Anyone who loves to listen to or play bluegrass music at home should try their hand at recording. If you’re a musician, it can lead to a road of self discovery, improvements in technique, and a greater appreciation for the efforts of recording artists. Whether you’re just curious about recording or are ready to change the course of bluegrass history, here’s what you need to know to hit the record button and the ground running.
Get a decent studio microphone
Having at least one decent studio mic allows even beginners to achieve good sound quality and avoid bigger problems down the line. As for which mic you need to use, there are a variety that are well suited for recording bluegrass, which is primarily all about acoustic string instruments or vocal harmonies. In fact, many of the best mics for vocals are also great for capturing acoustic strings. The Neumann U87 AI for instance is an industry standard with a lush sound. Apart from warm vocals, it’s one of the best mics for handling the naturally powerful volume of a banjo that’s being played correctly. If you’re working with a limited budget, mics like the Audio-Technica AT2020 or the Røde NT2A are much more affordable models that are also well-known for being reliable studio workhorses. While you don’t need the most expensive mic to start, getting the highest quality mic you can afford is a wise investment if your aim is to become a recording artist.
Experiment with miking techniques
While miking for vocal work is pretty straightforward, there are a variety of ways to position the mic to capture the best sounds from different acoustic guitars. A banjo for instance needs to be about a foot away, especially if you’re using sensitive microphones. Meanwhile, a fiddle or violin may sound better if the mic is not positioned directly in front of the holes but nearer the strings. For classical or acoustic guitars, engineers typically position the mic around the 13th fret, near where the neck meets the guitar’s body. And while there are ideal ways to mic instruments, every musician’s style is different. Often, the best miking techniques for your style of playing can be found by experimenting with mic position and its distance from the instrument. A bit of experimentation can allow you not just to record with minimal to zero noise, but also to capture different textures that might be more suited to your take on bluegrass.
Install and learn to use a DAW
Any medium range laptop in which you can install a digital audio workstation (DAW) can serve as your home studio setup. Cockos Reaper is popular among independent musicians for its simplicity of use and variety of features. Meanwhile, if you’re already familiar with using old school recording programs like Fruity Loops, you might be able to work faster using Tracktion T7. Thankfully, many of the best DAW software are available today for free. If you’re planning to record classic bluegrass, you won’t need many extra features. This means that you can choose your DAW based on how comfortable you are with the layout and workflow. Try to stick to mastering just one or two DAW so you can more quickly familiarize yourself with how to record and edit your tracks.
Don’t worry too much about getting it right the first time. Recording using a home studio setup is a constant learning experience. If you don’t like your first results for whatever reason, try to see what you need to change or adjust to record better songs. Don’t get discouraged, keep trying until you find the right balances, and most of all, have fun!
Written exclusively for HVBluegrass.org
by Amanda Sterling