When you mic the hammered dulcimer, do you mic that in stereo?
Yes, in stereo, using the 3:1 rule. But I keep the mics up and away because the hammers are moving so fast that he doesn’t have a chance to hit any of the mics.

What about upright bass?
I usually mic it with a C5 up on the top and usually one of my Neumann U 47s on the low end. If we’re going more “organic,” I’ll use an RCA 77DX. The new Shure KSM353 is really nice, and the A440 from AEA, if you’re looking for a traditional thing. But on [jazz bassist] Charlie Haden’s album [Rambling Boy], I used a [Telefunken] 460 on the top end and a U 47 on the low side and ran them through two [Neve] 1073 preamps. Charlie [recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 Grammys] was in seventh heaven, which made me very happy that he was happy. Half of it is making the instrument sound like the instrument when the musician comes into the control room.

Have you done much bluegrass recording where you record everything with one microphone?
In the old days, but we still would address the bass, because the bass is usually nondescript back there. I did one artist … I was still going to Belmont, I guess, working on the weekends at the studios in Hendersonville that the Oak Ridge Boys owned. And a very prominent bluegrass artist came in. I think it took me 45 minutes to record that album. We went straight to 2-track. It was nice because the studio paid me for the day. [Laughs.] By the time I had the 1/4" tape edited and the box written on with all the information, it was probably 20 minutes after 11. We started at 10.

People don’t make albums like that these days.
I did an album like that with Richard Greene, a fiddle player. It was fun because I mixed it as we went.

If somebody’s putting together a home studio, where should they put their dollars? What should be the priority?
Interface and word clock. The word clock runs everything, and your audio interface is your converter. If you have some really good mic preamps—you’d be amazed what an SM57 and an SM58 sound like with a really good mic pre. If you’re a guitar player, save up and get the microphones that will last you a lifetime instead of just buying something that’s going to get you by. The same thing with mic preamps. I usually tell my students, have a good stereo signal path—mics and mic preamps—and then for vocals, have a good mic preamp and a couple of mic choices.

A lot of people still cut their tracks in the bigger studios. Most of your time is going to be spent overdubbing.

So keep the focus there rather than trying to set up a home studio where you can track a whole band all at once and have to sacrifice the quality of the gear to do it?
Exactly, because it’s cheaper in the long run to go in to a bigger room. Be prepared, be rehearsed. The Beatles went in and did their first album in 11 hours, something like that. If you’re prepared, you can go into a studio and rent it for a day for less than it would cost to buy a half-decent microphone.

Then you can take the tracks home and spend the time there working on the details and overdubs.
Exactly. What’s so funny is that I work with a lot of artists that should be just artists, but they also want to be engineers, and they don’t realize that there are two hats. The artist will waste a lot of time and their creativity trying to figure out how the computer works or the interface works or plug-ins work or what to use, instead of being creative. It happens with songwriters. A songwriter will write a hit song, then they’ll go out and buy a bunch of gear and have a studio in their house and then they stop writing songs. The same thing with artists—they stop singing or a guitar player will stop spending time practicing. For the hours of figuring out how to hook up a microphone and get the best signal, why not have somebody who actually knows how to do that and spend your time practicing and working toward that moment when you’ll be working with that engineer? You have to figure out what you want to be in life. Do you want to be an artist or do you want to be someone that has a really steep learning curve to become an engineer?

Have you noticed that lately with artists? Are they not able to knock it out in one or two takes?
No, normally they can knock it out. There’s a group that I work with called MilkDrive. They’re like a new New Grass Revival out of Austin. They can come in and they just knock it out.

Because they’re focusing on being artists.
Yes, they all have their Pro Tools 002s and 003s and they play around to get their ideas and their demos down, but not a master recording for release.

The Hillbenders is another group out of Missouri. They all go down live—vocals, everything. There are still groups out there that can do it.

Selected Bil VornDick Discography

Alison Krauss and Union Station, I’ve Got That Old Feeling
Rhonda Vincent, Taken
Charlie Haden and Family, Rambling Boy
Ralph Stanley, Clinch Mountain Country (featuring Bob Dylan, Vince Gill, Dwight Yoakam, Kentucky Headhunters, Diamond Rio, Marty Stuart, Ricky Skaggs, and many more)
Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Flight of the Cosmic Hippo, Tales from the Acoustic Planet, and many more solo and with the Flecktones
Mark O’Connor, The New Nashville Cats
Doc Watson, On Praying Ground and many more
Shawn Lane, Power of Ten
Jerry Douglas, Russ Barenberg, and Edgar Meyer, Skip, Hop & Wobble
Jerry Douglas, Slide Rule and many more
Marty Robbins, Legend and many more