Whether you're a student with a mic and simple interface or a bigshot wielding a formidable console in a fancy studio, chances are good that you've recorded a singer-songwriter at some point.
The iconic minimal singer-songwriter setup generally consists of an acoustic guitar and a vocal. This basic arrangement may seem easy on paper, especially if you plan to track each source separately. But more often than not, capturing a natural, intimate-sounding performance demands more than pointing a mic at the 12th fret.
There is a surplus of ways to record and mix acoustic guitar and vocals. The most popular option is to track the sources separately, allowing for independent control. However, with the right artist and song, recording vocals and guitar simultaneously is often the best approach, because you can capture a single, special performance in one go, rather than stitching together two separate ones.
Learn to love bleed
In this video, Chris Mara, owner and chief engineer of Nashville's Welcome to 1979, captures a performance from singer-songwriter Kenton Bryant live with three microphones. Kenton Bryant composes songs that carry themselves like conversations between close friends, and this stripped down version of his tune 'Beer and a Bottle' bears his signature, personal writing style.
The name of the game here is range and coverage. Mara uses a pair of spaced sE8 small-diaphragm condenser microphones flanking the outer reaches of the acoustic guitar, and places the vocal mic, an X1 S, about a foot away from the artist.
The philosophy behind this technique is to specifically take advantage of bleed. Mic bleed, or 'spill', is typically met with a frown in the audio community. In fact, the function of one of our most popular products, the Reflexion Filter®, is to help mitigate just that! However, bleed — harnessed with intention— can facilitate a beautiful, natural-sounding performance that transports the listener to a chair right in front of the artist in the room.
Mara's thoughtfulness for the listener extends a step further with his choice to pan the mics from the audience's perspective. The result is a rich, organic sound that has no lack of fullness and realism.
The more you know
Recording isn't solely about technical ability. Great engineering also means understanding how to deliver and translate the message an artist is trying to express.
You can master the aptitude for phase alignment, placement, mic choice and the like, but knowing how to provide a framework for collaboration is a true testament of expertise.
Next time you work with a talented singer-songwriter, opt for Mara's organic approach. You may find that authenticity is the true winner of all shoot-outs.