Recording Strings - Miking Suggestions

Discussion in 'Strings' started by TanTan, Dec 26, 2004.

  1. TanTan

    TanTan Guest

    Hi all ,

    I want your opinions about a specific recording session .
    I'm recording a new album for a very well known old-school pop singer , and we are going to record strings on Monday , there are 10 philharmonic strings players :
    2x 1st Violin
    2x 2nd Violin
    2x Violas
    2x Cellos

    The studio is a wooden floor and wooden ceiling , the dimensions are 3x6 meters (but only 3x4 meters is a recording space) and 5 meters(!) hight (with a nice angel) , i have another small (2x3) room ,but i'm think i'll record all the players at the same room for that bleed ...

    I need your opinions about miking this sessions , i thought about an x\y miking configuration about one meter from the first line of players and 2.5 meter hight,
    I have good mikes choices but i only have a pair of c451's (i also have a Lawson47 , a 414btl-2 , Neumann 103 ,ck1 and lots of dynamic mics available).

    Thank you !!!
  2. JoeH

    JoeH Distinguished Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    I have a couple of additional questions before giving blanket recommendations on mics, but I WOULD suggest avoiding the dynamic mics altogether and keep the players all in the same room, for starters.

    Is there a click track, or basic track they'll be playing to? Should we assume this is going to be just a "Bed" of warm lush strings, or will there be solo moments or serious counterpoint/harmonizations within the ensemble? What is the rest of the track going to involve? (Four-on-the-floor rock'n'roll track, or other dense (r'n'b) tracks?

    In other words, what is the producer of the song going to ask for when it's time to mix the song? Will the strings play an important part in the overall sound with a highly detailed approach featuring individual players, or is it icing on the cake?

    You may have one mindset, the producer may have another when it's mixdown time, and you don't want your ass in a sling when the player$ are all gone and there's nothing you can do to change it. Many 'Pro' string players know the difference in a recording date between playing big long whole notes droning on in a pop song vs. a truly challenging string part. (Give your client an E for effort for including string parts, but it's rarely anything challenging - other than to stay in tune and proper intonation.) This mindset may or may not affect what they expect in the mix.

    Talk to the arranger/composer as well, far in advance. Get a copy of the conductors score or reduction and take a look at it, esp in how it relates to the rest of the arrangement already in place.

    If necessary, try to get them to give you an example of a current recording with a similar string sound that they're looking to emulate or build from. (You'll at least know if you're in the ballpark in terms of what's possible or not possible.)

    The client may have a specific vision of the way the strings are going to sound in the final arrangement/mix, and you certainly want to be able to deliver the goods, while keeping all your options open. (Hopefully, you'll have lots of free tracks open, so you may be able to print several mic'ing options and give them choices when mixing.) Perhaps you can get a 2-mix of the existing songs you'll be doing, and work with a "NEW" multitrack take - thus giving you tons of tracks to work with, mix, and ultimately bounce string mixes (with options A, B, C, etc.) over to the other (real) master later.

    You didn't mention if there's going to be headphone playback for each player (I hope there is, if it's a backing track - the less bleed into the soundstage of the strings, the better!) You may also want to consider having them play their parts twice, as a natural thickener, or double-tracking effect. (potentially doubling your string sound, too, if done correctly.) Assuming these are cracker-jack professional players, you may be amazed at the results of something like this. Most pro classical players are astoundingly accurate in terms of intonation and tempo; this may be an amazing way to do double-tracking with minimal fuss. (Of course, your playback/monitoring will have to be up to snuff, as well to pull this sort of thing off may want to attempt it AFTER a lunch break or something. ;-)

    BE AWARE: The composer/arranger may also want to add synth or sampled strings as well (thickening, texture, etc.) so always stop to tune & retune as needed; chances are good the string players all have their A-440 tuners at the ready, but it's not uncommon at all to adjust their "master tuning" reference to your tracks. (You DID print tones or have someone check tuning on the backing tracks, yes??)

    Find out how long the string players are contracted for (assuming this is for real $$, yes?) and pace the session accordingly.

    Find out who's conducting the session, or if they'll just let the first violinist be the concertmaster and call the shots. Make sure they know who you are; say hello and politely (and decisively) discuss your sonic goals with them, giving them some idea of YOUR needs as the engineer/producer. Believe me, this goes a LONG way to making them comfortable and respected. True professionals WANT to know what's expected of them. Take their advice gracefully, if it's being offered, but don't let the second violinist tell you how to do your job, either..... (Yes, I speak from experience. ;-)

    You will need to have one as the "boss" or main contractor, and you may need to take him/her aside from time to time for more private consults on tunings, intonation, retakes etc. Perhaps take them into the control room for playback, etc. Don't always trust your own ears, it never hurts to get a second opinion, as long as you don't lose control of the session and who's making the final decisions. Avoid picking on or embarassing any one player if there's an obvious problem. Chances are, they've all worked together before "in the trenches" and they know who the weak links are and they tend to "police" themselves. (Again, enlist your leader contractor's help for BIG problems - privately, if possible.)

    They may justifiably want 20 minutes or so ahead of time to run the parts and discuss bowings, slurs, and when/how/where to re-enter passages, etc. (Hopefully, your client has hired a good librarian/arranger to create clean, clear, legible parts for everyone to use). No matter how "easy" the part may be, don't expect them to be clairvoyant and walk in knowing the parts automatically. Remember too that most professional string players SIGHT READ just about everything put in front of them; there's just not enough time in their busy days to learn things by rote or by heart, and they will need good lighting, stands, and at least a LITTLE time to prepare. Build this into your timetable.

    After you've given them time to warm up & run the parts, start getting working takes...sometimes coming back to the earliest things you did, before the session ends. (I'm guessing it's a 2 or 4 hr call, with a break in the middle?) Sometimes the sound of the ensemble will really gel by the halfway mark in the session, and you may want to go back and redo the stuff you did first. Sometimes it's an amazing difference for the better.

    While you certainly want the best possible recording - detailed notes, full range of sound & dynamics, good stereo imaging, etc. etc. - You do need to know where/how this is going to end up in the final mix. It shouldn' t COMPLETELY alter your approach, good sound is good sound regardless, but it really helps to know what's coming further down the line, esp since you mention it's for a well known POP singer - vs. a recording of a new composition for 10 strings, ya know what I mean? ;-)

    Sorry if I veered off from your original post (mic choices) but this whole thing got me thinking about what will LITERALLY happen during a session like this. And (no offense), if you've never done something like this before, you're in for a few surprises (hopefully pleasant ones).

    A room full of 10 string players is a VERY VERY different gang than a rock/pop band, and you'll find there's a very differnt dynamic going on; once they tune & warm up there really wont be much fooling around or people wasting a moment of your time. Try to have everything setup beforehand, at least mics & cables on the stands, ready to position. You'll want to start getting levels ASAP, or during the warmups & runthroughs. You will be amazed at how fast this will run past you, and any chance for retakes based on YOUR mistakes will be costly. (Make sure you have a helper/assistant/runner...even if they sit and do nothing during the session, you'll be glad you paid for their presence.)

    Lastly, remember that time is money; this sounds to me like several thousand dollars are at stake for this session alone (again, assuming they're all pro players getting standard rates w/recording fees as well), so don't take ANY of it lightly. Plan ahead (can't emphasize this enough!!!) Do a dry run the night before if you can; Check and double check your gear, and have a plan B and C ready to go in case of train-wrecks. Take care of all that (plus mic choices you'll get from other posters here) and you'll be gold for your clients.

    After you get some mic tips, have a great session and do let us know how it comes out!
  3. Ellegaard

    Ellegaard Active Member

    Feb 17, 2004
    Central Copenhagen
    Joe, that's just about the best description of string recording for pop tunes I've read this far. Excellent post! There's a couple of things I would like to stress, although you already said it clearly:

    * If the session starts at 10 a.m., the tapes should be rolling at 10 a.m. There's nothing as frustrating for a professional violinist when you show up early in order to check the music for fingerings and bowings, tune the instruments, warm up and be ready to play as scheduled, and then the engineer is still running around setting the microphone stands up. Even though one's getting payed by the hour, it totally sucks to waste an extra hour because the session is poorly planned or technical things screw up. Big no-no - the guys will never work with you again!

    * Know the music, get your hands on the score, be open to suggestions, and be professional. Joe mentioned it - string parts for pop tunes are rarely any challenge at all, but yet it's my experience that if the parts are well written and arranged, chances are the musicians will also approach them more seriously. I've been sitting with pop arrangements that had notes written lower than the lowest G on the violin; that's pretty much like saying, "what the hell, I will pay you, but actually I don't care if you or my Triton synth plays the part!".

    * Be critical, but also realistic. Your aim should be to get just a couple of different takes for each part, but know when a take is perfect. There's nothing like just having played a perfect part and the producer saying, "excellent, guys ... erm ... I think we'll just take another one...!".

    Concerning microphone setup: In a room like you describe, I would pay close attention to the fast reflections off the walls. 5 meters to the ceiling sounds great - but 3x6 meters is nothing near ideal. I would probably mainly go for cardioid microphones and avoid omni patterns. I would also attempt to reach a balance between natural reflections and dampening - perhaps not necessary if there's already some furniture in the room, but just enough to avoid too much 'ringing' by, for instance, setting up a couple of mattresses, bringing in a sofa, or something like that.

    Classical musicians don't like playing with headphones on. It just feels odd because all of a sudden you can only hear what the microphone picks up and not all the details you're used to such as the sound of the rosin, fingers slapping down at the fingerboard and all such things. It can slightly affect the intonation and control. Another thing is that there will be absolutely no ensemble playing if 10 musicians are sitting with each of their closed headphones in the same room - they could just as well be tracking their parts individually. In my opinion, it can often be better ensemblewise to entirely skip headphones and just give the conductor a click track, assuming the string arrangement can stand alone, more or less. (At least, it's an option that's worth considering. If it works, it sounds better and saves you for wasting time showing the musicians where to turn the volume up, let alone adjusting their monitor mix, and additional cables to potentially trip the musicians over and damage instruments and microphones!)

    So, all in all, it comes down to careful preparation and planning. In the rock'n'roll world, 9 o'clock means somewhere between 9-12, but professional classical musicians get pissed if you're just one minute late.

    But hey - good luck with it, looking forward to hearing how the project turns out!
  4. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Feb 12, 2001
    Los Angeles, CA
    Home Page:
    I was getting ready to write a reply, but between the previous two responses, they pretty much nailed it.

    I will make one comment on something that I don't completely agree with.

    Headphones are usually a must is sessions like this and they must be closed to avoid headphone bleed. Musicians will follow a conductor, but they'll follow a click much better. Also, as Ellegaard alluded to, the headphone mix is VERY important. They won't like a lot of close mic'd sound of them in their cans. Rather a room pair with a bit of close and perhaps a touch of verb will make them much happer (just make sure the verb isn't on the click.... :p ). Also if you end of double-tracking anything, you will need the sound of previous takes in the cans or the pitch will not match up. Players are capable of matching pitch to previous takes, but they need to hear it.

    As for micing a session like this, it really depends on the arrangement. I usually go for a combination of room mics and close mics. The room mics will be ORTF, XY, Blumlien depending on the room or ensemble. For a large group, I'll go decca tree. The close mics still aren't that close. I won't usually have a condenser mic closer than about 3 feet to a stringed instrument, it just gets too harsh and gritty sounding. When I'm doing scoring, I will usually go with one mic per stand or with a large orchestra, one mic per 2 stands. If it is pop in nature, you will likely need the close mics so that the mixer can control specific instruments in the mix.

  5. TanTan

    TanTan Guest

    Thank you all very much :D

    Your posts are VERY helpful !!! :cool:

    Joe :

    The strings section recordings are for the whole album ,
    there is the full playback and vocals for all the songs , and in most of them there is a synth strings guide that might be used afterwards to double the strings in the mix ,

    The style of music in most of the album is old school four-on-the-floor pop with a few exceptions like a Hebrew versions of "she-Aznavur" and "something stupid - Frank & Nancy" but the strings sound should be a section sound you described it as a "Bed" of warm lush strings , exactly !

    I am gonna use headphones for 1 player from each section , that was my client's request because he also had an experience with classical players and headphones ... , and i'm recording them on the arrangement so i can quickly rough mix for their comfortableness.

    The players are great , they are the most professional players in the country and they are coming for a session (4-5 hours), so we have to get it done very fast ,

    I think i'll take your advice and record a few different approaches including x\y , m\s , and close mics (at least for the cellos)
  6. jimtavegia

    jimtavegia Guest

    I have heard some of Tony Faulkner's classical recordings and they are superb. He uses omni's spaced 27 inches apart and you should listen and see at what height gives you the best spacial/natural reverb tails in the largest room you have. You could even place another mic back further, centered, pointed more toward the ceiling if you need to capture more air and space the room may have to offer. He finds that 27 inch spacing very nice and he prefers it of the closer Xy spacing often used. Trust your ears. Mine have never failed me. When I haven't like my work I doubted anyone else would either. Make sure the ambient noise floor of the room is low, ie turn off heating and air when you begin recording. You would be surprised how much HVAC noise gets into YOUR room even from adjoining rooms.
  7. TanTan

    TanTan Guest

  8. TanTan

    TanTan Guest

    (Make sure you have a helper/assistant/runner...even if they sit and do nothing during the session, you'll be glad you paid for their presence.)
  9. TanTan

    TanTan Guest

    Sorry i've got these posts messed up ...
  10. jimtavegia

    jimtavegia Guest

    You hve some great mics and I believe you will get some very good results. It would be nice if you had a larger room and could use the natural reverb of a larger room. With the mic kit you have you probably also have a very nice reverb unit you can use to add some air and space with ... if you want it.

    Se if someone you know has a copy of the K622 Mozart clarinet concerto from and take a listen. This is a spectacular recording done in CD redbook, 2-channel DSD, and analog 2-track. Even the tape is wonderful.

    Good Luck. Jim Tavegia
  11. TanTan

    TanTan Guest

    I've seen the article about the K622 Mozart clarinet concerto and i'll get the cd ,

    I've also noticed they used a dcs 904 a\d for converting the studer tape to digital ,

    Did you ever use these converters ?
    Did you try to compare them to other converters ?

    Thank you guys
  12. jimtavegia

    jimtavegia Guest

    Check out John Atkinson's recording rig from the info supplied on his new Cantus recording with info from the Stereophile web site. Obviously from what he is doing very low noise mics and mic pre's are essential as you must increase the gain when recording from afar. Most Neumann's have self noise that is -13 to -16dbm which is very low. I think DPA's and Earthworks have mics in that range as well. I think that DCS or Meridian converters are about the best, but if you could ever own a convert from Ed Meitner you would be in heaven. I know many liked the older Apogee Rosetta and probably the new 200 with the Firewire card could be very nice. Ed is now making the absolute best DSD converters on the planet. I believe Sony is now getting their best from him.
  13. TanTan

    TanTan Guest

    Did you ever try the lavry gold , the prism dream or the weiss a\d converters ?

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