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Recording techniques

Since early 2017, we've brought a Nagra III tape-recorder with us on nearly every tour: whether in North America, England, or Western Europe. Apart from using 1/4" tape, which can still be purchased new; and apart from using a full-track head, which gives a better end result sonically than other tape formats; the Nagra has the benefit of operating off "D" batteries, which can be purchased almost anywhere you'd look for them. This allows us to get around the complications and incompatibilities sometimes faced when attempting to power up equipment from country to country, where the mains power supplies can vary in voltage and frequency. The Nagra affords the freedom to record literally anywhere we might need to, whether in a living room, a pub, a concert hall, on a stage in the middle of a forest, in the back of a van, busking on the street: wherever we play we have the option of recording it with this machine.

And since we travel so much, a compact and minimal recording set-up is essential. With this in mind we bring along a single microphone. Typically we use Electrovoice mics. Many, like the EV664, EV664A, and EV648, were designed for either public address or radio interview or live film recording, and are very durable physically and electronically, requiring little or no maintenance. The recorder, mic, associated cables, and a couple of tapes all fit into a "carry-on" sized leather bag, with which we can board planes, trains, busses, and taxis without issue.

About 90% of the recordings are done by gathering around a single microphone, and balancing our sound based on our position relative to the microphone. This involves a very particular physical set up around the mic: the horns needing to move around and point toward or away from the mic to achieve the desired tone/volume/presence; some instruments (tenor banjo and archtop guitar) needing to be pretty far away from the mic and also pointed away so that at times they're felt more than distinctly heard; vocalists for the three part harmony numbers needing to brush their teeth that day, etc.

We'd learn about 6-10 new tunes over the course of a given three-week tour and record about 5-8 of them during the last week. The recording process takes place over the course of two or three 6-hour days of recording. It normally takes the first half of the first day to achieve the sound that we want on recording, and from then on we do as many takes as we need to in order to be satisfied with the results. It varies from tour to tour, and we occasionally hire a studio, but what's been mentioned above is usually how it happens.

If you would like to know more about anything mentioned here, please send a message to And if you would like some recording equipment serviced, you can also message about that. 

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