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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

Pro Audio Guest Fri, 02/02/2007 - 13:46
I can see that I was not clear-- I don't know anyone who LIKES to play with cans, but I don't know anyone that REFUSES to.

In thinking back to musicians I've worked with (which includes Chicago, Atlanta, and Nashville), I played with most of them in both scenarios-- on stage playing art music, and in the studio (some big and some small) playing sessions.

Today you will be hard-pressed to find a recording of non-concert repertoire (soundtrack, etc) that was done without cans. And I will stick with my original point-- in major cities most of the symphony players have done the headphone thing. "Headphones" is synonymous with extra money.

Rich

Cucco Wed, 01/31/2007 - 12:14
I agree with both David and Tom. The conductor must have seen some scoring session on MTV or something and thinks that all the musicians want headphones...

I'll tell you right now, if any conductor or engineer ever asks me to play with cans on, I'll ask him (or her) if they LIKE intonation and good tone or if they would prefer to hire someone else - those would be their options.

However, if you MUST do the headphone route, it's honestly almost as cheap to buy as it is to rent. At least then you could recoup some of your losses by selling some of it on ebay later. The B****nger headphone amps have like 12 outputs and they're dirt cheap. 5 of those with 60 of the el-cheapo AKGs or Sennheisers or ATs or Apexes or whatever else and you're coming in around $1200 for the whole deal. Charge the client for 80% of that as a "rental" fee. Keep what you need when you're done and sell the rest.

Label each can with a letter (corresponding to the HP amp) and a number (corresponding to the output on that amp) and when someone wants their level adjusted, have them state their number and how they want it adjusted.

It's a SERIOUS pain in the ass (as mentioned already). We did a project like this 5 years ago and I will never do something like that again! I think one for the conductor, concert master and lead/principal percussionist (and maybe one for the principal trumpet) would be appropriate.

Good luck!!!

Let me know if you need a few extra cans. I've got 3 or so pair I could loan out if they come back in good condition.

J.

Cucco Fri, 02/02/2007 - 14:47
I understand your point...I really do. But I do mean to say that many WILL refuse to play with them. Let's put it this way, some musicians do not need the supplemental income or care about studio sessions. If they get booked for a gig and they are required to use cans, they will call their subs. (and if their subs like their jobs, they won't turn the gig down.)

Take for example the following quote excerpted in its entirety from Mr. Hans Pizka:

Herr Pizka wrote:
The head phones are just used when synchronizing with
another soundtrack or to synchronize with a certain rhythm pattern & for (just before) rhythm changes.

It is nonsense to use it in classical music recordings
except for those, where a real ensemble does not exist & all voices are recorded separately & mixed together. We know about such "synthetic" results. There is no music in such recordings but they are just boring.

Why not trying another idea ? Perhaps doing an
intercontinental orchestral concert, where all work with earphones but playing in different countries & continens JUST ONLINE for listeners JUST ONLINE. The funny thing is it, they wood save the rent of the hall, the security personal, the music rental (who could check that), every listener could feed himself or herself with their preferred food & make food noise all over not disturbing any other listener, even going pee without disturbing the seat neighbour, even listening naked or in bed or on the toilet ..... Many advantages ... And nobody has to pay for the concert ticket .... (How about the living for the musicians)
-- ooops they do it from home anyway & earn their living by giving lessons - oops again, sorry, they teach online - etc. A world of music I would not like to live in.

I will allow Mr. Pizka's introduction to stand for itself:

Herr Pizka wrote:
I am 65 old, 50 years playing first horn
professionally, since 1967 with the Bavarian State Opera &
The Bavarian State Orchestra, one of the biggest orchestras
in the world & the oldest continuously existing orchestra in the western world (since 1530 !!), soloist, publisher, arranger, writer, musicologist, polyglott, passionate traveller in arts.

I think, despite the occasional broken english, Mr. Pizka's sentiment and sarcasm speak volumes. He is largely regarded as one of the world's finest hornplayers. No doubt he is a very opinionated person, but with his kind of experience, I certainly find no fault with his right to his opinions (and quite often agree with them).

I'm hoping to get Mr. Clevenger's take on this as well. In addition to being another of the greats in the horn world, he too is opinionated and outspoken and I dare say quite right in his outspoken nature.

Cheers -

Jeremy

Pro Audio Guest Fri, 02/02/2007 - 15:06
Cucco wrote: I'm hoping to get Mr. Clevenger's take on this as well. In addition to being another of the greats in the horn world, he too is opinionated and outspoken and I dare say quite right in his outspoken nature.

I am REALLY looking forward to hearing Dale's thoughts, as I played contra-bass trombone with the CSO several times when he was playing (I was one of many "extra" trombone operators over the years) as well as on several sessions where I saw him........ wearing HEADPHONES.

Again, no one liked it, but we did it, and it was not for the sake of art, either. As for Bavaria-- I couldn't agree with Herr Pitzka more when he says:

It is nonsense to use it in classical music recordings..

No one is suggesting the performing of classical music with a cue track, but I haven't heard any evidence to suggest that "studio" material has been recorded without cans in the last 30 years.

This is a digression that has gone far afield-- perhaps we could simply respond to Joe's questions?

Rich

Cucco Fri, 02/02/2007 - 16:07
See...now I think we're splitting hairs here and frankly it's getting quite frustrating.

I'm curious to know which recordings you saw Mr. Clevenger (and yes, when referring to him in public, I will most definitely use "Mr. Clevenger." When cursing at him or speaking of him in private, perhaps not...) using headphones for any other reason than checking HIS specific balance.

What I'm trying to say here is simple...

if dealing with "studio" musicians, you won't have a problem with them wearing cans for clicks. However, since there aren't that many classical/soundtrack studios in the Philly area, I'm supposing Joe will be dealing with symphonic players (as he has already indicated).

I can tell you from personal experience....as a professional horn player only 3 hours outside the Philly area, that there is a slim chance of finding 4 to 5 horn players who are comfortable wearing cans while playing. A clarinet, a bone, a trumpet are all notable exceptions as these guys have likely played in studio sessions. Horn players though work entirely as a section. We don't breath without the others' approval. The commradery (sp?) in a horn section is unlike that in ANY other orchestral section and the headphones WILL hinder our communication.

In other words...I am NOT an isolated case. My suggestion TO JOE is simply that he be cautious in his approach to get "SYMPHONIC" players to wear headphones while playing. I guarantee you...piss off ONE of the hornplayers and you will gain the wrath of the entire section!

Differ in opinion all you would like, but don't tell me that I'm an isolated case. I KNOW the other horn players in the mid-atlantic area and I KNOW their preferences in this matter.

FifthCircle Wed, 01/31/2007 - 15:56
Hey Joe-

I've got a fair amount of experience doing exactly this... Drop me a line and I can help you out- I'll be reachable (driving) from about noon on tomorrow.

In short-

Headphones are fine, but you should go single ear. I use Beyer DT102 here (I think that's the number). I usually send them a monitor mix of themselves as well as click track, etc... Pre-records are also always in the cans as the musicians need to hear them for a pitch reference. Here in LA, most experienced players will want to bring their own headphones- this is fine, but be aware of click bleed issues.

Last gig I did was actually a live performance thing where I had click, prerecords, and a live orchestra. I gave the Orchestra an AVIOM system so they could dial in their own mix. Everything was on CAT-5 so it was easy to set up. With the proper break-out box, I didn't even need power for the mixers. It took awile to teach the musicians how to use the boxes, but once they knew them, they pretty much liked them. Certainly made my life easier. That said, 90% of the mixes were heavy on click and very light on everything else.

In the big sessions here in town, there is a monitor mixer on the stage and then the score mixer is in the control room. In the smaller sessions, I'll run cans from my console in the CR. The most convenient way to run will be a standard amplifier running out to headphone boxes with individual volume controls. You'll probably be able to put a dozen or so cans on each amp- you need to sit down with the pencil and paper to figure that one out to make sure loading is ok.

I wouldn't give the musicians a monitor, either... You want them watching the music- not the movie. Put a TV in front of the conductor and project against the back wall behind the orchestra.

Next, I'd be careful playing off a DVD- you want your session locked to picture. If you do use a DVD, have them put code as an audio track so that you can lock your DAW to the timecode. Otherwise, the re-sync can seriously suck in post.

I'll tell you right now, if any conductor or engineer ever asks me to play with cans on, I'll ask him (or her) if they LIKE intonation and good tone or if they would prefer to hire someone else - those would be their options.

Not to harp on ya Jeremy, but you bring that attitude into LA, you'll never work. Playing with cans is a good skill to have. Scoring sessions can certainly be fun to play and they don't have to be a compromise of sound/intonation to get a good performance with cans. You should see somebody like Rick Todd or Malcom McNabb go when the red light goes on. Un-freakin-believable what those guys can do in the studio.

--Ben

Cucco Wed, 01/31/2007 - 16:39
FifthCircle wrote:
I'll tell you right now, if any conductor or engineer ever asks me to play with cans on, I'll ask him (or her) if they LIKE intonation and good tone or if they would prefer to hire someone else - those would be their options.

Not to harp on ya Jeremy, but you bring that attitude into LA, you'll never work. Playing with cans is a good skill to have. Scoring sessions can certainly be fun to play and they don't have to be a compromise of sound/intonation to get a good performance with cans. You should see somebody like Rick Todd or Malcom McNabb go when the red light goes on. Un-freakin-believable what those guys can do in the studio.

--Ben

Well...not quite. Many of the studio horn players (such as Vince DeRosa, Jim Decker, Jim Thatcher, and others) don't like to use cans either (not to say they won't or don't, but there is obviously a preference). Furthermore, Joe's not dealing with seasoned studio musicians presumably. They're probably standard symphony players. A symphony player will NOT like the headphones.

Besides...I've got no plan to move to LA to play in sessions. I like orchestral music too much.

J

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!

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.

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.

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?

Rich

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...

--Ben
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