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Recording Jazz Quintet & Symphony Orchestra

Discussion in 'Orchestra' started by gmusic, Aug 8, 2005.

  1. gmusic

    gmusic Active Member

    Aug 2, 2005
    Caracas, Venezuela
    I am an Orchestrator/Producer/Pianist in Venezuela, with 30 yrs. experience in studio work, and from 5 yrs. now I have my own proyect studio (Built on PTLe).

    I am currently working on the pre-production of a proyect that consists on recording very stylished latin american music (boleros), arranged for an acoustical Jazz ensemble (Ac. Bass, Drums, Piano, Jazz Guitar and horn soloists such as sax and flügelhorn) with a full symphony orchestra.

    In order to keep the right "feeling" (and to avoid the excruciating pain of acoustically isolating the rhythm section from the rest of the orchestra) my plan is to record first the jazz ensemble in a good studio here, and then -somehow- to overdub the orchestra in the same studio. If I do this, some questions arise, and that is the reason I would appreciate any light you guys could shed:

    1.- Should I overdub the "whole orchestra" in one pass, or can I break it down into "sections", recording each one separately and mixing them later?.

    This seems to me to be the more feasible way, because I don't think that we could manage a 70+headphones mix.

    2.- If I break down the orchestra in sections, what would be the most recommendable microphone settings?

    Thanks in advance
  2. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    This sounds like a very commendable and also dangerous project. Dangerous in that you're likely to spend a lot of $$$ to get a so-so result if you've never done this before. Not to throw water on your fire, but I'd be very cautious here....

    I wouldn't recommend the overdub approach at all in what you describe. I just came off two very big sessions with choir (Negro Spirituals) and accompanying band. Initially, the director wanted to "ovedub" every part, one at a time - even ad the rythmn section later. (Huh???) Fortunately, her assistant (and budget) brought her to the light: Everything went better when it was done as a full ensemble, all playing together in one large space. The choir loved it, and it all sounds great now in hinsight. (I shudder when people think that overdubbing music like this is the way to go.)

    A group such as you describe accompanied by a full symphony orchestra would indeed need a large soundstage, so I understand if you don't have enough room for that sort of thing. ( Are you REALLY talking about 90-100 players as well? will you really need that many? Harp? 2 or 3 percussionists? Full brass and string sections, too?)

    Symphony (or chamber) orchestras function their best as an ensemble. They only work in sections when rehearsing, and anyone will tell you that it sucks working on a large piece of music without the interaction of the rest of the group. I'd avoid "Sectional" recordings at all costs.

    You may get lucky enough with your band to have tracks that will work on their own, and then be usable for orchestra overdubs. In that case, I'd recommend you only have the key people on headphones: specifically the conductor, perhaps the bass section, etc. with either a click track (that he/she can adjust relative to the music track) and cues - count-ins, loops/vamps, etc. If you're going this route, you'll want to work with the conductor far in advance, when the group works on the pre-recorded material ahead of time. If it's all laid out properly, and if the parts aren't too complex for them to pull off, it MIGHT work. The conductor would have to rule ALL, and no one takes any liberties with tempo or interpretation. (This is also a sure-fire way to have Borrrrrring orchestral parts.) Otherwise, YES, you're going to need 90-100 headphones. Good luck on THAT mix. ;-)

    The conductor can give you and the band advice and tips on what will work, and will not work in this sort of endeavor. If the conductor knows in advance what is expected of him and the orchestra, he can save you a world of hassle and last-minute changes if things are going the wrong way.

    The LAST thing you want to have happen is messed up orchestrations or unplayable parts to have your session crash and burn. A full symphony orchestra at standard union rates is going to cost you about $18k per session, (more if there's recording royalties involved) remember. Be sure to have ALL of your bugs worked out - with the conductor onboard - longgggg before you start the session.)

    If it were me, I'd push for the orchestra WITH the band, assuming I could rent a hall or soundstage large enough to do it. If nothing else, you could get the general arc of the tracks recorded WITH everyone present, and then perhaps do some things (Pickups, transitions, etc.) without the band, but on hand to work together when needed.

    THEN, when your orchestra parts are done and "in the can", you could theoretically bring the band BACK IN and do some more things. But doing it "band alone," then orchestra as the "overdub" is just a recipe for trouble, in my humble opinion, unless you're just paying a big group for soupy string pads and percussion stings.

    Good luck, however you go with it.
  3. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Feb 12, 2001
    Los Angeles, CA
    Home Page:
    I've done a lot of work like this and there is one thing I would recommend- do not record the jazz group before the orchestra.

    I prefer to have them all together- put the piano bass and drums in the center of the orchestra (piano in front of the conductor with the instrument facing out with the drums and bass behind them). The guitar can also be placed in there as well. The horns should be out at the "solo" position of the symphony. I will also usually place a bit of plexiglass around the drums. They'll be the biggest of the leakage issues.

    Recording of the orchestra will likely not be a traditional orchestral setup. I'll usually use a standard array in front (stereo array- blumlein or decca tree with omni flanks) with a LOT of spot mics. Often, these recordings can hit 40 or more tracks. I usually go one mic per stand or pair of stands of strings and one or two mics per section of winds, plus harp, percussion, etc... spots. In the end, embrace the bleed- get your ensemble sound from your mains and add spots to get the ultra-clear "commercial" sound.

    If you must overdub, record the orchestra with a click track and then overdub the jazz group on top. BTW, here in Los Angeles, scoring sessions are often done this way. There is also a seperate monitor mixer whose job is to mix all of the headphone mixes for personal monitors. Do do it from the recording desk is certainly possible, but a pain in the a$$.

    Good luck- I love doing this kind of work...

  4. Cucco

    Cucco Well-Known Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Tacoma, WA
    Trust Ben on this one. He knows this kind of stuff and has "been there, done that."

    Both his and Joe's advice is spot on. Lots of mics and lots of channels are in order and if you need to do cue mixes, you'll want to have a dude doing nothing but cue mixes.

    If possible though, the fewer the cue mixes the better. If the conductor, percussion section leader, principal bass and concertmaster have one, you're probably doin just fine.

    Whenever possible, try to avoid to disparate groups doing overdubs, and never try to break an orchestra into sections to do overdubs. (I've actually played in an orchestra where this happened and it was a train wreck - the recording company wanted to do it that way and the conductor didn't have the balls to tell them "no" so we did it. Any way, after 3 8-hour sessions and only 2 whole pieces recorded, people were starting to get pissed. Trust me, the last thing you want is a pissed-off, PMS-ing flute player on your a$$.)

    Well, I've got nothing more.

    Good luck and enjoy!

  5. gmusic

    gmusic Active Member

    Aug 2, 2005
    Caracas, Venezuela
    Thanks for your advices. The've been very helpful, and I hope to use them soon. I'll keep you posted.
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