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Additions to LDC for 6 piece acoustic bluegrass band
Old 1 week ago
  #1
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Additions to LDC for 6 piece acoustic bluegrass band

Long time lurker, first time poster. I'm gonna dive right in.

I've read a lot on bluegrass miking but I haven't found anything that fits my situation so here goes.

We're a 6 piece bluegrass band: female and male singers (one sings, the other plays the guitar), male upright bassist/vocalist (that's me!), mandolinist, banjoist and dobro player. We're working a single LDC mic – Ear Trumpet Labs Edwina – with a pickup or DPA 4099 on the bass and we're getting purty good at moving in and out. We have no problems hearing one another while rehearsing or on stage and we've managed without monitors so far.
  • The singer stands centered in front of the LDC.
  • Guitar and mando stand on either side of the singer or slighly behind.
  • Bass (me) stands right behind the singer and lean up to the mike for harmonies (mando leans left).
  • Banjo is to the left of the bass and dobro to the right.

However, being a 6 piece band means it's pretty close quarters on stage, and we haven't found a good angle for the LDC to capture everything that needs to be captured. Also the mando volume is often too low since he's standing a lot off-axis of the LDC, and he upstages the singers a bit since he has to go right up to the mike when playing backup.

I'm thinking that adding two SDCs to the same stand as the LDC, angled to the sides and a bit down, would better capture mandolin (always) and dobro/banjo (when they play breaks). Another option would be a second (or even a third) Edwina to widen the circle a bit.

We have worked on individual mics and we can do it if there's a sound engineer around. But it's a hassle and we're prepared to work on improving our mike dance.

Questions:
1) Our budget is initially 500-600 dollars for extra mikes. What do you recommend? We do want to keep the Edwina we already have.
2) Am I thinking along the right lines or should I consider a different setup altogether? Perhaps it's wishful thinking to manage with a single mike stand but I don't think so.
3) We have a few mikes already – a number of SM58s, one SM57, an LDC (AKG C3000B), could they be used instead of buying new mikes? (Probably not but I'd appreciate hearing it from someone in the know.)

I've played music for 40 years but I don't know much about audio gear and miking. I appreciate any and all help, including links to other websites.
Old 1 week ago
  #2
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I think part, maybe a large part, of the appeal of the Edwina is its very retro, “built In the barn” look. I think a common modern mic added in front of the group really spoils that element of your presentation. Two Edwinas on one stand (with a stereo bar) wouldn’t seem to spread the group enough to solve your 6 player huddle muddle. And the mic bar is definitely not retro.
Off the top of my head, I’d like to see you work two Edwinas on individual stands about three feet apart. It maintains the retro look, it only requires matching levels on two inputs, and I think you can get very creative with movement if you don’t think you have to have the same personnel on each mic all the time or at any given moment.
I admit to almost complete ignorance of the single mic bluegrass tradition, so my suggestions may be ignored or ridiculed without objection.
Old 1 week ago
  #3
Here for the gear
 

Thanks Bushman for the input!

I haven't considered the looks or style much – I'm more concerned about the sound and cramped stages. Tradition and style is a bonus feature.

A 2 Edwina/LDC setup would enable the mando player to get closer to the mike. We'd still need the vocalists lean into one mike for harmonies so other things will need to change. But it's great food for thought and I'll sketch things down to see what I come up with that still produces a balanced sound.

Anyone chiming in or having their own suggestions? Keep'em coming.
Old 1 week ago
  #4
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wildplum's Avatar
I was also going to suggest you get a second Edwina and go with the spaced pair, but I'd recommend more like 18 to 24 inches.

Check out some old footage of the Newport Folk Festival. The used the spaced pair on many occasions (frequently, 251s; at least that is what I think I saw on an old PBS broadcast).
Old 1 week ago
  #5
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This is what I know: regardless of the mic of choice single mic capture is most effective when limited to THREE VOCAL/INSTRUMENTAL participants. Any 4th vocal contributor (Like the Bass singer in a quartet capture) need to be on a second mic and all non vocal participants should be captured with outboard micing. One of the best applications of this protocol is Dell McCoury's AT 4060 tube mic capturing the vocal trio along with two or more outboard instrument mics. This is not rocket science: a band that has session ready performers that do not play over the top of leads will have the ability to listen to each other well enough to control their own dynamic presentation. Once the balancing gain staging is set at sound check the last thing a great Bluegrass band will need is a knob turnin fader pusher becoming part of the performance.
I have never been a big fan of the single mic capture and greatly prefer deploying a single high quality LDC (in my case tube mics from Peluso, AT & Flea) for each performer. For years we would ask the SR staff to turn off loud wedge monitors on festival stages and listen to the rear bloom behind the FOH stacks. Given the fact I no longer work that type of event I deploy a single KV2 EX10 wedge with a HP cut at the apx. Hz point where the rear bloom of FOH stacks is diminished.
The primary difference between a parking lot band and a concert ready ensemble is the acquired ability for each participant to work with a mic to deliver a desired quality capture. 10 or 50 years of experience playing is not synonymous with developing micing skills.
Hugh
Old 1 week ago
  #6
Here for the gear
 

Thank you Hugh, I really appreciate that you take the time to respond.

Capping the number of players/singers per mike makes sense. If I interpret you correctly, would one solution be to reserve the Edwina LDC for the singers (there are never more than three of us at a time), keep a pickup or 4099 on the upright and put two spot mikes on separate stands for banjo, dobro, and mando? If this is correct, which mikes or mike types would work well and be within our budget (USD 600 in total for extra stuff)?

Or did you mean something else completely? English is not my first language and I'm a newb to audio engineering.

Edit: I realise that this will not make us microphone savvy overnight. I'm just looking for an improvement to our current situation which could work in the long term as well, especially for the times where there's little or no audio engineering help.
Old 1 week ago
  #7
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celticrogues's Avatar
 

I assume you’re talking about life sound and not for recording, correct?

I attend and do sound at a weekly bluegrass jam here in the city. The mic setup I prefer for that is a single Ear Trumpet Labs Louise on a stand for the vocals, and a stereo pair of other mics on the same stand for the instruments. The bass has its own pickup that gets mixed in as well.

I’ve attached a picture of our setup here. The instrument mics at the moment are Shure PGA181’s, but I’ve also used Blue Embers or iSK Little Gems for an even more low profile look. Pretty much anything clean sounding will work - I like the mics to be a little brighter sounding so they cut through more on their own too.

I have an Edwina as well as the Louise and I like it a lot for single vocals, but the Louise is tuned so much better for picking up a whole band. If you can, that would be the first thing I would look at - getting a Louise as the main mic instead of the Edwina.

I set the instrument mics up in a sort of quasi-ORTF formation, usually a little wider than ORTF. They are not panned stereo, just mono and picking up different sides of the ensemble. We usually have between 10 - 20 players at the jam, so its a bit bigger than your band, but I find this configuration picks up everyone really well, and is simple and low profile to set up. Having two instrument mics pointed at different sides simplifies things when people come up to take breaks too.

Good luck!
-Mike
Attached Thumbnails
Additions to LDC for 6 piece acoustic bluegrass band-fcb6e623-ae5b-4b7a-91da-6cb7ba09cf0a.jpg   Additions to LDC for 6 piece acoustic bluegrass band-e54bf8b9-a6f2-40bd-b9c0-b7375726d0a1.jpg  
Old 1 week ago
  #8
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Yes LoveBluegrass, You are heading down the right path for the Flatt & Scruggs protocol with a central vocal mic (limited to three singers) and remote out board instrument mics. The side addressed ATM450 condensers are excellent instrument mics for outboard capture. Try to find a dealer that will allow you to audition a few of these mics for your band. (you must remember they are "Side Addressed" and as such must be placed in the right position to work well)
The only band leader I ever worked with that wanted to hang an instrument mic on the trio vocal mic stand was JD Crowe (post 1981). He loved to set up three SM58s on a 12 inch bar and their ultra tight pattern required an instrument mic to pick up the guitar rhythm. The SM58 cluster was his vocal preference before I assumed the role of band producer and manager in Sept. of 1974. At that point we abandoned the "lounge lizard protocol" of instrument pick ups feeding amps creating a significantly hot back line on stage that required SM58 cluster vocal capture. We abandoned the pick-ups and amps and central vocal mic cluster for individual micing for all vocals and instrumentation along with three months of rehearsals for a complete redo of song selections and arrangements. The resulting success the "New South" enjoyed during the 1975 festival season and the "Old home Place" (Rounder 044) recording is legendary.
J D is a dear friend and a fabulous musician that has mastered every essential element of Bluegrass music including mastering the intricate choreography required to properly execute Flatt & Scruggs type of vocal capture. By 1979 I had different challenges and by 1981 had moved to my beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. J D went back to the SM58 cluster that he was most comfortable with and deployed an AT 4047 remote outboard mic for his banjo work when he was not involved with vocals. IMO the sonic quality of this protocol is no where close to Dell McCoury's AT 4060 vocal trio capture and Dell's 4060 also does a great job of capturing his guitar rhythm: there is no need for additional mics to be hung on the main mic stand!
Hugh
Old 1 week ago
  #9
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THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for all insightful and valuable replies! I'm very grateful and I'm pleased to hear I'm thinking somewhat straight. Two PGA181 can be had for about one ATM450 but both solutions are well within my 600 USD budget. I'm also gonna find some unintrusive mic stands to match.

JD is one of my main inspirations regarding bluegrass music. When I started out playing the banjo, I took great inspiration from this clip when trying to learn Flint Hill Special. The combination of smooth playing from a deadpan/borderline bored JD is something I never get tired of watching. JDs backup playing is lauded and adopted by pretty much everyone playing the five string.
Old 1 week ago
  #10
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Thanks for initiating this thread. It’s a window to a musical genre and mic protocol I’ve missed.
Old 1 week ago
  #11
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Had the first band rehearsal with the band (vocals, guitar, mandolin, banjo, upright and dobro):
- DPA4099 on upright
- Ear Trumpet Labs Edwina in the center for vocals/guitar
- AKG C1000s x2 to the sides, approx 40 cm from the Edwina at approx. 120° angle

I know these were not the recommended mics but the dobro player had them readily available.

I connected this to a soundcard using all 4 channels. A brief listen through afterwards was promising. Will post update again when I get around to learn Reaper and mixing basics (before Christmas I hope).
Old 1 week ago
  #12
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You may want to consider setting up your mics and mixer and monitor the live capture with head phones initially then place a single wedge out in front of your stage alignment when rehearsing so all participants can monitor as they perform. At this point it is absolutely necessary for the band leader to establish the difference between a stage ready concert ensemble and a parking lot pickin. Both require the ability to properly tune their instrument and to "keep their licks in the groove": however "stage ready" requires the ability to use a mic to produce the best possible sonic tones (certainly not the loudest) and never play dynamically over the top of leads, either instrumental or vocal. This is the primary reason most session ready pros will have mics they routinely use and prefer but have developed the skill to work with about any mic.
THIS is the type of critical rehearsal effort a good Bluegrass band must experience to develop the listening skills to control dynamic & blend proficiency from the stage instead of depending upon the S R console engineer. Most all of the great Bluegrass bands are "set-it and leave it" capable.
Hugh
Old 5 days ago
  #13
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I hear you Hugh, I'm completely with you on playing dynamically. We're working on this and there's maybe just 2 of us who have played with single LDC setups and no monitors. Our female singer constantly asks "Will there be reverb?" – she's used to different setups. Playing well on any mic is a long term goal.

I appreciate the suggestion of headphones and then a single wedge. I don't have a wedge yet but it's on my shopping list when the budget allows. We have a headphone amp and can work with headphones until then.

And again I'm completely with you on not having to rely on an engineer for good sound!

We've worked a LOT on playing dynamically and our next gig (this Wednesday) will be unplugged. I have good hopes for a good concert and I'll make sure to record it for later scrutiny.

Quote:
Originally Posted by hughshouse View Post
You may want to consider setting up your mics and mixer and monitor the live capture with head phones initially then place a single wedge out in front of your stage alignment when rehearsing so all participants can monitor as they perform. At this point it is absolutely necessary for the band leader to establish the difference between a stage ready concert ensemble and a parking lot pickin. Both require the ability to properly tune their instrument and to "keep their licks in the groove": however "stage ready" requires the ability to use a mic to produce the best possible sonic tones (certainly not the loudest) and never play dynamically over the top of leads, either instrumental or vocal. This is the primary reason most session ready pros will have mics they routinely use and prefer but have developed the skill to work with about any mic.
THIS is the type of critical rehearsal effort a good Bluegrass band must experience to develop the listening skills to control dynamic & blend proficiency from the stage instead of depending upon the S R console engineer. Most all of the great Bluegrass bands are "set-it and leave it" capable.
Hugh
Old 5 days ago
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hughshouse View Post
to "keep their licks in the groove"
I'm not 100% what you mean by this. Please elaborate if you return here – I'm sure it's something I'd be better off knowing.
Old 5 days ago
  #15
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"Keeping your licks in the groove" is the ultimate test of a picker's ability to maintain rock solid Meter (timing) while executing their pet runs and fills: or as some may say playing instrumental embellishments. When Ron Block was the musical director developing the professional polish that carried the Alison Krause band to unparalleled success, it is well known in Bluegrass circles the hundreds of hours practicing with SR16 drum machines that was required of ALL band members. The importance of this discipline is closely related to the essential elements of "pulling against meter". A rock solid rhythm groove can not have wild out of time "parking lot" G-Runs - etc. - etc. There is no way to play or sing a lead on top of butchered rhythm.
In many many ways rock solid rhythm is far more important than flashy "hot lead licks"!
Hugh
Old 4 days ago
  #16
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Thanks à lot! English is not my first language and I appreciate your clarification.

Ron Block is a great example and a big inspiration (I double on banjo). He doesn’t often play flashy, yet has one of the hardest driving banjo picking around. Until I started to play the banjo I thought my timing was pretty good... I’ve never spent so much time with a metronome as in my first year of picking and the timing improvements have carried over to all things music for me.

Quote:
Originally Posted by hughshouse View Post
"Keeping your licks in the groove" is the ultimate test of a picker's ability to maintain rock solid Meter (timing) while executing their pet runs and fills: or as some may say playing instrumental embellishments. When Ron Block was the musical director developing the professional polish that carried the Alison Krause band to unparalleled success, it is well known in Bluegrass circles the hundreds of hours practicing with SR16 drum machines that was required of ALL band members. The importance of this discipline is closely related to the essential elements of "pulling against meter". A rock solid rhythm groove can not have wild out of time "parking lot" G-Runs - etc. - etc. There is no way to play or sing a lead on top of butchered rhythm.
In many many ways rock solid rhythm is far more important than flashy "hot lead licks"!
Hugh
Old 3 days ago
  #17
Quote:
Originally Posted by LoveBluegrass View Post
Our female singer constantly asks "Will there be reverb?" – she's used to different setups.
The correct answer is "Yes, there will be reverb -- as long as you remember to sing at the correct distance from the mic."

I've lately been running some songwriter showcases in which only one mic is used. What's different from bluegrass practice is that the performer is seated on a stool, and I get to position the mic. I often boom it in from above, in the style of Broadway soundtrack recording. Many of the performers have little experience working a mic; this kind of placement prevents them from "eating it", allows me to better balance voice and guitar, and adds some natural room tone. I don't need to use any artificial reverb. I do use an optical limiter though.

I sometimes extend this technique to duos and trios, but in that case I'm prioritizing vocal balance and sometimes end up DIing the guitar.

After reading this thread, I've decided that the next time a bluegrass trio shows up I'll lower the mic and let them do their dance.
Old 3 days ago
  #18
Here for the gear
 

Thanks David for chiming in – your input is very helpful.

Maybe you and/or Hugh could give some advice on how high to place the LDC in our setup and how to angle it. I want it to pick up mostly vocals and a bit of guitar, while keeping the bleed down to the SDC mics at the sides. This would make mixing the recording a bit easier. (But I still don't want to compromise our ability to hear one another of course.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Rick View Post
The correct answer is "Yes, there will be reverb -- as long as you remember to sing at the correct distance from the mic."

I've lately been running some songwriter showcases in which only one mic is used. What's different from bluegrass practice is that the performer is seated on a stool, and I get to position the mic. I often boom it in from above, in the style of Broadway soundtrack recording. Many of the performers have little experience working a mic; this kind of placement prevents them from "eating it", allows me to better balance voice and guitar, and adds some natural room tone. I don't need to use any artificial reverb. I do use an optical limiter though.

I sometimes extend this technique to duos and trios, but in that case I'm prioritizing vocal balance and sometimes end up DIing the guitar.

After reading this thread, I've decided that the next time a bluegrass trio shows up I'll lower the mic and let them do their dance.
Old 2 days ago
  #19
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There are two parts to an appropriate answer to your "placement question";

1) The specific capture pattern of a given mic will be the primary consideration to remember. Card patterns can be "wide card" such as the small CM3s I frequently deploy for church youth choirs. The card pattern on most all decent side addressed tube mics will do a good job of capturing a vocal trio. Ultra tight pattern "hyper card" mics are a poor choice for this type of capture.

2) Proper placement of a vocal trio mic needs to be at least 12 inches or more from the singers and centered at a point meeting the average height of the singers. The best Bluegrass vocal trio mic in use today is Dell McCoury's AT4060 tube. It also has no difficulty simultaneously capturing his rhythm guitar.

I have probably said enough in this thread about my personal preferences for Bluegrass performance: however it is important to consider leadership priorities in fundamental decisions pertaining to the gear we use to rehearse and perform. IMO they should be exactly the same: would you be comfortable showing up for a gig and playing any banjo that happened to be available? A reasonable plan to fit your gear to match your performance skill always makes a lot of sense. To this end the ET mic you allude to in your original post is not a pro level Bluegrass trio vocal mic. It has a wonderful "retro" visual look but is not close to the sonic quality of either an AT 4060 or a Paluso 2247 or a Flea47 next. My advice is to borrow or rent one of the good ones and monitor the difference as you work with it. Only then will you be in a position to evaluate where you stand on both the performance and gear question.
Hugh
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