Since their inception in 2007, bluegrass band Balsam Range has seen a steady rise to being one of the genre’s most award-winning artists in recent years. With eleven International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, Billboard and Bluegrass Today chart toppers, headlining major festivals from coast to coast, and multiple appearances at the Grand Ole Opry, the band is not slowing down anytime soon. In 2013, John Holder became the fulltime FOH Engineer for Balsam Range. He wanted to improve their sound equipment and introduced the band to Earthworks microphones and hasn’t looked back since.
Holder comments: “When I started with them fulltime, we all got together to discuss what we needed to do with our equipment to improve our performances as much as possible. I told the band in my experience there is a big difference between the mics they were then using and the Earthworks.”
With all of the band members open to trying something new, Holder brought in Earthworks SR40V vocal microphones and SR40s for instruments. “We are still using these same mics to this day because the band members would not part with them. The Earthworks mics have great accuracy in reproducing sound and don’t color it. They reproduce exactly what is going into the mic and capture exactly how the instrument or voice sounds. It is the accuracy that I like. In addition, the rear rejection of Earthworks microphones is so much greater that with other microphones. It rejects the ambient noise in addition to keeping the sound of other instruments and monitor speakers from bleeding into the microphone. This is a big deal; the Earthworks mics not only provide isolation between the instruments, they also provide super accurate sound reproduction that is very transparent. This all adds up to the sound quality being superior to other brands of microphones in my opinion.”
For the past two years, Balsam Range and the Atlanta Pops Orchestra have performed together at the Art of Music Festival at Lake Junaluska, NC. Holder comments: “This year we used only Earthworks microphones, and there was a huge difference in the quality of the sound and the performance.” According to Buddy Melton of Balsam Range “The Balsam Range/Atlanta Pops show is a powerful, moving performance and we wanted it to be the best possible for the audience. In April we are performing with the Pops at Merlefest on Friday night, which could easily exceed 20,000 people. For that festival and crowd it has to be right; that’s why we choose Earthworks.”
Balsam Range’s current suite of Earthworks microphones includes 4-SR40Vs for vocals, 3-SR40s for dobro, mandolin and guitar, and 2-SR20s for banjo and fiddle. “The acoustic bass is direct, but we leave the dobro mic open to pick up the finger sounds from the bass. For miking the Atlanta Pops Orchestra at the Art of Music, we used SR20s and SR25s for all strings, woodwinds and brass, and a 3 piece drum mic kit,” says Holder.
“When we are performing at various festivals across the country, I can’t tell you how many times people will come up to me or one of the band members and want to know why we sound different and so good, and ask ‘What are those microphones you are using?’ At every show we get questions like this. I also use an Earthworks FM360 for the acapella songs that the band sings, and we always have people come up and ask, “What in the world is that microphone that they are using?” I then tell them that the mics are Earthworks,” says Holder.
Marc Pruett, Grammy Award winning banjo player for Balsam Range is a little hard of hearing, and Holder recalls an especially memorable experience with him when the band was initially trying out the Earthworks SR40s and SR40Vs: “When we got the microphones, I just plugged them in and made no EQ adjustments or any other changes on the board. I just brought the level up on the Earthworks mics as Marc was walking across the stage in front of the house speakers while Caleb Smith was playing his guitar. Marc stopped dead in his tracks and turned around facing the band and said; ‘Now that is what an acoustic guitar is supposed to sound like.’ The band also uses high quality in ear monitors and they can hear all the detail in the Earthworks mics.”
Beyond their live performances, Earthworks microphones also make their way into the recording studio with Balsam Range. “We used Balsam Range’s personal SR40s at the Mountain Home studio when we tracked the current IBMA album of the year Mountain Voodoo,” says Holder. “We also used the Earthworks at John Driskell Hopkins’ (Zac Brown Band) Brighter Shade studio in Atlanta for the Balsam Range/Atlanta Pops Orchestra upcoming release called Mountain Overture. It’s a Balsam Range greatest hits album with the orchestra added.”
Scott Barnett of Mountain Home studio comments, “We were so impressed with the SR40s we purchased a matched pair for studio inventory, and I personally purchased one for myself.”
Holder concludes: “I gladly recommend any of the Earthworks microphones; those we use for Balsam Range in addition to the Earthworks PianoMic system which is incredible, the Earthworks drum mic kits from the 3 piece to a full kit of drum mics are fantastic. I recommend all the Earthworks models for the various applications they are designed for.”