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Hi everyone,
I am an audio engineering student and I was looking for some insight. I am doing a recording of a percussion ensemble concert on Saturday and one of the pieces is huge. I wanted to get as much insight/advice as possible before then.

They are playing a piece which uses almost every piece of percussion we have. Looking stage left, there are vibes next to wood blocks, then vibes and crotales behind that, then bells, snare, chimes and more bells, and a piano behind that

In the middle, there is a 5 octave marimba, a gong, some toms and nipple gongs, and the timpani behind that.

Lastly, stage right, there are 3 marimbas, one behind the other, a xylophone, more bells and bongos behind that, and lastly toms and congas.

I think I will have 12 mic inputs at my disposal. I was thinking of starting with an ORTF in the center and some side omnis. Past that, I was thinking of just doing a stereo technique on the left, center, and right, and then maybe maybe Micing the timpani.

I may, may, have 18 mic inputs at my disposal. I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions as to what mics (more the type of than specific models (we have a few)) to use, and where exactly to place them.

Thanks for any input.


ptr Wed, 11/07/2007 - 01:54

When it comes to percussion (ensembles) my experience is that less is more!!

If its a good hall, a pair of AB omins, 6-10 feet appart. If You have mikes with excelent transient capabilities, then that would be my mike choice.

From my own mike bag, the choice would be Neumann's TLM50's (or if I had a rental budget the M150)... I'd maybe throw in a pair of KM130/131's as ambient mikes, and as a safty mesure, set a few KM84/140 on instruments that I know might need a boost, and always a KM83 on the grand kassa for those infrasonic waves.. I'd multitrack everything even if I'd do a more or less final mix on the set, wich 99 times out of a 100 is only the main mikes..

I've recorded Minuru Mikis Marimba Spiritual, Steve Reichs Drumming and Yannis Xénakis Pleïades this way, and as for size, these are all kind of big instrument set ups!

What kind of hall is the venue, and what mikes do you have?


Thomas W. Bethel Wed, 11/07/2007 - 05:01

I'm with PTR the less microphones you can use the better off the final project will be. Can you do this in mulititrack and mix down later or is this a direct to two track exercise.

I have recorded everything from "The King of Denmark" by Steven Schick to Iannis Xenakis large percussion piece to Steve Reich's "Drumming" and for most of them I did it with three 4006 DPA microphones. The Shick piece was recorded in an entry way to the concert hall, the Xenakis piece in the concert hall and the Reich's piece in a converted chapel.

As to placement you will have to use your ears and have an assistant move the microphones around until you get a good balance. Most of the recordings I did were the three omnis equally spaced across the front of the stage and up about 9 to 10 feet from the floor on stands. The percussionist were very helpful in obtaining the best balance and were able to move some equipment around to achieve that balance for the recording and for the live performance.

One thing that has become invaluable and is very cheap to purchase has been a pair of walkie talkies so that my assistant and I can converse without running back and forth to the hall. I think the pair we have now cost less than $35.00 and work well inside of a concert hall.

Best of Luck on your recording and please report back and if possible post a link to the final project so we can give it a listen.

JoeH Wed, 11/07/2007 - 05:41

I'm in agreement with what you've already heard here, plus a few suggestions as well.

How many actual percussionists will there be? In most cases, each percussionist sets him/herself up in a "Zone" or area where the instruments they are going to play are within easy reach. (It's not ALWAYS the case, of course, but more often than not, it is.) If you can, mic these as "Zones" as well, in addition to your main omni's. This way, you can dial in a little extra detail if needed.

Of course, sometimes instruments - due to their size or use in a particular piece will be way off somewhere else, but you can deal with that as well, with a spot mic, etc.

Remember too that (hopefully) they've arranged the instruments sensibly for the overall impact to the audience. (Loudest/largest instruments in the back, smaller, more detailed stuff further front, etc.) Again, that doesn't always happen in the world of percussion, but when it does, you go with the flow.

I just did a huge production of John Adam's "Transmigration of Souls" and there were four percussionists, including tympani. They were arranged middle-to-right across the back of the orchestra, but in FRONT of the 100-voice children's choir (which in turn was in front of the 120 voice adult choir.....sheesh!) The tympanii were almost dead center, and to the right of them were what I termed "percussion zone 1" with xylo, marimba, field drum, etc., then two other zones with assorted glocks, tubular bells, toys, and numerous other items, including car brake drums.
I mic'ed the tymp & zone 1 separately, on a boom looking straight down on them, then did a stereo pair over zones 2 & 3. They weren't "solo" instruments as they will be in your case, but I had the detail I needed when mixed in with the omni's out in front.

Leave yourself LOTS of headroom with your pre's, and remember that they are ALWAYS going to play a little louder at the actual concert than they did in dress. Leaving yourself that last little DB of headroom is going to save your butt. :twisted:

anonymous Wed, 11/07/2007 - 09:10

Wow, thanks for the replies

The hall I'm using as a beautiful chapel with very natural reverb.

As for the microphones, we have:

2 TLM 170s
2 CMC6 with both the subcardioid and Omni capsules
2 of each MKH 40s and 20s
2 Rode NT 5s
1 Sennheiser 421
1 AKG D112
2 SM 81s
1 SM57
A few beyerdynamic ribbons

I'm probably forgetting a few mikes

I might be able to procure:
AT 4040
KM 100s
2 Oktava MK 012-01

I will be multitracking this live on a Fireface 800 with a Octane and possibly a Mellinia to fill up the rest of the inputs on the fireface. This will go straight to my macbook.

We are being taught very minimalistic techniques. I'm doing this more as an educational technique. Another engineer will be recording this using our set stereo bar in ORTF for the school's archive.

Thanks for all the input

anonymous Wed, 11/07/2007 - 09:14

To answer JoeH's questions:

Moving them around will not really be an option. I am good friends with all of them and the conductor, but they are there to play for the audience, not to do the recording. The conductor really wants to have a show for the audience, the recording that I am doing is more of an afterthough/a project I decided to take on.

The instruments are definitely arranged in a way to make the largest impact for the audience. There is maybe 1 percussionist to every 2.5 instruments (on average) I would say that for the really big piece, there will be about 15-20 percussionists on stage.

I am planning on doing a 24K recording just so I don't have to push the pres as high. I'm hoping my laptop and external hard drive will be able to take that kind of punishment.

FifthCircle Wed, 11/07/2007 - 10:04

Keep it simple... When I've done percussion ensemble stuff, I'll go with a 3 point array across the front of the ensemble. Usually an ORTF pair with omni flanks.

With your rig, I'd stick with the Schoeps with the subcardiod caps spaced about 12 inches or so and 100 degrees and your TLM 170s in omni as flanks. Position a few feet out and 8-10 feet over stage height. If the ensemble is balanced, your recording will be great.

If you need spot mics, they'll likely be needed on the small "toys" and perhaps some of the melodic keyboard instruments. In my experiences, though, spots are almost never needed.


JoeH Wed, 11/07/2007 - 11:17

um......just so we're clear, I never suggested moving anyone anywhere. I merely pointed out that many times, you'll have one percussionist handling many duties on several instruments, thus the concept of a "Zone" - all of the needed instruments within easy reach of the player. Of course, with 15-20 musicians onstage at once, each playing their own instrument, you're not going to have much of that.

More and more, it sounds like you're going to be better off with omni's.

anonymous Wed, 11/07/2007 - 12:09

Oh sorry, I misunderstood what you meant, though for a recording session, I can see the need to try and move them, even if they don't.

Yes, I understand the idea of "Zones". I am a percussionist myself and while trying to keep percussionists movement to a minimum, that's not always the case if parts are written where the same instrument is played by two different parts.

I was definitely thinking of using Omnis as flanks, but if I should throw them up instead of an ORTF in the middle, that would be worthwhile to try. Thanks

Cucco Wed, 11/07/2007 - 12:19

While I generally prefer the Schoeps over the Sennheiser analogs, I would actually opt for the MKH40s as an ORTF pair with the MKH20s as the omni flanks in your case.

I find that the Sennheisers tend to be a bit "euphoric" sounding (which for orchestra, IMO, overwhelms it unless it's a horribly sterile orchestra and space). However, for percussion ensemble, it puts a nice depth and hugeness that the Schoeps won't portray. This can be very effective on percussion.

Just a thought.


FifthCircle Thu, 11/08/2007 - 10:35

Not a fan of MKH40's on percussion here. There is something about them that is just too polite. Seems that the attack of the instruments just gets a bit lost with them...

I missed the fact that you had Sennheiser Condensers in my original recommendation. I'd probably still stick with the Schoeps as a center pair, but I'd use MKH20's as flanks instead of the 170's. The 170 would be a decent marimba/xylophone spot if it is needed as would the MKH40. Depending on the piece, you'll probably need few other mics as most percussion ensembles do a pretty good job of balancing themselves out.


Cucco Thu, 11/08/2007 - 11:22

FifthCircle wrote: Not a fan of MKH40's on percussion here. There is something about them that is just too polite. Seems that the attack of the instruments just gets a bit lost with them...


I agree completely with the results that you speak of. That's actually why I prefer them...they tend to soften attacks on percussion. Interesting though that we both agree on the outcome but have different preferences there.

Of course, any of the listed mics could be used to get positive, even wonderful results. At that level of microphone, it's always down to minutae.

anonymous Sun, 11/11/2007 - 21:30

So the session yesterday was awesome. Everything went really well. I ended up using our tried and true method of minimalism (That's what we've been taught). I used the 20s as flanks, the 40s as an ORTF, and I had the NT5s in the piano, a D112 on the Bass drum, and for another piece I used a 421 on a drum.

I did the preliminary mix today, but I'm waiting to get into our studio tomorrow to see how it really sounds. I'll let you guys know.

Thanks for all the time and help by everyone.

Simmosonic Sun, 11/11/2007 - 23:01

Pash91 wrote: Hi everyone,
I am an audio engineering student and I was looking for some insight.

You could try close miking every single instrument, record each to a separate track, and use heaps of noise gates, compressors, EQ and reverb plug-ins to 'fix it in the mix'. It will be an abject disaster, but it will also be a lesson you'll never forget! ;-)

On a more serious note, and in an attempt to provide an alternative point of view to all of the good advice you have received here, sometimes a bit of lateral thinking might be useful. There are many percussion instruments, but there are two things in general to consider:

1) each percussionist usally plays only one instrument at a time;

2) each instrument is usually directly in front of the percussionist when being played.

So, instead of miking the instruments, try miking the percussionists instead. To be more precise, turn the percussionists into the microphones.

I used to do this years ago, by using PZMs. I used to do the live sound for a 'rock' band that had a percussionist with a very big rig. Instead of miking up each instrument, consuming lots of channels and giving myself a real headache, I bought the standard old PZM and drilled a small hole in each corner. Holding the plate vertically with the XLR at the bottom, a small length of cord was tied to the top two holes so the mic could be hung around the percussionist's neck. Another cord was tied between the bottom two holes, which went around the percussionist's chest. This allowed the PZM to be held quite firmly against the percussionist's sternum area. The XLR plugged in, the lead was clipped to his belt to prevent pulling on the connector or moving the plate around, and enough lead was provided on the floor to allow him to move around.

The nice thing about this was that no matter what instrument he was playing, it was always 'on mic' and capturing the sound as the percussionist heard it, rather than from the back.

I have always wondered how this would work for a recording. You would need less mics - one per percussionist, rather than one per instrument. No mic stands on stage, much less clutter, easier to set-up, and each instrument will be inadvertantly miked at the distance the percussionist thinks it sounds best at.

Just an idea, really...