Studio Insider--May, 2011
In the Studio #160, May, 2011

Note: I’ll be giving my “Recording Bluegrass Instruments” workshop at the Grass Valley Father’s Day Festival on Saturday, June 18 at 12:50 (lunch break), and showing my film “The Waltz to Westphalia” on Friday evening at 6:10 (dinner break). Both events will be in the room behind the Luthiers’ Pavilion, next to the food court.

Be sure and check out the John Hartford String Band, playing Thursday at 12:00 noon and 9:40 PM, and Friday at 9:10 PM, closing out the Thursday and Friday night main stage entertainment. The band features fiddler Matt Combs, one of Nashville’s best, and veteran of the Grand Ole Opry and most Nashville bluegrass venues. Matt was the principal fiddler and my co-producer on “Pa’s Fiddle,” a CD collection of 19th century American music played by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s father Charles. “Pa” Ingalls was a fiddler, and in her “Little House” books, Laura documents his playing throughout.

Who invited Murphy to the Studio?

I’m running a little slowly today. Yesterday’s session began at 10:00 AM. PGE thought that 9:00 AM would be a good time to shut off the electricity to entire area. As the drummer rolled up in his truck full of drums, my assistant engineer doubled over with acute food poisoning and had to leave. He drove out of the parking lot, barely missing the arriving singer-songwriter, who was coming to demo up four tunes. The bass player was right behind.

So no power, no water (we’re on a well here) no light, no gofer, an entire drum kit to mic and soundcheck, plus a bass rig and a line-of-sight set-up for the singer-songwriter, who was in a separate room but really wanted eye contact with the rhythm section as they tracked.

As part of the acoustic design of the studio, it has no windows to the outside, so it was dark – really dark. I put the rug down for the drummer and then got out of his way and carried drum cases out and set up cabling for the bass player. While I was setting up the microphones for the drum kit, the power came on. The computer system came back up pretty well, except that ProTools couldn’t find the attached authorization key and wouldn’t launch. So I smiled and re-booted. Then I re-booted the computer. Finally ProTools was happy and let me get back to work.

“This is going to be a long day,” I said quietly to myself as the producer arrived, unaware that we were in post-power failure mode.

I miked the drums in a fairly typical fashion for an acoustic pop-rock session. Each of the drums and the high hat gets its own microphone/preamp chain, and above the kit I placed a pair of adjustable – pattern condenser microphones in a stereo pair, pointing to opposite sides of the kit. For these mics, I used a fairly wide pick-up pattern to enhance the overall ambient sound of the drum kit. For the kick drum I placed one mic inside, close to the beater, and put another mic outside, about 10” from the front head. I like having the two different kick drum sounds when I’m mixing a session like this, so I can turn up one mic if I need more bottom end thrust, or turn up the other if I need more of the “tap” of the beater against the head. I used condenser mics for everything except the snare and kick drums.

Earlier in the week, I had prepared a ProTools template for this session, labeling all the channels with the appropriate instrument, microphone and preamp names. So as I raced to get the session underway without the help of a second engineer, I glanced at the computer monitor periodically to see what microphone, patch point, and ProTools input to use. The gods and goddess were with me, and the miking, patching and routing went quickly. The bass player was playing electric, and carries his own custom preamplifier, so routing that into ProTools was fast and simple.

Then I turned my attention to the singer’s guitar. I set up an xy pair of condenser mics in a spot where he could play and watch the drummer, and took a line from his guitar’s built-in pick-up. Each of these signals went to a separate ProTools track, so when we’re mixing we can adjust each one separately. I set up his vocal mic (a large diaphragm condenser set to a tight cardioid, or uni-directional pattern) so that he could both play and sing as the drums and bass went down.

When we finally carried the last drum cases out of the studio last night after 10:00 PM, I realized it had been a twelve-hour session. We all worked hard, and in spite of all the little gremlins that had tried to thwart the session, we had 4 tunes “in the can.” But I really don’t remember falling asleep last night…

Joe Weed records acoustic music at his Highland Studios near Los Gatos, California. He has released six albums of his own, produced many projects for independent artists and labels, and does sound tracks for film, TV and museums. He recently worked on the PBS film “Andrew Jackson: Good, Evil, and the Presidency.” Reach Joe by calling (408) 353-3353, by email at, or by visiting

Posted By:  Rick Cornish

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