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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Average number of instrument tracks in a studio bluegrass song recording?


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KD Banjer - Posted - 04/28/2020:  19:13:17


Hi Everyone,



I was wondering, on average, how many instrument tracks does the average studio bluegrass song recording use?



I know it depends, but does anyone have a good idea of how many tracks, on average, are used?



Or course, I know that some bluegrass tunes were/are recorded live, with all musicians together.



And, the number of multitrack instruments used in a bluegrass recording probably has changed over the years, as bluegrass songs have become more polished and intricate.



For a multi-track bluegrass song recording, here are "normal" tracks that I am envisioning:



1) Main Vocal



2) Vocal #2 (harmony)



3) Guitar



4) Banjo (of course :) )



5) Mandolin



6) Upright Bass



7) Fiddle



(possible additional instruments):



8) Dobro



9) Additional Vocal?



Are there some other instrument track configurations that you can think of?


Edited by - KD Banjer on 04/28/2020 19:15:09

KD Banjer - Posted - 04/28/2020:  19:24:25


By the way, this is a great article about how famous bluegrass musicians and bands were recorded in the past:

mixonline.com/recording/record...ts-365976

From the Article:

"We’re in the digital age now and we have more options than ever before,” VornDick says, “whereas before, you’d try to record pretty much how it went down live in the studio. I’ve done a Jimmy Martin album in 45 minutes. They came in, stood up like they would onstage, they played, we taped it and that was it. But that doesn’t happen much.” [Laughs]"

“Different generations always had different technology to work with,” he continues. “The early guys had to record a whole band on two mics, and then you get to the Bluegrass Album Band and they’ve got reels and reels stacked high.

KD Banjer - Posted - 04/29/2020:  05:15:38


Another way of asking this question is:

When you personally record a full bluegrass band (or a song that uses a full range of bluegrass instruments), how many instrument tracks do you use when recording?

eagleisland - Posted - 04/29/2020:  05:44:06


Monroe only needed one.

I'm not sure that there's a simple answer to your question. It really depends on the band, the producer, and the sound desired. Modern digital production techniques are such that the sound of a banjo or dobro might use two or more tracks, utilizing different mics at different distances, to record the exact same performance. And if the banjo player wishes to record his/her break separately from the backup, that might require a different mic setup and several tracks of punching in.

All of this stuff takes time, and in the recording world time = money. Most bluegrass albums are recorded on pretty tight budgets.

So your question is probably indeterminate. It's ultimately a function of the skills of the musicians - can they all nail a performance in a single take? - plus the sound of the room, the skill of the engineer and the sound desired by the producer and the band.

HuberTone - Posted - 04/29/2020:  05:58:05


For the majority of the albums we've cut, we do a "ghost" rhythm track, usually with a click. Sometimes, we get lucky and the guitar rhythm and banjo parts are kept from this original run-through. This track is tricky since you have to almost sing the song in your head in order to get the arrangement correct.

From there, the vocals are added on top of the original bass, mando chop, and guitar; this starts with lead, then tenor, and baritone last. Then comes the mandolin (chop only) and bass will usually go back through and re-add their parts. Finally, we go back and punch in mandolin fills and breaks, guitar breaks, and fiddle/dobro (if needed).

So final tally:
1. Click track/ghost rhythm (deleted)
2. Guitar Rhythm
3. Banjo
4. Lead vox
5. Tenor vox
6. Baritone vox
7. Mandolin chop
8. Bass
9. Mandolin break & fills
10. Guitar break
11. Fiddle and/or dobro (if needed)

All in all, it's 10 tracks at most. This is a lot, but it's worked for us. Sometimes, very rarely, we can get a whole rhythm track laid down cohesively (banjo everything + all bass, guitar, and mando rhythm) and delete the click.

Tractor1 - Posted - 04/29/2020:  06:08:42


Tracks are abundant nowdays in the digital age ,One can have different takes on each instrument,,The throw back is the mixdown is more work and it does tend to get muddier as it gets edited my 2 cents,strictly amateur

250gibson - Posted - 04/29/2020:  09:46:38


Our process is pretty similar to the above. We usually make the first track with a click and our guitarist (because he can follow one pretty good), and the lead vocalist. We usually make a couple of takes of this with both the guitarist and singer in isolation. Then we use this as a playback and record, bass, then banjo, then fiddle. Separately with a couple takes each, including breaks if warranted. Usually the breaks we will do a couple more passes over that section. Then we will bring the singers in and record the harmony and the lead, both in isolation.

Then we edit. We take the best parts of each take and compile them into one full song. After that any overdubs if needed, usually someone isn’t happy with any of their breaks they recorded the first time.

So you really end up with: 3-5 (maybe 7) takes of each part. The only thing we usually record with a stereo setup is the guitar. So our track list ends up something like this

1. L.Vox
2. Guitar L
3. Guitar R
4. Banjo
5. Fiddle
6. Bass
7. B. Vox

rcc56 - Posted - 04/29/2020:  11:01:11


With the advent of software controlled digital recording, the process can get ridiculously complicated.



For a good, honest sound in recording, rather than a flawless but sterile sound, 1 track each for each instrument and voice will be sufficient.



And yes, in the old days, everything was recorded live. Later, the instruments were recorded first, often with a "reference vocal," and the final vocals were overdubbed later.



These days, a 12 piece band can record each of their parts in their individual homes, and the whole thing assembled later with each part corrected for pitch and timing.



I prefer to record as close to live as possible. When I recorded with Norman Blake and asked about punching in, he responded "There will be no punching in." What he didn't say, but clearly meant, was "If you think we're going to have to punch in, then we have no business making this record." We recorded live, one track apiece for each instrument and voice. At the mixdown session, we added fiddle and dobro overdubs on two cuts, and a previously unplanned backup vocal on one cut. I distinctly remember that I had a cold that day, and I was happy that we were able to loop on my backup vocal overdub.



The raw recording took 2 1/2 days, all live, no smoke and mirrors. The mixdown session  was one very long day and half of another. The few overdubs were recorded in a couple of hours. The number of tracks used on each cut varied from a minimum of 2 to a maximum of 5. Again, one track each for each instrument and voice.



I will add that on all the other recording sessions I have done, we used track per instrument or voice except for a drummer.  Just about all those sessions went into print.  The exception was one session I did with two angled mics each for 2 acoustic guitars, which was the suggestion of an engineer.  That one turned out so badly that I abandoned the project.



If you "need" more, you might end up with a slick recording, no spontaneity, and a very large bill for studio hours and engineer's hours.


Edited by - rcc56 on 04/29/2020 11:19:19

rcc56 - Posted - 04/29/2020:  12:03:35


I'll also add that I wish that some of the sessions I participated in hadn't gone into print. Oh well . . .   frown

At least they only went into limited print . . .  

 


Edited by - rcc56 on 04/29/2020 12:05:25

Richard Hauser - Posted - 04/30/2020:  06:16:34


All my impressions of bluegrass recording sessions was created by reading recording artists' comments.

1. Often instrumentalists "double" as vocalists. You see this happen on TV and videos.
2. Some recording artists think the that fewer recording attempts for a tune produce better music. They think an intangible desirable sound gradually disappears as repeated recordings are made for a tune.

I once went to a banjo players house where he had a small inexpensive recording setup. I was amazed and what he could do to improve the sound and remove/replace mistakes. His setup was something many players could afford. But learning how to use the equipment would be harder than buying it.

banjoak - Posted - 04/30/2020:  18:16:18


quote:

Originally posted by KD Banjer

Hi Everyone,



I was wondering, on average, how many instrument tracks does the average studio bluegrass song recording use?



I know it depends, but does anyone have a good idea of how many tracks, on average, are used?



Or course, I know that some bluegrass tunes were/are recorded live, with all musicians together.



And, the number of multitrack instruments used in a bluegrass recording probably has changed over the years, as bluegrass songs have become more polished and intricate.



For a multi-track bluegrass song recording, here are "normal" tracks that I am envisioning:



1) Main Vocal



2) Vocal #2 (harmony)



3) Guitar



4) Banjo (of course :) )



5) Mandolin



6) Upright Bass



7) Fiddle



(possible additional instruments):



8) Dobro



9) Additional Vocal?



Are there some other instrument track configurations that you can think of?






Not sure what "average number" or checklist would be useful. The number of tracks is determined by the arrangement; workflow; and essentially goal of what want final product to sound.



Even beyond what instruments are needed for arrangement; it can be fairly common for the number of tracks to be more than the number of instruments. Besides mentioned multiple takes; sometimes the studio uses more tracks for production, and sound quality reasons.



Using multiple mics for a single instrument, each on it's own track for later mixing. A single mic only captures part of the sound. For a better control of tonal balance, high detail and low warmth; sometimes to capture both close mic attack sound and a bit of air/distance/fullness.



Of course sometimes the multiple mics is used to give a bit of stereo spread, and/or bit natural reverb/delay like quality.



Sometimes there are added room mic(s); more distance, to pick up a bit of natural air, reflections and ambiance of a room; more like we hear live music.



As well, some multiple tracks are studio production trick techniques. One is the doubling technique for some parts, where the person sings the exact same thing. They will be slightly different in wave qualities; angles, distances, thus tone... the goal is to still sound tight like one voice/instrument, but thicken the sound, be fuller.  Nashville tuning is another technique some use.



It all just comes down to what producer/artist wants individual final product to sound like, and tools/methods to achieve that.





 



 

KD Banjer - Posted - 05/01/2020:  16:11:10


Thanks for all of the great detailed and informed comments and suggestions, everyone.

Yes, I know that modern music recording software (DAWs), such as ProTools, allow for using as many tracks as you want during a bluegrass recording, so there really is no limit to the number of instrument tracks to add.

I was mainly asking because I also HAD a stand-alone multi-track recorder, a Sound Devices MixPre-6ii, which has 8 recording tracks (without a need for a computer).

After starting this thread and reading the responses, I decided that 8 tracks may not be enough, so I returned the MixPre-6ii, and purchased the upgraded MixPre-10ii.

The Sound Devices MixPre-10ii has 12 tracks, and can record 8 or 9 instruments at one time (if needed). I think 12 tracks are enough for anything I might record and mix (without a computer).

Of course, I will purchase a DAW (like ProTools) in the near future, once I setup a computer music recording station in the right space.

For now, I have been recording into a 4k video camera (so I can have video and audio), using two professional mics (a Mojave MA-1000 for vocals, and a Neumann Km 184 for the guitar/instrument).

(At the moment, I am mainly recording original tunes that include vocals and a guitar).

And, to get the best sound I can afford, I bought two good mic preamps (two Grace Designs m101s) that then go into a Sound Devices mixer that I already own (a Sound Devices 302), and then XLR out into the video camera.

But, with this new MixPre-10ii, I can get into multi-track recording.

Thank you very much again for your input.

KD Banjer - Posted - 05/01/2020:  16:15:39


quote:

Originally posted by HuberTone

For the majority of the albums we've cut, we do a "ghost" rhythm track, usually with a click. Sometimes, we get lucky and the guitar rhythm and banjo parts are kept from this original run-through. This track is tricky since you have to almost sing the song in your head in order to get the arrangement correct.



From there, the vocals are added on top of the original bass, mando chop, and guitar; this starts with lead, then tenor, and baritone last. Then comes the mandolin (chop only) and bass will usually go back through and re-add their parts. Finally, we go back and punch in mandolin fills and breaks, guitar breaks, and fiddle/dobro (if needed).



So final tally:

1. Click track/ghost rhythm (deleted)

2. Guitar Rhythm

3. Banjo

4. Lead vox

5. Tenor vox

6. Baritone vox

7. Mandolin chop

8. Bass

9. Mandolin break & fills

10. Guitar break

11. Fiddle and/or dobro (if needed)



All in all, it's 10 tracks at most. This is a lot, but it's worked for us. Sometimes, very rarely, we can get a whole rhythm track laid down cohesively (banjo everything + all bass, guitar, and mando rhythm) and delete the click.






Thanks for sharing your detailed experience, Andy.



One thing that has been helpful from your and others' comments is that the same musician might play the rhythm part of their contribution on one track, and then a lead/solo part on another track. I had not thought about the before.

KD Banjer - Posted - 05/01/2020:  16:22:22


quote:

Originally posted by rcc56

With the advent of software controlled digital recording, the process can get ridiculously complicated.



For a good, honest sound in recording, rather than a flawless but sterile sound, 1 track each for each instrument and voice will be sufficient.



And yes, in the old days, everything was recorded live. Later, the instruments were recorded first, often with a "reference vocal," and the final vocals were overdubbed later.



These days, a 12 piece band can record each of their parts in their individual homes, and the whole thing assembled later with each part corrected for pitch and timing.



I prefer to record as close to live as possible. When I recorded with Norman Blake and asked about punching in, he responded "There will be no punching in." What he didn't say, but clearly meant, was "If you think we're going to have to punch in, then we have no business making this record." We recorded live, one track apiece for each instrument and voice. At the mixdown session, we added fiddle and dobro overdubs on two cuts, and a previously unplanned backup vocal on one cut. I distinctly remember that I had a cold that day, and I was happy that we were able to loop on my backup vocal overdub.



The raw recording took 2 1/2 days, all live, no smoke and mirrors. The mixdown session  was one very long day and half of another. The few overdubs were recorded in a couple of hours. The number of tracks used on each cut varied from a minimum of 2 to a maximum of 5. Again, one track each for each instrument and voice.



I will add that on all the other recording sessions I have done, we used track per instrument or voice except for a drummer.  Just about all those sessions went into print.  The exception was one session I did with two angled mics each for 2 acoustic guitars, which was the suggestion of an engineer.  That one turned out so badly that I abandoned the project.



If you "need" more, you might end up with a slick recording, no spontaneity, and a very large bill for studio hours and engineer's hours.






Thanks for sharing your interesting experience recording with Norman Blake.



You remind me that there is no one right way to record a song (or a particular group of musicians). I like the idea of recording a couple of instruments (or more) live, if that is appropriate for a particular album and group of musicians.



The question is answer is: what will capture the best performance and recording.

KD Banjer - Posted - 05/01/2020:  16:26:39


quote:

Originally posted by Richard Hauser



2. Some recording artists think the that fewer recording attempts for a tune produce better music. They think an intangible desirable sound gradually disappears as repeated recordings are made for a tune.

 






 



I think that's a great point, Dick...



What I've experienced (in recording tunes with guitar and voice) is that I (and my voice) get tired at a certain point (after a certain number of takes) and when my body (or mind) becomes tired, then I know that I will not get the best performance at that point, and it is best to end the session (for a while, or for the day).

KD Banjer - Posted - 05/01/2020:  16:30:15


quote:

Originally posted by banjoak

quote:


As well, some multiple tracks are studio production trick techniques. One is the doubling technique for some parts, where the person sings the exact same thing. They will be slightly different in wave qualities; angles, distances, thus tone... the goal is to still sound tight like one voice/instrument, but thicken the sound, be fuller.  Nashville tuning is another technique some use.



 






That is a great suggestion/reminder:



Doubling the performance of an instrument or voice (on separate tracks) can create depth of sound.


Edited by - KD Banjer on 05/01/2020 16:30:51

loonsailor - Posted - 05/03/2020:  12:41:04


Number of "tracks" is no longer a very meaningful number, now that we don't use tape with a fixed number of tracks. One instrument might be miked with 1 or 2 mikes. Is that 1 or two tracks? Also, Cubase (my DAW of choice - I think other DAWs have similar capability) allows many "takes" on one track. Since I'm not always good enough to nail every part of a recording in one take, I can do multiple takes, and switch between the takes to put together the final recording. Again, that's one track. Plus, I've got extra tracks for the scratch rhythm track (eventually muted) if the recording is being done that way, effects tracks (one reverb, with various tracks sending to it), maybe a click.

Modern DAWs and computers can do >100 tracks without breathing hard, so why worry about it?

On the other hand, there's a lot to be said for a couple of mics, position the musicians in a nice sounding room, and let er rip. A lot of great recording have been done that way!

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