks on mixdown and like I said, the leads and vocals are all overdubbed.

    The biggest problem for me is the mixing. Trying to get a good stereo spread with only four instruments and one (the bass) must be centered, is a challenge. I normally use pan automation to move the instruments to the center for their breaks.

    After years of recording rock and roll, acoustic music certainly can be a challenge although I enjoy it a lot more than I ever did doing rock and blues. I'm just putting the finishing touches on a CD project now that has some pre-release cuts getting international air play and competing with million dollar studios is a real difficult process for a little guy like me. Great fun if it works..
  13. hilltop

    hilltop Active Member


    It's about all I do.
  14. hilltop

    hilltop Active Member

    About all I do Bluegrass, and Bluegrass Gospel.
  15. GZsound

    GZsound Active Member

    I am just now finishing up a bluegrass gospel CD. Due for release next month.

    A couple years ago I ran sound at a bluegrass festival and at the Sunday morning gospel show they had the Earl Brothers who didn't do any gospel at all. They sang all the songs off their album "Whiskey and Death"..

    Didn't really go over too well...ha.
  16. soapfloats

    soapfloats Well-Known Member

    I've been able to do some live recordings of both bluegrass bands and bands w/ bluegrass instrumentation.

    Here a few things I've done for stereo imaging:
    1. Take a DI of each instrument as well. I then pan the source mic (mando mic) normally (say 60% L), then use the DI track as a mirror (35% R), but at a much lower level.
    Sometimes this doesn't work, as some players just don't like/have DIs/pickups.
    2. I used a dynamic and a condenser/ribbon. Both the dynamic and condenser/ribbon went to tape, but only the dynamics went to FOH. (too many condensers on a stage...)
    I used the same technique noted above.

    Finally, a room mic (need a decent sized space). Since these were live shows, I panned the instruments from the audience's (room mic) perspective. This helped keep the stereo image strong while covering some of my mixing trickery.

    Hope that helps.
  17. GZsound

    GZsound Active Member

    I very rarely work with bluegrass musicians that have pickups on their instruments so it's difficult to use a DI. And I have never liked the sound of an acoustic guitar with a pickup, although some internal microphones work pretty well.

    But mando, banjo and fiddle rarely ever have least in my experience. I will use the pickup of a bass through my LR Baggs Para DI if the bass player has a pickup. That helps with controlling the bass.

    And how do you use both a dynamic and a condenser mic? On each instrument and each voice? That sounds interesting.

    If I am recording live to multitrack I just stay with whatever setup the band uses and go direct out of each channel.
  18. soapfloats

    soapfloats Well-Known Member

    Sorry GZ, I realize I jumbled some pretty important details together for you.
    I'll be more specific, though I'm not sure it will help your situation.
    For one, sometimes the ribbon mic did get sent to FOH. Not relevant in your case, but I wanted to clarify.
    In both instances, I used an stereo pair of SDCs to handle the acoustic guitar.

    Band 1: "Newgrass". Banjo, mando, guitar, electric bass.
    All had DIs. I took DI and mic of each instrument, and a vocal mic for each.
    Mando and banjo got ribbons.
    No DI, can't really do this.

    Band 2: Pretty experimental. Mando, fiddle, guitar, double bass. 3 vocals.
    I don't recall exactly, but some had DIs, some didn't. I'll look at the tracks when I get a chance.
    In either case, each person got 2 mics, an instrument and a vocal mic.
    For example, a ribbon and a condenser, a condenser and a dynamic.
    I think this approach might work for you, especially since you don't have to worry about feedback issues w/ a full PA and monitors.

    Keep in mind, my recordings were live, so bleed wasn't necessarily my enemy.
    So long as I had a good track of each source I was happy - hence the dual micing.
    If you're going to be overdubbing breaks and vocals, you'll have to leave them out initially for this to work well.

    As far as general stereo imaging goes...
    In the first case I presented, I panned the guitar tracks L and R about 40%. Mando on one side, banjo on the other, with the opposite lesser tracks as described.
    This seems to be a sensible place to start, with the exception of the mando and banjo breaks being pretty wide in the image. I couldn't bring myself to pan them center for the breaks.

    Even if I haven't been much help, I've enjoyed this conversation.
    I don't do a whole lot of traditional bluegrass, and am well aware of the divide.
    The newgrass band I worked with has a massive following here in town - but there's old timers that won't go near them for a variety of reasons, some of which have come up in this discussion.
  19. GZsound

    GZsound Active Member

    Thanks, that does clear it up. Sounds like a good system for capturing that live sound.
  20. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    Its not that I take exception to your statements... but I find that mic-ing up a bluegrass band is "best" when using fewer mic's than more.

    I really prefer to put the band in their normal "live" positions, except in a more semi-circular pattern, around my Royer SF-12, hit the red button and let it happen.

    I've also had great results from using a single AEA R84 in a similar arrangement of players.

    So far, all my recordings of blue/new grass/dog patch jazz, have been live location, and simpler has always given me better results than dealing with phase issues of individual mic's in close proximity of each other.

    I've been trying to locate a bunch of local bluegrass players to come into the new studio and experiment.

    I'm willing to bet that the same will hold true, in that fewer mic's will yield cleaner results.

    I usually ask the players to step back and forth until I get a natural balance, then ask the soloist to simply take a step toward the mic so as to bring that instrument up in the mix. Most players are used to doing this live, so it's not like its an unusual task that I'm asking of them... and it usually turns out just fine and dandy.

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