Feedback on classical recording requested

Discussion in 'Microphones (live or studio)' started by tunefoolery, Dec 4, 2011.

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  1. tunefoolery

    tunefoolery Active Member

    Jan 26, 2009
    Los Angeles
    Hello Everyone,
    I'd appreciate your thoughts about this classical concert I recorded recently; it's piano with violin, and then piano with cello and clarinet. The conditions were nearly the same as a previous concert I recorded, which I talked about here: same pianist, same hall, same mics and recording equipment. However, this time I placed the mics differently. Roughly speaking, the mics in ORTF setup were 8 to 10 feet in front of the players, at about 10 to 11 feet above the stage floor.

    You can hear the recording here. I have a sample of the piano and violin, then a sample of piano with clarinet and cello.

    I'm afraid I might have had the mics too high... Since I have a stand that goes pretty high now, I made a quick decision to place the mics at the same height as the house recording mics, figuring the venue engineers probably knew what they were doing. (The house mics were not being used to record at the time). While both the piano and violin sound reverberant, the violin sounds a little weak to my ears. I'll add that the piano was a full sized concert grand with the lid all the way open, and I noticed even during rehearsal that the violin was being overpowered by the piano.

    While I'm learning more each time I record, I find it frustrating that there's almost no time to test out various mic setups before these performances. The performers use every minute of time during the rehearsal to play, so there's almost no time for me to listen back to my recording and adjust my mics. It's all kind of a guessing game based on previous experience. I think this time it might have helped to have the mics a little lower, to catch more of the violin.

    I did get positive feedback from the client, who was happy with the recording. But I'd like to keep improving.

    I'd appreciate any thoughts you'd care to share.

  2. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    Sep 26, 2005
    The best way for me to answer your questions is to indicate that there are two kinds of engineers. Recording engineers who think like recording engineers. Broadcast engineers who think like broadcast engineers. And then there's me. As a woman, I've always been told when I dress to " accessorize, accessorize, accessorize ". But how does one who wears blue jeans & T-shirts supposed to accessorize? So I'll wear a couple of loop earrings.

    What I'm really trying to say is, having a background as both a broadcast engineer (NBC network television, 20 years) and a recording engineer (numerous fine studios) I combine both backgrounds. That means, you put out your primary microphones as you have done. Then you also place numerous highlight microphones and/or soloist microphones as well. The difference here is whether you are recording direct to 2 track stereo or, multitrack. Going into two track stereo, you have to be fast with the fingers and knowing potentially who will be louder than others. So your highlight microphones won't necessarily be turned up as loud as your basic pair. When the solos come you have to be quick and gently tweak. Also because of my broadcast background, redundancy is very important. So if something goes wrong with my basic pair, I'll still end up with a fine stereo recording with the other multitude of microphones I have in place. Back in the 1980s, I only had a stereo digital recorder by also had a 8 track analog recorder as a safety backup. By the time the early mid 90s came around, the analog machines replaced with an 8 track digital recorder while still creating a stereo mix recording on the fly, live. If everything works out well, the multitrack is never used. If you are balances in your stereo recording are not spot on, you have the backup to correct that.

    Conversely, if you don't have a multitrack interface, only a single 2 track USB device, you might consider getting a secondary inexpensive USB device for a second pair of inputs yielding a 4 track recording into your computer for only about $150 in additional cost. Remember this secondary USB device also need not be as superior as your primary device. And that's generally because those other couple of channels are just too save your ass. And to save your ass, you shouldn't be worrying about quality as much as capturing. Unfortunately after placing multiple microphones upon an orchestra, you might wonder why everybody doesn't do this? That's because they think more than 2 will yield unnatural results. Au contraire. The only thing natural about 2 is that we have 2 ears. So when People think natural, it's only natural to think that you have 2 ears so 2 microphones should be just fine. Well it isn't. I mean haven't you seen television shows with Pavarotti singing in front of an orchestra? You can see the primary pair hanging in the air. Then what the heck do they need a microphone smack dab in front of a 500 hp like singer? Because you have to think unnaturally to produce a natural recording. It's all in the balance that you create not what the performance creates that's so critical.

    Generally when I go out to make a recording, I'll bring at least twice what I need or even more, especially in unknown environments. And as a broadcast oriented engineer, you don't necessarily think about what to do. You just do it, fast. So this style of technique must become a second nature to you. That's what broadcasting has to offer. Whereas, in the studio, (which also includes live), you have time to ponder about everything. That wastes a lot of precious time. You don't even really have to care what those highlight microphones are as long as they're there when you are broadcast oriented. I combine the best of both of my backgrounds. That's the only way to do this. And with the magic of our computerization these days, you can do things I could only dream of in the 1980s-90s.

    Your above dilemma transcends getting it right but instead, getting it down.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  3. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    Tunefoolery -

    A couple quick thoughts here-

    First, you mention that this is a concert. Can I assume that this is a live event?
    Assuming that (likely), I'd say you did a fine job. Yes, the violin could be more present, but it's not badly off-balance.

    Again assuming it's a live concert, I'm assuming you couldn't slap stands all over the place. Having a boom mic over the violinist, mics on the piano and various hall mics may not fly. (Though some clients are more interested in capturing the recording than they are about what the concert "looks" like. Most are not like that though.)

    So, did they do a pre-concert run-through - is that the rehearsal you're talking about? Why couldn't you run tape for 5 minutes and listen back while they're still rehearsing then go out and make changes while they're rehearsing? I do this all the time with no issues. I do explain to the musicians that, while they're rehearsing, I will be adjusting equipment.

  4. Exsultavit

    Exsultavit Active Member

    Jan 5, 2005
    I agree with both Remy and Jeremy.

    In this situation, I will typically use spot microphones, and I will have two main pairs, placed on the same stereo bar. Since I like spaced omnis, I will have two different kinds- usually DPA 4003 and Neumann M269 (these are multipattern, so I can go to another pattern in a pinch). I will also have a pair on the piano and a spot on the violin (if allowed).

    I record all of these microphones to separate tracks, and I do a live mix. The mixer has reverb, co-compression, EQ, peak limiting all available if I need it on the fly. As if I'm a broadcast engineer, I am going for a final product on the spot. Any moves I make or adjustments to levels, etc, are remembered by the automation in case the project needs more work later. If I hit the bull's eye, the client gets a final CD (but unedited) at the end of the show. If not, all the tracks are recorded separately and I can continue the work later.

    "The performers use every minute of time during the rehearsal to play, so there's almost no time for me to listen back to my recording and adjust my mics."

    I try hard to get a seperate 'control room' where I can listen to the music as it is being played. During the show, this separate environment allows me to mix with confidence that what I hear is what is going to tape. I agree with Jeremy that there should be no problem moving microphones and making adjustments to their positions during the rehearsal of a small show like this. In a larger orchestral sessions, stage access is often very limited during rehearsal- but there still should be little problem adjusting the main pair if you can do it without disturbing the rehearsal.

    Often a balance issue is solved immediately by simply choosing the other main pair. I cannot overemphasize the many problems that have been solved by simply having a second main pair with a separate set of colors. The spot mics are there to correct balances if I cannot get a good sound using just the mains.

    I like your recording very much! Yes, during the loudest piano sections, the violin does get drowned out somewhat, and I agree it sounds a little thin- but overall it's a healthy recording. If it was me, I would ride gain on the violin spot and add a little bit during the loudest passages. I would also have tried adding some co-compression to that microphone, or to the mix in general, as it often fixes subtle problems like this. Of course doing this live and on the spot would require a separate environment so you could hear what you were doing.

    Also: I usually don't need to use a microphone on a violin or clarinet in a situation like this. Usually the pianist shows more playing sensitivity than this one apparently did- and often the piano gets set at half stick. But it could've been an environment that favored the piano at the expense of the fiddle- in which case it would be your job to correct the problem. Still, it sounds pretty good as is.

    "I find it frustrating that there's almost no time to test out various mic setups before these performances. "

    Yeah, that happens all the time. It's the thing that only experience will help with. But do try two sets of mains. It will give you more choices later without having to do trial and error on the spot.
  5. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    Ooh, those snooty musicians, daring to take up all of the allotted rehearsal time! :wink: Yes, the limitations can be frustrating sometimes; welcome to the world of live classical/acoustic music recording. It's tough enough with students/semi-professional groups, and it gets even worse with professional groups and union halls. You'll learn over time that time is money, and you've got to make every second (literally) count.

    I make it very clear to my clients/musicians, etc. that I'll need X number of hours before the setup to get in, get set, and be ready for the downbeat. Somtimes I get what I need, sometimes there's restrictions on hall access, prior use by another group, and of course the dreaded "union restrictions" - call time, number of techs on the call, what I can and cannot set up on my own, and so on. All too often I have to really hustle to get set in just a main template kind of way; tweaks happen during breaks, or in between the final dress and concert.

    Sometimes I don't even get THAT much, so I've also learned to cover my butt with a variety of options; from the main pair(s), to individual spot mics. Most of my stuff is matte black (sorry, no aluminum-poles/construction-zone stuff for me), so aside from egress and safety, I rarely get any hassles about mics and placement. Anywhere I can fly, including solo mics, I do so. Lower shortie stands (on celli, basses, harp, etc.) are nice to have as well. For violins and violas, you really need to get above them, physically, looking down on them (their sound comes up and out like a fountain), so one way or another, you're going to have to fly the spot mics or go with booms high enough out of the way of their bows, their line of sight to the conductor & other musicians.

    And again regarding time management, you must save yourself a few minutes during the final warm-up/tune up before rehearsal (or the concert) starts to take one last stroll around the stage, looking for problem areas (and mic stands that someone decided to move without asking you!). You'd be suprised at the small but important difference it makes if you chat with or ask a musician if they're "comfortable" with the stand you just put up or adjusted in their personal space. I also make it clear that it's not for amplification, just for touch-up in case it's needed in the recording. Again, this goes a long way; some musicians just hate the idea that their part is being singled out, and maybe even over-exaggerated in the final mix. It really bothers some people.

    My main advice would be the same you've gotten from others already: Have your main pair(s) for the core of the recording, and add spot mics on everything that's important, including and in a trio or duo: esp piano, violin, clarinet, etc.

    I take two approaches for mixing: on-site I run a CDr & SD chip recorder for backup & redundant stereo safety copies. I always strive for the best stereo recording I can do right then and there, just in case there's ever a problem with the multitrack. The second (and more flexible approach) is to record everything onto its own track for mixdown back at the studio, where I'm able to create the best mix possible. Sometimes it's more spot mics than ambient mics, sometimes it's the opposite.

    Bottom line, you have to work fast, efficiently, and keep all your options open at all times. Every new job you do can be a template for the next, or at the least, a learning experience.

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