Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

How do pros record?

I’m wondering how things are recorded in the pro studios as opposed to how I might be doing things.

My main concern is at certain volumes I can pick better and my instrument has “that tone” at its best. I’d like to know if in most pro recording the player is altering their volume while laying much or if it is the mixing that brings out the fills and such between the singing.

The dynamics of bluegrass is one of the things I most love about it, and when playing live it is not hard for me to change volumes but when recording it seems to be a different story, either blowing the mic or not getting enough signal so things show up in the recording.

If I play at the same volume the track comes out better on its own but does not have the right dynamics on playback with the other instruments.

any advice?

Not that I am an expert…far from it actually lol…but would that be a benefit of adding a pickup to it possibly…possibly having a way to plug it in to a digital recorder? That way you could play at whatever volume you are comfortable with it sounding best and eliminating the need for a mic. Please tell me if I am way off here, just sounds like logic…


       I have excellent recording ability. My question is more about whos responsibilty it is to create the dynamics in the track. 

 There are several choices here:
  1. I can vary the volume on my instrument and try to get the correct difference between the higher and lower volumes when recording (this is fairly difficult for me)

  2. I can mix the recorded track onto a Master track and vary the volume while doing so. This varies the volume in the right places but maybe not at the correct levels for the final mix…it would be a guess.

  3. I could play at the same volume and leave it up to who is mixing the final cut to change the volume of the track as it is mixed down with the rest of the music.

  4. any combintaion of the above might be used.

I was hoping Ben, or someone with professional level recording experience, might have some insight on the best way to approach this.

Ahhh…lightbulb just went off lol…I understand the question better now. I see how you mean if you played at the same volume it would be a guess…very interesting although I am not nearly learned enough to be able to help here… lmbo.

I’m far from a recording pro, but knowing what I know about human nature, I can’t imagine that a mixing engineer would leave the dynamics untouched even on a really well-recorded track. The temptation to tinker is too great.

On your Rider banjo track, for instance, I thought the dynamics were pretty good but there are a couple of spots where I changed the volume. Once heading into the first lead break, where I tapered off the volume, and once on your break, where I bumped it up front a bit more. I would think most mixing engineers would prefer the musician handle the dynamics as much as possible, just as part of a well recorded track. That way they don’t have to guess what the musician is trying to convey, they just have to work it into the mix.

Well, that track is kind of what sparked this thread. You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned an engineer trying to interpret what a musician is trying to convey.

It is hard for me , at my level of playing, to have enough control to make a realistic change in volume at the speed we were playing to let you set the knob and leave it alone. Hence much of the track is quiet in spots where I would have it boosted.
It is not quite so much on the 'puter which only puts out high end but in the headphones it is nearly non-existent to my ear.

this could all be caused by the “person who played listening to themselves syndrome” where a person either sill back them self off to where they can’t hardly be heard (you do this somewhat) or where they can’t hear enough of their own instrument untill it overpowers everything else (most people).

We have different ears and will always like to hear a mix differently than others (I think rhythm guitars should be felt more than heard but I bet most guitar players don’t), but i’m getting off the subject.

I’m just wondering how much the musician actually varies their volume in an actual recording session and how much the engineer messes with it.

Well, I said I bumped up the volume on your lead break, but I guess a banjo player could just as easily look at it as my turning down the rest of his playing. My own personal preference (prejudice?) is that the banjo not be up front so much, but I’m probably in the minority amongst bluegrass fans.

I thought your “person who played listening to themselves syndrome” comment was insightful. I get the sydrome when I mix a new track whether it’s me or someone else playing. I’ve started guarding against making new tracks too prominent by intentionally putting them futher back into the mix than seems initially right. Either way, tweaking follows.

As you said, we all have different ears, and just as importantly, I believe, different platforms for playing our music. I feel like I’m the only one who get’s to hear the optimal mix of our project, because I’m the only one who gets to make decisions based on my own playback system, speaker placement, etc. Professionals seem to have tricks that minimize the difference in playback between platforms (I know how much you dislike over-compression)… I’m still trying to learn them.

I think, ideally, musician and engineer should sit in the same room, listen to the same playback, and make mutual decisions about the mix. In fact, I wish there was some way to put your guy’s hands on the faders on our current project. I’ve thought about using something like Teamviewer that would allow you to remotely access my computer, but it doesn’t support audio files, so you couldn’t hear the playback. Does anyone know of a program that would allow remote computer access with audio? I’d be really interested in seeing how different our mixes would be.