Nashville, November 27, 2020 — Nashville has never lacked in recording spaces, but none of them quite compare to the home studio of Stephen Mougin. With deep roots in bluegrass, Americana and folk, Mougin founded Dark Shadow Recording with the mission of starting “a company run by musicians for musicians,” producing albums within these genres. With that task in mind, Mougin hired Design Technik, out of Dallas to customize the space according to the specific layout, especially with acoustic music in mind, and he has since curated his studio space to combine all that he loves about live music with the logistics of capturing each musical component with complete clarity and authenticity.
The collaborative five-booth setup
More accustomed to touring and performing onstage, Stephen Mougin was initially uncomfortable in the studio. While his music thrived on stage with the energy of the crowd, the isolated environment of the studio was stifling. “Honestly, I got into recording as a way to get my musician chops up. I’m a touring musician by trade. It’s a different thing to play in the studio than playing live,” Mougin said.
Unlike most traditional studios, where tracking happens individually, Mougin’s recording space consists of five isolated booths. “I built mine with a lot of glass in the studio, so that folks can really feel like they’re playing with the person next to them. They’re in an isolated environment. The rooms are neutral sounding so it feels organic. It’s a different style of tracking for sure.”
Using this approach, Dark Shadow Recording sets itself apart from other home studio setups. “As much as humanly possible, I want all the players in different booths at the same time playing music together. I want the players to interact with each other on phrasing, feel and vibe. I like to track the entire thing. I like the music to feel organic and I’m fortunate enough to work with a lot of wonderful players.”
By inviting players into an isolated, yet collaborative, environment, Mougin has discovered his edge by recording cohesive moments of music created by one band recording together at the same time. “I like to track the entire thing. It’s just refreshing when you hear people responding and reacting to what they hear from the other players in that environment. So by having multiple booths a five-piece band can come in, track live and still be isolated.”
A different approach to miking
A pair of Mojave MA-200s have been integral in Mougin’s five-booth setup. “They were my first good microphones, Mougin said. I like buying mics in pairs, in case I want to use them in stereo or in a spaced-pair configuration, which is common for Bluegrass—not necessarily in the stereo sense of ‘left and right,’ but sticking two of them in front of a banjo and capturing more than a pinpoint section of what the instrument can make for tone is a really good thing.”
The diversity of instruments within the Bluegrass genre lets Mougin experiment with his MA-200’s to capture the live sound of each instrument, as they each come with their own demands. Using his knowledge of each instrument, Mougin is able to tune into banjos, mandolins and guitars, and the like, to bring out their most authentic sound. “The last banjo I tracked was a $100,000.00 instrument. You want that instrument to sound exactly as that sounds and it’s super neutral, super detailed. It’s a different approach to miking and capturing those instruments and music itself the way that it lives and breathes.”
Some of his favorite applications include a single MA-200 used as a drum room mic and also on the acoustic fiddle. “Acoustic fiddle is it’s own thing where you want it to cut and be bright like a fiddle is, but you don’t want it to rip your face off. Sometimes fiddles can do that. The MA-200’s have enough warmth to them that they kind of smooth out some of the offending frequencies in a fiddle, but they give you enough of all of that, a nice representation of what you’re getting, if you move it around enough you can get a nice flattering thing on a fiddle.”
As for the drum kit, since the booth has limited space, the mic hangs five feet overhead, positioned on a heavily treated wall, tilted down looking over the instrument. “I want the real sound of the kit and I want it big and wide, but it can’t be so much bigger than all of these other instruments, because it can’t be the focus of the track. Having that mono room mic really brings the focus of the drums back into the picture—even though it’s spread wide there’s still so much coming at you from the dead center that it makes it a more real picture, and that mic is just perfect for that application.”
Awards and a debut album
After years of awarding artists for their work in the industry, IBMA Bluegrass Music Awards began appreciating those who work to produce and engineer. Stephen Mougin was the second recipient and won the third award for Sound Engineer of the Year in 2018. Additionally, he won Best Gospel Recorded Performance for “Speakin’ To That Mountain” and Best Collaborative Recording for “The Barber’s Fiddle” both done with Becky Buller. “It’s a celebration of fiddlers, so I used the MA-200s all over that record,” Mougin said. “We have eighteen fiddlers on that song and I can’t tell you how many of them I ran through the MA-200s. It’s pretty remarkable. They came in and added their parts one, two, three at a time.”
Since the IBMA awards were virtual this year, Dark Shadow Recording broadened their scope to include recording video content for other artists to help keep the gears turning as the music industry adapts to the new necessities of today’s world.
Not only has Mougin kept busy recording video and albums for other musicians, but even had the bandwidth to complete his debut album Ordinary Soul. The album, which was released on July 31, features the MA-200s on every track.
With the Mojave MA-200s in his toolkit Mougin, can achieve the sound and feel he strives for every time. “The acoustic music world of bluegrass, specifically which is the core of what I do, is such a living breathing kind of thing. Anything you do to muzzle that just doesn’t feel right at the end of the day. We try to do things as live as possible.”
For more information about Mojave Audio, please visit http://www.mojaveaudio.com. About Mojave Audio
Mojave Audio was founded by Technical Grammy Award winning David Royer, widely known for his ribbon microphone designs with Royer Labs. Mojave originally got its start with David Royer as a one-man pro audio shop designing custom vacuum tube condenser mics, preamps, and compressors for engineers in the Los Angeles area.