Bluegrass music is fun to record, fun to mix and fun to listen to, and most home recording studios are fully capable of handling a bluegrass band. With that being said, you’ve got to be careful to do things right–a badly mixed bluegrass band will sound bland, and miss that energy that they’d have in a live setting. Here are a few tips for mixing a bluegrass band in your home recording studio.
1. Start with any drums. If there aren’t any drums, start with bass. In general, you want to begin with the instrument or instruments in the bluegrass band that are keeping the beat and providing the backing that the song needs. Emphasize the lower frequencies, as they’re often missing from bluegrass recordings; put the bass in the low mids, and the bass drum in the lows to avoid any problems with “muddy” sounds. When using EQ, you want to give each instrument its own distinct frequency range, and in particular avoid conflicts with multiple guitars, guitars and banjos, and high guitars and mandolins. Think of the song as a room–this visualization is invaluable when mixing any type of music, bluegrass included.
2. Effects should be minimal. A very slight reverb is pretty much all I’d consider using with bluegrass music, as anything more than that acts as a detriment to the total song. The slight reverb will give the track a depth that might not otherwise be attainable, but when I say slight, I mean especially slight–you probably don’t want to be able to notice that a reverb is there at all. Bluegrass music sounds best when it sounds like it’s in the room with you.
3. Use panning. Panning can be just as powerful in mixing as EQ to provide separation to bluegrass instruments and provide a feeling of fullness to a song. I like to pan similar instruments away from each other, especially higher bluegrass instruments such as the mandolin. The only instruments that should be in the dead center of the mix should be the vocals (if any), major soloists, and the bass drum and guitar (again, if any, your own instrumentation will affect your panning quite a bit).
4. Go easy on compression. Most of the time, you don’t want much compression on anything other than an electric bass, if it’s being used, and the bass drum. Again, bluegrass music needs to sound natural. With that being said, though, experiment and see what works; remember, if it sounds good, it doesn’t matter what rules it’s breaking.
Do you have any other tips for mixing bluegrass music? Post in our comments section below.