All posts by barnsound


Just released: Study Electricity’s  latest CD. Think Springsteen meets Alabama Shakes. Rock!
Just release – my own CD! Yes, I actually found the time. The Electric Wire Bird.
Just released: Mister Jimmy’s (aka Jimmy Lepone, formerly of the Union Dead and In The Blond) solo debut 5 song EP.  A mind bendingly great songwriter gets tough while getting you on the dance floor.
Just released: Seve’s “Wisconsin”.  A tour de force.  Think Waits meets Townes.
Just released: Suzanne Dee’s “Hold Me Still”. Defining a new genre of modern adult contemporary. Very cool stuff.

Currently working on:
Geoff Stack’s 3rd CD with me.
Getting ready to mix Jim Steven’s “Collective Energy” CD
Just finished mixing Donny Wilkins’ solo debut CD.
Getting ready to record vocals on Owen “Fiddla” Brown’s  newest CD.
Working on Jon Sallet’s newest work.
Working on Judith Ray’s newest CD.

lush vs minimal production

I think we get into our corners way too easily these day. There seems to be a push in modern life to align or identify with a side. From politics to what kind of computer you use. Production style gets defined this way also.

There are lots of producers with their “sound”. Lots of successful producers hired for their “sound”.  Most of them would consider this a prison much like an actor being typecast. Style yes, but more in approach than delivery. Most want a successful song. How that can be best accomplished depends on the tune.

Sure there’s a lot of drivel out there where production “wow” is really the whole point to a very sketchy musical hook or just tired sameness. But hell, there’s always been that around. We are actually living in the time of the producer more than any other time in recorded popular music. Now an incredible amount of music is made independently, and artist’s are also filling the role of producer. Production can be so fussed to material it’s almost impossible to separate tone from structure. Sometimes a sound alone inspires the song that follows. But don’t let that influence the point. Be aware of the cultural surrounding, sound de jour, but don’t let a song be defined by it nor operate in a vacuum.

The real question is as it always has been – what is the artist or song trying to communicate, either to an audience or the artist themselves.  I am in favor of minimal production equally with lush over the top production. I just consider what’s best for the song before setting a course, a course that may alter if something cooler or unexpectedly great happens.  The problem with lush is that it can obscure the point – like drinking from a fire hose. The meaning lost because the din and thickness veil it. Mostly it’s because too many ideas (even if they’re mostly good ideas) are used. If one guitar part is cool then five cool guitar parts must be inherently cooler. Nope, not necessarily. And in a world where an almost infinite amount sounds are at your fingertips, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Conversely, I don’t think Dark Side of the Moon would have been better with less. Should Van Gogh have used a little less paint in “A Starry Night”? Should Mondrian have used more?

You are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. You will often alienate even an established audience. Yep. Sometimes art and commerce don’t meet. No harm or fowl. But the method you employ to accomplish what you want to say is only dependent on how you want it heard and understood. You are painting a sonic painting, chiseling a rock down to reveal sound. Stay open to current, stay open to different paths, and stay focused on saying what either you or the tune want said. Sometimes a song will say yes and the artist says no. It can be tricky – I almost always side with tune, but more on that in a future post. If it’s cooler with a kick drum and a vocal then use that and if it’s better with two symphonies battling it out from each speaker then do that. Keep asking yourself if it “needs” it – is it really better in, or just different, and if the difference makes it better, more defined, moving towards precisely what you want to say or feel from it.

If you are an artist filling the role also as producer, make sure you are looking at the song with distance – cold and hard. Without this, you’ll be making judgments in more the pure artistic realm than understanding how an audience may relate, making the more or less question a smaller one but not always right for the big picture. Even Hemmingway had an editor and if you act as both, then fill the role of both. John Cage still wanted to communicate something to an audience beyond just a creation for only him to hear (or not hear, depending on the rests on the staff). This might better inform the less or more questions.

A song wants to engage, sometimes even to the point of confrontation. Extremes can be effective but keep the goal in mind. Just cause you can, doesn’t mean you should, lush or minimal.

stretch your strings

Stretch your strings. Insert your own yoga to Richard Simmons imagery here.

Almost every person has their method and I’m not gonna knock your tried and true approach. What I am going tell you is that I run out of fingers and toes counting the number of times I’ve asked a guitarist if they had stretched their strings. They say yes, and the strings go out the next pass on a track, and the pass after that. Many have said “yes, I put new string on last week and let them stretch”.

I was that guy once. I didn’t know how to best put a string on, how to best stretch it, or even how to effectively tune it. And I was no beginner player not knowing this. Here’s what works:

For almost everyone out there, besides Fender Tele and Strat players or nylon sting players, the way to put on a new string is slip the string through the bridge, then the string goes through the hole of the tuning peg until the string lays flat, pull back on the string towards the bridge so there is slack in the string (about 3 to 6 inches of slack – the slack depends how many winds you like around the peg – more slack = more winds. Take the end of the string and bring it around the top of the peg and go under the sting (think of it like an exit ramp that goes under the road you were on), pull it tight against the peg and now bend this end of the string straight up. If you have tuning pegs on bottom of the head stock the wind will be the opposite direction – under the peg and up and under the string. You should still have slack between the bridge and peg but the string is tight against the peg. Now you can wind the string and as you do each wind should go over the bend of the string.  So it’s actually locking the end of the string so you can wind tight without it slipping around the peg.

For nylon string players the principle is the same but the direction may change according to how the peg is placed – usually sideways in the head-stock. For Strat and Tele players you just need to cut the end of the string so when you place the end of the string down into the peg there isn’t an bunch of slack on the string. Again, more slack means more winds around the peg.

Wind the string to pitch. Now with your right hand placed between the pickups pull up on a string while the fingers of your left hand press down on the string against the fret-board.  Pull up with your right hand each time you move up the neck and press down with your left hand. Each pass I’ll move my left hand to about 5 different spots on the neck. Re tune and repeat until the sting stays in pitch after this pull up/press down operation. Go to the next string and repeat.

On semi hollow body guitars sometimes as you tune you can pull the tuning out of the string you just tuned by tuning the next string. To avoid this, tune from the middle strings out – this keeps tension even on the bridge through the tuning process.

If this doesn’t work for sure you then you can write me a nasty post – but that won’t happen, that’s how sure fire this is.

feeling the mix

Feeling the mix. Oh, it could mean feeling its pain, or kind of a shady rain coat vibe but what I’m talking about is when you know a mix is right, powerful.

Monitoring volume always goes up when mixing. Fight the impulse to turn it up as you go along  by starting with a moderate level (you could have a conversation with someone in the room without yelling), take note of where the dial is set and then treat the volume knob like it has a taze setting if you turn it up. Go as long as you can building your mix at a consistent moderate volume. You will eventually need to turn it up, and also turn it way down, but during the majority of the process try to stay moderate in monitoring volume. Do this for a couple of reasons. First, it’s no amazing feat to have tunes sound good when they are cranked. Almost everything sounds powerful when it’s loud and blowing your hair back like you’re out for a spin with the top down. Second, live to mix another day. Stay loud long enough and one day, maybe not for awhile but one day, you won’t have the ears to really EQ or mix in a way that’s any use in the real world. I know the last one sounds like me being your Mom as you sit inches from the TV screen or Debbie Downer but think of it more like pros mix at moderate levels, beginners crank it up – which do you wanna be?

I do and must turn the volume up, especially when I put the mix on bigger speakers (if you have the luxury of switching between near field speakers, usually 6 or 8 inch speakers placed near you, and larger speaker,12 inch woofers on up to jumbo size. Warning: once a clients hears their tune on big loud speakers they generally only want to hear it that way from then on. You can do that for them at the end of the session so they feel enormous before they head out the door but you are doing them no service when it comes to precision, which is what’s needed. So I do turn it up on bigger speakers at various stages – I check bass and kick phase and EQ mostly on the big speakers, and then again for mix placements (vocals or guitars) and then at the end to see how the mix feels. I also use the near field and turn them way down, almost to a whisper. This helps again judging vocal placement (harmony and lead vocals) and if I still can hear a little bass at low volume on small speakers, it’s a getting about right.  I also take very frequent “ear breaks” when I just turn everything off for 5 or 10 minutes and let my ears cool down. It’s also amazing what perspective this will give you when you hit play again and hear where you last left off. Many times I find that that thing I was microscopic on was not bold enough and I’d missed the big picture or that I was making something blisteringly loud in the mix because I was over focused.

Okay, so you’ve stayed moderate in your volume with the exception of a few twists up and down to check things and you’ve taken a bunch of ear breaks to keep you moving forward, you’ve done a good mix, now you take a listen. Nice but it’s missing something. Something almost indefinable, something that transcends genre. You’re missing a girth, a power, a coming at you, popping out of the speakers-ness.  The answer is be bold. Get out of the oh so subtle and into the up front in yo face – be bolder on your drum compression, a bit more aggressive on the master buss, increase the guitars by a half db. Lean in, childrens, lean in. You have one chance with a listener, the first time they hear it. They will not be overwhelmed with the subtle of you mix. You must grab them. When you start heading down this path you’ll notice you don’t need to turn it up, the speakers start to ring in the right way, the mix gets broader. No, I’m not talking about Metallica mastering levels or putting a maximizer on everything. I’m taking about feeling the mix, the power of the song, that moment you cross over from just getting it right to getting an audience to feel it – even you yourself start tapping your foot, bobbin’ your head. You are now starting to feel the mix. You don’t feel the need for volume because it sounds loud and moving and phat as is. Don’t be afraid to go over – it’ll let you know when you’ve broken it. Take a step back and it will reemerge. All the subtle textures will still be there, all your nuanced verbs will still be there, but now a person who hasn’t heard the song 874 times will also hear these things and in later listens marvel at your intricate attention to detail. But they never would have noticed if you didn’t “feel the mix”.  So, be bold while all the while keeping it cool on the volume.

making a demo – (cover gigs)

These words are intended for the vast army of working musicians whose venues happen to be cover rooms – where almost all of the material to be played is not the performers original compositions, rather “covers”. Wedding bands, solo, duo acts, club bands sluggin’ it out night after night.

First, I would not be giving full disclosure if I didn’t tell a story first. I was in my first original music band and I was spewing off some choice words to a producer about the cover scene, probably out of anger to audiences that fill the cover rooms, and the bands that play them, while a local original music scene always seems to struggle for any draw at all or a comparatively smaller one.  At the end of my little rant my producer quietly and with nothing but gentleness in his heart said, “I don’t know. I think that anyone that is making music is doing a noble thing”.  Not only did I feel every bit of the idiot I was but it shook me to my core and thankfully I never looked back. Lesson learned and brought into my very soul.

So you noble warriors, you need to get some damn gigs! Here’s the important rule on your demo. You are not the original artist and therefore there is no need for the entire version of any song. If the booking agent wanted that they’d just go put on the original CD. I’m not saying you aren’t every bit as good as the original, hell, maybe even better, but that matters not for the purpose at hand. 30 seconds to 1 minute of any tune is enough. Medley is the key word here – a “set” made up of 7 to 10 segments of tunes. Keep the overall length of your demo to under 15 minutes max.  The booking agent wants to get an idea of your abilities, taste in song selection, and professionalism. A short concise demo, recorded well, and not over reaching will give you a leg up. Think one verse and one chorus, fade out, and while fading out, fade up into the next song snippet.

You can tailor a CD for any type of gig by using only the song selection best serving that venue or occasions needs. So when recording, remember this idea and record a bunch of segments of different tunes.  With some choices you can tailor fit the blend for the club you’re trying to book and reduce the risk of them not booking because you included a style they or their clientele will not dig.

Think about what part of the song you want to use and record only those parts. It’ll save time in the studio and save a bunch of time in assembling the demo.

Try not to be too over produced or slick. Wedding and club bands will need to sound very close to the original but a solo act that also has a ton of backing vocals on their demo might feel misrepresenting and actually hurt the chances of getting the gig.

Most club acts need an acoustic set or chill set, a perky middle set and I’m hammered and wanna dance set. For wedding bands you too will need to think about sets – dinner set, a middle set and a dance set. For both club and wedding gigs you might be able to combine sets 2 and 3 into one 5 to 7 minute medley.

Most musicians need a general track for the web site, Facebook, etc that covers a lot of ground i.e., “chillin’ as they chew” tunes to a modern dance set. Try to keep each “set” to between 3 and 5 minutes and no more than 7 minutes.

In pacing the set don’t go too fast or too slow – half of a chorus will not due, nor will the intro to on past the bridge. Let it be enough time for it to sink in, “oh I know this tune”, to how you’re playing the song, “oh aren’t they very good” and like the vibe “my toe is tapping” and then fade out. 45 seconds and you are right on.

Medleys that are continues are great – as one tune is ending the next is already starting to fade up. When doing this, try to get the end beat of the first song to be dead on the first beat of the second song – even if tempos don’t match, cutting on a beat just feels better.

You are now ready for the noble cause of playing music for the masses!


Most percussion instruments need some room. Skinned instruments need less room unless you want that tone. Shakers and Tambourines need some distance from the mic and better that the hits (the most forward motion of a shaker, for example) are not aimed at the mic. Often with these two instruments I’ll have the player stand 2 to 3 feet off the mix and play them sideways to the mic. Never have a shaker played into a mic like a knife in a bad 3D movie – no forward hit straight into the mic! With skinned percussion I prefer a large diaphragm condenser mic set off the head 5 or 6 inches, but lots of times I find 1 foot away with the mic looking over the front edge of the head.  With big low end percussion drums, get further off them with the mic.

When I mix percussion instruments generally I compress and then roll off everything under 75 Hz up to 250 Hz depending. I also boost the whole spectrum starting anywhere between 2 to 6K.  You’ll want a nice top without it being like a random punch thrown at your mix and not a lot of low end to clutter.


Whether solo or in a section, I prefer one mic on brass. I use a ribbon mic set about  2 to 3 feet from the bells of the horns with the players standing pretty much in a line. If it’s a solo horn I usually walk around the instrument as the player plays to find the best spot. Most times it involves the mic being a little off axis – meaning to the left or the right of the horns bell – never directly in front. If you really want individual control when recording a section, almost any mic will do – especially a dynamic or condenser mic placed close to the individual horn.

When I mix horns I roll off some lows, add a little punch between 700Hz and 2K and maybe roll off a little top at 10K. You don’t want them shrill or muddy and given your particular track you’ll adjust the EQ to fit.


It’s always nice to have a few mics to choose from when micing vocals but generally three kinds are used: small diaphragm dynamic, large diaphragm dynamic or large diaphragm condenser. Each are great for a different need. But most times I’m using a large diaphragm condenser and then selecting which one of this kind I use. But I fortunately have choices while your mic cabinet may be more limited. If you have a large diaphragm condenser, start with it.  I highly recommend a pop screen – even if you have to build one (panty hose stretched over a sewing loop works great, and you can say that you do, in fact, rock the mic with the panty hose – homage to the Beastie Boys).  Place the pop screen about an inch to 3 in front of the mic capsule.  I like to have the mic pointed slightly down towards the floor (about 20 degrees) rather than straight on. I also make sure the mic height is aligned to how the vocalist sings – some have their heads down, some up, and others straight on to the mic. Depending on the mic and how well it does with proximity (some get thin even a few inches away from them) I like to have the vocalist at least 3 to 6 inches from the pop screen.

And now a word on mic technique.  If a singer doesn’t know how to work a mic or it’s their first time on a studio mic, take some time to give them some hints.  They need to think of the mic as an ear. You wouldn’t scream full throttle into a friends ear – well, not a friend for long if you did, so no doing that on a mic. If the singer gets loud they need to pull back from the mic or at least turn a little to the side. Same goes for explosives, not that kind, P’s or anything thing that can “pop” a mic – just singing off axis to a mic, turning the head slightly to left or right can make a huge difference in the final product. So let them know how to work a mic.

As we set up I always let the vocalist know how it’s going to work. It helps to chill the nerves and starts to get them use to the idea that it’s not about capturing one performance; it’s almost always about a process. I lay out the process ahead and that we don’t record until they feel good about what they hear in the headset, that we will take our time on this and then they can bring the magic, or sometimes parlor trick. Start with a light send of the mix to their phones and only a little of them in that mix. You should have a ballpark setting for level on your mic pre for recording vocals and same for a headphone send. Let the vocalist warm up on the track and get your gain and compression settings and then give them the amount of themselves they need in their headset and the proper over all level they need. Too little or too much send and it will affect pitch – too little and they’ll scream and after two takes they’re fried, too much and their pitch will probably leave the building. You are a partner in all recording, do your best to make it happen! You can often tell when a singer just isn’t getting it that it could very well be their headset mix – sometimes over their objection you’ll need to change things to get the job done.

Just like a drummer, a vocalist is a sprint runner you’re trying to stretch into a marathoner. You are the coach, know how to pace them. Make sure they know you think this is going to be not just good but important. In effect it will be, even if it’s only to them, and by that it will be to you. That you are looking forward to the process and doing this with them.  Give the vocalist breaks, not too long but enough to clear the head and let the vocal chords de-steam. Make sure they have water. If a vocalist is doing it right, they are in a very vulnerable place. No matter how you feel about the music or the vocalist, respect the art and the process – even if they don’t. You will be coach, psychiatrist, fan, mommy, or even enemy. Do what it takes to get them there and be right about the approach you use to do it – use your intuition.

So you’ve cut some vocals. If I’m making a record I almost always will “comp” for the final track. I’ll take 5 or 6 passes and keep the best 3 or 4 takes, then punch in on any lines that I think needed extra focus or varied approach, and then go thought each and select the best lines. Then I’ll splice those together into one track. If it’s a limited budget I’ll punch in lines on a take I think was pretty good on the whole. This saves a bunch of time but generally doesn’t give the precision and vibe of a comp’d vocal.  Trick: Usually a vocalist will be closer to a double by not singing to their comp’d vocal. Almost all the time I can get a double out of the parts I didn’t use in making the comp’d track. Just play what was left over against the comp’d track and find the lines that most closely double the lead vocal – you might need to edit it to be right on but in the end I’ve found this to be the most efficient and also most precise way to get a double.

When mixing a vocal I like compression, I like a lot of it. Others, not as much. Let’s just get that out right now. My vocal chain is a compressor slammed, followed with EQ, then another compressor, and finally a de-esser. Oh yes, take that. That’s right, you heard me. I like vocals to feel immediate and urgent – even on a ballade. But that’s me. The first compressor is there to get control of the vocal but also to give it oomph. The EQ I’ll generally roll off bellow 75 Hz, add some between 200 and 300 Hz, maybe cut with a tight Q at 1 or 3K , or add between 3 and 6K with a nice boost at 11K or above.  EQ depends so much on the mic that was used and its characteristics, good and bad, the individual vocalists sound, and the sound you want to achieve in the mix. The next compressor should only go into compression on really big hits and when it does, only dip into compression no more than 3db. The de-esser is to make the mastering guy not want to come and hunt you down.

Effects, reverb, delay, etc are really a matter of taste and the needs of that tune. But even if you like ‘em high and dry put a delay on it – about 100 ms with very little regeneration and mixed down so that you can barely hear it. This will thicken your vocal in all the right ways and the vocals will still sound dry in the mix. Now feel free to slather on the verb, if you must.

stringed instruments

The most important thing is to walk around the instrument as it’s being played. Get your ass out of the chair! Walk fully around it. Use one ear up close and in various positions around the instrument. Every acoustic instrument is different and has its own “sweet spot” – it’s your gig to find it! I’m going to give you the boiler plate of micing these very finicky and subtle things. You will no doubt find different places and positions to mic but this will give you a nice starting point.

I prefer a pencil condenser mic. A large diaphragm condenser will also get it done. A dynamic mic is gonna give you a rough time for recording the important subtlety’s but it can also be a “vibey” sound. A ribbon is cool but generally is used as a supplemental mic, not primary but then again it can be an interesting sound.  You can also use a room or ambient mic(s) along with close mics and blend it in to taste when you’re mixing.

Acoustic or Classical guitar:
A mic positioned at the 12th fret 6 inches from the neck and looking down the fret board towards the sound hole is the most standard way of micing. Or try the mic looking directly at the neck at the 12th fret, out about 4 inches from the neck. I also use an additional mic about a foot out directly in front of the sound hole and then flip the phase on this mic. You can also position a ribbon mic at this position or even have it looking down over the shoulder of the player. You could also place a second mic 2 feet in front from the back edge the guitar looking (pointed) at the bridge of the guitar. I’ve also used two pencil condenser mics, one on either side of the sound hole, about a foot off the sound hole and a foot apart.  They should be parallel to the instrument and looking in at each other. Now turn each mic towards the guitar about 20 degrees. In this method you’re using phasing as your friend. Small movements of the mic in all these methods make a big difference and can take a sound from awful to bliss and vice versa. If you must, then record the DI if the instrument has it. Sometimes, especially live or in a room with other instruments it’s necessary but usually there’s as much soul and vibe to them as a piece of particle board, sometimes less. If perfect isn’t an option then getting the job done is.

When I mix I usually have the F hole mic down -10 to -15 db from the mic over the finger board. I’ll bus both mics to a mono Bus/Group and compress and EQ from there. I like a moderate to slow attack, a fairly quick release, and at a 4:1 ratio. EQ is generally added around 3K and also at 11K and take away at 100Hz or 200Hz – sometimes I’ll put a low pass filter starting at 50Hz or even at 100Hz and then EQ more out between 100 and 250 Hz with a fairly tight Q.

You can use these ideas for similar instruments such as a Lafta, Lute and other more exotic instruments.

National/dobro guitar:
The doughnut is key. Lots of the instruments tone comes from the resonating doughnut and also the F holes. I’ve used dynamic and condenser mic and combinations of the two. Start with a neck mic, as described above. Now take a dynamic mic and place it straight on and 6 inches to a foot away from the bottom F hole. You might find moving this mic directly center to the doughnut is also cool sounding. Rooty and vibey are what you’re going for – it’s not an acoustic guitar, it’s its very own unique vibe and kinda small and nasally is a goal.

Same thing for EQ and Compression as outlined above for Acoustic Guitar but I might focus and boost more at 1K instead of 3K

Upright Bass:
If I can, I prefer two mics on upright. I listen for a sweet spot around the bridge and F Hole. Once I’ve found a well balanced spot I’ll use a large condenser at that spot – generally at a 45 degree angle from the instrument, a foot out looking towards the spot between the top of the F Hole and bridge. Maximum low end is not the issue – you’ll usually have more than you’ll want.  Look more for full and rich rather than boom. I’ll also use a pencil condenser mic on the neck, a half to 3/4 of the way up the neck, a foot off and looking toward the end of the fret board. This will give you definition and attack. You’ll need to flip the phase on one of the two mics. You can also just use one mic. If I’m only using one mic I’d move the bottom mic a little further up to where the instrument is plucked. In live situations I’ve also taken a dynamic mic and wrapped it in foam with only the capsule uncovered. I’ll stick that under the strings past the bridge looking up towards the bridge. This eliminates a ton of bleed from other instruments and will at least get you something usable. Cool if the instrument doesn’t have a DI or the DI sounds like crap, which most do on an upright.

When I mix, I’ll send the two mics (generally with the top mic being louder than the bottom mic) to a mono Bus/Group and Compress and EQ that channel. Compression is just like an electric bass – slow attack, fast release, and 4:1 or 8:1 ration. For EQ I often put on a low pass filter and take away sub low stuff 45Hz and below. I’ll also make sure the two mics balance so that there’s not too much string slap or fret noise. Unless you have huge speakers or a sub you won’t hear just how much of the very low end you have – just presume you have a ton and treat accordingly – it can mess a mix up quick.

Upright bass and cello are not that different when it comes to micing. Sometimes I use two mics but usually I just use on large diaphragm condenser mic and try to really be specific where it’s placed according to how that individual instrument sounds. Usually the mic is place 2 to 3 feet away from the instrument at a 45 degree axis from straight on, looking more at the bridge than F Hole and sometimes slightly above the bridge – which will get more of the bow’s sound.

When mixing a cello, I compress slightly to even it out and EQ to give it air and a little more attack – 11K and 2 to 6 K range respectfully. Be careful on the low end – too much take away in the 200 Hz range and you can kill the body of the sound, so try a tighter Q when EQing in this range.

Air! Give it some room. No such thing as close micing on a violin or viola, unless you’re going more for a fiddle sound.  Violins are delicate things – the sound is generally small and can get abrasive quickly, especially with a less than proficient player.  Viola’s are more robust but can have some trouble in certain frequencies. I usually only go with one mic. You can add a room mic but the primary mic is going to pick up a lot of room anyway. Go high. I use a pencil condenser at least 3 feet above and 4 feet in front, pointed towards the center of the violin/viola. If it’s too ambient for your taste, just move in a foot each way until you like what you hear.

Lots of times I use a violinist/viola to cut multiple parts and quadruple each line played – kind of building up to the equivalent of a chamber orchestra. Important: You must playback the parts the player has just played in their headset when they start to double . It’s important they hear the line before that they have just cut in order to match vibrato and expression. Also if you’re doubling/tripling/quadrupling a line make sure that with each new pass the player moves from the spot they just recorded from, just a foot or so either way. This will make a huge difference and a much fuller richer sound. Think of it like a violin section of the orchestra – they sit in chairs next to each other, not on top of each other – although that would be fun to see. You won’t have a different violin or different player’s hands for each pass but you’ll at least have a slightly different timbre on each pass. It makes a difference.

When I mix a violin/viola part it starts with the compressor at a slow attack and slow release, and moderate ratio – 4:1. But let’s say I have an arrangement that consist of 3 violin lines and 2 viola lines, and with each line being quadrupled. I’ll pan all 20 channels at their individual faders according to where I want them in the stereo image.  I usually pan just as if I’m looking at an orchestra: Violin 1’s quadrupled parts are paned in various degrees of fairly hard right, violin 2 less so hard right but still each quadrupled part with a different pan, violin 3 the same but more towards center, and viola’s occupying soft right, center and soft left. No right or wrong to this – it’s according to your taste. After I’ve got my panning together I’ll bus all to a stereo Bus/Group and compress using the same setting as I would with one instrument. Sometimes I’ll bus each line (ex only violins that make up Violin 1, 2, etc) to a and individual stereo Bus/Group and then send all the individual lines to a master string stereo Bus Group. I generally won’t eq or compress the individual Bus/Groups but this will allow you to control levels of a part using only one fader instead of 3 or 4. Instead I’ll compress and EQ on the Master String Bus/Group. Only trouble with this method is that if you’re really increasing a line at a certain time then you are sending more into the master compressor, which means you’re hitting it harder and thus fighting it a little – but most times it’s a cool thing. If this is a problem then just compress and EQ on each parts individual Bus/Group and then send to a master Bus/Group which will be used only for overall level of the entire string section.

A word on EQ. Be careful of taking out too much low end. A lot of body is in the 100 to 300Hz range. I will roll off everything below 75 Hz and then dip a little out between 700Hz and 900 Hz and again cut at between 1K and 3K – all depending on the tone of the instrument you’ve recorded and then I’ll lift, very subtly, above 6K. You don’t want woofy, you don’t want slicing abrasiveness, and you definitely don’t want whinny.

If I can I’ll set up two reverbs – one a large room/Hall/plate with a long decay and another reverb that is smaller with a short decay and then add both to taste to my master string Bus/Group. Lush but not smeared is the goal. As a quick reference I use 3 different recordings as touchstone, The Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” – a quartet in a close space, almost tight and dry, Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye” – a moderate room with a small chamber orchestra, and then anything by the Philadelphia Orchestra pre 1990’s for big and lush. But you’ll find your own references. I recommend listening to them in order to keep them fresh in your head as you begin to mix your own strings.

Each of these instruments are so dependent on the particular instruments tone that there is no hard and fast rule. You must listen to the instrument, know what you want from it, and mic accordingly. With Mando and Uke if you want a starting place it would be a mic at the neck looking back towards the body. Also try the mic looking directly at the neck a few frets from where the neck meets the body. Mando you might find straight on to the top of the F Hold is best.  Banjo can be the same neck position but you also might find straight on where the hand picks is the place. My compression setting is very similar to a acoustic guitar but I’ve also really leaned in and smashed them too – depends on what you want. For EQ, get rid of stuff below 75Hz and add some air (above 10K) and attack (1 to 6K). You might also need a little cut around 300Hz.

There are endless ways to mic pianos and endless ways a piano can sound. Grand, baby grand, Upright, Spinet. Know what you want for an end result before micing! I’ve mic’d a baby grand but mic’d and processed to get a more honky tonk sound – depends on what you have and what you need. But here are a few ballpark ways of micing. The first would be an X/Y micing (refer to X/Y micing under Drum Overheads which describes what and how) with the mic’s placed center and over the hammers. Another method is larger diaphragm condensers placed on the side and looking over the edge of the piano, one at the top of the bend looking towards the hammers and the other at the bottom of the bend of the piano. You can also take large diaphragm condensers and have each looking straight down and about a foot off the strings, one placed towards the hammers focusing on the higher strings and then the other mic place midway down the piano and focusing on the lower strings. You can add in room mics (X/Y or wide placement) placed in the preferred position for maximum room but still having clarity. I’ve also used one ribbon mic on a baby grand sitting on top and to the front of the piano and looking down towards the hammers. This is a cool rock sound especially when you’ve compressed the living crap out of it. Piano’s have a large dynamic range so be careful to not give the mic pre too much gain or you’ll peg it on the heavy hits.

To mix it you can either pan hard Left/Right or less so. I’ll send the two mic’s to a stereo Bus/Group and compress and EQ from there. A light touch to maximum warp just depends on what you want. Try a fairly slow attack and fairly quick release with a moderate ratio as a compression starting point. When you EQ try to reduce sub low rumble and give it some air on top.  The 2 to 3k range is important – you want attack but you don’t want the audience to feel assaulted – most of the time.