big band recording

Discussion in 'Microphones (live or studio)' started by pmolsonmus, Jun 7, 2009.

  1. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    Jun 23, 2003
    Hi all,

    Did a search and there's been nothing recent on the topic so...
    I got the call to record the school's big band tomorrow. It's quite good, wins lots of awards and they're doing some great Gordon Goodwin charts.

    Anyway - I've got 16 digital inputs. 8 channels of quality pre (4 Seb, 4 Sytek)

    Mic Options are:
    4 Crown PZMs (the good ones)
    2 414s B/ULS
    1 Blue Woodpecker
    2 NT5s SDC
    2 421s
    2 Studio Projects B1s
    1 RE20
    1 Audix D6
    3 SM57s
    8 SM58s (I'm a vocal coach remember!)

    My thoughts-
    2-B1s on the sax section (I'm goin' this way regardless of what you say!)
    2-421s on the trombone section
    2-NT5s on the trumpets who are on a riser (over the bones)
    2-PZMs on the lid of the piano (closed)
    1-DI on the Bass/ or RE20 when acoustic
    1-57 on the guitar
    2-414s on the drums
    2-PZMs as outriggers out front
    2- 57s as solo mics as needed. (or K2, or Woodpecker)

    I'm thinking the saxes, the solo and bass w/ the Seb, drums and piano on the Sytek, The other inputs are Digi so,... clean but uncolored. I'll likely try to get a good sound in a fair/poor room off the PZMs and then add other tracks to taste.

    Those are my thoughts- what're yours.
  2. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Mar 20, 2008
    currently Billings
    I like 421's on saxes but they are nice on bones too. I use the RE20 on the bari sax or bass trombone. It works great for that. You can even just drop it in the bari bell if you want. Just hang it on the wall to dry out when you're done!
  3. soapfloats

    soapfloats Well-Known Member

    Aug 28, 2008
    Cincinnati, OH
    Home Page:
    Jack and others like Cucco will be able to speak more to doing a big band, but I do have one thing to recommend - use the Woodpecker for a solo mic.

    I've had great results with my Fathead ribbons (and the 'pecker is a better mic) on sax, and have heard they (ribbons) perform very well on brass instruments as well, though I can't say for myself - haven't coaxed a trumpet or trombone into the studio yet. :(

    Also, I personally would use the Seb for the drums rather than the saxes. I know they're more background in big band vs. some other styles, but I want my good pres for the rhythm section (w/ ya on the solo)
    Of course, this group may have a killer sax section that gets featured..?
  4. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Distinguished Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    If the band is as good as you say it is why not just a pair of microphones in an XY or ORTF configuration with some spot microphones? A big band that is well rehearsed and well balanced should not need a lot of microphones IMHO. You are trying to capture the sound of the whole band playing and not a bunch of different sections. Too many microphones simply makes your job a lot harder and if not done well makes the band sound like they are all in the same spot acoustically and their is no depth to the ensemble.

    FWIW and YMMV
  5. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Mar 20, 2008
    currently Billings
    In which case I would use the RE20 as the bone solo mic and one 421 as sax solo mic.
  6. GentleG

    GentleG Guest

    well, I have only experience with smaller jazzbands (6 people: piano, drums, bass, sax/clarinet, guitar/banjo, trombone/trumpet) and ORTF or NOS is usually more than enough.

    I've never needed a spot mic on brass / sax
    Sometimes I've added (depending on the song, mostly in ballads, almost never in uptempo tracks)

    bass: di and large diaphragm dynamic (check later which you prefer, if necessary at all)
    piano (upright I assume): one condenser 1/3 from the right for detailed highs (maybe not necessary)
    drums: one condenser between snare / hihat for those very soft brushes (mostly not necessary)
    guitar/banjo: ribbon

    I've recently seen a live bigband performance from the early 60s.
    huge big band + singer, only 1 mic just behind and above the director / arranger / etc...
    it sounded great

    have fun
  7. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Mar 20, 2008
    currently Billings
    Just because there is a solo mic doesn't mean its cranked up. I'm always looking for detail and not volume.

    For small combos ORTF or MS works very very well. For cohesive tight larger bands in known good halls an A-B or XY or NOS pair work nicely too but I still will spot mic a soloist. Most of my venues were outdoors so I sometimes default to outside mode which is definitely overkill for inside.

    My philosophy was always to Reinforce and not Amplify.
  8. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    Ahhh...big band. I've lost a couple good mics to such a beast...

    Okay - so, if you feel like you must or wish to spot the sections, go ahead. However, if the ensemble is tight, you'll find that you don't need them. The issue with spot mic'ing the sections is that bones, trumpets, sax all sound dramatically different at 3 feet than 13 feet and definitely different than 30 feet. To me, the notion of big band harkens back to the days of Stan Kenton and the likes. For those recordings, it was usually minimal mic'ing and the ensemble worked.

    For soloists, the idea of coming forward was often all that was necessary - getting closer to the mic. However, spot mic'ing the soloists is never a bad idea in big band. Given how well they work on instruments in big bands, ribbons or SM57s will always work well as spot mics.

    I did have a chance to gig with Doc Severinsen a few times as well as share some brews after the shows. His take on the sound of the big band is that it is a sound that has evolved. The most common way for a person to have "taken in" a big band during its hey-day were either by TV or radio speakers. Neither of these were great sounding and when they performed, they did their best to project with a brighter sound to make sure the sound wouldn't get muddy and indistinct.

    That being said, when I work with and/or mix big band, I always go for that edgy, cutting-through-the-mix brightness. I still like the low end from a nicely tuned kick and the awesome sound of a bass played artfully. However, I like to put my main mics up in a way that I get a close, very present sound that gets in your face.

    Now...that's my philosophy on mic'ing big band - I didn't actually give any advice...sorry.

    It's your vision - treat it like a great show choir and you'll be 80-95% there.

  9. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    Jun 23, 2003

    Not sure if you've heard recent things. The Gordon Goodwin sound is the new edge that bands are going for which is why I was looking at that option. If you've heard the "Incredibles" soundtrack you know the sound. Very edgy big band with rock/funk overtones.
    I realize simple is better but won't necessarily give the sound that the kids are hearing these days.

    As it turns out a number of students had a scheduling conflict so the recordings off until fall.

    Thanks for your help - will refere next fall

  10. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    I'm of a similar mind as Jeremy. Nothing like tracking a big band in the wild, and seeing what you can bring back home to the studio. I still love doing it whenever I get the chance. It's always fun for me, and I'm fortunate to get four or five of these per season along with everything else that comes in. I give them all the same TLC as the other projects we do.

    For a big band, a single X-Y mic setup would be ideal, in a perfect world, in a perfect room, with no one else making any noise or mucking up the sound. But there's just too many variables in that for me to feel comfortable with that alone; it's never enough. (Actually, I always have a stereo pair on the band somewhere, either overhead or out in front. You'll always at least need to crank up the applause between tunes, or add a little natural "air" to the mix.)

    These days (as recently as this past Sunday, doing a Jazz cabaret with an sextet & singer), I go with multitrack on everyone and everything, along with the stereo mic mentioned above. I mean, why not, if you have the mics and the inputs? Most people are expecting you to do miracles after the fact anyway. (more "me" in the mix, and so on...) There will be at least three people involved in the final decisions on this particular recording: The drummer, the singer, and the tenor sax soloist. (Not to mention the client - the promotor - who booked & paid for the band as well as my services.) I'll give them temp mixes on CDs before committing to the final mix, and if they want to pay to come in and tweak the mixes endlessly, they'll find the $$ to do it. Otherwise, it's my call on the final mix/mastering.

    I was fortunate in that the sound guy on the gig was very cool - and thrilled to find I'd brought along a splitter for everything, so we could do the recording completely independent of the live sound. We matched the best mics for the instruments, including a Fathead II on the trumpet, and some other nice condenser choices for the rest of the band. Acoustic bass was DI (Wish I could have mic'd him as well, but you can't have everything on these 'wild' gigs.) Drums were kick, snare/hh & Overhead.

    I find that the more you can do on the front end - multiple mics/tracks, good DI's, ambience mics, etc., the more options and better chances of creating a good solid mix afterwards. If you have the tracks & the gear, go for it.

    In the mix, I go for a solid bottom end first - not to the extreme of a rock or rap mix, of course - and then build the mix to emulate the spread & imaging of the band as it was originally onstage. (The ambient mics help reinforce this, if I can dial them in judiciously.) The final mix is a bit "larger than life", (What ISNT these days?) but I never go for an over processed sound or overly crunched. I tend to limit (gently) track by track, rather than compress, for example, and I'll fade mics out that aren't needed in the mix at any given time. (If the trumpet player is tacit for a song, for example,, his mic is OFF.)

    I rarely, if ever, have to use a multiband limiter/comp in the final bus, but if I do, the bands are set to function independently, and only for rogue peaks and unexpected blasts. The really bad ones get fixed individually long before the mix anyway... My rule of thumb is: if you can HEAR it, (pumping, ducking, etc.) then it's doing too much.

    Taming the bass along with the kick drum is another commonly used tool, using EQ and a little comp/limiting sparingly can work wonders for you.

    I really think if you keep the original sound of the "live" band in your head, the multitrack plus the stereo ambi mic can bring it all together, when done properly. You may need a little reverb or ambient room sound to add a little sparkle to certain tracks, or a little plate reverb on the singer, etc., but all in all, the vibe of the band will hopefully begin to show itself as you polish your mix.

    Time to go finish my own mixes from Sunday......... :cool:

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