Bluegrass and Zylia – Jesse Burdick tells the tale

Two years ago we read about what promised to be a groundbreaking new product called Zylia, a multi-track recording and mixing system using a single microphone with multiple elements. Designed over the course of several years by a team of Polish engineers, Zylia made the claim that their software, combined with their circular ZM-1 microphone, could deliver isolated multitrack recording in a live setting.

We wrote about the company back in August of 2018, and then got to see it in action at the IBMA World of Bluegrass convention a month later. There Zylia reps demonstrated the system to any artists who wanted to take it for a spin, setting up their single, spherical, multi-element microphone to capture a live performance, and then allowing the pickers to experiment with it as a multi-tracked session in the special software.

The way it works is by identifying the individual instruments within a 3D space, and then isolating the output of that source onto a separate track. It only takes a few minutes to “teach” the software where each instrument is before starting to track a session. After recording, you can raise and lower the volume of the individual tracks, and edit them tonally, just as if each track had been recorded discreetly.

Zylia made quite a splash at WOB in 2018, especially when artists and studio owners realized that they could get the system for as little as $650. 

One such was Jesse Burdick, a banjo player and studio operator in Virginia who has joined the Zylia team, and agreed to share a bit about his association with the company. Along with a brief life story.

“My in-progress journey in this larger than life adventure known as bluegrass music started about 23 years ago in Rhode Island. Thanks to the hard work of Sal Sauco, and the membership/executive board at Rhode Island Bluegrass Association, the smallest state now has one of the largest bluegrass music associations in the country. Back when I started learning how to pick (when RIBA wasn’t even an idea), there were no teachers up there to show me how to get it right, and I found myself saddled with Mel Bay books. Pretty lame. Then, I found a huge contingent of pickers hanging out in Foster (a small town not far from my family’s home in Johnston), including the great Roger ‘Bill’ Hall, from whom I drew much influence on the banjo. 

The rest is history: I’ve been fortunate enough to share the stage and record with the best of the best from the local, regional, national, and even international scenes (bluegrass and non), including Pete Seeger, Country Joe McDonald, Travers Chandler and Avery County, Marshall Wilborn, and Alan Bibey. This music has taken me across the country, to Japan, Europe, and back again. 

I got married in 2016 to an amazing woman. We make our home in Smithfield, Virginia, where I run Riverside Studios, a business dedicated to bluegrass music performance, education, and production, along with non-fiction and fiction writing, and content creation (especially D&D 5e for all of my fellow picker nerds out there).

Of late, I have been working with Sean Mack (a fantastic musician and true luminary out of Connecticut) on some audio work for submission to Netflix that is about as far outside the bluegrass box as I have ever gone. Still, the result is going to be pure magic. 

My most current ‘in the works’ discussions have been with Wade Gibbs, Kyle Triplett, Corey Lee McQuade, Chris Henry, Patrick Connell, and Blaine Sprouse (some of my favorite musicians).

When I came across Zylia at the IBMA’s Wide Open Bluegrass in Raleigh back in 2018, I found they were developing the most innovative portable (fully 3D) microphone array to date. I was amazed and inspired. The ZYLIA MUSIC solution they created was something that bluegrass musicians would find necessary for their endeavors. I still feel that it was tailor-made for bluegrass. 

I was quick to endorse their Indiegogo, and not far after, I had the ZM-1 in my possession. I contacted the company, and soon this team of young, passionate people and I became friends. I was also fortunate enough to pay them a visit in Poznan, Poland, last year. Since then, I have gone through a long period of experimentation, trial, and error with the ZM-1, pushing the boundaries of what it can achieve. I most recently have found intriguing and surprising ways of operation concerning use in mobile recording and live performances. I recently joined their Affiliate Program and am working toward disseminating this fine piece of equipment in the bluegrass community and beyond.

Who would have thought a few years back that after using one microphone for recording multiple musicians at once, there would be an option to mix it on the spot without needing baffles? Not many, yet this achievement is natural for the ZYLIA ZM-1. The microphone records a 360-degree soundstage. User-friendly software separates tracks of instruments and vocals to make a nice, balanced mix. All of this makes the ZYLIA MUSIC set incredibly affordable and simple home studio solution – just perfect for bluegrass.”

That was our thought when we first read about this system, and we’re delighted to find a grasser who has used it in a studio setting with good results.

Here is a video that the Zylia team shot at World of Bluegrass in 2018 with The Family Sowell, trying out the ZM-1.

More details can be found on the Zylia web site. You can also contact Jesse through Riverside Studios.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.