Stereo Imaging a Jazz Ensemble

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by dvdhawk, Oct 10, 2011.

  1. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    It's been a unusually diverse month. In the past few weeks I've provided PA for a good up-and-coming Christian pop/rock band from down NC way, a rapper, a motivational speaker, and a classic rock band. In addition to remote recordings for a blues/rock band, we had another first of recording Broadway style vocal numbers (solos and duets) with piano accompaniment. Each of those obviously has their own challenges and expectations, and given a little time to prepare/plan I feel pretty comfortable diving into just about anything - even the things outside my rock/blues comfort zone.

    This past weekend I had the opportunity to record an 18-pc Jazz band (with just a few days notice). I've recorded small and large choirs before with very nice results, so I wasn't worried about faithfully capturing the experience. It was in a university auditorium I'm very familiar with, and the room acoustics are very nice. I feel like the tracking went very nicely, now I could use some advice on the best mixing methods.

    The band consisted of (from left to right from the FOH perspective) Piano / Drums / Bass Guitar / 14-pc horn section on risers [5 trumpets / 4 trombones / 5 saxes+ ]. The conductor played saxamaphone on the finale - for those of you counting to 18. *photo available if that's unclear*

    Mics Used:
    For the primary pair, I used two AKG C414s in a Blumlein array - but centered it to the horn section, not the stage. The conductor was also centered with the horn section rather than the stage, so the C414s are more or less from his point of view. I also used two AKG C451s to spot the soloists left and right and a Rode NT5 in the middle of the horns to get the trombone soloist. Plus an NT4 for a stereo X/Y room mic to catch crowd response. For individual reinforcement I had an NT1 in the piano, a Sennheiser e906 on the bass amp, an EV N/D868 outside the kick drum, and a C451 for an overhead above the drum kit. The individual mics are being used very sparingly, since the Blumlein hears all, tells all.

    They set-up so that the ensemble was centered on the stage, which meant having the the piano far left and horns mostly right of center.

    The Main Questions:
    My question is, to those of you who do ensemble recordings, what are the expectations regarding the stereo image at mixdown?
    I guess the follow up would be - is the expectation a finished recording that sounds like you were sitting in the best seat in the house?

    I'm inclined to place the instruments in the mix left to right, just as I would have heard them sitting 10 rows back in the center of the auditorium - with the piano panned distinctively left of center, but not panned all the way left / and baritone sax bracketing things on the right. I have the C414s panned wide, for a big stereo image, and I'm trying to pan the piano and drums' individual channels where it sounds correct relative to the primary pair. But I do find myself cheating the left/right 451 solo mics a little more toward the center, so it doesn't sound like they're detached from the group (especially the soloists on the right).

    Even though the drums and bass are responsible for a slight imbalance favoring the left, I'm really liking the mixes and it sounds very natural. I think it's very true to hearing the ensemble play live in the best seat of a pleasantly reverberant 1200 seat auditorium. To me it sounds maybe even a little better than the live show did half-way back the room, just because mic placement removes a little of the room's natural reverb from the equation. The recording is more like a 10th-row seat.

    Last Question:
    There is a considerable amount of conversation taking place on-stage between some songs. Do you consider that part of the experience, or clean it up? So far I've judiciously removed a few things that were distracting while the Emcee was introducing songs, and left the things that seem like organic noises and chatter alone. I'm afraid if I clean it up too much it will stick out like a sore-thumb. I was intentionally trying to avoid a dry close-mic'ed sound with mic selection and placement, in favor of getting the energy of the ensemble's performance in the room - so I don't know how much clean-up work I should do between songs.

    Last, Last Question:
    In a situation like this where for each song you have a) a brief introduction by the emcee b) the song itself c) recognition of soloists and sections by the emcee - is that how you would index the CD tracks? [song intro, song, recognitions] all as Track #x. I've got some live recordings that the track changes basically on the downbeat of the music and any talk (including the introduction of the next song) is left at the end of the track. [song, recognitions, intro to next song] all as Track #x. To the best of my knowledge, this will not be for sale or broadcast - although I believe it sounds good enough for either.

    Then, just to make the recordists job a little more challenging, for the finale - half way through the song during a piano/bass/drums breakdown, the trumpets and trombones stand up and come off the front of the stage and finish the song from the aisles to give the concert-goer a real surround-sound experience. Then the sax players all stand and come out to the apron and begin to wail and it builds to a (deliberately) cacophonous full surround racket before the conductor reins everybody back in for a few monster power chords to tag and drag ending. The crowd is on their feet by this point and making a good bit of noise themselves. The backside of the Blumlein got some of this, and I had to rely on the NT4 room mic for the rest. All in all, not too bad - but I have no idea how a guy would ever do that justice without a 360˚ mic array hanging in the middle somewhere. Fortunately, with the exception of a split on the Emcee's mic, I was completely autonomous from the FOH sound - so I could lean on the room mics without worry of feedback in the room.

    I'm somewhat out of my element here, so I look forward to input from those of you more experienced in this genre, so I can do this and similar projects (should they come my way) in a way that is standard practice.

    Always learning, always wanting to do things better....

  2. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    My tendency is to go for a fairly naturalistic staging in the stereo field. I'd probably make an exception with at least the bass and kick since the coincident pairs will record long wavelengths in the center. (Higher overtones can help localize the bari but may be too weak to identify the position of the bass and kick.) So I guess I'm saying I'd try to pan the bass and kick center and then arrange the rest around the main pair to help the stereo spread.

    I'd start each track with the emcee intro, leave the applause and banter at the end - especially important if the recording is for internal consumption.

    Sounds like you've been busy! Way to go. Hope the checks keep coming.
  3. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Thanks Bob !

    The bass is physically about the only thing dead center stage and generally adequately represented in the main pair. The individual piano, drum, and bass mics are being added to taste on a song to song basis. The rhythm section was all keenly aware of the dynamics of each song and whether or not they should step up or lay back - so even song to song there aren't really a lot of adjustments needed.

    Here is a photo of the proceedings that may help.


    I ran the Blumlein pair up above the conductor's head to about the level of the trumpets. (visible in the photo between trumpet player #3 & 4)

    Do you think I should have gone any higher?

    I kept the Left and Right mics evenly spaced from the center pair, and about the same distance away, to avoid too much of any one horn.

    Would you do any part of that differently?

    The sax player on our left had almost all of the sax solos and would step out toward the center where FOH guy had a solo mic. I was getting plenty of him from my Left mic - but wonder if I should have taken a split from the FOH solo mic, or clamped a mic of my own on that stand. (Which is exactly what I did in front of the trombone row, by the guy with the trombone solos). That all worked out pretty well.

    There's one song (Night in Tunisia) with a very muted solo trumpet that I wish I could get just a touch more of without boosting everyone else. I'll clone the part of the track in question and see if some subtle EQ can bring it out of the Left mic a bit without the rest of it sounding weird. I believe the muted horn is supposed to be more haunting than in your face, so I wouldn't use much of it even if I had a mic in front of him.

    I'm generally very happy with the way the recording sounds. It is very organic sounding, and with very few exceptions, exactly what I was trying to achieve. The audience claps during the songs after every solo, so I have to leave the room mics pretty hot throught - which adds more My biggest concern is that most of the recordings I would have heard of this style of music were recorded in a certain era. And I want to avoid having the recording sound dated, if there's a more modern way to present this kind of material.

    Would any of you have suggestions of contemporary big band, jazz/swing band recordings (from the last 10 years or so) I should buy to study??

    Thanks again.
  4. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    After living at NBC-TV for nearly 20 years, it changed the way I mixed music, live. Especially now that you have to deal with the picture of the people playing. So this kind of changes everything in the way one would go about these types of recordings. Just like lip-sync, your stereo mix has to virtually be a hybrid of what you're seeing both visually and audibly. And that generally means a lot more highlight miking for proper placement. Sure, we still use lots of audience microphones along with that basic stereo pair or 4 pack across the stage overhead with a pair being your center XY/ORTF/MS along with the pair of outriggers. Not every drum set has to be centered but you still want some effective stereo for it. Lots of bands didn't include centered drums in their hits, i.e. Doobie Brothers, Beatles, others. But at the same time, they really didn't have much to provide much stereo imaging on the drums in those situations other than placement. And when folks start running off the stage, oh brother. That's when you need those stereo pairs of shotgun microphones that are generally hung for such blocking of the show. Of course if you don't know that's going to happen, that's where some intelligently hung PZM's on the left and right walls of the performance venue can make a huge difference (I personally prefer those to boundary microphones). And this is another reason why I still have my 8 modified Radio Shaft PZM's (balanced with 12-18 V of battery power). And then you don't cry when one gets broken or lose money on the job. And no, I don't have any stereo pairs of shotgun microphones just 3 completely different ones that still come in quite handy for all sorts of musical applications.

    I might also point out that everybody thinks that they must use studio style condenser microphones for some of these overhead stereo pairs. I completely disagree with that. You'd be amazed at how fabulous SM57's can sound as a flown stereo pair. The advantage there is that they are somewhat bandwidth limited, which helps & cut out a lot of background noise and other bleed. Now using these particular microphones in that application is best accomplished with high quality preamps such as NEVE, API, other good stuff like that. Then they actually can sound every bit as good as a microphone that costs more than 10 times that and most of the times even better. So in uncertain applications, I am more prone to use dynamic microphones than my good studio condensers. Especially since you know your dynamic microphone will never overload. So that takes one wet sock off of the hamster. (What the heck does that mean?)

    Big band, jazz/swing recordings? Um, more microphones. And still those stereo pairs. Having come from network television background, I like redundancy for these kinds of recordings. Of course, it's impractical to double mic everything. So the more microphones you have out, the better chance you have to survive if something dies onstage. Then at least you may be able to cover it in proximity to an additional adjacent microphone. This doesn't happen with pure stereo pairs. In this way, all your stereo imaging comes down to mixing technique/style and not what a book told you. And typically, there are certain Instrumentalists/vocalists that I will normally stick some kind of limiter on. They'll be there for the stereo mix of course (performed live) and I'll still track that to multitrack that way along with some mild equalization where necessary. This is still old-school engineering that comes from analog tape days in trying to stay above tape noise levels. I feel if it sounds good, then it's good, nothing to undo. And believe you me, I'd rather be printing that to digital than doing it after the fact. First off, that locks it in, permanently. If I'm not the remixer for that multitrack, it still provides the quality level I conceived. This is when I am given free reign by the producers which has been about 90% of the time. This really depends upon the kind of console one that is before them. With my previous desk (Sphere Eclipse C) I could mix stereo with EQ and print flat. But with the NEVE, the old NEVE, the microphone preamp and the EQ are not separable. This has probably been my only limitation with the early 1970s NEVE I now use. So this all really depends upon delivery methods. Just capture everything you can with as many microphones as you can put out.

    I bet you can't eat just one?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  5. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Thanks Remy, As usual a wealth of experience and insight. [soggy rodentia stockings included]

    I've got enough good mics to do an 18-pc band 3 or 4 times over - I was just worried about over-producing it. At this point, I honestly don't think I have your skill-set to close-mic everything and make this kind of band sound natural - or any better than a few good mics covering the entire ensemble. Rock, blues, pop, country, gospel - that I understand. This genre is new to me, so even though redundancy is SOP I was thinking less is more in this case. (or less is less for me to screw up as the case may be)

    The conductor (who is the one paying me) expressed a preference toward a more natural live sound. I guess to my way of thinking the conductor is the producer on this project. If he wants more baritone sax, he'll coax a little more volume out of the player not the mix.

    Well live and learn, try to give them a better product than they've had previously, and try to do better next time - right?

    Thanks again !
  6. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    I know what you're talking about DVDhawk, I certainly pride myself in being one of the world's laziest engineers and practice LESS IS MORE as often as possible. But you know that natural sound frequently requires unnatural expertise. So you put out what you think he wants and what you think is correct. Then you put out your insurance because when he wants a little more baritone sax and it doesn't come through on the natural sounding overheads, you'll have a card up your sleeve on the multitrack recording. Now I wouldn't necessarily put microphones out for each instrument but perhaps in pairs of instruments and other similar zone miking techniques by section. You never know what you'll have to do? For instance, I once had the honor of recording a full 80+ piece symphony orchestra along with a 200 voice choir along with 4 solo singers for a Verdi Requiem in the big studio A NBC Washington. This was a bit of a challenge as one of my directives was " we don't want to see any microphones hanging or otherwise". Well... that is a bit of a challenge especially when they were doing long wide shots that virtually went up to the lighting grid 25 feet above. A couple of very high stereo pair overheads along with some out rigors and 4 soloist microphones were the primary. But I also utilized Sennheiser MKE-2 tie tack omnidirectional condenser microphones taped to music stands for highlights on the Violins, Cellos, Viola's, Woodwinds for a total of 13 microphones. While Tie Tack microphones and they're extremely miniature capsules are generally higher in noise, this was not a factor since they were so close. And those highlight microphones really helped. It garnered me an Emmy award nomination. No productions such as this was done in the NBC building since its opening with the National Symphony Orchestra in 1958. And I was using the Neve console, the precise one that I own today serial number 3868 or was that 3869? It doesn't matter I have both now. A dream come true. No, I didn't win the Emmy award. It went to a piece of canned commercial production music for a sports show instead. WTF? And this was for best engineered audio? I don't think so. C'est la vie which is Russian for I can't hear $*^t.

    Maybe next time?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  7. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Lavaliers would be an excellent idea for next time. I've got a number of those around here. Most are from wireless lavs, so I would need a couple more phantom power adapters. I have hidden them before for audio for video work. I would not have thought they would be up to the job - but I see what you're saying regarding their signal to noise on a loud clear horn.

    I can get my hands on a Crown 30-D, which I might have grabbed from church had I been given more time to think about it. I also have about 10 Crown PZM-11 (the ones that look like a lightswitch).

    Also, I'm not sure what the practical difference is between your (modified) Sound Grabbers PZMs and any other "boundary mic" that uses PZM technology.
  8. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    The other boundary microphones have their capsules facing directly up. The PZM has its capsule facing downward at the flat metal plate. I find that boundary microphones in general have a more mellow tonality. Whereas I find that the PZM (and I got into a heated discussion with a German tonemeister about this) has a slightly more hyped high-end. Well yeah... you get more of an articulated sound because of that and that's what I want. So the German engineer thought that was flat out wrong. Wrong? It's just another tool, another sound, another microphone selection that suited me for my applications. So how can that be wrong? It's just different. And you can still tailor the sound on these hemispherical pattern microphones by placing them on different sizes of boundary surfaces. So sometimes you stick them on a smaller piece of 1' x 1' or 2' x 2' pieces of Plexiglas mounted to a microphone stand. This can vary its bass response. Putting it on a large wall/floor area brings its bass response to its lowest possible response. And when you want some additional articulation of an instrument that you are highlighting, that hyped sounding high-end allows it to cut through better. I also find them to be quite flattering as audience microphones because of this " wrong sound" that the German engineer didn't like. So it's all just a matter of understanding the microphone technology in use and your personal preferences. A boundary microphone is not a PZM per se and it doesn't utilize PZM technology. Again a different type of hemispherical microphone. Sort of like saying a condenser microphone is better than a ribbon microphone. Why, because it has more high-end that's noticeable? We all know that doesn't make ribbon microphones bad because of that mellower tonality. It's just different. And again it depends on the application of use. PZM's can be tricky and difficult to place. But that boundary effect generally eliminates the sound of the boundary it is placed upon. So much less phase canceling/comb filtering bounce from that surface it's mounted upon.I've also frequently used them as overheads, mounted on the wall, directly behind the drummer. And my single Crown PZM Tie tack/Lavalier unit works nicely when you mount the microphone on a drummer's chest à la talkshow guest especially on jazz drummers. It's a beautiful sounding perspective that way. Much more comfortable for the drummer than duct taping an 8 in.² plate to their chest. LOL! Yeah, I've done that too.

    PZMER (after all it's three quarters of my name backwards there "REMzip", even though I got knocked out on that one)
    Mx. Remy Ann David

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