New to Classical Recording...

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by colonel_sanders, May 2, 2013.

  1. colonel_sanders

    colonel_sanders Active Member


    I have a gig coming up recording a Grand Piano, Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Soprano playing a 12 minute classical piece on location in a small hall. I don't have a lot of experience recording classical music, and am wondering how best to approach the recording.

    The stage is 4 meters deep, and about 12 meters wide.

    The mics I have available are:
    AKG 414 buls
    2 x Rupert Neve RN17 SDC's (with Omni, Cardioid and fig 8 caps)
    4 x sE 4 (SDC, cardiod)
    4 x sE 4400 (multi patter LDC's)

    All running into my Saffire Pro40 + Octopre setup. I also have a GAP 73 kicking around that I can use if I need extra gain.

    There is also a rode NT4 stereo mic hanging about 4 meters above the stage, 2 meters in front. It gives a nice balance between the instruments, but the vocal is very distant sounding.

    In my mind, the best way to approach the recording is to set up the 2 x RN17's as an ORTF pair with cardioid caps on a high boom pointing down towards the group (see crappy mock up drawing).

    Classical Recording.jpg

    Spot mic the vocalist with the 414 a meter or less in front of her in figure 8 to minimise spill, use 2 x sE4's on the piano in XY (the lid is closed, but the little lid at the front is open), and spot mic each of the solo instruments with an sE 4400 in cardioid.

    I might also chuck a few mics at the back of the hall to capture some more ambience.

    How does this setup sound to the seasoned veterans around here? Very interested in feedback and opinions, as I'm not so experienced in the classical world!

    Thanks for your help!
  2. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    If you like the Rodes up there, why not use them and spot the vocal with the AKG? This would keep a minimum # of mics to help reduce phasing issues. Then you can try spotting any soloists with one of your SDC's...
  3. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    If I had to do it, I'd spot mic every musicien.
    The 2 Rupert Neve RN17 for the piano to get it in stereo, it's sad that the lid is closed, unless you can tape the mics to it (inside) about 3 inches away from the hammers.
    the 414 for the vocal but much closer (under 12'')
    you then need to try and listen to find which mic will work better with which instrument. (I guess the sE 4400 may fit to all of them.. but trying is not a waste of time)
    The RODE NT4 will be nice to have a ambient sound and will pick the audiance adding other mics is a good option.

    Remember that each mic that is far from an instrument will get a lot of bleeding, so everything you'll do on it while mixing will affect the other instruments it picks.
    That's why I prefer close mic when I can.
  4. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Assuming you have some rehearsal time for setting up, this is an instance where I would experiment with using an M-S configuration, in your case with the RN17s fitted with cardioid and fig-8 capsules. It would take a few tries to find a good position (distance and height) in front of the ensemble, and a lot would depend on the hall acoustics. Other than mentioning a "high boom", you haven't indicated what types of mic stands you have available or that there would be any restrictions (either with vision or stability) on where you place them.

    The vocalist would need a spot mic, probably (of the ones you list) the 414 in cardioid, positioned 3-4 feet from the singer at around waist height. The individual instruments would also need spotting, whether you used their tracks in the mix or not.

    The real bogey is going to be the closed-lid piano. If there is no compromise on the lid opening, I would see if you can borrow a couple of half-decent boundary mics that you could tape inside the lid and under the soundboard. Positioning any of the other mics on your list inside the instrument would result in a recording appropriate for jazz but unlikely to be so for this instance.

    When mixing, it's important to delay all the spot mics individually to a time just slightly later than where the corresponding sounds first register on the overhead pair.

    Are you allowed to say where and when the gig is? The songs aren't some of the Ralph Shapey Songs II by any chance are they?
  5. colonel_sanders

    colonel_sanders Active Member

    Thanks for your replies guys. I should mention that this is not a concert, so there will be no audience. I am also free to move the musicians and instruments around for the best sound.

    Moonbaby, I'm trying to cover all my options. If I'm happy with the NT4's sound, I may not use the spot mics in the mix at all!

    The Steinway in the room has a front and rear lid. The pianist opened the front lid while rehearsing, which exposed the hammers. Is it worth throwing the that close to the front of the piano? I imagine the sound will lack bass compared to mics positioned further down the piano. Otherwise I will chat to him to see if we can open the lid for the recording. The lid may have been closed out of convenience for the rehearsal.

    For mic stands I'll have a few regular boom stands and 2 sE stands. The sE stands can get to just over 3.2 meters high.

    Hey Boswell, I won't say yet :) but I can say its a single piece, and I don't believe it was composed by Ralph Shapey.

    I'm interested to hear your opinions on how best to place the musicians on the stage as well!

    Again, thanks for all your help!
  6. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    i would set mics up in pairs or threes. you don't have to use them all when you mix / render/ export but multiple pairs will give you some options.
    a Blumen array or a Decca tree is the accepted norm. here is an interesting article i found in SOS. Check this out from DPA too

    classical engineers take a lot of time and care to place mics in the sweet spot before they even bring the musicians into the room. this sounds like a lot of fun. lucky you

    images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQjWkMPZcIrtsoZpviDnkBXUN4yN7d3C0dBfEvYDaLy36loh4Sc.jpg images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTA-QILUWuM7xUvmQIOt5WiSvS_cpHslt9MJPQAn4hfgHeh-ERuAQ.png

    Blumlein array Decca Tree
  7. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I didn't realise you had that option! Try to get the vocalist in the centre, roughly in the curve of the piano but several feet forward of that point. I would keep the cellist roughly where you had him/her, but move the fiddle to audience left and the clarinet to audience right. Don't spread them out too far, certainly not the full 12m width. If I were to stand on the auditorium centre line I would check that I could see the pianist's body between the violin and the singer.

    Not having an audience is going to make the hall much more resonant than if it were full of bodies, so take care with mic patterns that have a rear pattern (e.g. Blumlein) that the echoes coming back from the hall are not detrimental to your front sound.

    Is the stage floor solid?
  8. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    An important consideration here is who will be listening to the recording. Most of the recipes that you have been given give you enough flexibility to mix in a very classical style (heavy emphasis on the main pair with a touch of the spot mics) or a pop style (mix of the spot mics with a little of the main pair for ambiance.) There's no right or wrong here - it's an aesthetic choice. It might be fun for you to do two mixes in different styles and see what the client (and/or you) really like. If you think you can make the choice in advance it goes a long way to answering the question of whether you put your best mics as the main pair or as spots.

    I guess that for maximum versatility I'd record the NT4, and second "main" pair in a different spot. (I'd normally go Blumlein, but any since you have an XY I might go ORTF or AB - depends on what kind of stereo bar you have.) Then I'd spot all five instruments with a single mic each. As everyone says, the big question is the closed piano. You might try a couple of positions with the idea of using no more than one in the final mix. I often use over the pianist's left shoulder for upright - that might work for a closed grand.
  9. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    FWIW-I am a professional classical musician and a classical location recording engineer. When I listen to any classical recording I want to hear it from the audience perspective. I do not want to hear individual mics at all. Pop music used to be recorded more in this fashion as well even though it was heavy on the spot mics attaining separation through gobos etc. My recommendation is to have a main stereo pair either M-S or ORTF or spaced omni's. I might consider spot miking the piano at the treble strut but only for definition. The piano will be the most powerful instrument there with the clarinet a VERY close second. The weakest instrument will either be the voice or the violin. I could not tell you which without hearing them. I have two vocalists that show up in the Yellowstone Chamber Players regularly, one of which is very powerful and the other is very lovely but the instrument itself does not have the RMS carrying power. Position of the singer to the main stereo pair will be the key especially since you do not require aesthetics of live concert. I often have to point a shotgun at the weaker singer. I am looking at miniature cardioids for viola spots from DPA or maybe Audix but spots in classical music are BARELY heard in the mix.
  10. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I freelanced a few times as an assistant for Telarc Records in Cleveland, who were the go-to guys for The Cleveland Orchestra. I can tell you that these cats used as minimal miking as possible, and as Kurt and Jack both mentioned, they relied a lot on arrays like Decca Trees and M-S / Blumlein. I don't ever recall seeing a scenario where there were close mics on any instrument, or, even over any section, for that matter, short of a soloist performer.

    Now, to be fair, they were also recording inside Severance Hall, which is world renowned for its acoustics.

    Remember that much of your success - or lack thereof - will be determined largely by the room itself. A room with nice acoustical signatures will take to multi-mic arrays very well. Rooms that lack those signatures, or that have poor signatures, will of course be problematic in terms of multi-mic arrays.

    I'd spot mic the soloist with the 414, but I would definitely look at "sweet spot" miking through the use of multiple pairs (M-S, Decca, X-Y) strategically placed. Now, as to where to place, that's something you'll have to find out on your own, by hopefully having early access to the venue. The trouble spots I would expect, would be the soloist vs. the stereo mics, and the piano mics vs the stereo mics.

    Most classical music is very dynamic, sometimes from a soft whisper to outright thunder. It's not easy to maintain the balances between instruments (or with the room mics) when music is this dynamically diverse.

    Good luck... it's a cool gig to do, and a learning experience that will stick with you for years to come.

    Severance Hall:

    TheJackAttack likes this.
  11. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    man is that beautiful
  12. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    I must admit that the notion of spot mics for a classical style recital performance worries me, just because it doesn't sound 'right'.

    For me - my first concern is the space itself. If it's a gorgeous sounding room, that's just live enough to let the musician's instruments sing properly, then I'll be looking at direct to stereo as my main source, and without an audience, I'll be shifting people about to get the balance right. If I can't get it right because for whatever reason, one source is just lacking. In this example, it could be the clarinet, depending on the maerial. If this is the case, then I'd spot mic it - but Boswell pointed out the problems of balancing spot mics - not just volume, but time arrival too - and, of course, matching the spacial location in terms of fore-aft, left and right. Spot mics need so much care.

    Most of the decisions can't be made until the day, when you hear the piano and find out if it's just too strident. You have quite a few options with a piano. Orientation (with the pianist's agreement) and the lid position make big differences. Full stick or half stick will help/hinder the sound in both balance and timbre. So spinning it around and using the open lid to beam the sound makes the job quite tough. What I'd never do is a multi mic recording and try to mix this to stereo locally. I've no problem using a stereo array, and close miking so I can have more options later, but I'd only really consider that in a dead sounding room, or maybe one that has less than good isolation from the outside world. This image is of the stereo mic I rather like, plus two close mics. We do quite a few different style recordings - much of our work is in theatres, so if you record piano to be replayed in a theatre, or other 'big sounding' space, then conventional stereo recordings have the space of the venue in the recording, but then if you play that in the venue, it sounds far too huge. Lots of our recording is of classical piano, but we record it really dry and close. We usually also record in stereo too, from further away, and on piano, Blumlein from this microphone is rather nice - but we treat this as a different recording, never trying to balance it with the close mics .

  13. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I just love the SF-24 . It's so smooth. I don't know how this would do for you, but The way I overcome the acoustics is so easy compared
    Tilting the back 8 towards the ceiling gives more height or aiming straight on gives room depth.
    I then simply push in it to remove less room to taste
    It captures so much of the performance as is, then use spots to get what you are missing and align it all

    I just love it. Best mic ever.
  14. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    After I had finished my assistant engineer gig with Telarc at Severance, I knew right then and there that I was absolutely NOWHERE near smart enough - or good enough as an engineer, to ever be one of "those" classical engineer cats.

    It is absolutely ALL about mic placement and acoustics. These guys weren't just bad ass recording engineers, they were acoustics experts as well. So often, they were tracking direct to 2 track, so you had like one shot at it. Sometimes they would track multi for backup, but not very often. Now, this was many years ago... 1989? 1990? In those days they were going direct to 2 track digital.

    So very much has change since in terms of technology. But... I know that while technology has changed, the fundamentals have not. Miking principles have not changed, acoustic theory hasn't changed, nor has the attention to detail and dynamics or the importance of capturing the performance as a whole in a hall that sounds, well...simply amazing.

    It was a tremendous learning experience for me, and I'll never regret having done it...but there's no way in hell I could ever hang with those guys. I simply wasn't smart enough.

    I felt like a janitor taking a crash course in neurosurgery. LOL

  15. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Donny, you shouldn't have felt like a janitor. What do you mean not smart enough? Yes you are. And I am one of those guys you're talking about LOL. I first began by recording operas and orchestras. And yes, be it MS, XY, ORTF. And a pair of left and right outriggers. I fly the main center pair. (My preference, unless not able to. In which case I use 12 foot tall stands.)

    Then, after speaking with the conductor, I'll know where to put my solo and highlight microphones. It doesn't sound wrong. It's simply more intimate and personable sounding. Some folks can't get enough reverb. Nevertheless, highlight microphones with symphonic recording, IS the professional way in which to go about making a recording of a symphony orchestra. It's all a matter of what ya like? Some people love ambience. Some people love intimacy. Both are good. Both can be had. You get it with multiple microphones in an excellent sounding hall/room/concert hall. And if the acoustics aren't good? And that happens sometimes with civic orchestras. I'll use a lot more microphones. I'll get my acoustic signature/ambience from a Lexicon, today, some plug-in.

    And if you worked with Telarc, 14 years ago? You would have worked with my father in the Cleveland Orchestra. He was the Associate Concertmaster. He died in 2000. He used to tell me about the Telarc guys. I would have gone up to Cleveland and sat in with the guys, if my dad had invited me. But he didn't. And he knew I'd been doing that my whole life.

    Some of my orchestral recording chops, were reinforced by Louis R. Mills Junior. He was my boss at the biggest recording studios south of New York City at the time. He used to be George Massenburg's boss. But at the time, George wasn't interested in doing orchestral or operatic recordings. So, George split off with Burgess McNeil. And they open their studio up and Hunt Valley, Maryland called, ITI. Ya might remember his parametric EQ?

    Louis was also the regular recording engineer, for all of the NPR, Baltimore Symphony broadcasts. I went out with him numerous times. On one occasion, (I wasn't there), Craig, the other partner with Lou, fumbled the Numan SM-69. It fell 30 feet to the floor. It was all busted up. They wrapped it up with gaffer's tape and it still worked LOL. Mostly, Lou only used the 69, and a pair of 87, outriggers. But we certainly had out, another half-dozen microphones. Those, he didn't use much.

    It was the same with the CBS, remote recording crew, at Carnegie Hall. They used a Left-Center-Right, set of 87's. About three rows back from the stage. From the seating area. This was not a performance. This was a recording. There was no audience. So don't skimp on the microphones. Even if you don't use them LOL. Because that's what Lou also taught me LMAO. He told me most of those other microphones, he just put out, for show. "It looks impressive. It makes them think you know something." And he was a fine pianist also. I was only 17 at the time. One day he couldn't do it. I had to do it. Most 17-year-olds don't get that kind of opportunity unless they're real good. Craig, the other partner could have done it but he didn't want to. He was the one that dropped the SM-69. Ya suppose that was it? Ya think?

    You're going to do fine! You're going to make a great recording. You're going to wonder why you haven't made more, fabulous, orchestral recordings? No rock 'n roll Bull She It. And where folks know how to tune their instruments in less than 30 seconds. Without an electronic tuner. What a concept? No wonder they invented the oboe. They didn't have any electronic tuners.

    I also followed John Ergel's, request, when as the primary engineer for RCA, CBS Masterworks and Chief Music Engineer for DEL0S, we discussed how I was going to record the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. I couldn't even use my pair of Beyer ribbons, no. John wanted me to use his Sanken pair of, CU-44's. He vetoed my ribbons as the primary pair. So these ended up having to be a pair of spaced cardioid's. Not my first choice. But I'm sitting there with the producer, record company owner. Yes, 1989, direct to a pair of Panasonic SV-3500, DAT recorders. And I had eight microphones out along with the Solo microphone for the Wagnerian soprano, Alessandra Marc. Which can still be ordered online. I also didn't get to use my API 3124 mixers. John had no problems with that. But I had to compromise because we were working in tandem with the New Zealand Radio engineers. So I had to use their darker sounding AMEK, BC-1. Not my first choice. I like ribbons on this particular Wagnerian soprano. I couldn't use them with that other mixer. In that respect, I switched her to a 414 B-ULS. So it kind of worked itself out, in the wash. Not my desired way of doing it.

    Obviously, in the end, it didn't matter, no. I still got nominated for a Grammy and it was the record companies largest selling release. No EQ was used. No dynamics processing. A little Lexicon for some greater extended high-end reverb. The reverb in the cathedral was dark sounding. A little Lexicon, in Plate mode, did the trick. And it wasn't even a good Lexicon. PCM-60, in 1989. It cost me $800 LOL. My 140 ST Plates were $1000 more than that, used. More like $2500. A bargain compared to Lexicon 224/480. Which were already out at the time when I bought my first EMT 140. But it's really my Studio Technologies, Stainless Steel plate. That always had the best, open and shortest high-end ambience. Not as smooth as the 140. Great for rock 'n roll. Almost too metallic for orchestral. Well it was too metallic. It was from Chicago.

    You'll do fine. You're good. You're real good. Don't worry. Don't overdo. Remember, the more microphones you put out, the more impressive you appear.

    Thanks Lou! (He died a couple years ago.)
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  16. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    I forgot to say those CBS guys relied on those 3 microphones, three rows back in the audience. That would be most of the recording. So, they still put out an additional 30 George Neuman's, on the orchestra. Through a CBS, in-house built, custom console to a pair of Ampex, MM-1000's. Granted, this was some years back. But as you said... folks still need to know how to do this. I agree. So don't sweat it buddy. You're good. You're from Cleveland! I don't know what that has to do with anything? But it sounds good. I mean what else can you remember about Cleveland? It's rusted. It's a good thing they have at least one good recording engineer named Donny. You're not too rusty are ya? I mean aria. No I mean solo. I don't know what I mean?
  17. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    There are many talented audio cats in Northeastern Ohio.

    What is your father's name? Perhaps I met him.

    Those engineers at Telarc were amazing. I was nowhere near their league at that time, and I'm not sure, after many years of experience and learning since, that I'd be all that much closer now.

    Which is fine.... I'm happy working in the confines of the studio. I never really desired to be a remote recording engineer anyway. ;)

    The thing about Severance - and I'm sure you already know this but I'll say it for those who don't - is that it sounds, well, fantastic. The acoustics are amazing. And, not to leave out credit where it's due, so are the musicians in The Cleveland Orchestra.

    Say what you want to about Cleveland - LOL... and so many already have - but it's the home of one of the best orchestras in the world, and their home - Severance Hall - is one of the finest sounding performance halls in the world.

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