Recording HS Marching/Concert Band

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by BobRogers, Oct 6, 2006.

  1. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    My daughter volunteered me to record the local HS marching band. (She's drum major.) They were only looking for a CD to practice marching to, so it was a rush job. I recorded them in their practice room which has surprisingly good acoustics. (At least I was surprised.) Never done this kind of thing before, and I don't have the worlds greatest equipment for it. But I was please with the way it turned out and I'd like to improve. (No good deed goes unpunished. I'm probably going to be doing this several times in the next two years.)

    So here's what I did. My main pair was Rode NT5s set in XY about six feet in front row and about seven feet up. (Limited by the size of the room, which is pretty tight and the height of my mic stand.) I put a C414 set on omni in front of the saxes and low brass. I spotted a couple of 57s in front of the trumpets. Used my A&H mixwiz for the preamps and went into an Alesis HD24. Mixed it on PTLE.

    I realize this is amateur hour, but I’d appreciate any suggestions on improving the setup. While equipment suggestions would be welcome, please keep in mind that this is for free. The stuff that brings in income for me is folk and rock bands. I’m more interested in suggestions on stereo pair placement and type. I would have liked to experiment with ORTF, etc, but this was a very quick job where they ran through the songs once after school before going out to the field to practice marching. Fortunately, I think it sounded good enough that the band director might take the time to concentrate on recording quality some time in the future. (Like spending ten more minutes tuning.)
  2. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest

    I have some experience with marching bands. I was a percussion arranger/instructor for 20 years before hanging it up to focus on recording in my spare time.

    If at all possible, try to record the band OUTSIDE, but in a stationary setting. This is the natural venue for them, and how they balance their playing is meant for this setting. Also, recording marching percussion indoors well is an exercise in futility .... these instruments are built to project without reflective surfaces everywhere. At the very least, see if there is an outdoor ampitheatre or shell ....that would certainly be better than a bandroom or an auditorium.

    I would stick with coincident or near-coincident techniques for this. The reason is that, if the drumline is good, you will get awful phasing with spaced techniques that mess up the articulation in the percussion. As a percussionist, this is very important to preserving the sound of the ensemble. A good ORTF main pr will be fine, and a few spots mixed in low and time-aligned wouldn't hurt, either.

    Good luck,
  3. ghellquist

    ghellquist Member

    Hi Bob.

    I will start this on a tangent and then come back to yuur questions. You have to stay with me a while and accept that I might sound like a know-it-all, it is not meant as bad is it sounds, more of a reflection of the issues I am personally working hard at.

    Firstly, why in earth do you want to record this? I mean, a bunch of people just ripping off the tunes from the paper, not even bothering to tune up their instrument. I guess your daughter does taint your judgement, but still, there has to be a million better bands already recorded?

    Answering the paragraph above is part of the home work, creating a vision of where you want to go. You need to be sure about your vision, what you want to achieve. It might be that you have already fulfilled your mission, if all that mattered was getting anything on tape. Maybe you have other ideas.

    Let me share an idea here. Maybe this could be the start of a quite different project? Maybe this could become a video, where you see all the swirling movements of the maching band? Or just maybe this could be the story of one person joining the band and having all that creative fun and graduating as a differen person a few years later? Or maybe this could be the record the members will bring out in 20 years time to cry a tear about their HS darling? The vision part is important for the producer part of the record. It will set the stage for what you are willing to do. A bit of thinking ahead will save you from doing a false start.

    Or , alternatively, why not simply have some fun and learn a bit about recording a marching band. The end result not the important part, but the learning process. Your choice.

    Once you have an idea where you want to go, it is time for the people skill part. You need the rest of the people to at least know about the vision and not actively work against it. I would start with the band leader. Take him out for coffe or dear hunting or whatever is usual in your circuits. Talk and work with him to get a common vision. Remember, any leader that has been around a while has seen all kinds of parents. Some of the parents are not really very nice to have to interact with. Well, work on placing yourself in the nice camp. Once you and the leader has a common vision it is much easier. Maybe all he wants is a CD he can put in the hands of new members? Maybe you want a top-quality CD giving you awards in the national press? If you attack this as differently as that, don´t expect a good cooperation.

    An example, maybe all that matters in the head of the leader is the figurative marching. All the noise is made by the drums anyway, so who cares about the rest? If this is how the leader sees it, well, I would walk away.

    Once you know what to aim for, it is time to go into production details: where to record (indoors/outdoors), should we get a pro playing the bass trombone as there is none in the orchestra, how many retakes of every song should we budget for, will we take one bar at a time, do we need to play with headphones. how many times will you be able to dry-run before starting in earnest, what equipment can we afford, what mic techniques should we use, should we get a lot of damping material into the room to improve the acuoustics, and so on.

    Well, a starting point. Maybe all this is super-clear to you. It sure wasn´t for me the first times around, not everytime now either. Helps a lot though to have an idea about the answers.

  4. ghellquist

    ghellquist Member

    Now something completely different.

    My starting point nowadays is either omnis or ORTF.

    XY that you started with is in my mind the best choice for recording small things rather close. For recording large things a bit further off, ORTF is often good. In a really good acoustic environment spaced omnis is better, and very rarely a pair of crossed figure 8-s is the ultimate.

    Back to ORTF..

    XY which you have tried is the idea to have two directional mics in the same position, but pointing different ways. Stereo information is the solely by the difference in volume in the two channels.

    If you spread the mics half a foot or so apart, still pointing outwards, you start getting another important stereo clue coming into play. In this case the difference in arrival time is the clue your brain starts to use for positioning stereo. This is what is used in a whole group of stereo techiques, sometimes clumped together as near-coincident.

    Now a digression. The French used to be the perferct bureucrats of Europe. Just an example, it took you four years of studies to be allowed to bake the national bread, baguette. It was very specified, a certain type o flour, and so much temperature and so on, all described in the state standards. Breaking them could put you in jail (I am exaggerating a little, not much though)

    ORTF was the state owned french radio. They decided that the only allowed stereo micing setup was 17centimeters (metric system, they were french), 110 degrees and with normal cardioids. Any discrepancy and it is not ORTF.

    Of course the Germans had to create a different standard, called DIN (Deutche Industrie Norm -- German industry standard). Aah, those were the days.

    Regardless, ORTF is a good starting point for micing large things like an orchestar. It is a technique well worth knowing, or modified when it fits the purpose.

    To me every on-location gig is an adventure. Nothing ever turns out exactly the way I plan (might be me, but still). So I start by getting to the place early, listening a lot. Perfect is if I am allowed to test record a lot of rehearsals and then doing critical listening at home.

    Anyway, in a hurry and unknown locality, my first setup if often ORTF. It takes a template to get the mics setup exactly like that, and I tell you before you get the right hardware it is impossible-- the back ends of the mics are in each others way.

    A good starting position is backing off enough from the orchestra so that the extreme left and right players are spaced 90 degrees from each other (another template is a good idea). Now all it takes (smiley here) is a bit of moving around. A bit up or down, a bit forward or backward to get the best balance. Easy as that (now, did I write easy? )

    Once I have a really good balance in the main mic pair, ORTF in this case, the rest is very easy. Simply add spot mics on the instruments that are not distinctive enough.

  5. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest

    Gunnar, I think you made a lot more out of this than was necessary. Bob said that the previous job was entirely utilitarian in nature, intended ONLY to serve as musical reference for the band when learning the marching aspect of their show. I'm sure it wasn't intended for anything more. I should know ... I was involved with bands for a long time and this sort of backup recording is valuable for focused drill practice, for color guards to learn their routines, etc. (In fact, many bands now use MIDI synth recordings of their scores when learning their visual presentations).

    I do agree, however, that the better product in the long run for an organization such as this is video (with, of course, synched 24-bit digital audio!)
  6. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Michael, Gunnar-

    Thanks for the tips. I wanted to try ORTF, but I didn't know about the room and I was a little worried about phasing issues. So I went with XY since I knew it would work and I was only getting one crack at it. They are on a really tight schedule - homecoming is tonight and state competition is in two weeks. My biggest regret is that I didn't get spot mics on the mallets and drumms One of the drummers playing quads is the best high school (or even college) drummer I've ever known (jazz drummer as well). The drum line has a good solo and it would have been nice to have spots - recording outside would have been even better - I had not thought about that.

    As far as the more general "vision" issues that Gunnar raises, things are really pretty clear. As Michael noted, the band director is looking at the recording as a teaching tool. Sound quality is a distant second. I'm doing this as a favor to her with the hope that I'll learn something while I do it. Of course, as long as I'm doing it, I'd like to sound as good as possible. The more musically interesting projects at the school would be the symphonic band and jazz band, so this was a good warmup for me.

    Gunnar, I don't know if you are familiar with US high school marching bands. Music is only one aspect. Marching, pagentry, and social interaction are at least as important. Music is chosen and scored to be playable by as many students as possible. As you say, videos are a much better record of the performance.

    Anyway, thanks again.
  7. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest

    Best of luck, Bob. Just be sure you record the symphonic band INDOORS. :)
  8. ghellquist

    ghellquist Member

    reading my post again I see I was coming on rather hard. I hope it did not harm you or the happiness you will have in recording. I read that into your last post.

    I have no experience of US HS marching bands, but I have played the trombone in similar circumstance over here (Sweden), in various types of "student" orchestras. Some of my best memories comes from these orchestras, we sure had a lot of fun. I am sort of glad there are no recordings though, I cannot fathom that we really did sound very pleasant. We did some studio recordings going to Vinyl (those were the days), but I do not own a record player anymore, and if the recordings exist they are packed somewere deep into storage. I still meet some of the people and we share memories, 20 years later.

  9. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member


    No problem at all. I thought your post gave a lot of good advice. The biggest reason that I felt it did not apply to me is that I had already followed a lot of it. I understood the goals of the project and was willing (and happy) to work toward that end. Would the situation have been the same if my daughter had not been a part of the band? No. But I was clear on the reasons for the project and I understood the the constraints. Thank for your tips -technical, philosophical, and otherwise.
  10. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I think there was a lot of good info exchanged, and to Bob: even though this is still something very informal and not nec. aimded at anything "Pro", perhaps you could turn it into something profitable in the long run.

    Why not offer CDs to the band(s) on a group basis? Perhaps make them available for $10-15 each (to the parents?) at the end of the season. (Assuming you get permission from the band director/school, of course.) You could also turn it into a fund-raiser for the school, promote it all season; tape the homecoming game/halftime show, etc.

    The video idea is a pretty good one, as well. Perhaps the audio will only get as far as "so-so", but if you add some interesting video to go with it, as a complete DVD, who knows? I can imagine a master shot to show the whole band, and then two or three closeup angles edited in with it. If you get a couple of volunteers and DV cameras (which are ubiquitous these days) you could possibly end up with a couple of usuable shots of the action on the field, and then edit it together for the DVD, for either a yearbook/memories retrospective, or a training video for the band director.

    If they have band competitions in your area, you may have a potential goldmine waiting for you here too. All you'd need is permission from the host school to sanction you, and some advance planning to offer copies to the participating bands. They do it all the time with hockey pictures, gynmastic competitions, etc. It might be worth your time to have a crew in place to tape an entire competition, and make copies of the event available (for a fee of course) to all the participants.

    Maybe it's a dumb idea, maybe not.... :wink:
  11. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Joe- I am planning to offer to help the band director record CDs to use as fund raisers. I'm thinking that rather than sell the CDs, they should look for donations and give the CDs as a "gift." After all, while our county's music program is quite good and the various bands are well worth hearing live (especially for free) buying a CD of them for the same price as a recording of a professional orchestra/jazz band is an act of charity.

    I not planning to do anything about this right now, but I do think there are some reasonable commercial opportunities here. The one place that people are already making money is at the District/Regional/State orchestra performances. At all of the events my daughter has been in so far, the performances have been recorded very simply. Usually a pair of spaced omnis - most don't even take a direct feed from the PA mic, so if the conductors' comments are included they sound terrible. You order a CD mailed to you in a few weeks for $20. Packaging has been rudimentary and recording quality is reasonable considering the recording is being made in a school auditorium, but nothing to write home about. (They always use a school with decent acoustics, but I've never walked into a HS auditorium and thought "I wish I could record here..")

    At any rate, I wonder if one could not increase both sales and profit margin on these recordings by offering them immediately after the performance. I noticed at Floydfest this summer that they were doing a very good business selling live recordings on the spot. They were just taking a stereo feed from the board, limiting, normalizing (I assume) burning the CDs and putting little printed sticky labels on the CDs and the envelopes. Yes, quality was sacrificed for speed, but in fact the packaging quality wasn't that much worse than the CDs I waited for, and I really wonder how much improvement there is musically between quick and dirty postproduction work and the work done on the CDs I got in the mail.

    I would think that with a two person operation, standard recording equipment, a printer, a couple of burner towers you could handle recording, manufacutring, sales, and distribution of these very raw mixes on the spot. And it would be a one night engagement with the cash paid directly to you. With a marching band competition you could use a stationary camera that took in the whole field and one stereo pair. (You are never going to get the greatest sound while they are marching.) Anyway, it would be worth pushing the numbers around to see if this makes sense.
  12. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Anyway, it would be worth pushing the numbers around to see if this makes sense.

    Yes indeed. GMTA. Who knows? Sometimes a little idea grows into something much bigger. Sometimes born out of a need that's been left unattended, sometimes born out of inspiration.

    The on-the-spot CD sales after the concert is a growing trend. You can have most of the printing done ahead of time as well...even printing on the CD itself. Just update the jewel case with the titles, or dont' even go that deep..the artist, the date, and the venue would be enough for a "live/Raw" CD. Show up with a bunch of preprinted material and just burn the copies, shove 'em in the cases and off you go. (Shrinkwrapping probably isn't even necessary either, because they'll want to play it asap.)

    Once upon a time, there were these two guys who wanted to share videos over the web, and had no easy way to do it. So, they fooled around with a little venture capital, got some advertisers, and gave it a really silly name (YouTube) and offered it free to colleges kids and other nerds with computers.....
  13. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    Sorry to bust in on your party but...

    Even though it is done that way all the time, unless I missed something... by law someone is required to PAY mechanical rights for the music used as fundraisers or even as gifts.
    It can be easily done (especially for schools) via Harry Fox's website and most music publishers have Harry Fox handle their mech's. and the cost is about .08/song per unit.

    We record a holiday CD every year and it is by far the best fundraiser we do. But we do so legally (it wouldn't fly otherwise because Hal Leonard is right up the street and lots of the employees (including VPs)children go to the school I teach in)

    You can get the license for an entire Cd done in less than an hour if they're all listed and you do so without threat of a lawsuit.

    Somehow a number of people who rant and rave about pirated software and cracked codes and illegal downloading are content to take $ away from writers, arrangers and publishers without a second thought.
    (this is meant to inform all readers of this thread, I'm not attacking anyone on this thread or suggesting they might be doing it... it just hasn't been mentioned at all and feel it is directly related to the subject at hand)
  14. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    But of course! Any time we do a school-funded event or contest recording with groups, etc., there's a mandatory filing of right with Harry Fox, etc. Any school that's ever hired us has made sure (in writing) that it's covered ahead of time and paid for before letting the project go forward. It's simply not worth running without an agreement with them already in place.

    Conversely, many works are in public domain (well, the classical stuff is). Some Choral groups handle it all themselves when they're obtaining performance rights. I've seen contracts where they roll the cost into a single performance/recording agreement and they're covered.

    Always best to check, though. :cool:
  15. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Absolutely. Mechanicals are part of the basic production costs if used in a fundraiser. One thing that I'm not sure of - If each member of the band got a copy, would you have to pay mechanicals on those? It would only matter if you were moving more disks than the 500 CD Harry Fox minimum, but with like 75-100 kids in the band that can add up to a lot of "personal copies."
  16. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member


    It is my understanding (don't quote me on this, like with all things legal, consult an attorney who specializes in this stuff) But....

    I believe a recording of a performance for archival purposes is allowed for the performers - as soon as it would go to family, friends, etc... I'm pretty sure mechanicals are required despite the quantity.
    The 500 number is just so you can do it online, fewer than that, I think is still done the old fashioned way.
  17. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    This is a bit tangential to the discussion, but I just got in a Rode Stereo Shotgun Mic for my digital camcorder. My camcorder is just a piece of consumer gear and the mic is probably not going to make anyone trade in their Schoeps, but it made a very big improvement in the sound quality of my camcorder recordings. If anyone is taking home movies of their kids musical events it's a nice piece of equipment at a nice price. The one drawback is that it is pretty big. (Not that big. The latest camera and the mic together are lighter than the last generation camera.) I wouldn't bother with it if I was filming something like a party. But at a concert I usually have the camera on a tripod anyway.
  18. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    looks good, Bob! Let us know how you like it after you've used it for a while.

    I like my NT-4 a lot; I was in Ireland for 10 day shooting a lot of musical sessions (as well as all the scenery) and I put the NT4 on a short stand, usually on a table or something near the musicians. Ran it into my camera's XLR ins, and WOW...what a big difference from the onboard mics!
  19. TeddyBullard

    TeddyBullard Guest

    Bruce Swedien uses nT-4s too.

    (acoustic guitar)

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