Help with mic-ing a large orchestra?

Discussion in 'Orchestra' started by mattfl2, Feb 4, 2009.

  1. mattfl2

    mattfl2 Active Member

    Feb 4, 2009
    Hey. So, here's my dilemma.

    I am part of the string orchestra--a large orchestra (40+ players with stands and instruments)--at my school, and would appreciate advice on how to mic it for the best possible recording. The space itself is a horribly designed auditorium, with lots of echoing and reverb, but we can play behind the curtain and it's practically a dead room. I have three cardioid floor mics in addition to one or two instrument mics+stands. There are three overheads as well and several lapel mics that can clip on to individual instruments.

    The group itself has (very rough estimates) ±5 1st violins, 10-15± 2nd violins, 7-10± violas, 7-12± cellos, and 4± basses arranged in a semi-circle.

    What is the best way to arrange everything to get an even, rich, clear sound from the entire group?

    (If I could remember the brand of microphones, I would post, but at this point it's not exactly studio-quality so I'm not splitting hairs over it)

  2. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Distinguished Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    Maybe post this over in the acoustic music forum?

    Basically an XY or ORTF microphone setup in the middle front of the orchestras with the microphones back from the conductor about as high as the microphones are on the stand which should be about 5 feet over the conductor's head should give the best sound in a bad auditorium. Exact placement should be arrived at by listening to the microphones and moving them so you can get the best overall sound of the orchestra without picking up much of a bad sounding hall. Obviously the better the microphones and the recording equipment the better recording you will get.

    Others may have different viewpoints.
  3. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    In this case, less is indeed more. Start out in basic stereo, with a pair of well placed mics. Try to get a pair of Omni's, or set up the mics as Tom has already suggested. You're not in any position (Yet) to do multitrack/multimic recording.

    Remember the equalateral triangle rule as well for placement: Try to get as high as you are away from the front line of the orchestra; ideally somewhere over the conductors head (hearing what he/she hears, for the most part).

    You can experiment with placement (as time & logistics allow with that size of an orchestra, of course). You may want to be a little closer to the ensemble than normal, if the acoustics are really that bad. (You can add reverb later, if nec.)

    Start this way, and simply recordg in 24/96K stereo, or whatever your system allows. Even 24/44 is fine. 16/44 will work in a pinch as well, but you'll have less detail and your reverb tails wont be as smooth when doing edits and other things to it in post.

    As for a smooth, blended sound, that's going to depend on your ensemble as it does on your recording technique. They need to be in tune and listening to each other. (This takes years of experience, so don't be discouraged if all your hard work still sounds less than ideal.)

    Most of all, have fun, and learn as much as you can in the process. :cool:
  4. mattfl2

    mattfl2 Active Member

    Feb 4, 2009
    Wow! Thanks for the help. I have a light stand (photography, but I'm sure it'll work) that goes up to 9 feet, so I'll use that. I'm fairly certain we have two identical mics like what we be used in the ORTF/XY arrangements. I have a couple questions, though.

    How far apart (vertically) do those mics need to be if at all? I see in a diagram like this: http://

    that they're basically on top of each other. How much space is necessary to eliminate problems?

    Also, the system I have set up can accommodate something like thirty tracks, and I really like the sound I get from the floor mics. Would it still be okay to mix those in with the XY ones at a lower volume, for solos and such? I can assign them correctly in stereo, but I don't want it to be too much.

  5. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Mar 20, 2008
    currently Billings
    You can throw up as many mic's as you want if they are tracked individually. Don't be surprised when you only use the center stereo pair. Even a "solo" mic might not be used or so minimally as to seem like it's not used. I can't even count the number of orchestral recordings that were recorded with only two or three microphones.

    Your XY microphones should be close but not quite touching just like the picture. 135 degree spread is a starting point but sometimes this is altered to accommodate the physical seated width of the ensemble.

    Know your microphones and the sound source intimately. Experiment as often as you can-every rehearsal if they will let you. Keep a journal with sketches of your set ups and notes on the types of mic's and their positions and patterns. This way you can repeat the things that work and discard things that don't.

    My 2 cents.
  6. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    Sep 26, 2005
    I'm on a budget so I'll only put in my one cents worth.

    The most versatile and adjustable way to mic an orchestra is with MS a.k.a. Middle/Side. This allows for perfect phase & adjustable width after the recording has been made. It's like moving microphones around without moving any microphones. It's easy. It's intelligent. And most any software has presets for the decoding. XY is for sissies who lack technique. It's a copout. It's for the unimaginative. It's less sophisticated. It separates the noise from the toys.

    I not only use MS, I have MS
    Ms. Remy Ann David

    And that's the truth
  7. mattfl2

    mattfl2 Active Member

    Feb 4, 2009
    Well, now there's a good thought. I don't have a figure 8 mic to do true M.S., but I could take the two directional "instrument" cardioids I have, set them up at the same angle as XY, and use an un-padded floor mic or two in place of the figure 8. Great coverage, and I can get the best of both worlds. Only extra work is putting all that on a stand and panning it correctly. :D

    I think I'll try this at the next test recording.

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