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Orchestral Soundtrack location recording advice

Member for

17 years 5 months
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.


Member for

16 years 8 months

Zilla Fri, 02/02/2007 - 16:29
"Yes They Will!!"
"No They Won't!!"

Is this really how this discussion is devolving?

If the client wants headphones, provide them.
If some musicians don't want to wear them, unplug them.
Bill the client and make money.

Everybody happy. What's the dilema here?

Member for

17 years 8 months

Cucco Fri, 02/02/2007 - 16:36
I know you're not taking sides here and that's not how I'm interpreting it, but you are absolutely correct. Thank you.

My only point is that some won't want them. Period.

I don't need to be told that I'm wrong for my opinion or that I wouldn't keep a job without accepting others'.

Member for

19 years 11 months

Thomas W. Bethel Sat, 02/03/2007 - 06:34
Having worked in a Conservatory of Music for 26 years I can safely say that if given half a chance most classically trained musicians would prefer NOT to wear any headphones. If they do have to wear them they prefer the single muff design but most of them would prefer NO HEADPHONES as they are something alien to what they are use to hearing.

I have a good friend who is a classically trained cello player and played for years in a symphony orchestra. Now he makes a very good living by playing for sessions in Nashville and he has told me on more than one occasion that he can't stand to have headphones on but has to use them when he is in session. He had to relearn to play his cello with cans on and even practiced with them on so he could get use to the "sound" in the cans versus what he was hearing when he did not have them on. Playing with headphones on is somewhat similar to playing the piano with gloves on. Yes it can be done but the results may not be what you or the conductor are expecting.

Member for

20 years 9 months

FifthCircle Sat, 02/03/2007 - 11:55
Sonarerec wrote: This is a digression that has gone far afield-- perhaps we could simply respond to Joe's questions?


This conversation has gone way off topic... Please lets try to restore some civility (and less of the "I know more than you" attitutde) or the topic will be locked.

Sorry, but this forum is better than what is going on here...


Member for

17 years 8 months

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.

Member for

16 years 10 months

Simmosonic Sat, 02/10/2007 - 22:40
While they're all saying "the comfy chair"...

Joe, one of the best headphone distribution systems I've seen was developed by Simon Leadley for Trackdown Scoring Stage in Sydney, Australia.

He uses the old transformer line method (75V or 100V, I'm not sure) initially developed for driving large number of installed speakers from a single power amplifier. In his design the headphone sends drive power amplifiers that in turn drive a number of transformers (their primary coils are all wired in parallel across the amplifier's output). Each transformer drives one set of headphones, or possibly more. This allows him to connect many, many headphones to the power amplifier without any problems. Plugging more or less headphones into the system makes little difference to the level into each pair.

I am not sure how relevant it is to your original question, but I always thought it was a very cool and robust idea... It is costly because transformers are involved, but if I remember correctly he had most of the bits and pieces hanging around while the place was being built and realised it would make a fine headphone distribution system.

When I'm teaching audio classes in Sydney there are times when I want/need to provide a headphone mix to 24 or more students at once. In this situation I use two or three of the Deadringer headphone boxes, mentioned earlier on this thread. They make one that has four individual output channels, each with three headphone sockets (one on the front, two on the back) and volume and tone controls. Each channel also has access to an auxiliary input with individual mix control, ideal for blending in a click at different levels. You could provide a main stereo mix for all, and by using each output channel's volume and aux mix controls, adjust the overall volume and mix/click balance for each output.

One of these low cost boxes can drive up to 12 cans with reasonable versatility. And they have a 'thru' connection on the rear so they can be daisychained.

They also make one that has 8 output channels, each with three outputs IIRC, but only level controls. I haven't played with that one, but it's an interesting thought.

None of those boxes are too rugged, however. I find there is always one or two jacks that are broken, so you'd need some redundancy. They use those deceitful jacks that look like they're screwed in with a metal nut, when in fact it is simply a metal cover over a plastic insert thing, and comes out a bit too easily.

Member for

17 years 5 months

JoeH Mon, 04/30/2007 - 06:31
Well, it's time to revive this thread, and as promised, reveal a few things about the session, the client, etc.

Amazingly, this project did finally get off the ground, and is now completed and will be out in time for the '07 holidays. (At least that's what the studio - Warner Bros. Animation - says...)

The working/temp classical soundtrack for the storyboard had been assembled from "other" classical CD performances of this work, which the animators made the movie from. Since it was too expensive to buy the rights outright, re-recording the whole thing was actually a better solution, at least $$$-wise. Since LA and NYC were out of the question logistically and financially, the project ended up in Philadelphia, which was (in in hindsight) a VERY good fit for all involved.

We did indeed go with (almost) 60 single-ear headsets for the players, (an expanded chamber orchstra) while the conductor alternated between a single and double-ear set, depending on what he was listening for. Every player had 15-20 feet of cable leading to a box near their chair with a volume control for each set, so there were no problems with anyone needing more - or less - headphone level.

FWIW, not one person complained or had a problem with the click track per se; it was understood when they took the gig that this was going to be the case. (So, if you signed on to play the gig, you knew what you were in for.) Many players knew the work in their sleep anyway; they do it every year at Christmas time here with the PA Ballet.

The session was one full day of tech/setup and working with the conductor (Dirk Brasse, from Brussels) ahead of time, then three actual recording sessions over two days to record three 18-minute "reels" of music for this animated 50 minute cartoon from WB. The music was entirely selections from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker (not in sequence from the ballet, however) and was performed & recorded in a large church in Center City Philadelphia, during regular business hours. (My reNOVAtor tools got a nice workout in post!)

Picture & midi sync (with clicktrack output to the cans) was with an iMAC dual pentium running Digital Performer 5.0, and audio recording was with Sequoia V8 running 22 tracks of audio; 20 mics, w/click and SMPTE. Sync was with MOTU's A/V syncronizer, although we hardly needed much of a lock with today's DAW stability, etc. Most of the cuts were 4-5 minutes max., many much shorter.

Perhaps the hardest part for people who don't do this every day in scoring stages was to wrap one's mind around the concept of click track performance itself (and to get the technology to work properly, of course!). These were anywhere from 15 seconds to 5 minute cuts, each with a two measure countdown and subsequent click track that sometimes sped up or slowed down.

The real challenge was to play the parts correctly (and musically!), stay in sync with the click & the conductor, and still (in Dirk's words) try to make some "ART" out of it. Everyone had a blast, and truly rose to the occasion.

Each cut was rehearsed a few times until it felt right, then the conductor did several takes until both he and myself were happy with what we got. (his criteria was of course more musical, while mine was often about dodging buses, trucks, and street noises from outside.)

After the sessions ended on a Tuesdsay afternoon, I had the rest of the week to mix it all (surround & stereo) pick or edit the best "Take" of each cue, and drop it/assemble it along the time line of each 18 minute reel. I used Quicktime Pro to convert the Avid2 MOV reels (grrrr) to something a little more manageable for Sequoia to handle, and the rest was a breeze.

The following Monday, at 6 a.m. (just as I was leaving for vacation), the Hard disk and DVD-Rs containing the music & raw materials was waiting for FEDex to come pick it up and wisk with away to CA and the movie studio. (Hey, no pressure, right?! :roll: )

There's more to tell if anyone wants to know more details. I'm told it's now completed and on to replication; everyone at WB is happy, and it will be out by the holiday season.

It's probably the hardest/biggest/complex thing I've worked on in a long time, and there were more than a few moments of white-knuckle panic and terror on everyone's part. (Thank god for cell phones, good coffee, and great tech support....including Ben!!! BIG THANKS, dude! :wink: )

I've been away from these forums for several weeks now, but I hope that now that the dust is settling and life will return to something resembling normal. Rrrrrrrrright!

Member for

17 years 5 months

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! :-)

Member for

17 years 5 months

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.