Creating movement in minimalist recordings

Hi guys!
Ages since I posted here. I’ve been doing a lot of live/basic recording during these times, e.g:

My question is, when mixing minimalist recordings of acoustic music, what techniques do you use to create movement and space? I feel my mixes sound a bit flat, narrow and ‘linear’ compared to say:

Despite this recording having more noise and (apparently) recorded with only 1 or 2 mics.

I never use more than 3 mics and there is a fair amount of spill between the tracks. I have a beyerdynamic mc930 stereo pair which I typically point generally towards the guitar and a Rode NTR which is placed more towards the female vox (in a 3 mic setup).


I would also note that I tend to hear quite a lot of compression on the acoustic guitar in songs I like, but if I introduce such levels of compression to my music it seems to make it even more flat and lifeless…how are they doing it?>!

Great to see you posting after so long! Welcome back!

First off, that woman has a gorgeous voice. Really beautiful :smile:

For a live recording like this, I think the guitar sound is pretty decent. Is that an open tuning you’re using btw?

One thing I often do for acoustic tracks is duplicate it and pan them opposite. Depending on the context, it might be 100% to either side, but sometimes less, like 75%. Other than that, about all I do with acoustics is EQ and some compression, and usually some kind of reverb send. All of that is for situations where everything is tracked separately, however, and that probably isn’t feasible in a situation like this one, where you have vocals in the air as well as the guitar.

You could still do some EQ sweeping and find a zone where a slight boost wouldn’t be overkill (i.e. you don’t want to emphasize your guitar’s “boxy” frequency, whatever it happens to be). You can also use a subtle reverb on the whole recording. There’s clearly some significant verb on the second clip, no doubt that is filling out the sound some.

I know this ain’t much, hope it’s a little helpful anyway!

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Your recording is nice, it has a good sense of the space you are in.
In the reference recording, I hear the vocal having more reverb, which pulls it back a little deeper into the soundstage.
You could try setting up multiple reverb sends, and experiment with both eq and panning on the reverbs to help with width and depth.
Find the frequencies above the guitar where her voice is accentuated, and eq out everything below her voice on one reverb send. Pan the reverb to the right and experiment with pre delay until it opens up subtly, then add it to taste.
Do the same process with the guitar mics on a separate reverb channel, finding the meat of the guitar and eqing that send to focus specifically on the guitar. Pan that reverb to the left.
Finally, add a different reverb to the master output, eq it to cut the low end on the guitar, and low pass the top end a little without making it too dark sounding. Use the pre delay to give a little more size to the room, and add it in until you just start hearing it.
Other than that, you could always duplicate all the tracks, and do your best to eq out as much bleed as possible. From there you could pan the duplicated guitar track to the left and add it in just to the point the guitar sounds wider. Same with the vocal track duplication.
There are also some good free plugs for depth and width out there that do subtle phase and timing tricks. I use one called SHEPPI that works great on recordings with lots of tracks. Look up spatial enhancers and you’ll find a few to check out. You add it to the master output as a plug in, it has presets you can tweak.


I am interested to see what others have to say because this is an issue i run into from time to time.

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Thanks! I’m heavily back into music…

Yes…Open D here I think. I use a lot of that, Open G and variations on the 2 (Open G with a C in the bass, G minor, DADGAD, etc

I’m going to try playing with subtle revers and delays - perhaps some send automation would help create some variation?

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What would be fun is if you made the tracks available and then we could give it a go and see if anything of interest comes out of it.


@ramshackles! Good to see you around!! I’ve also been pursuing the idea of minimalism in music lately. Space is such a valuable part of music that often gets overlooked.
I’m really loving what you’re up to here. Looking forward to hearing more!! :beerbanger:

The secret is to tighten up the sound at capture by drying up your recording environment and cutting down early reflections. This is super important if you are not using a close miking technique (In fact, it’s important even if you are too).

The early reflections cue our ears to the real size of our environment - they psycho-acoustically define the boundaries around us, so dampening them down with some soft furnishings, blankets, duvets will help to make those boundaries basically “disappear” acoustically.

While it is impossible to know exactly how something was recorded and mixed just by listening, here is what I’d guess I’m hearing in the example of what you are trying to emulate: The vocal and guitar were recorded together in a fairly dry room. This ensures the sources are right up front without any early reflections to push them back in the soundstage. It sounds like pretty close mic technique to me, but there would be some bleed between the vocal and guitar mics.

The vocal is panned centre, the guitar panned slightly to the left. There is a fair bit of saturation in the recording - particularly the vocal - possibly tape saturation, maybe fairly heavy preamp saturation. This also adds to the sense of “up-frontness” in the recording, because it basically acts as a compressor. Another important reason to keep the sources free of early room reflections - these become more apparent, the more saturation/compression is applied.

The vocal has been sent to a reverb that is quite long, dark (ie low passed) and very wide. The dark nature of the reverb ensures that it sits far “behind” the vocal and guitar. To further ensure the vocal and guitar sit right up front, the reverb has a generous pre-delay of probably 80ms or more so as to stop the reverb onset from blurring the sources.

Since there is probably bleed in the vocal mic from the guitar, a little bit of guitar is sent to the reverb with the vocal, so you get a nice stereo spread left and right of both mix elements…

So I’d suggest trying that sort of a tactic with your own recordings. Remember, clean up the early reflections in your room. You can’t possibly get any depth like in the example song you gave simply by using the ambience of a normal domestic-sized room - it will always sound boxy and flat unless you make it “disappear” and then add ambience with some other method.


Here are a couple we are working on:

The first one is an original and was a 3 mic setup. The stereo pair in xy setup pointing pretty much directly at the 12th fret of the guitar, and then a ribbon mic on the singer.
I added a ukelele and keys track afterwards to add a bit of percussive rhythm although I am in two minds about including them since they are not ‘live’. Perhaps low in the mix.

The second one is a cover and was recorded outside (actually, we were sat outside, the mics were about 1 foot back on the threshold of the doorway). I started off just intending to do a single xy pair, but I threw in the ribbon mic just cause it was ready. So in this one the xy pair is positioned more to capture the whole thing and the ribbon mic was positioned to be out of the way of the camera! TBH, I dont think the ribbon mic track is very usable.

In both recordings a major problem is that the voice is probably a few db quieter than you would want in comparison to the guitar. I’m not sure there is a lot that can be done about it.

BTW - on the outside recording, I wouldn’t at all go for the style of the reference I posted and prefer to keep it more natural.

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Wow… I think I am finally starting to gain a grasp of “predelay” from this description. For some reason it has always been somewhat counterintuitive for me. Thanks Andrew!

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The biggest difference I’m hearing here is the space (and distortion on the vocal track). I would type up a big long thing, but @ColdRoomStudio covered it exactly as I would have.

What a great piece, has a good overall feel. That is a sweet guitar too. How old are the strings on the guitar if I may ask? I think I hear something in the B or bottom E string. Either out of tune or an old string?

Yeah, the actual name “pre-delay”…definitely counter-intuitive… I mean how can a delay be “pre” anything? :grinning:… I think the name came from how before it was built into reverb controls and engineers were using actual chambers to create reverbs, they would put a delay in the signal chain before (pre) the chamber. That would offset the onset of reverb by however many milliseconds made it sound better.

:exploding_head: :exploding_head: :exploding_head:


Sorry I meant “offset the onset of reverb” d’oh!

I suppose the strings are a month old now…which is pretty old for me! I guess it is time to change them…

So as to delay the inevitable? :thinking:

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Reverb is inevitable - indoors, at least! :wink:

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I liked the first song alright but yeah, the recording is rough-draft sounding.
Just guessing would agree with the “room” issue, then the acoustic guitar seems to be overcoming the mic at times.
It’d be interesting to hear the same tune same mics recording in for example the bedroom, with clothes and mattress up against the wall and duvets and pillows used to tame it down.

then a 3rd version done in a church sized room…then the same song, same mics same recording done in a studio…

then a 5th version done in a hiend studio with U47’s and a choir and symphony total production mode…