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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Bluegrass mixing in Presonus Studio One 3 Artist

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Blue20Boy17 - Posted - 03/16/2020:  18:25:39

Does anyone have any advice for how I can achieve a Boxcars-esque sound by adding different equalizers, reverbs, compressors, etc to my recordings in Presonus Studio One 3 Artist? I realize fully that a lot of this is in the player (and oh how I strive to be that good hahaha), and I play all the instruments in all of my recordings.

Blue20Boy17 - Posted - 03/16/2020:  18:31:55

Here's an example of a song I recorded that I can't seem to get my mix to sound the way I want...

northernbelle - Posted - 03/16/2020:  23:58:51

Listening to the Boxcars on youtube, they have a consistently "homogenized" sound. The band sounds like they're playing "as one", strive for more of that in your mix so that the instruments don't sound "separate" as much-if you know what I mean. Tight, basically.

I would start with balancing all of the instrument's relative to each other's volumes to start with. It might be all you need. There are times when the mando chop could be louder, the fiddle alternates from being too loud and a bit soft. Etc. I like how your vocal is "up front" but not too up front.

If that doesn't get you there and you want to experiment with some effects:

If I were twisting knobs, I would try adding a titch of reverb to the fiddle, compress the mandolin slightly during your banjo solos and bring up the mandolin's volume a bit during those solos for more drive. Maybe keep the guitar a bit compressed on rhythm parts for more crispness-less so on a solo.

I think your banjo sounds fantastic and might not change it at all. 

On the mandolin solo I'd experiment with adding or keeping that titch more reverb but maybe reduce the level of compression form the chop sections for the solo so that it still sustains some.

If you're multi-tracking your vocal, I'd try for a better vocal using more breath support. Your timbre is good but tightening it up it's rhythm using the mando chop as your "click track" or metronome, mentally might help that. If you aren't singing a vocal track using earphones with the mix playing in them, that might help to get that to tighten up and be as dynamic as you'd like.

Overall though I really like the way you've mic-ed the instruments. Their wonderful acoustic-ness comes through. The banjo again sounds, fantastic to me and I wouldn't change it.

Hope that helps...feel free to disagree with any or all of that!  Great picking!

Edited by - northernbelle on 03/17/2020 00:06:03

Blue20Boy17 - Posted - 03/17/2020:  14:56:50

Check out my latest MP3 upload, Clinch Mountain Backstep, and see your opinion on it. I used no compression of Tell Me True (I didn't know how, but I'd head about it), but I experimented a little on this.

Thinking about it now, I'm really just looking for my banjo to sound a titch more like Ron Stewart's but that's kinda hard to do when mine is an archtop RB-100 and his is a flathead something or another lol.

I am, however, in the next few months, getting my old Alvarez banjo back. I sent it off to have it converted to something similar to an Almost Flathead woodie, and from the report of the fellow who started making them, he said that you can control the sound from flathead to archtop just by raising or lowering the tailpiece.

Anyway, check that recording out if you don't mind.

northernbelle - Posted - 03/17/2020:  15:19:56

Hi Blue,

Well... if what you're mainly looking for is to make your arch top sound more like a flathead, I guess, I'd experiment with some compression to try to shorten the sustain a bit. Delay might do this instead or in concert with compression.  

Have you tried playing with your pinky up against the bridge? That might get you a tad closer. I do that with my top tension which has a lot of sustain, sometimes to make the note decay shorter.

I'd also try to EQ so that you get a fair amount more mid-range, cut the treble slightly (to your liking) and up the bass or lower mids for a stronger 4th string.

You're probably not going to get all the way there, but you should hear some pretty obvious differences. Make sure that you keep a little log detailing every EQ and effect change you're making so you can go back or at least compare things. I'd start with EQ lst on your isolated (if you're multi-tracking) banjo part and go from there.

I've been out of studios for years, but used to do production for regional singer songwriters, and bands. I was hoping you'd get more responses on the forum from people more currently active than I am. They probably would have more experience with full Bluegrass bands.

I would still see if you can tighten up the "band" if there is one. Are you playing all the instruments yourself or are there other players? Clinch has a loose "Grateful Dead" "Rolling Stones" kinda looseness rhythmically

whereas the Boxcars and others are much tighter on entrances, etc.

If you're just experimenting for yourself it doesn't matter so much but if you're intending to put something out commercially it could be tighter.

Hope that helps. It would be interesting to hear what you come up with with just isolated banjo tracks with different EQ, effects tweaks. Hope your new banjo/tone ring gives you more of what you're looking for.  Maybe post just the isolated tracks and see what more experienced engineers think instead of a full band version as a starting point?

I was never a  frequency geek kinda guy, just produced with general knob twisting, slider sliding to get what I heard in my head in the studios. I let the engineer provide the rest of the electronics/science details.

I know you were hoping for a flat head sound, but I REALLY REALLY liked your banjo's tone and attack on the other cut and would've been ecstatic to put it on one of my clients (or our own) recordings for a release. It reminded me of Ron Block or Terry Baucom's overall sound and that's not a bad thing!   

Cheers, NB

Edited by - northernbelle on 03/17/2020 15:26:25

Blue20Boy17 - Posted - 03/17/2020:  15:40:41

northernbelle the banjo you hear there is highly adjusted in the mix. I kept messing with the EQs till I got it a little more bassy without loosing the gain, but it's still not quite right. Plus, I never had a good normal flathead to compare (I guess if I did, I'd record with it lol).

I agree, Clinch isn't as tight as I'd like. I am playing all the instruments, and I can't even begin to call myself a guitar player or a mandolin player or bass player, but I can play them. Where my heart lies is the banjo and fiddle. My grandpa plays mandolin and guitar, but he says I'm better than him, and when I try to prod him into recording with me, he says he'd rather I did it so it sounds better (I'm really not better than him, but oh well).

I also agree that my banjo sounds great. In person, with no effects and such, I've heard it eat up a prewar granada (believe it or not). It's absolutely one of the loudest, if not the loudest banjo I've ever played. It's an all original 1959 RB-100. But without effects on recording, it sounds horrible. I hate how it sounds, but I also hate how the other instruments sound too (I never thought, it could be my mic setup?).

I use two cardioid mics mics facing each other and record stereo tracks rather than mono tracks. My mono track recordings with the cardioid mics sound bad no matter what effects I use. Using the two mics just gives more volume and a better overall tone. Maybe I should invest in some condensers, as my interface has phantom power...

loonsailor - Posted - 04/14/2020:  07:49:23

It sounds to me like there’s a synchronization issue that makes it sound “loose”. It sounds like the guitar on Clinch and the mando chop on Tell are bit behind the banjo. It might be caused by latency in how you’re monitoring when you’re recording separate tracks. I’ve never used Audacity, so don’t know the details (I use Cubase), but you might try something like just chopping some chords on several instrument, or even several times on the same instrument, while recording several tracks using the same process and settings that you’ve been using, and see if they sound tight when played back.

As to effects, less is often more. Try to get each instrument to sound pretty good individually with eq, maybe the tiniest touch of compression and/or reverb only if needed (using one reverb effect, and effects sends from the channels that need it). Then do your mix “dry” (no effects on the output channel), using the volume automation to get the mix really right. Then, you can add some eq, compression, prob a bit of reverb on the output channel to sweeten the mix, and try to get it to sound more unified. There are many tutorials on mixing and mastering (that last step) on youtube. I kind of like the ones from Musician on a Mission, but there are many others I haven’t watched.

Edited by - loonsailor on 04/14/2020 07:50:37

banjoak - Posted - 04/14/2020:  17:15:18

Mixing is hard... both technical aspects as well as art; why home recording setups haven't replaced good studios and engineers.

As loonsailor mentioned there are a bunch of videos with various tips. Some videos I found useful, involved paying attention to a lot of the background layering... sometimes easy to make just a bit too much wash like from saturation or sustain. It's not only volume but tonal, in how the different timbres blend... or separation and can get too much build up of mid-tone mud going on, the sound doesn't pop, or lack punch. (despite can hear individual parts, and lead is louder). The 3-4K frequency seems to play important part in having things stand out. Pay attention to how notes end. Another similar vid mentioned about air, not filling up the background sound, or making too busy, leaving some space in sound for the lead to pop out. Be aware of using true playing dynamics rather than using volume control... affects the sound. Playing all the tracks individually, I might tend to do that, overplay, as compared to playing/recording live with others. There are some other videos explaining about effects, compression, reverb and stereo spread... and warning how easy to overdo these cause lack of focus.

Those are some ideas that might help.


(I never thought, it could be my mic setup?).

Yes. Not only mic choice but placement. (preamps play a role as well.)

I use two cardioid mics mics facing each other and record stereo tracks rather than mono tracks. My mono track recordings with the cardioid mics sound bad no matter what effects I use. Using the two mics just gives more volume and a better overall tone. Maybe I should invest in some condensers, as my interface has phantom power...

You might be confusing some aspects. Two mics don't give you more volume, but affect other aspects. Cardiod is a polar pattern, vs omni or bi-directional (figure 8). Most condensers are still used as cardiod pattern. The mic type is condenser, dynamic or ribbon (other aspects are if tube/FET/transformerless). There are some generalities, but dynamic/condenser/ribbon, one isn't necessarily better than the other; it's mostly about the individual mic specs... and what works for individual instrument for sound you want.

Not sure how you are setting up your mics; facing each other, as in XY? But that might be causing some issue. There are lots info about various mic placements and techniques, including multi mic, (nearfield and farfield); stereo XY, AB, Blumlein, ORTF and others... set ups and what to watch out for, such as comb filtering, cancellation, bumps, phasing.  FWIW, mono mic placement/mix is often a good choice in the mix... esp lead focus. As far as mic setup, sometimes what sounds best for listening to an individual solo instrument isn't necessarily best for the mix; an example is acoustic rhythm guitar.


banjoak - Posted - 04/14/2020:  17:30:14

Was going to add one useful advice; like many others after years of making fairly mediocre recordings... trying to fix things in the mix or effects or adding things - is to go back to learning how to really get a good simple but solid clean mono recording; minimum tracks/instrumentation, or minimum processing/effects.

My process was the opposite, and then trying to fix or hide flaws of poor initial recording.frown

Edited by - banjoak on 04/14/2020 17:33:37

loonsailor - Posted - 04/14/2020:  17:49:09


Originally posted by banjoak

Was going to add one useful advice; like many others after years of making fairly mediocre recordings... trying to fix things in the mix or effects or adding things - is to go back to learning how to really get a good simple but solid clean mono recording; minimum tracks/instrumentation, or minimum processing/effects.

Amen.  You don't need a stereo recording of each instrument to make a solid stereo track.  A good, clean one-mic recording of each instrument,  panned across a stereo field and well mixed, will do fine.  Start simple, get it clean and solid, instruments playing tightly together.  Without that, effects will only make things muddier.

Later, but only later, you might want to use some of the cool modern plugins like mono-to-stereo delays, saturation, etc.


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