Skip to main content

Orchestral Soundtrack location recording advice

I've been asked to put some numbers together for a location recording of 60 pc orchestra, performing live to clicktrack & picture. (We have the hall, the players are union, and there's a finite budget already in place.)

The conductor wants a click track into headphones for all 60 players (!) in addition to two plasma screens - one for hI'm and one for the players, both playing picture from a DVD with burned-in time code and click track.

Aside from the obvious logistical aspects of this, (I have plenty of mics and multitrack recording capabilities to pull off the recording side of things), I will need prices for headphone amps & rentals.

Anyone have any contacts or knowledge of cost and availability for this sort of thing? I will be building a price list for the HP and amps rental for a 3-day session. (Which will mean probably four day rental - delivery & return, etc.)

I'll probably have to rent from NYC or anywhere else on the East Coast, but I'm open to suggestions. I can't tell you who it's for yet, but if it happens, I'll tell all once it's completed.

Comments

Cucco Sat, 02/03/2007 - 16:53
You can close it if you'd like Ben...afterall, you are the boss here. But I don't think it's out of hand, I just think things get stupid sometimes.

Instead of people accepting someone's opinion around here, they always have to show that they have bigger balls (or better microphones) than everyone else - regardless of personal experiences. It's nothing new - it's always the same people arguing and always one person making a statement and a couple other individuals challenging that opinion until they think their point has been made (and trying to discredit the original poster).

Frankly I get sick and tired of it quite easily and when I leave the forum for 3 months at a time it's to regain some sanity from this constant one-upmanship.

I'm here to offer MY advice on subjects and to learn. That's it. I have nothing to prove to anyone here but it seems that others MUST make others realize just how important they are or just how special they are.

When I see people on the boards here making statements that only a certain kind of mic is usable for certain situations or a certain pre is the only obvious choice (and it just so happens to be the pre or mic that the person making the statement owns), I get reminded of the Hybrid episode of South Park where all of the people smell and enjoy their own farts.

Censor this post if you must (I will be VERY disappointed if you do) or close the post if you must. But I think it's genuinely stupid that I make a simple comment (which I back up with facts and quotes from seasoned veterans) and I get told that my opinions are wrong, I'm behind the times (which is odd, since I am an active performer) and that I couldn't keep a job with my attitude.

Look through all of the posts here. I've made no attacks at ANYONE, yet I was told that I wouldn't get a job in LA, I was behind the times, and not in touch with the music scene in "Major" cities (of which I guess DC is not one.)

Absurd and sad.

JoeH Tue, 05/01/2007 - 08:06
Thanks, Boswell. Not surprisingly, mic choices and positioning were the least of my worries; I had a lot of stuff to pick from, although as you can imagine we didn't have much time to tweak or adjust. The Sunday setup was WITHOUT the musicians, so I had to go with what I knew already worked with these players, in that church & setup in particular.

Aside from about 15 minutes of "Play & tweak" time during the first session, we pretty much had to hit the mark & go, making any changes beyond that would seriously impact the overall sound from one cut to the next....

If I could figure out a way to put pictures up here, I'd give you the stage plot... We were lucky in that it was a VERY big church, wich a great mix of carpet & hardwoods where we needed it, and a huge, high ceiling (with some kind of acoustical tile/treatment, too!) for lots of smooth, creamy reverb. (I added next to none in the final mix, save for a few spot mics that needed some extra sheen.)

The percussion and most of the brass were up on the "Altar" area, high above and behind the rest. The Trpts and some of the winds were mid level, on and around the steps, while the core of the orchestra - strings mostly, plus celese & harp - were all down on the main floor of the sanctuary. They had taken out the first four or five rows of pews a long time ago, since the church is often used for big choirs with orchestra, etc. (We expect to come back here for more soundtrack work, when/if it happens again.)

I got the main sound I wanted with a 5.1 array hanging almost directly over the conductor's head. Three DPA 4006 TL's for L, C, & R., using an AEA Decca boom, with two AT 4051's for the Ls, Rs, facing the rear of the hall, on tall stands at the same height as the front three. For the most part, I needed little else, but the spot mics on the sections where a great help when rounding out some of the parts.

Due to space, available inputs and all the usual considerations, we went with spot/touchup mics on each section, a total of 20 in all. There were vintage KMi-84s on the Vl1s, 2nds & Violas, AT 4050 on the celli, MXL V6 on the basses. Some SM81's on the winds, Audix SCX1's on the celeste and harp. More assorted AT 4050's and 4040's on "percussion world", tymps, and french horns, with my much-loved AEA R84 on the low brass & tuba. (WOW!!!! What a sound....)

Surprisingly, I had little pressure from anyone on choices or placement; it was assumed I knew the hall, the music & the players to get it done correctly. Happily, everyone had their job to do, and did it well, so the tech side of things came together beautifully.

As you can imagine, there were dozens of OTHER things going on, entirely separate from the nuts & bolts of it all that made the gig really, um.....interesting! :-)

JoeH Tue, 05/01/2007 - 09:10
Most times, it was just click. Once in a while, for rehearsal purposes, we'd bring up the original audio. This was done at one point when they were doing two cues that were not traditional music; one was an orchestral bed for an original song being added, which was a little tough to track on its own, until they heard how the piece was supposed to gently speed up and down in certain places. Once they got the hang of it, we turned off the guide track and went back to click-only for the takes.

Amazingly, I had little bleed at all from the cans. Since it was single-ear only, there were no open earcups blowing sound out into the air. We had some early instances of cans no being worn (and laying on the floor blowing click sound UP) but once we caught that, it was pretty smooth and a non-issue from then on.

JoeH Thu, 02/01/2007 - 20:09
Thanks for all the great advice, guys! (And keep it comin' if anyone has more.)

I can't reveal too much about the client & the project just yet. As many of you know, this kind of thing can vaporize in seconds if something gets out of whack and tanks the whole production. (We'll see!)

I'm in agreement about the single-ear muff devices, going with full coverage with musicians who need to hear themselves for intonation would be difficult, if not impossible. (I can only imagine the nightmare of monitor mixing hassles for that!)

I'll reveal the client and the project once it's up and running, or nearing completion. If it flies, it should be a lot of fun, and perhaps even a tad historical.
(Ben, I'll be in touch with you about your post and some other info.)

Thanks again, everyone, it's been really helpful and eye opening.

Pro Audio Guest Thu, 02/01/2007 - 20:31
Cucco wrote: Furthermore, Joe's not dealing with seasoned studio musicians presumably. They're probably standard symphony players. A symphony player will NOT like the headphones.

You might be a little behind the times. Symphony players who like to make extra dough and do something different are usually adept at the ways of the studio. In Nashville all the symphony guys were at peace with the compromises that entailed, and that goes for most major cities.

Rich

JoeH Thu, 02/01/2007 - 23:29
I can't reveal TOO much, but the conductor is a fairly heavy-hitter in the biz, at least B'way and Orchestral arrangements, etc. I didn't know the guy by name, but I googled him and have to admit he's got the chops and the experience. (The client's budget may dictate the number of HPs as much as anything else.)

The musicians are A- and B+ level players. (NOT the Phila orch, but the next level down, and many of them sub for the Philly O from time to time.) I've done smaller sessions with many of them on headsets, actually, doing some Video Game soundtracks, over dubbing sections at a time, so they're not total novices. Plus, many of these folks are in the pit locally for all the professional operas in town, along with various ballet and other first-call "Classical" stuff. They know their way around. (And we're not that far from NFL Films' soundstage in Mount Laurel, NJ, where many of them have done sessions as well over there.) In most cases in Philly, you're either full-time with the Philly O, or you're busy doing literally everything else.

It's also interesting to note that just about all of the players currently working professionally are younger than they used to be, and therefore much more accepting of technology in general. There are very few total "Purists" out there - not if they want to work in today's myriad situatons they find themselves in.

There's just not a lot of really "OLD" (read: out of touch and inflexible) folks on stage anymore, not like it used to be... I've seen opera singers adapt to and accept lavalier mics (for a specific spoken-word moment in a very loud, sound-effects laden moment in a non-traditional operatic role), and I've done as many as 24 tracks on full out orchestral/theatrical work with choir, soloists and full Chamber Orchestra, so they're used to all the mics onstage and the technical side of things. I'm not knocking the older musicians, but it's changed a LOT since I started doing this 20-some years ago. Back then, mics were an imposition, and it was only the biggest of budgets that could afford to record. (ANd those budgets meant more $$$ for the players. Not so anymore, sadly...)

With today's technology all around us, in every part of life, musicians are hipper and more accepting of the technology involved. Very often, the players themselves approach me after a particularly good concert and sign up for copies for themselves; the idea of a CD of what they did (even the pro's and more jaded types) has that instant-gratificiation appeal to many. It just didn't work that way years ago.

I think it's going to work out in terms of the players "getting it", but the cost of a system - even a rental, with single ear breakouts for all - is a very real concern.

More as it happens. :roll:

RemyRAD Thu, 02/01/2007 - 23:57
Joe, he probably remembers the old RCA and CBS studios in New York? I had been in the old RCA studios a couple of times, where I sat in on some orchestral recordings, before it went away, just before General Electric bought them and it was an amazing facility! With those huge movable, wooden poly cylindrical diffusers, that I had only seen pictures of. It was fabulous!

Maybe FifthCircle can send you some pictures of recording sessions that are similar to what you're going to do, to show the conductor, to convince him with the suggestions that others have made here? I mean 60 headphones is going to cause quite a racket that will foldback into the microphones anyhow.

Sure, I think they probably had 80 headphones available!? But it wasn't a location job.

I remember seeing a piece of percussion gear that said "Toscanini, NBC orchestra" on it, in the early 1980s! WOW!

You might want to look into a university language lab system? Talk about headphone distribution. Maybe the United nation's system? Not the same.

This is a tough one.
Ms. Remy Ann David

FifthCircle Fri, 02/02/2007 - 10:48
Running 60 headphones is really no worse than running 10. The bleed issue is definitely one to deal with, but that is why I recommend the Beyer closed ear single-muff headphones. The way you mic when dealing with this many cans is also important. Getting the majority of your sound from your overhead mics and then using spots for detail and bringing instruments/sections in and out of focus is a wise approach here.

I wouldn't worry about players not playing in tune because they have a single-ear muff running. You can still hear plenty well with a single ear and you MUST have everybody on click and they should hear something of the orchestra back as well. Be aware in their headphone mix also the louder the backing tracks etc... in their cans, the louder they will want the click. Having them crank the level will increase bleed issues so be careful with the sound in their cans. Also, compression and EQ of the click can also help with bleed issues while recording.

--Ben

Cucco Fri, 02/02/2007 - 11:04
Sonarerec wrote: [quote=Cucco] Furthermore, Joe's not dealing with seasoned studio musicians presumably. They're probably standard symphony players. A symphony player will NOT like the headphones.

You might be a little behind the times. Symphony players who like to make extra dough and do something different are usually adept at the ways of the studio. In Nashville all the symphony guys were at peace with the compromises that entailed, and that goes for most major cities.

Rich
Sorry, I don't think so. It's one thing to play in a studio to backing tracks with cans on. I've done it (for an off-broadway religious-based play soundtrack as a solo horn for intro to their finale) but if I were to play in a section of my peers, it is essential that I hear them. Our section and most others that I've played in pride ourselves on our ability to almost read eachothers' minds. When one is tired, the others help out without having to even so much as give a visual cue as to such. When the principal is flat, we adjust accordingly. Articulations and balance are all done on the fly. These are things which cannot be done in cans.

Sure, great studio musicians do it but that's because that's what they're accustomed to and they work in that medium all the time. Also, they have their own way of cueing eachother in more visual means.

As for "most other major cities..." I would hardly equate Nashville and LA to other major cities. I've studied with major symphony players from orchestras including Chicago Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, National Symphony, Seattle Sympony, Dallas, Arkansas Symphony and others (extensively with National, Baltimore and Arkansas - respectively Marty Hackleman - NSO, Vancouver Symphony, and Canadian Brass; Peter Landgren, BSO, and Robin Dauer, ASO). I dare say that these individuals have no love of playing in cans either.

Again, my point is, as a standard symphony horn player (I could care less about the other instruments, I'm focusing on horn here because that's what I know) they will NOT like playing with cans. Period.

I have posed this question to the horn forum and have received unanimous replies as to the dislike of headphones - many from very famous and quite accomplished players. As soon as I receive permission to quote these individuals, I will post some of their comments and their credentials. Heck, if you'd like, I'll post their e-mail addresses so you can feel free to contact them and inform them that they are behind the times as well.


Cheers -

J.

Thomas W. Bethel Wed, 01/31/2007 - 05:27
We will be doing a similar recording project later this spring if the client can find the money. The difference is our chamber orchestra will only have about 30 or so players and the only ones wearing headphones will be the conductor, the percussionist and the concert master.

I really don't see why all the orchestra members have to have headphones on and I think it is really going to BUG them big time if they are not use to playing with headphones. As to renting that amount of headphones....good luck

Based on experience every player will want his or her own volume control and will also want to control what it is that they are hearing (their section, click track, percussion, bass line, etc.)....I think this is going to turn into one big mess......Can you talk honestly with the conductor and tell him or her what the problems are likely to be?

When I worked for the college here in town we did a piece where every member of an ensemble had to have a click track earphone. We specially built splitter boxes and ordered 50 TELEX "in the ear headphones". The first rehearsal was a real mess and NO ONE was happy with their phone levels which proved to be the biggest problem. It also took over two hours to setup and tear down the headphone setup for each rehearsal and concert and keeping all the wires coiled up and untangled was a Herculean task in itself. I wish you the only the BEST! and good LUCK!This is a real "can of worms" and I don't think the conductor has any idea of what he or she is asking for or will having to deal with during the recording session.....

FifthCircle Fri, 02/02/2007 - 11:59
Provided your conductor is doing more than just beating time, there is a great need for a conductor- even when there is a click. To keep the entire orchestra together, though, you need them all on the click. If you have rhythmic passages, you will only have them together with the click if everybody is on the same bassis of time. This will only happen if everybody is on cans. You'll get close if everybody is watching the conductor, but the time will slide- it is only human nature.

--Ben

Cucco Fri, 02/02/2007 - 12:09
FifthCircle wrote: Provided your conductor is doing more than just beating time, there is a great need for a conductor- even when there is a click.

Couldn't agree more!

FifthCircle wrote:
To keep the entire orchestra together, though, you need them all on the click. If you have rhythmic passages, you will only have them together with the click if everybody is on the same bassis of time. This will only happen if everybody is on cans. You'll get close if everybody is watching the conductor, but the time will slide- it is only human nature.

--Ben

I don't understand this... orchestras have "stayed with the conductor" for centuries before the click track and will continue to do so without it. It may just be the extreme competitive nature of the DC metro region's classical music scene (we have one of the most competitive scenes in the world thanks to the several military wind and string ensembles employing some of the nation's finest musicians all concentrated in one area). But...in this area, if you can't stick with the conductor - even if you vary a little...you're replaced (read: fired). A percussion colleague of mine was just fired from a mid-level symphony job because he played a couple measures off from the conductor. Granted it nearly disrupted the entire concert, but still....no grace periods for musicians.

Cheers -
J.

FifthCircle Fri, 02/02/2007 - 12:21
Cucco wrote:
I don't understand this... orchestras have "stayed with the conductor" for centuries before the click track and will continue to do so without it. It may just be the extreme competitive nature of the DC metro region's classical music scene (we have one of the most competitive scenes in the world thanks to the several military wind and string ensembles employing some of the nation's finest musicians all concentrated in one area). But...in this area, if you can't stick with the conductor - even if you vary a little...you're replaced (read: fired). A percussion colleague of mine was just fired from a mid-level symphony job because he played a couple measures off from the conductor. Granted it nearly disrupted the entire concert, but still....no grace periods for musicians.

Cheers -
J.

Ever play under a conductor with a soft down beat?

It isn't about players not being able to play with a conductor. It is about players playing with the film. Timings often need to be exact for hits in a film. Most folks doing sequences will calculate out a tempo to 3 decimal places to make this happen. Conductor's patterns aside, there is a bit of a lag when you watch- it may all be together in the group, but the conductor's lag plus the musician lag results in not playing to the film. Remember- it isn't about the art of playing in an orchestra. It is about making the music in the film work for whatever needs to happen. The way that happens in today's world is through the use of a click track.

Heck, on the video playback, you have streamers to warn the conductor what is coming up (tempo changes, end of cue, etc...).

Yes, in the old days, conductors free-conducted (and even on occasion today, you'll find somebody like John Williams doing that on a specific cue if he thinks it needs the freedom), but the music was very different than what you get today. In a world of sequencers, etc... you need things to be exact.

--Ben

Cucco Fri, 02/02/2007 - 12:24
Thanks for the clarification...good points.

Of course, I do still feel the necessity to caution that most symphony (non-studio) musicians (specifically horns) will not take kindly to cans. But...I've made that statement a few times, so I guess I'm now officially beating a dead horse...;)
x