Recording Music Outdoors

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During my all-too brief time at the Rockygrass Academy two weeks ago I recorded a workshop by guitarist Chris Eldridge, mandolinist Chris Thile, and violinist Gabe Witcher. Recording outside is the worst of all worlds - an anechoic chamber with noise. There's no wall, floor or ceiling to reflect sound - you get direct sound or nothing. Of course some musicians don't need no stinkin' reflections to sound amazing. Such was my luck recording Eldridge, Thile, and Witcher.

What did I use? I went for simple, light, and reliable, with my Marantz MR-671 flash drive recorder connected to an Audio-Technica AT-825 stereo microphone. I had the bit-rate set to 44.1/16 instead of 96/24 because some workshops and interviews can run long and I need to "let her track."

Instead of a microphone stand, most of which are too tall and too obtrusive for workshop recording, I used a Leitz tabletop tripod with a microphone adapter. The A-T mic was about a foot off the ground, angled slightly upwards, and aimed so Eldridge's guitar would be on the left, Thile's mandolin in the center, and Witcher's fiddle on the right. They were seated in a slight arc about six feet apart, so I placed the mic about five feet away, and by gosh, it worked beautifully.

During the workshop I monitored the recording with a pair of Etymotic ER6i in-ear phones. I chose the Etymotics because they are super-isolating so I could hear the mic feed clearly. My pair is pretty groady from a long tour of duty in my gym bag, but they still work great.

When I got home I transferred the sound files to my computer and sat back to listen using Audirvana Plus. I chose Audirvana because I could drag and drop the entire folder-worth of WAV files into an Audirvana Playlist without having to add the files to iTunes or any other third-party library - I do that later after editing. The recordings sounded almost exactly like I was back under a tent in Lyons, Colorado, sitting four feet away from three amazing musicians, my head about a foot off the ground...I'm kidding about the one foot part, but the rest is true.

Chris Thile was playing his 1924 Gibson F-5 "Lloyd Loar" mandolin. I've heard him, and recorded him on it several times, but I've never captured the instrument's "fingerprint" tone as accurately. Thile coaxes a huge dynamic and tonal range from that F-5, as can be heard faithfully on the recording. Chris Eldridge's new Suda dreadnaught maybe still "green" in his words, but it sure sounded well-balanced and powerful on the recording. And Gabe Witcher's fiddle tone certainly didn't need any sweetening or reverb to sound mellifluous. I am in awe of his tone and his impeccable intonation.

I'm going to be listening to this recording a lot.

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