Orchestral Soundtrack location recording advice

Discussion in 'Orchestra' started by JoeH, Jan 30, 2007.

  1. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I've been asked to put some numbers together for a location recording of 60 pc orchestra, performing live to clicktrack & picture. (We have the hall, the players are union, and there's a finite budget already in place.)

    The conductor wants a click track into headphones for all 60 players (!!!) in addition to two plasma screens - one for him and one for the players, both playing picture from a DVD with burned-in time code and click track.

    Aside from the obvious logistical aspects of this, (I have plenty of mics and multitrack recording capabilities to pull off the recording side of things), I will need prices for headphone amps & rentals.

    Anyone have any contacts or knowledge of cost and availability for this sort of thing? I will be building a price list for the HP and amps rental for a 3-day session. (Which will mean probably four day rental - delivery & return, etc.)

    I'll probably have to rent from NYC or anywhere else on the East Coast, but I'm open to suggestions. I can't tell you who it's for yet, but if it happens, I'll tell all once it's completed.
  2. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    We will be doing a similar recording project later this spring if the client can find the money. The difference is our chamber orchestra will only have about 30 or so players and the only ones wearing headphones will be the conductor, the percussionist and the concert master.

    I really don't see why all the orchestra members have to have headphones on and I think it is really going to BUG them big time if they are not use to playing with headphones. As to renting that amount of headphones....good luck

    Based on experience every player will want his or her own volume control and will also want to control what it is that they are hearing (their section, click track, percussion, bass line, etc.)....I think this is going to turn into one big mess......Can you talk honestly with the conductor and tell him or her what the problems are likely to be?

    When I worked for the college here in town we did a piece where every member of an ensemble had to have a click track earphone. We specially built splitter boxes and ordered 50 TELEX "in the ear headphones". The first rehearsal was a real mess and NO ONE was happy with their phone levels which proved to be the biggest problem. It also took over two hours to setup and tear down the headphone setup for each rehearsal and concert and keeping all the wires coiled up and untangled was a Herculean task in itself. I wish you the only the BEST! and good LUCK!This is a real "can of worms" and I don't think the conductor has any idea of what he or she is asking for or will having to deal with during the recording session.....
  3. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Yeah, it seems like the conductor simply doesn't understand the recording process. I wonder if he's ever worked on something like this before where all of his players actually had cans...
  4. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I agree with both David and Tom. The conductor must have seen some scoring session on MTV or something and thinks that all the musicians want headphones...

    I'll tell you right now, if any conductor or engineer ever asks me to play with cans on, I'll ask him (or her) if they LIKE intonation and good tone or if they would prefer to hire someone else - those would be their options.

    However, if you MUST do the headphone route, it's honestly almost as cheap to buy as it is to rent. At least then you could recoup some of your losses by selling some of it on ebay later. The B****nger headphone amps have like 12 outputs and they're dirt cheap. 5 of those with 60 of the el-cheapo AKGs or Sennheisers or ATs or Apexes or whatever else and you're coming in around $1200 for the whole deal. Charge the client for 80% of that as a "rental" fee. Keep what you need when you're done and sell the rest.

    Label each can with a letter (corresponding to the HP amp) and a number (corresponding to the output on that amp) and when someone wants their level adjusted, have them state their number and how they want it adjusted.

    It's a SERIOUS pain in the ass (as mentioned already). We did a project like this 5 years ago and I will never do something like that again! I think one for the conductor, concert master and lead/principal percussionist (and maybe one for the principal trumpet) would be appropriate.

    Good luck!!!

    Let me know if you need a few extra cans. I've got 3 or so pair I could loan out if they come back in good condition.

  5. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Hey Joe-

    I've got a fair amount of experience doing exactly this... Drop me a line and I can help you out- I'll be reachable (driving) from about noon on tomorrow.

    In short-

    Headphones are fine, but you should go single ear. I use Beyer DT102 here (I think that's the number). I usually send them a monitor mix of themselves as well as click track, etc... Pre-records are also always in the cans as the musicians need to hear them for a pitch reference. Here in LA, most experienced players will want to bring their own headphones- this is fine, but be aware of click bleed issues.

    Last gig I did was actually a live performance thing where I had click, prerecords, and a live orchestra. I gave the Orchestra an AVIOM system so they could dial in their own mix. Everything was on CAT-5 so it was easy to set up. With the proper break-out box, I didn't even need power for the mixers. It took awile to teach the musicians how to use the boxes, but once they knew them, they pretty much liked them. Certainly made my life easier. That said, 90% of the mixes were heavy on click and very light on everything else.

    In the big sessions here in town, there is a monitor mixer on the stage and then the score mixer is in the control room. In the smaller sessions, I'll run cans from my console in the CR. The most convenient way to run will be a standard amplifier running out to headphone boxes with individual volume controls. You'll probably be able to put a dozen or so cans on each amp- you need to sit down with the pencil and paper to figure that one out to make sure loading is ok.

    I wouldn't give the musicians a monitor, either... You want them watching the music- not the movie. Put a TV in front of the conductor and project against the back wall behind the orchestra.

    Next, I'd be careful playing off a DVD- you want your session locked to picture. If you do use a DVD, have them put code as an audio track so that you can lock your DAW to the timecode. Otherwise, the re-sync can seriously suck in post.

    Not to harp on ya Jeremy, but you bring that attitude into LA, you'll never work. Playing with cans is a good skill to have. Scoring sessions can certainly be fun to play and they don't have to be a compromise of sound/intonation to get a good performance with cans. You should see somebody like Rick Todd or Malcom McNabb go when the red light goes on. Un-freakin-believable what those guys can do in the studio.

  6. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Well...not quite. Many of the studio horn players (such as Vince DeRosa, Jim Decker, Jim Thatcher, and others) don't like to use cans either (not to say they won't or don't, but there is obviously a preference). Furthermore, Joe's not dealing with seasoned studio musicians presumably. They're probably standard symphony players. A symphony player will NOT like the headphones.

    Besides...I've got no plan to move to LA to play in sessions. I like orchestral music too much.

  7. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Thanks for all the great advice, guys! (And keep it comin' if anyone has more.)

    I can't reveal too much about the client & the project just yet. As many of you know, this kind of thing can vaporize in seconds if something gets out of whack and tanks the whole production. (We'll see!)

    I'm in agreement about the single-ear muff devices, going with full coverage with musicians who need to hear themselves for intonation would be difficult, if not impossible. (I can only imagine the nightmare of monitor mixing hassles for that!)

    I'll reveal the client and the project once it's up and running, or nearing completion. If it flies, it should be a lot of fun, and perhaps even a tad historical.
    (Ben, I'll be in touch with you about your post and some other info.)

    Thanks again, everyone, it's been really helpful and eye opening.
  8. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    You might be a little behind the times. Symphony players who like to make extra dough and do something different are usually adept at the ways of the studio. In Nashville all the symphony guys were at peace with the compromises that entailed, and that goes for most major cities.

  9. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I can't reveal TOO much, but the conductor is a fairly heavy-hitter in the biz, at least B'way and Orchestral arrangements, etc. I didn't know the guy by name, but I googled him and have to admit he's got the chops and the experience. (The client's budget may dictate the number of HPs as much as anything else.)

    The musicians are A- and B+ level players. (NOT the Phila orch, but the next level down, and many of them sub for the Philly O from time to time.) I've done smaller sessions with many of them on headsets, actually, doing some Video Game soundtracks, over dubbing sections at a time, so they're not total novices. Plus, many of these folks are in the pit locally for all the professional operas in town, along with various ballet and other first-call "Classical" stuff. They know their way around. (And we're not that far from NFL Films' soundstage in Mount Laurel, NJ, where many of them have done sessions as well over there.) In most cases in Philly, you're either full-time with the Philly O, or you're busy doing literally everything else.

    It's also interesting to note that just about all of the players currently working professionally are younger than they used to be, and therefore much more accepting of technology in general. There are very few total "Purists" out there - not if they want to work in today's myriad situatons they find themselves in.

    There's just not a lot of really "OLD" (read: out of touch and inflexible) folks on stage anymore, not like it used to be... I've seen opera singers adapt to and accept lavalier mics (for a specific spoken-word moment in a very loud, sound-effects laden moment in a non-traditional operatic role), and I've done as many as 24 tracks on full out orchestral/theatrical work with choir, soloists and full Chamber Orchestra, so they're used to all the mics onstage and the technical side of things. I'm not knocking the older musicians, but it's changed a LOT since I started doing this 20-some years ago. Back then, mics were an imposition, and it was only the biggest of budgets that could afford to record. (ANd those budgets meant more $$$ for the players. Not so anymore, sadly...)

    With today's technology all around us, in every part of life, musicians are hipper and more accepting of the technology involved. Very often, the players themselves approach me after a particularly good concert and sign up for copies for themselves; the idea of a CD of what they did (even the pro's and more jaded types) has that instant-gratificiation appeal to many. It just didn't work that way years ago.

    I think it's going to work out in terms of the players "getting it", but the cost of a system - even a rental, with single ear breakouts for all - is a very real concern.

    More as it happens. :roll:
  10. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Joe, he probably remembers the old RCA and CBS studios in New York? I had been in the old RCA studios a couple of times, where I sat in on some orchestral recordings, before it went away, just before General Electric bought them and it was an amazing facility! With those huge movable, wooden poly cylindrical diffusers, that I had only seen pictures of. It was fabulous!

    Maybe FifthCircle can send you some pictures of recording sessions that are similar to what you're going to do, to show the conductor, to convince him with the suggestions that others have made here? I mean 60 headphones is going to cause quite a racket that will foldback into the microphones anyhow.

    Sure, I think they probably had 80 headphones available!? But it wasn't a location job.

    I remember seeing a piece of percussion gear that said "Toscanini, NBC orchestra" on it, in the early 1980s! WOW!

    You might want to look into a university language lab system? Talk about headphone distribution. Maybe the United nation's system? Not the same.

    This is a tough one.
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  11. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Running 60 headphones is really no worse than running 10. The bleed issue is definitely one to deal with, but that is why I recommend the Beyer closed ear single-muff headphones. The way you mic when dealing with this many cans is also important. Getting the majority of your sound from your overhead mics and then using spots for detail and bringing instruments/sections in and out of focus is a wise approach here.

    I wouldn't worry about players not playing in tune because they have a single-ear muff running. You can still hear plenty well with a single ear and you MUST have everybody on click and they should hear something of the orchestra back as well. Be aware in their headphone mix also the louder the backing tracks etc... in their cans, the louder they will want the click. Having them crank the level will increase bleed issues so be careful with the sound in their cans. Also, compression and EQ of the click can also help with bleed issues while recording.

  12. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Sorry, I don't think so. It's one thing to play in a studio to backing tracks with cans on. I've done it (for an off-broadway religious-based play soundtrack as a solo horn for intro to their finale) but if I were to play in a section of my peers, it is essential that I hear them. Our section and most others that I've played in pride ourselves on our ability to almost read eachothers' minds. When one is tired, the others help out without having to even so much as give a visual cue as to such. When the principal is flat, we adjust accordingly. Articulations and balance are all done on the fly. These are things which cannot be done in cans.

    Sure, great studio musicians do it but that's because that's what they're accustomed to and they work in that medium all the time. Also, they have their own way of cueing eachother in more visual means.

    As for "most other major cities..." I would hardly equate Nashville and LA to other major cities. I've studied with major symphony players from orchestras including Chicago Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, National Symphony, Seattle Sympony, Dallas, Arkansas Symphony and others (extensively with National, Baltimore and Arkansas - respectively Marty Hackleman - NSO, Vancouver Symphony, and Canadian Brass; Peter Landgren, BSO, and Robin Dauer, ASO). I dare say that these individuals have no love of playing in cans either.

    Again, my point is, as a standard symphony horn player (I could care less about the other instruments, I'm focusing on horn here because that's what I know) they will NOT like playing with cans. Period.

    I have posed this question to the horn forum and have received unanimous replies as to the dislike of headphones - many from very famous and quite accomplished players. As soon as I receive permission to quote these individuals, I will post some of their comments and their credentials. Heck, if you'd like, I'll post their e-mail addresses so you can feel free to contact them and inform them that they are behind the times as well.

    Cheers -

  13. ihooft

    ihooft Guest

    What's the point of having the conductor there if all the musicians are listening to a click? The conductor is there so they all don't have to listen to one! Give the conductor the click and he should conduct the orchestra to the video. Just my opinion, but this will save you a huge headache.

  14. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Provided your conductor is doing more than just beating time, there is a great need for a conductor- even when there is a click. To keep the entire orchestra together, though, you need them all on the click. If you have rhythmic passages, you will only have them together with the click if everybody is on the same bassis of time. This will only happen if everybody is on cans. You'll get close if everybody is watching the conductor, but the time will slide- it is only human nature.

  15. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Couldn't agree more!

    I don't understand this... orchestras have "stayed with the conductor" for centuries before the click track and will continue to do so without it. It may just be the extreme competitive nature of the DC metro region's classical music scene (we have one of the most competitive scenes in the world thanks to the several military wind and string ensembles employing some of the nation's finest musicians all concentrated in one area). But...in this area, if you can't stick with the conductor - even if you vary a little...you're replaced (read: fired). A percussion colleague of mine was just fired from a mid-level symphony job because he played a couple measures off from the conductor. Granted it nearly disrupted the entire concert, but still....no grace periods for musicians.

    Cheers -
  16. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Ever play under a conductor with a soft down beat?

    It isn't about players not being able to play with a conductor. It is about players playing with the film. Timings often need to be exact for hits in a film. Most folks doing sequences will calculate out a tempo to 3 decimal places to make this happen. Conductor's patterns aside, there is a bit of a lag when you watch- it may all be together in the group, but the conductor's lag plus the musician lag results in not playing to the film. Remember- it isn't about the art of playing in an orchestra. It is about making the music in the film work for whatever needs to happen. The way that happens in today's world is through the use of a click track.

    Heck, on the video playback, you have streamers to warn the conductor what is coming up (tempo changes, end of cue, etc...).

    Yes, in the old days, conductors free-conducted (and even on occasion today, you'll find somebody like John Williams doing that on a specific cue if he thinks it needs the freedom), but the music was very different than what you get today. In a world of sequencers, etc... you need things to be exact.

  17. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Thanks for the clarification...good points.

    Of course, I do still feel the necessity to caution that most symphony (non-studio) musicians (specifically horns) will not take kindly to cans. But...I've made that statement a few times, so I guess I'm now officially beating a dead horse...;)
  18. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    I can see that I was not clear-- I don't know anyone who LIKES to play with cans, but I don't know anyone that REFUSES to.

    In thinking back to musicians I've worked with (which includes Chicago, Atlanta, and Nashville), I played with most of them in both scenarios-- on stage playing art music, and in the studio (some big and some small) playing sessions.

    Today you will be hard-pressed to find a recording of non-concert repertoire (soundtrack, etc) that was done without cans. And I will stick with my original point-- in major cities most of the symphony players have done the headphone thing. "Headphones" is synonymous with extra money.

  19. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I understand your point...I really do. But I do mean to say that many WILL refuse to play with them. Let's put it this way, some musicians do not need the supplemental income or care about studio sessions. If they get booked for a gig and they are required to use cans, they will call their subs. (and if their subs like their jobs, they won't turn the gig down.)

    Take for example the following quote excerpted in its entirety from Mr. Hans Pizka:

    I will allow Mr. Pizka's introduction to stand for itself:

    I think, despite the occasional broken english, Mr. Pizka's sentiment and sarcasm speak volumes. He is largely regarded as one of the world's finest hornplayers. No doubt he is a very opinionated person, but with his kind of experience, I certainly find no fault with his right to his opinions (and quite often agree with them).

    I'm hoping to get Mr. Clevenger's take on this as well. In addition to being another of the greats in the horn world, he too is opinionated and outspoken and I dare say quite right in his outspoken nature.

    Cheers -

  20. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    I am REALLY looking forward to hearing Dale's thoughts, as I played contra-bass trombone with the CSO several times when he was playing (I was one of many "extra" trombone operators over the years) as well as on several sessions where I saw him........ wearing HEADPHONES.

    Again, no one liked it, but we did it, and it was not for the sake of art, either. As for Bavaria-- I couldn't agree with Herr Pitzka more when he says:

    No one is suggesting the performing of classical music with a cue track, but I haven't heard any evidence to suggest that "studio" material has been recorded without cans in the last 30 years.

    This is a digression that has gone far afield-- perhaps we could simply respond to Joe's questions?


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