Spot micing in an orchestra/ choir soloist situation

Discussion in 'Orchestra' started by Exsultavit, Jan 6, 2005.

  1. Exsultavit

    Exsultavit Active Member

    Joe H- I read your essay on 2 mic VS multimic recording and enjoyed it. A good explanation of how when when we have no visual and enviornmental cues to help us, the audio balances must be much more exact to provide a good musical experience.

    I noted, though, that enviornmental noises were mostly used as examples of this. I find that many musical balances need correction as well- especially when choirs and vocal soloists are involved with modern orchestras. So-- I'd like to hear folk's opinions on spot micing.

    Favorite positions for capturing that extra reinforcement on vocal soloists?

    Choirs standing behind orchestras: Do you usually mic them? How does one avoid getting horns and tymps in thiose mics? Etc?


  2. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    For reference, Joe's essay is in the Articles section of Joe touches on a number of things in that essay that I believe in, although his way of explaining it is a much more elegant way that I would explain it...

    My view comes down to this (and I'm much more blunt)- All recordings lie. just that simple statement... All Recordings lie

    Let me explain... Purists will say that 2 microphones should be plenty- after all we only have 2 ears right? Where I see the problem is that ears and microphones behave in very different ways. The human ear has evolved to filter out ambient sounds to focus on one thing- it is a mechanism so that the species could survive. Microphones will pick up and work with whatever goes into it. Even then, microphones will "change" the sound in one way or another- this is related to pattern, electronics, diaphragm, grill (espeicially in the case of large diaphragm mics). Never mind the rest of our recording chain- preamp, converters, mixer, etc...

    Now, since there is no such thing as a pure recording that is exactly what we hear, that leaves us with a clean slate- what do we do to create the most stimulating recording possible? As Joe mentioned in his essay, when we are at a live event there are many things besides the music to stimulate us and give us the sense of energy coming off of the stage. A less-than-perfect performance can have an incredible set of circumstances to give it the vibe that we remember. Unfortunately, though, when we bring that recording home, all we are left with is the music- problems and all. This is why all the live broadcasts for radio I'm involved with use some kind of editing from rehearsals to fix mistakes that would otherwise detract from the vibe on air.

    When it comes to using multiple microphones, I follow a simple creed. "Use as many mics as necessary. No more, no less..." If the situation calls for a 48 mic mix (ie orchestral pops, film scoring, etc..), I use 48 mics. If it is a chamber orchestra playing Haydn, I may only use 4 channels. For a solo recital, 2 mics....

    In classical ensemble work, I generally work with a philosophy of an array (either single point - ie stereo pair- or a 3-point - stereo pair and flanks- array) across the front. Spots are added in the ensemble not so much to change ballance but to articulate voices that are not as clear... This may mean soloists that are a distance away from the main pair, the woodwind section, a choir behind the orchestra, harps/piano/celleste, etc... These are sometimes solo, sometimes color voices that will give a recording that interest that may otherwise be missing. Digital mixing has been a wonderful thing for classical recording. I can add a delay to all of my spots to time align them with the main pair. That way, I don't end up with a woodwind section that sounds closer to me than the violins.

    Also, sometimes an ensemble just doesn't sound on tape the way they would sound in the room... I just did a session for a capella choir a couple weeks back. I ended up using 6 channels on the choir. Why? The front 4 mics sounded pretty good, but there was a lack of clarity towards the back of the ensemble because of the room. I used an extra set of omnis, placed them pretty high up and several rows back in the ensemble. It cleared the sound right up and I now have a beautiful, unified choral sound.

    Unlike a lot of classical engineers, I don't hesitate to area mic with large diaphragm mics. I use ribbon mics, I use tube mics... The coloration to me can be quite pleasant and can help create excitement in a recording that wouldn't otherwise be there (but is felt in the room during the performance).

    My last thing is the mix... Once again, the purist says set the level and leave it. I will often take a more active mixing approach. Sometimes it is just a matter of turning microphones on or off as needed. Sometimes, though, I find that moving levels by a couple dB in either direction is what is needed to have the parts sit just right in the final mix. It isn't purist, but I find that the results are well worth the effort...

    To answer the question about micing choirs with orchesta, I put the mics pretty high up. I usually position choir mics roughly a bit above head level of the back row and then aim them down into the ensemble. Often, I use omnis and have them relatively close to the group. Timps and Horns aren't usually a problem. When mics are close, I'll deal with high-passing the mics to avoid timp bleed.

    OK... That is enough for one post...

  3. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    For chorus with orchestra I look for something with good off-axis response and then aim the dead side at the most noise in the orchestra, realizing that the brass and perc will win in the end. With several figure-8s (the ideal) then that wonderful null is what gets "aimed." Well-chosen EQ can help prevent timp build-up. Most of the time choruses have sections "panned" across (A-S-B-T for example) so you need 3 or 4 mics to cover the typical symphonic-size chorus.

    For soloists the challenge is to avoid phasing with careful attention to panning and trying not to break the 3-1 rule (minimum 3 times the distance from mic to mouth as the nearest solo mic), which is obviously difficult in a live situation. I really like my TLM193s (smooth and not peaky) for this, although both are a bit large in the eyes of some. Royer SF-1 would also do nicely.

    While the goal is always to increase clarity rather than level, the ears must be the guide. Being able to delay the various mics digitally is essential to preserving depth. I agree with Ben about providing the missing cues that our eyes provide in a real-life performance.

  4. Exsultavit

    Exsultavit Active Member

    I agree with you about fig 8. I have also found that this pattern can be helpful in rejecting tymps from choir mics, though I often find that the null point will not help me much if I am ALSO trying to reject other percussion because they can't ALL be in the null point.

    It's also a good last resort to back off the volume of the choir mics a bit when the percussion kicks in hard. This, of course, is done most precisely in post...

    For most not-too-brilliant-sounding vocal soloists, I have often found my trusty KM84s (not 184s!) are very unobtrusive visually and have a clean, not too bright tone that works well.

    more thoughts?


  5. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I might have to rethink my terminology. For the longest time, I've considered myself to be a purist. However, I think the guys that just throw up two mics on a stand and run into a Nagra or a DAT are just dumb.

    First, this might be the way we hear the concert, but only if we were strung up on a 14 foot pole directly in front of the orchestra. (Try this some time, you'll be real disappointed in the overall sound. Don't string yourself up though, try a ladder.) Then there are the guys that use binaurals. My thought - binaurals suck! I'll use that as a blanket statement and as of yet, I haven't found any exceptions.

    I guess my approach is similar to Ben's - use as many mics as you have to - but, I like to start with what I think the absolute minimum is (which, if it's a full orchestra is always at least 3 but often 4) and then I look for trouble spots. If there is something that needs to be brought out, I won't hesitate to spot mic it. I will, however, only use the spot mic when I need it.

    Personally, I use a control surface and do quite a bit of mixing in post production. Most of the "mixing" I do is simply a dB or 2 here and there, but often there are some dramatic changes. With spot mics, the changes are often quite dramatic.

    Also, I won't hesitate to whip out just about any kind of mic for spot mic'ing, as long as I find it appropriate. Personally, I use quite a few tube mics and many LDC's. I don't have a single ribbon mic. Not that I don't like them, it's just that I haven't ever bought one. For a recent orchestral concert (pops) I recorded Bugler's Holiday and the trumpets stayed in the section while they played. So, I hung a pair of Oktava tube mics directly in front of them and got a very cool, vintage-like sound. For horns and trombones, I won't hesitate to use Senn. dynamic mics. For all woodwinds, I stick with Schoeps as I do with most string spots too.

    Rarely do I ever spot mic percussion unless there is just a weak percussionist in the section. Otherwise, if the hall is designed right, they should get picked up just fine. I have been known to mic a snare for the specific purposes of pulling the snare spot mic out of phase by a few degrees to cut down on an overbearing snare player. This has to be done VERY carefully though.

    As for vocal soloists - B&K or Schoeps with an agressive pop filter or windscreen. They're small and sound quite lovely.

  6. Exsultavit

    Exsultavit Active Member


    Where do you place vocal soloist mics? I ask because you mention pop filters and that implies close.

    I myself put them about 3 or 4 feet out and a little below the singer (belly height).


  7. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    I am very curious to know why you feel the need to do this. Even with delay, the sound that come from those instruments at close range is NOT nice. When Decca did that sort of thing it was consistent with their production philosophy-- and they used KM56 and M49.

  8. Exsultavit

    Exsultavit Active Member

    I myself have not (yet) found it necessary to mic horns. And yes, the distant sound of the trumpets seems like the true sound. I think they usually go in the back row for good reason. Why the BASSOON goes so deep into the stage, however, is lost to me.


  9. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member


    For vocal soloists - I place my omnis anywhere between 1.5 to 3 feet away from the soloist - it very much depends on the soloist. Of course, I use omnis, so proximity=good - but I don't like spit on my mics. :)


    Notice, I didn't say I always spot mic horns or trombones - as a matter of fact, I've stated numerous times that I use as few mics as possible. I could name plenty of times where I need to spot mic these instruments. BTW, as a professional horn player (Washington Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Memphis Symphony, Old Bridge Chamber Orchestra, et. al), I know what they sound like when mic'ed up close. Bear in mind, this was discussed on another topic elsewhere in this forum. I really like MD441s on horn and trombone - they are smooth and natural. Think of Mahler 3 - huge orchestra and massive details within the trombone. Sure the overheads pick up the t-bone, but it can't hurt to have a safety net so you can bring out the solos a little.

    I've made a practice of not "poo-poo"ing ideas that seem extreme - sometimes they work.

    Regardless of how Decca did it, I would never use an M49 of KM56 on horns and bones. I've used these for brass before and they just don't flatter them. For strings, they're great - but for brass, they pick up too many overtones. The MD441s placed a little in front of the horns sounds smooth. Depending on the bone section, I may use a different mic. Obviously, bones sound completely different based on regional sound preferences.


  10. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    Didn't mean to sound like I was "poo-pooing"-- I wasn't-- I was genuinely curious when and why you might do this, as IMO it would likely destroy any sense of depth in the overall sound. One exception, however, would be if the horns were on the back row in front of a heavy curtain. As for trombones, I have yet to hear a section in this country that really needed such help. I am sure the violists here would agree.

    As a trombone player (Chicago Sym, Detroit, Atlanta, Nashville) I am also familiar with the sound of brass, and personally I do not think that American brass playing benefits from "section touch-ups"-- exception noted above. If brass solos need to come out more, then that should be remedied by the conductor and player, not a microphone, IMO. Frankly, I cannot imagine a decent performance of Mahler 3 in which the trombone solos should need "help."

    Truly there are many ways to skin a cat, however. And if the client is happy and the check clears, then I am happy.

  11. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member


    Very cool - it's nice to have some good pedigree bone players around. You make some very valid points, and one in particular that I'll touch on

    ---"As for trombones, I have yet to hear a section in this country that really needed such help. "---

    Most sections don't, but I don't always record the big leagues. Sometimes, the smaller, community oriented groups can use all the help they can get. Particularly here in the Mid-atlantic. I have heard more anemic bone sections in No. VA and MD than ever in my life.

    Note, when I spot mic, I rarely bring the volume anywhere near the volume of the overheads. It's truly there as filler, or as you mentioned - bye bye depth. Of course, time alignment is a key to this as well. I wrote a fairly lengthy disposition on this in the thread "Misconception about phasing."

    ---"I do not think that American brass playing benefits from "section touch-ups"---

    While I generally agree, not all brass sections are as ballsy as Chicago or NY Phil. Sometimes they need a little help.

    Just out of curiosity, when did you play with Detroit? I was with them for a few concerts in 1994 - perhaps we had the opportunity to play together.

    Pieces I recall them playing during that season:
    Beethoven 7, Tchaik 4 (My memory is bad so I'm sure there are others that are equally as memorable, but those seem to stand out for some reason.)

  12. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    As strange as this may sound, I am ENCOURAGED to hear of a trombone section that needs the help, as most often they are out to conquer the universe. Loud playing is SO much more fun to DO rather than listen to! I have changed my views a bit on this over the years!

    As for Detroit, I played a week with them in 1986 (in Hairbag's tenure) as a part of the final audition process when Randy was hired. If you want the details let's take it offlist. I was fulltime in Nasvhille, the others were sporadic as needed.

    You mentioned you have Sequoia-- how do you assign tracks for orchestral?

  13. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I am truly humbled in the presence of all you fine wind/horn players.

    Let me get this off my chest right away..... I played trombone in high school (all four years) and kept at it for a while afterwards (mostly as a novelty) in my gigging days in bands. I sucked at it. I was horrible, and I was forced to do it because (at the time) there was no need for a keyboard player in my high school's music program (Which at the time was primarly marching on the field at Football games or parades.) Until things improved by my senior year (where I was fortunate enough to be the rehearsal pianist or in the pit orchestra for shows, etc.) I was stuck playing trombone, and I have never lost my respect for REAL horn players and what they go through. (Ask anyone who's ever tried to keep their lip intact and play while marching......truly hellacious.)

    Thanks for reading that, and I'll move on now. I feel better already. :oops:

    As for putting up mics on horn & other sections, "spot" mics, etc., here's a little side question: how many have gotten comments from the players themselves (at least when you're the "new guy" hired to do a REAL recording)? I wont name any names, but not too long ago I was the "new kid in town" hired to record a symphony orchestra for broadcast. My predecessor was really just a pair of omni's hung too far in the back of the house to really be usuable for anything, and it was run off to DAT. (which was just FINE for most who'd gotten used to it, of course!)

    Once I was there and working, there were three or four instances where the grumbling started (one or two to my face) about: "Why do you need all THAT?!??!" One wind player actually confronted me, freaking out, that I was going to RUIN her performance by mic'ing her all out of proportion to the rest. (She was having a bad day, and trouble cutting some tough parts, as it were....) It took a while to win them over, and setting up backstage among their cases helped (no other room anywhere else). I was able to show a lot of them the multitrack rig, and impress upon them we were TRACKING it there, not mixing it. Once they saw me working with the conductor about things and then finally HEARING the performance on the radio, things calmed down.

    But I do get a little bristly at times when I get ignorant comments from people who want to micromanage, instead of playing their parts. (I am OFTEN tempted to say: "Tell you what, I'll help you with your tuning, and look over your shoulder to see if you're cutting your parts OK. Or shall we agree to each do what we're paid to do?" Of course, that's not always a good idea to say outloud...hehehe.)

    My other comment is often: "Thank you for the backhanded compliment, but I can't POSSIBLY look as young and inexperienced as you THINK I am."

    Interestingly, that sort of thing usually happens at the middle ("C" team) level of players. The "A" team and "B" team orchestras are pretty good about letting pro's do their jobs, while they do theirs.
  14. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    Thanks for those illustrations, Joe, I have found the following things to usually be the case:

    - Musicians' real knowledge of sound recording/reproduction is often diametrically proportionate to their self-perceived knowledge.

    - Most players genuinely appreciate efforts to help them sound their best. Woodwind touchups are a good example.

    - I can usually make the grousing go away by extending the invitation to come over and hear/compare. I have never had anyone take me up-- they will simply say "you were right" after they hear the recording. It also helps to be VERY concerned with their physical comfort vis a vis proximity to (neccesary) mic stands.

    There are exceptions, of course. I gave up on trying to touchup an ego-laden cellist (Curtis grad BTW) who was playing the Elgar who insisted that the Schoeps capsule I was going to put rather invisibly on a 2-ft stand about 4 feet in front of him was unsightly and unneccesary. The conductor stepped in and said that in his days in Detroit a mic was put on the floor on the lip of the stage (15 feet away in our case) for solos and it worked great. I briefly tried to point out that the mic was dumb and would just get the entire middle of the orchestra but I quickly saw this was a waste of breath. After all, what did I know-- just a stupid knob-twister (actually fade-mover).

    Of course, I DO blow it-- such as when a weld securing a stud on the top of a stand gave way in concert and the choral touchup pair ended up touching up floor reflections! In an unintended way poor mic choice saved the day-- all I had left for that task were omnis.

  15. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Great stories, too, Rich. (You can tell me the name of the Curtis grad privately, if you'd like...heheh..)

    We really SHOULD revive the "horror stories" disappeared before some tweaks were done on this message board. I love hearing and telling these.....I had a choral mic "take a dive" on me as well, that story was in the lost thread too.

    I think your comment about helping the musicians sound their best is VERY important as well. It's always necessary to find a balance between getting the job done and being a PITA to them. I've always tried to use the Audio-Person's Hippocratic Oath: "First, Do No Harm." We've got to remember that most of these people are consummate pro's, most of them are sight reading, and things must be 'just so' for them to function properly onstage, time after time. Even the position of their music stands or the amount of ambient lighting can be critical. (And to be fair, many have literally suffered at the hands of inept sound people in the past.)

    Having a bunch of mics appear onstage can be unnerving too (even worse when they walk in to see it at showtime, not having had them there for rehearsal, if the budget is limited). I am often the "Bad guy" when a guest soloist shows up (usually from out of town) and suddenly sees a mic in front of them. (Gee, who in the management side of the organization FORGOT to remind them there would be a recording done? Grrrrrrrr)

    One little comment seems to help more than not: I usually say: Don't worry, it's NOT going into a PA system or amplified in any way, this is just a touch up mic for the (archival) recording." And to sweeten the deal, I usually give them my card and add: "I'll make sure you get a reference copy via your agent or to you personally." Most "pros" are all sweetness and light after that.

    Very often, I'm only hired for the concert, and not always a rehearsal, so it's tricky in deciding how much prep time I can afford to offer, esp if there are other clients who ARE paying for more complete service.

    It's a fine line between gently taking charge of the situation and being a doormat, indeed.
  16. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    If you want to hear weak bones - come to the DC metro area! Short of the big orchestras (Baltimore, National, and one or two more) it seems as though they're afraid to make a sound. It's frustrating. Personally, I like the bigger, in your face sound (not so much like Chicago - too much, but a lot like San Francisco).

    Truthfully, I only played a few concerts with Detroit being a sub for them before I was no longer able to give the time necessary for the travel (from Central Arkansas - yeehaw!)

    As for Sequoia, I gladly have purchased a copy, but don't use it yet as it's currently sitting on the UPS truck on its way here. For the time being, I use Cubase (which I'm growing to hate - particularly its sound!). If I understand your question correctly (assigning tracks), what I do, especially since I heavily depend on a control surface is as follows (this is roughly the arrangement I use on most concerts with small variations):
    - Two center omnis spaced relatively close together (18 inches or so, give or take a little). These are relegated to channels 3 and 4 and labeled near left and near right. I pan them very gently left and right. (Cubase uses 0-100 as a pan scale and I usually have them positioned between 20 and 30).
    - Two outer omnis usually about 12 feet or so off center position. These are my channels 1 & 2. I label these far left and far right. I pan these rather agressively left and right (not all the way though, that just sounds unnaturally wide. Usually I go between 75 and 85 on the Cubase scale.)
    - I then put any solo mics in slots 5 and 6 and label them appropriately
    - Any spot mics (on the rare occassion that I use them) get put in the remaining channels, panned and time-delayed appropriately.
    - Then, any effects channels such as mild compression or any reverb that I may need to use go on successive channels, again labeled appropriately.

    I hope this answers the question, though I might have misunderstood.

    One quick horror story:
    I was micing a Pops orchestra doing some soundtrack type work, so I was doing a lot of section micing. I had a Schoeps mic sitting directly over the Oboe section (I know, I know - why the hell would I want to mic an Oboe?). I asked the conductor to kindly inform all of the instrumentalists not to touch any of the mics, but if they had a concern or question to get me and I would take care of it. The first Oboe player, however, didn't like where the mic was placed, so she grabbed it by the capsule and began to slide the stand across the stage as she accidentally let go and the mic crashed to the floor. FWIW, I don't think a judge in this country would have considered homocide in this case to be inappropriate!

    BTW, welcome to the forum Rich. Your presence is much appreciated.

  17. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    <<The first Oboe player, however, didn't like where the mic was placed, so she grabbed it by the capsule and began to slide the stand across the stage as she accidentally let go and the mic crashed to the floor. FWIW, I don't think a judge in this country would have considered homocide in this case to be inappropriate! >>

    Ah, the things people do when you don't have your gun!

    I'll bet THAT'll teach her to mess with your mics. (No jury of your peers would have convicted you otherwise!)

    Think about the reverse: What would SHE have done if you came up and attempted to tune or adjust her reed? Or moved her chair?

    People just don't THINK sometimes.... If she HAD, she could've just chatted away into your mic, saying things like: "Hey sound guy; c'mere! I wanna talk to you! Yo! Over here...i'm in the oboe mic and you need to get out here....." I've picked up on problems sometimes by just happening to listen to a player bitching and moaning aloud or asking who/where the sound guy was.

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