Remember to click G+1 if you like a post... It will make me happy :-)

30 November 2014

Bluegrass Bomb-blast!

I want to give you a quick update on what I've been up to this week. I've been having so much fun! I mentioned in my last post that I was hoping to get caught up in a musical collaboration. I also shared a video from +stephen jedlicka with you. Well, would you believe it, I've teamed up with Stephen to lay down some tunes! What are the odds of that?

I'm really excited about this latest collaboration. Expect a largely acoustic set in that offbeat Bluegrass style that I've been experimenting with of late. You know me... the first song tells a little more of the Bad Moon legend. I can't stop listening to it. Once we've figured out a name, you might even get to hear it soon yourself! Ha ha

With this latest song, I've been trying desperately to raise the bar with my recording and mix-down technique. There's a lot to know. Before I tell you about what I've been learning, let me first explain a bit about my studio.

You can see in the picture that I have a Zoom R16. All my recording is being done on this. I'm predominantly using the dual mics on the front corners (channels 7 and 8) with the Dual Mic "Bright" insert effect for recording, or a clean direct input (channel 1) with Hi-Z for bass guitar. That's it! Nothing fancy.

Although I could mix-down on the Zoom, I'm using software to do this. See a shot of a Cubase project above. It's an ancient version of the software, but it does the job. Although I have a pretty good understanding of  basic Cubase, I figured that I'd try and get as professional a sound as possible... only this time I'm playing Bluegrass. I'm not an expert in this, but I figured that I'd share some of what I'm learning and experimenting with.

The monitors I'm using are a repurposed Voxson home stereo system. It has two tiny speakers and a huge subwoofer. It's not perfect by any stretch, but it does give me enough of a hint as to what the end result will sound like. What I do know is that it doesn't really give me a true representation of reverb or bass. Ironically, both are understated which can make me overcompensate by turning them up. Since I know this now, I usually keep them low, even if it doesn't quite feel right when I'm mixing down.

Here are some of my weapons of mass destruction. Bluegrass recording is often simply a live affair; You mic around the band who play a single take. Then you head back to the studio and hope that you can mix what was caught by the separate mics. That's a difficult ask, because no matter how you position the mics, you're always going to end up with instruments "bleeding" into each track. It's what the professionals call "a bloody nightmare". It is said that the magic of great Bluegrass is tied to the way that players bounce off each other, and this is why live single-takes are deemed to be the best performances.

Purists don't really have much time for the home recording method of laying tracks down individually. Unfortunately, I don't have any other choice with this one. I wondered if this would stop me getting that trademark sound.

The instruments I'm using are: My faithful Washburn acoustic. It does have a fitted under-saddle piezo, but I never use it, preferring to capture with mics; My Windsor Whirle 5-string banjo which always seems to have only 4 strings; My "borrowed" Hohnor Rockwood electric bass with it's bloody grounding issues; and my beautiful home-made cajon box drum. Anything else you see pictured above is also fair game, but I haven't used them yet in this collaboration.

(photo courtesy of Honky Tonk Merry-go-round)

Did you hear me mention that I've been using my cajon? That's more of a modern touch. Old-time Bluegrass aficionados will not be happy with this as you will see from this interesting snippet I was reading on Sound on Sound:

"The Grand Ole Opry didn't allow drum kits on stage until the late '50s, and even then they often had to play from behind the curtain. As a result, acoustic guitars were what kept the time for country music, even in the studio, a tradition that continues today." ~ Dan Daley

(photo courtesy of Etsy)

Guitars are very much the basis of my music at the moment. I strive for full track recording rather than slice/dice and looping (though I do this too sometimes). My theory is that this allows a truer live sound which is what I'm striving for. I've dumbed down my playing to simple chords and focussed more on the strumming style. That doesn't mean that I can't pick when it's needed or experiment with a little slide. When I do slide, I don't tune open chord, but will stick with standard guitar tuning.

And of course, you know that I'm heavily into banjo at the moment. In fact, all my songs of late have been banjo-based. I'm playing the rarer open D; it's the only tuning that's really clicked with me. I will use a capo if pressed, but actually I far prefer to play without.

(photo courtesy of Collectors Weekly)

One last comment on recording effects before I leave you.

You already heard that I'm using insert effects on recording. What I learnt this week is that effects are pretty much frowned upon with Bluegrass recordings. It's that live sound-thing again. Compression, reverb, in fact even EQ is considered bad form. Of course, there can be no rules, only guidelines. I've limited myself to reverb, EQ and a hint of compression on final mixdown. Will it work... you'll just have to wait and see!


  1. Well,you certainly have the NSA's attention with a blog post title like this,not to mention talk of weapons of mass destruction.
    Is that a drone I hear outside your house KU ?-)

  2. I'm a musical terrorist Daz! Just got to go and hide... ;-)