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Recording and Mixing Blues Music in Spire Studio

by Charley Ruddell, iZotope Contributor November 14, 2019
Spire Studio is a great tool for recording blues music.

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It starts with a shuffle, and then a walking bass line; add in some organ, some scratchy rhythm guitars, and a call and response section, and you have the very basics of the blues. But where blues music gets its name is its mood—it’s characterized by lyrical themes about being down on luck, addiction, oppression, or lost love. It’s a musical form that speaks to people to make them feel less alone in dire times. 

Robert Cray

Contemporary blues is largely defined by energetic and inventive guitarists or singers like Derek Trucks, Robert Cray, and Joe Bonamassa. Their specific styles lean heavily on their instruments and gear, something that, in the current age of technology, can be emulated with ease on a workstation like Spire Studio. Spire’s amp simulators—specifically Classic Stack, Verb ‘65, and Tube 30—are all perfect for recording blues music whenever inspiration strikes. Additionally, Spire’s Visual Mixer allows for a quick and easy process that can get your song sounding as full as the pros.

If you’re thinking about recording your own blues music in Spire Studio, then let’s take a look at some Spire’s unique features that can turn your idea into a reality. This is the mix we'll be working toward:

Final Mix

Derek Trucks

Blues rhythm section

Any great blues rhythm section player will tell you that their secret power is patience. A majority of the blues is performed at a slower tempo (anywhere between 40-100 BPM), and in a live setting, some songs can last for extended periods of time. It’s the rhythm section’s job to remain steady and unwavering in tempo and keep on an even-keeled performance path so the soloists and leads can do their thing.

When recording drums, don’t be afraid of capturing a bit of room sound or adding a touch of reverb using one of the spaces (Warm Voice would work well in this scenario). Drums in blues music work best when they’re a little washy and sloppy. 

When recording bass through the bass amp simulator, keep the drive down or off; you’ll want to go for a cleaner bass sound to avoid muddling the mix with too much drive. Adjust your levels so there’s plenty of low end, but so that the bass is well-defined and clear of excess noise.

Remember to keep the drums and the bass tight on a performance level—they should sound like one instrument together. Take a listen to the example below for reference.

Rhythm Section

Blues rhythm guitars

Whether it’s the treble-y scratch of Albert King’s 1959 Gibson Flying V, or Stevie Ray Vaughan’s hearty Fender Stratocaster through a super reverb amplifier, every blues guitarist has their own sound. While much of the tone comes from your guitar, amplifiers play a huge role in solidifying your overall tone; in some cases, amps are just as important to the sound as the instrument is. 

Spire’s amp simulators are actually ideal for recording the blues. Verb ‘65 has a classic, washy blues sound, while Tube 30 delivers a solid, crunchy tone; Classic Stack can be great for both rhythm and lead tones, depending on where you place the drive knob.

For more rock and roll-tinged rhythm parts in your blues song, try recording with Tube 30—its crunch and weight allow for the guitar to feel substantial in the mix without dominating the stereo field. If you’re more of a jazz-inspired blues guitarist, Verb ‘65 has the clean, smokey tone for you. 

Top tip: Laying down a variety of guitar tones in the mix is always encouraged. Check out our tip guide for managing multiple guitar tones in a mix here.

The example below actually uses both Verb ‘65 and Tube 30. The Tube 30 parts are much more rhythm-based and present in the mix, while the Verb ‘65 parts are more chordal; they’re buried to avoid any conflicting harmonic sounds.

Blues Guitars

Blues leads

A special aspect of blues music that you don’t need to be a singer to have a singular voice; really all you need is a guitar. Hendrix, Derek Trucks, Buddy Guy, these are the blues guitar greats whose legacies weren’t defined by their vocals or their lyrics, but by their guitar voice. A great blues lead or solo should have the same emotive power as a strong vocalist or lyric. It all comes down to how your voice is phrased on the instrument, and how that voice is shaped by sound choices.

A blues lead should have just enough overdrive to elevate it over the band, but not enough where the guitar becomes too muddled or distorted. Because of this, you’ll want to try to avoid Echo Fuzz for any of your blues leads—it’s simply too powerful and difficult to control in that way.

Classic Stack is the best option for your guitar lead. Even with the drive turned off, Classic Stack still allows the guitar some crunch and some premium definition. Turn up the drive to get more volume and fuzz, but try not to go over the halfway point—the drive will get too messy for traditional blues. Don’t be afraid to dial in some reverb on the Classic Stack as well, reverb is always a welcome addition to a blues lead tone.

Check out the example below. The guitar tone of the solo is dialed in as described above. 

Blues solo

Blues mix

Mixing a blues song is really all about making the featured soloist or lead performer stand out. If your lead is a vocal or a guitar solo, make sure it’s centered in the stereo field, and give it a volume boost over the rest of the band. 

Then focus on your rhythm section. Pull the drums and the bass back in the mix; remember, you’ll want the rhythm section to sound like one instrument in unison. Pan your more crunchy rhythmic parts to the left and right in the field, and filter in your more chordal parts off-center to where the rhythm section sits.

Check this out for reference:

Final Mix

Conclusion

Though blues might seem like a simple genre, it carries weight like no other. The key is in the voice of your instrument, a patient rhythm section, and a variety of colorful guitar tones to make your solos and leads shine through.

Learn more about recording and mixing different genres with Spire:

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