Separating Vocal Soloists from Orchestra

Discussion in 'Orchestra' started by DavidSpearritt, Feb 12, 2005.

  1. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    One enduring "problem" I wrestle with, (apart from digital audio theory :wink: ) is the one of where to position vocal soloists to get separation when recording them with orchestra.

    We have tried sessions with them up the back behind the percussion with cardioid spots, nulls back to orch, but they complained that the image of the conductor in their binoculars was too small. :shock:

    But having them down just behind the conductor facing the orchestra, forces too much of their sound into the main pairs.

    Putting the vocals down afterwards in someone's bedroom/fancy recording booth/garage while listening to the orchestra in phones always sounds bad.

    What's the general consensus. My preference is to put them up the back but comms is a problem. What successes have you guys had with this problem.
  2. Exsultavit

    Exsultavit Active Member

    David- This one annoyed me for a long time, and annoys me still from time to time.

    I myself have not usually had much control over the positioning of a soloist in the room, as it is so often a show and staging has been decided upon with no regard at all to my needs...

    Usually, the singers are facing the audience, roughly level with the conductor, and almost directly below my main pair. Most of their sound is going directly into the house, and little getting straight up into my mics. I find that a spot (often a KM84-- which is cardiod of course) placed 3 feet out and below the singer's mouth (belly height) or just peeking over the top of the singer's mic stand works right.

    Some engineers of experience have suggested that an omni placed 10-15 feet out directly in front of the singer will work, but it has not worked for me. No seperation at all, not enuf presence on the singer, and in a show this places the mic IN the audience, and that seldom is even possible for me.

    More thoughts from others?


  3. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    exultavit (can I call you "x" for short? :twisted: ) you describe my technique down to the very microphone itself.

    I'm rarely able to dictate where the singer goes (unless it's a session, of course) and I think most would KILL me if I suggested they stand anywhere other than the traditional spot - either side of the conductor.

    Most of the time, I use a boom stand, often on the floor, below and off the stage itself. If there's enough room at their feet, I'll use a shortie boom there, instead. On the rare occasion that I can fly a mic, I'll take the inverse approach and come down just a bit ABOVE the singer, with a Neumann cable-hanger, aiming at their forehead/face from a few feet above. There are differences with each, but it's arguable which comes out the best.

    You can see a pic of my approach on my website if you click on "current events" and click on the second picture down on the right side - it's a shot of a choral concert with orchestra & soloists. Click on it a second time, and you'll see a closer shot of the um, amply-sized, um...soprano in a blue dress singing to the left of the conductor. the KMi-84 is on a floor stand right out in front of her.
  4. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member


    Are you talking concert or session?

    I actually rarely have issues with this. In a concert, I'll place the vocal soloist in the "standard" position and spot them. I place the main pair usually so that I don't get a whole lot of the soloist in that mic (usually a blumein pair so I use the fig-8's nulls). Then I mic the soloist and call it a day. I'll often use an omni and then place the mic closer to the soloist so that there is presence, but plenty of room sound. (Joe- the Berlioz that I played for you at AES had this approach on the Tenor soloist. The mic in this case was a DPA 4041 with the tube body)

    In a session, things are different and it really depends on the given situation. There I can take a bit more control over the micing of the ensemble and the physical set up because it doesn't matter what it looks like. With a recent choral session, I placed the soloist actually out beyond the reach of the main pair (further into the room behind the mic) and then spotted him directly. I've also with orchestral dates had the soloist face into the orchestra in the nulls of the main pair. That way the orchestra can hear the soloist and none of the orchestra mics really pick it up directly (just ambience).

  5. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Yeah I am talking sessions only. In concert there is very little option to move people. Ben you mention Blumlein for an orchestra, and soloist in the null, but how do you fit them all into the 90deg view. Do you fill in with omni flanks.

    I am collecting a few DVD's of some great live vocal and orchestral performances and the micing techniques are very interesting.
  6. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    I was doing some session recording of the American Wind Symphony in Pittsburg, PA. I was working with Jerry Bruck (of Posthorn Recordings) and he put the soloist in the middle of the house facing the orchestra with a pair of headphones on so she could hear herself and the orchestra. It worked GREAT! (Of couse we use Schoeps for all the microphones since he is the importer.)

    There is a funny part to this recording. We did not have a windscreen and could not easily find one locally. So Jerry and I went to the local drug store and asked for two Embroidery Hoops and a pair of black stockings or a pair of black panty hose. The person behind the counter, trying to be very helpful said "what size stockings" to which I replied "it really doesn't matter" She gave me the most quizical look. Two guys asking for two Embroidery Hoops and a pair of black stockings size uninportant. She must have been trying very hard to imagine what we were about to do with the items. I tried to explain what we were about since she did look so quizical but she just blushed and rang up the sale. We "borrowed" two metal coat hangers from the motel, used the pliers from my car, and some gaffers tape and we had a very effective two stage pop filter. The things you have to do for a session......

    The recording came off well and the conductor and the female soloist were pleased and Jerry took the homemade windscreens back to New York.
  7. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Always... My usual orchestral setup is a 6 mic setup (mains, flanks, woodwind spots, beyond that occasional piano/harp/celeste spots if needed and of course soloists)

    In the situations where a soloist is also in the sound of the mains, I will delay any spot mics to time align them- this takes care of any comb filtering from a 4-6 ms delay between the mics.

  8. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I too rarely have a problem with this, but I believe I use completely different "overall" techniques than the majority of you on this forum. Since I use overhead omni's, there's no escaping getting the vocalist in the main mics. Of course, this usually works to my advantage - it allows me to more accurately place the spot within the stereo image.

    I also use an omni for spot mic'ing the soloists and it's usually about 12-18 inches out from the soloist. For concerts - wind-screen, for sessions - pop-filter. Though with omnis, this isn't near as much of a problem.

    I then blend the slightly more present sound of the spot with the ambient sounds of the overheads and can get quite a delicate balance.

  9. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    I am always using omnis as my main pairs as well.

    When recording opera or horrortorio (PDQ Bach) where BIG vocalists are competing with each other with busy thick textures of orchestral tuttis and trio or quartet singing, ala Handel, Mozart, Verdi, I find physical separation as well as microphone sep is vital to achieve a satisfactory balance for critical CD sessions.

    It is dealing with this physical separation that I am interested in particularly. But I concede that if a good natural balance can be achieved from "concert" position then this is the best option.

    BTW, how many times have you guys had to record an orchestra in a venue other than a proper performance space, ie basketball court, uni lecture hall, church etc.
  10. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    It is usually for concerts, but all the time. One of my clients (a chamber orchestra) performs in the loby of an apartment building. It is a pretty cool room- art deco-ish architecture with big cement columns in the room... As the story goes, the building was buit by William Randolph Hearst as a place for one of his mistresses to live. Great orchestra/chamber group plays there. I use a stereo pair and then use a pair of omnis instead of flanks delayed and placed back at the back part of the violin and viola/cello sections. Clears up the back half of the group.

    The number of crappy churches I have to record in is also immense. Most of the time it is choral-related, but many of those choirs also play with orchestras.

  11. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Dave, you made me laugh out loud with your PDQ Bach reference. :cool:

    I'm always thinking evil thoughts like: "Bargain-Counter-Tenor" or "Concerto for Soprano VS. Orchestra" when I'm working an event like that, esp if the people involved are too serious about it all. Schickle has nailed that stuff, alright.

    As for horrible venues; I think we should make it a sticky and just add to them as they happen (or when the long-suppressed horror resurfaces from our repressed bad memories.... hehehe :twisted: )

    I remember back in my early days of live sound at an outdoor ampitheater that seated about 8-9k, being told there would be at least a dozen bagpiping groups massed onstage at various times throughout the evening, along with soloists, small ensembles, announcers, and (of course!) a haggis-cutting (& eating!) ceremony. Not only did they want it amplified for all to hear, but they wanted an archival tape of the event. (I still have a copy of it here, somewhere....)

    Two of my most trying and annoying events happened just this past December, but I don't want to dredge them up for a while now, those memories need time to! :?
  12. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Was that a reference to the indie-lesbian flic "Kissing Jessica Stein?" Great picture!

    Any-hoo - Dave, I had no idea you were an omni-man (Faster than a high-resolution sample, stronger than the stench of the principle oboist, able to leap a boom-stand in a single leap --- it's OMNI-MAN!!!) For some reason, I thought you were a FIG-8 DUDE. (not the arch-enemy of OMNI-MAN, think of it him as just another member of the Justice League.)

    I guess, it really depends on the situation, but I usually find that with spot micing the soloist, I really don't have that hard a time blending the vocalist with the orchestra. On a similar note, the big concert I recorded this weekend included "Winter" and "Summer" from "The Four Seasons" and the solo violinist was amazing. (A 19 year old from Juilliard) I didn't have the option of putting a stand right over top of her for fear of her smacking it with the bow and ruining the performance. Nor did she want to use the DPA 4061. So, I found myself putting an attachment on my main pair's boom stand so that I could extend a single cardioid just to the left of the conductor's shoulder (about 3-4 feet back). This picked up the violin well and blends quite easily with the orchestra.

    I'll make samples available as soon as I'm done post and mastering.

  13. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    He has indeed. I am always thinking of the wind player fainting and knocking over the music stands trying to play the very long notes in the opening bars of Schleptet in Eflat and my favourite of all is Iphigenia in Brooklyn, with the chorus of ... "only he who is running, knows (nose)"! etc I went and saw him live in concert and had to take diapers.

    Jeremy, I am an omni man as well as a Blumlein man. I am just not a ORTF man or a cardioid man, unless placed under extreme pressure or I leave the mics at home etc.

    I always use omnis for large sound sources, playing lots of low notes. :)
  14. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    For those unfamiliar with PDQ Bach ....

    and the recording catalog...

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