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Orchestra mixing...

Just had my first orchestra recording today. Came up with decent mic techniques using this forum and my good 'ol SOS subscription.

Main stereo pair was a Brauner Phantom C ORTF, over the conductors head. Secondary was a spaced pair (about 10 feet apart) of Neumann 184's. Had some spot mics (a Neumann 184 and 183) on some woodwinds and clari (they were soloists). A drum kit (U87 as OH, and Beta 52 as kick). A 414 on piano, and 421's on the 2 double basses. (Timps were not mic-ed) All of the 13 channels were running through 2, 8-channel PreSonus preamps. (welcome the weakest link)

My question is, how should I go about mixing this. I probably don't want to sparkle anything, keeping it warm. What are some of your suggestions / practises?




JoeH Tue, 10/17/2006 - 10:07
Well, first of all, congratulations! And secondly, don't be so tough on yourself about the presonus pre's. ('Tis a poor carpenter who blames his tools, etc.) It looks like you're well on your way to making good orchestral recordings, and you could certainly do a lot worse than that. In time, hopefully you'll be able to get the pre's of your dreams. Till then, use what you've got, remembering that there are dozens of other factors involved in the overal sound as well.

You didn't mention the room or ensemble size (symphonic orchestra?Expanded chamber/pops-style orchestra with drums?), so I can't comment on the spaced 184's you used, although I MIGHT have opted for something a little different; a space pair of omnis as flanks, perhaps. It all depends on the room and ensemble size. Otherwise, sounds like you''re ready to work on a mix.

I don't know what software you'll be using, so real hard-core specifics are difficult to suggest initially. (I use Sequoia/Samplitude, FWIW)

For starters, I'd mute everything but the main stereo pair, then add the 184's to see what it all sounds like in its most basic form. (You'll probably want to normalize the main pair, or at least find out where the peaks are, and work down from there.) At this early point, you can ascertain if it's too dry or too wet, and make some early choices on reverb (or NO reverb, as the case may be.)

You will also want to decide if you're going for TOTAL accuracy (if you're working in a great hall) or if you've got to spruce things up a bit. (Again, with some reverb decisions in the mixing process.)

I'm sure you'll toggle each solo track on and off to hear what they sound like, and it will help you decide how much you'll want to keep in the overall mix. You may want to work with a score, or as with most object-based software (where you can "SEE" the waveforms) you may want to gently fade out/turn off tracks that have no musical/sonic value. (Places where the winds aren't playing, for example.....these tacits might be places where an open mic would just add to the overall din of sound.) I always make sure that any fades up or down are gentle and subtle enough to be unnoticable.

Ditto for the drums; I'm guessing they're only used for certain pieces, so make sure those mics/tracks are muted when not in use.

Aside from the main pairs out in front (and the bass mics, of course), you'll probably want to roll off any low end for your solo or spot mics. These can pick up a lot of useless stuff that you don't want creeping into the mix - rumble from the distant typmani or bass drums, chair scrapes, coughs, etc. (Sometimes when all's said and done, I STILL have to roll off a little overall low end that builds up on the final 2-bus).

Same with piano and bass mics; add to taste and as needed. I always prefer to have a spot mic on the bass section, it gives me a little extra "oomph" and detail on the bass line, esp if it's a dense orchestral setting. Sometimes a little goes a long way. ( I sometimes sum the whole mix to mono below 100-150 hz, depening on the situation how much taming the low end needs. Some others prefer to go lower than that - 80hz perhaps - but the point here is that a solid low end makes for a nice foundation for the rest of the mix to build on, over top of it all. It's a leftover trick from the days of vinyl mastering, but it's worth trying to see if it helps or hurts your mix)

For reverb, everyone has their favorites; you may want to add slightly different reverbs to different sections; perhaps a nice clear, medium hall type of sound overall in the mains, and then perhaps a little extra something sweet for the soloists' parts. NOTHING overdone of course, just a little extra space around the sound of the solo mics, which may be overly dry due to their proximity to the soloists.

Assuming you're working in 24 bits, you'll have plenty of headroom for each track, so don't overdo it trying to normalize everything to full level; you'll want to make sure whatever you add in the way of solo or spot mics sounds natural and not overdone. (The trick is of course to make it sound like it BELONGS, rather than sticking out of the mix.) Bring things up where needed, of course, but remember your final mix will be a compilation of all combined levels. Leave some room for peaks and double-forte passagles. (As you're well aware, this is NOT a pop or rock recording where you'll be "Finalizing" the track! :wink: )

Limiting should be next to none at all (god forbid!) and generally unecessary if you're keeping the whole thing within reasonable levels, but you may want to keep an eye on peaks in the final 2-bus; things CAN build up as you add stuff. If you see something that's truly robbing you of overall gain in the final mix, it's not all that illegal to go back in and GENTLY remove or lower a rogue peak - just so long as it's undetectable to the ear.

I'm sure there's lots more others can tell you as well, but hopefully this is a start for you. (What kind of software are you mixing with, btw?)

Hope that helps get you started. 8-)

RemyRAD Tue, 10/17/2006 - 10:10
Congratulations! Didn't it make you feel good?? I bet!

Of course, you should start off with your "Main stereo pair was a Brauner Phantom" as your predominant starting point.

Now you must ask yourself this question, " will list ever be combined with video?". If it is to be combined later with a video, you will want to mix for television. That is to say, you will not want to take your highlight microphones and place them in a contrary position to where they appeared visually. You will want to match the more closely to where they appear in the picture.

If on the other hand this is never going to be paired with a video, I would say you will now have the freedom to place your highlight microphones wherever you believe them to sound best to enhance the perceived performance, i.e. placing the highlight Mike on the opposite side from where it predominantly appears in your main stereo pair, to create a broader stereo field of the solo instrument.

I'm not even going to broach the subject of 5.1 surround. More gimmicktry and sales hype. I have 2 ears and two speakers are good enough for me. I stand my ground. LESS IS MORE!

Ms. Remy Ann David

mark_van_j Tue, 10/17/2006 - 14:23
Thanks guys!

And yes, it made me feel REALLY good. :D After years of live sound and quite a few loud "brick" recordings, it was just what I needed. :D Even though I wished I could own just half of the mics we used, it was actually all of the hall's gear.

It was with pure luck that I got this "gig" (non-paying of course). A student in film studies needed 6:30 minutes of scoring for his film, and got a music student to write 6:30 minutes in 72 hours. He then asked a recording student to record his orchestra class but since he was a first-year student, he asked a third year, who then asked me and 2 others. In total there were 5 engineers, 2 first-year (for doing the cabling) and 3 of us thrid-year (for thinking). :D One was for coordination with the players as to sitting positions, spacing, etc... The other and me, did mic setup and positioning, while I was the main Pro Tools guy. It was insane team action, since we're really good friends, we knew what our job was, and that it was no time to mess around, making everything run absolutely smoothly.

Some of the orchestra rehearsed the piece a day before, but for most it was the first time they saw the music. For set-up we had about 2 hours. The orchestra then practised the piece for 2 hours (enough for us to do minor changes and sound check) Then did about 4 takes. Thye last one being the best, it still has major mistakes, such as a cough in the middle, and a piano coming in one bar early. Everything was tracked into Pro Tools, and I will be mixing using Pro Tools Le.

The orchestra was about mid sized. I would say at least 30 strong. The main problem with the recording is that the bass section (trumpets and trombone mainly) is very strong. We tried to compensate by lowering the spaced 183's (not 184's; my mistake) so they would be closer to the strings. This kinda worked, but didn't dampen the brass.

Anyways, the score is for a student movie, which will be played on goodness knows what kind of system. Centering the spots would not create too much of a "dissonance", except for the drum OH, which contains ride and snare. (which I had to delay to line up with the room mics)

But I really have to hold myself back with the compressor. I'm not used to seeing such a big dynamic range on instruments. By habit I already compressed the bass spots and bass guitar, one of those plugins you insert before you even properly listen to the recording. :oops:

Anyways, I'll post up some clips as soon as I get something done. Thanks again everyone!


JoeH Tue, 10/17/2006 - 17:59
Sounds like you had a blast, Marko! Kudos to your team, as well. That's great that everyone worked together so well. This may be one of those galvinizing moments when people suddenly realize what it is they want to do in life.

Hopefully, you can edit between the good takes to remove the cough and the early piano entrance.

Don't worry about how good or bad the playback system may be for the video; always assume it WILL be good, and you'll never have to worry about where it's being played. As for dynamic range, you MIGHT want to attempt two mixes: one for the CD, and one for the DVD. The CD can be totally pure and "Audiophile", while you MIGHT be able to do a little compression for the video.

Yes, purists might scream at this - I probably would as well - but it sometimes helps if you're just making it work for a DVD presentation. In some cases, (movie soundtracks, etc.) there's a little cheating going on to keep it punchy and "in your face." BY NO MEANS am I talking about the brick-wall "Finalizing" that goes on with rock and pop stuff, but a little bit of leveling might go a long way. Just don't overdo it! :wink:

Looking forward to hearing you final mix at some point, too.