Recording symphonic music

Discussion in 'Mixing & Song Critique' started by Luciano Simas, Mar 14, 2004.

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  1. Hello,

    I am a musician and I'm graduating as a composer/conductor.

    Now I'm doing a research about how the conductor works during a recording session.

    If somebody here have experience in recording orchestral music and could help me I will appreciate.

  2. Mahusive

    Mahusive Guest

    Well, their are some key points. Before a session, I attend the rehearsals (this is from the recordists point of view) and ask for a copy of each score to make notes on. As a recordist, I set my levels and microphone arrangements during the rehearsals but I like to have at least a complete set of "run throughs" of each composition before we hit the red button. Also, I re-arrange the seating sometimes for a better capture. Bassoons for example will and should get lost during FF passages since the instrument has limited loudness potential as opposed to the string sections or clarinets. I want to make certain the dynamic integrety of the performance remains true to what the conductor hears and conducts. Microphones "hear differently" than humans so it is essential to work the placement to mimick what our ears hear. Flutes and piccalos can be downright painful if the microphones are too low and the percussion should have a good place in the mix as to not lend too much attention to itself such as snares rattling during french horn solos (tell the snare artist to turn off the snares at different cue points noted on the score)

    yes, working with a recordist can be a wonderful experience if the recordist is experienced. If not, it may be a fruitless experience. When the recordist asks to stop the orchestra, the conductor should stop..because the recordist may have experienced a timing or intonation issue that must be corrected that the conductor may have missed. Live performances during recording with an audience does not afford such luxury.

    Depending on the skill level and experience of the recordist, a good one hour interview of the prospected recordist should be of order if you are the one hiring them. Give the recordist liberty in many areas as he/she sees fit. If the recordist is a hands off indivigual..then perhaps you may want to look for someone else. In the dosens of performances I have been involved with, each has been met with open communications and lack of arrogance on the conductors part. Same may not be said for many first violinist (concert master).

    Good luck in your learning curve. These are the high points. PM me if you need more info of abstract nature more sutible to private communication please.
  3. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    Having done classical recording for 35 + years I have to somewhat disagree with Muhusive. Recording engineers don't tell the conductor how to rearrange their orchestras PERIOD. The orchestras are use to working with a certain seating setup. If you start changing the performer's seating around then people who normally sit together will no longer be sitting together which may mean that the cannot hear the their cues and intonation that they are use to hearing.

    Conductors can do this when they feel it necessary at the start of the rehearsals but I have never had a conductor agree to change things around for me when it comes time to record. I too usually try and attend a couple of rehearsals before the recording session to freshen my ears to the hall and the orchestra. I too ask for the score and check to see what problems are going to be created in the recording setup. I too try and have a meeting with the producer and the orchestra conductor to work out procedural matters.

    (Sometimes you can have the orchestra spread out a bit for better separation but to change the orchestra around for a recording session AFTER the musicians have been rehearsing a certain way just does not work. )

    Usually I am working with a producer and he or she is also in contact with the conductor. It is my job to do the best possible recording session with the least interference to the players and conductor. That is what I am being paid to do.

    Recording engineers rarely if ever will stop a full orchestra. It is too expensive to have the orchestra do something over and over. There might be some good takes within the problem take that could be used. Unless their is something major I will usually let the orchestra play though the take/

    Here in the states most conductors are very busy people so sometimes you may be meeting with the assistant conductor and have the assistant conductor relay your information to the conductor. That same assistant conductor will be sitting in on the recording session along with the producer and the recording engineer. (a third set of ears and one who can make decisions for the conductor)

    If it is a union gig I try and talk with the union representative to see how strict the rules are in the musician's union in the city we are working in. (I have had the union rep stand up at the three hour point and blow a whistle when we are three notes from the end.) I have also had a union rep delay lunch for a half an hour until we got the takes done so the orchestra could go home early. It takes some careful negotiations and most union people are very good to deal with.

    I try and figure out what problems the hall will provide for the session like rain beating on the roof or heavy traffic going by outside during the time we are recording. I may suggest that we try and do the recording between such and such times to lessen the amount of traffic noise but depending on the orchestra and the union rules we may have to do the session during normal "working hours" for the musicians.

    If I do my job well then the results should be GREAT. If I do not do my job well then I am the one who may have to take the blame for the cost over runs and if I am too problematic I may not be asked to do the next session. My normal way of working is to have the orchestra play though the movement a couple of times and then go back and do sections that could be done better or there were musical problems present. When you are doing a full professional orchestra you are spending upwards of $80,000 for them to play. So let them play.

    Hope this helps....
  4. Mahusive

    Mahusive Guest

    DUH, what did you think I meant? Put the tubas on the front row?

    Not my experience at all. If I hear something bad, I stop it. I have NEVER had a conductor have a problem with it...since 1978 or before.

    A heck of alot more expensive to get everyone back together and start over because of a missed gaffe. If I let one pass, I am the idiot.

    I don't do Union. You can do them all you want to. More and more halls are abondoning the unions.. Because? Artistic expression is severely controlled in those settings. You can have them all. G-d bless you.

    [QUOTEIt takes some careful negotiations and most union people are very good to deal with.
    ] [/QUOTE]

    Ditto, while you are carefully negotiating, we are getting on with the project. Like you said, it is too expensive to start and stop the orchestra. How about my pay for time waisted during negotiations? Dead issue. I call the shots, I get the jobs. If not, I pass. Forget that. Been 14 years since I passed on one.

    Cough (BS)

    What did I say earlier that you were so concerned about discounting? You are going to rehearse them? I stop them and we start at measure 56 or somewhere prevelent to the score.


    I do see you are talking out of both sides of your mouth here.

    Last time I checked (last week the week before and the week before that and the 17 recordings in 2003) I find everything I said to be the way a session should go. If you don't operate that way...fine!

    Even Bruce Leek attended one of my sessions and said it was way more efficient than any of his experiences.

    Well, some of us do it different, no worries..I just would not begin to work under your contraints.
  5. Mahusive

    Mahusive Guest

    PS..I apologize if my tone sounds arrogant...afterall, I am arrogant.

    We do things our own certain ways. Yes, if I ask for something, that is how it is..I dont demand it pompus like, I make sugesstions and it goes my way.

    Their is no rule book to how to do this. It really depends on how you hit it off with the staffs, the underwriters, the chairpersons and the orchestras/Conductors.

    Since I have 10+ years of running concerts on contract for the future...I have it figured out for me. Once you get there, you have that privledge.

    If I ask for something, my experience is earned and I get it.

    I am not going to argue about Unions. I just don't go there. Not with you..not with them. I have plenty of work on the creative side to have it controlled by someone that don't have a clue to what I do. I interact fully..I do not hide in the shadows.

    I hope future recordists will take some backbone and get in there and get involved and say something meaningful when it needs to be said. I grow weary of hearing huge mistakes on modern classical and symphonic recordings due to the fact someone did not have the balls to stand up and correct the issue.
  6. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    Jun 23, 2003
    Pardon for the intrusion into your battle, but I think the two of you are discussing different animals. Every major symphony in the US is a union orchestra, and, while problematic in some instances the situation is as Thomas describes. Great and manageable in some situations, tough in others but they get the job done.
    your tone sounds like you work with session players playing orchestral music or some other "less than full-time" smaller city orchestras. And while they might play wonderfully and you get great results, that's a completely different animal and can be treated as you describe, although I still wouldn't recommend it.
    Luciano's original post asked for assistance in how to approach the situation as a conductor/composer. If he came in and allowed your approach to his first session, I can assure you that if I was hiring him, there wouldn't be a second gig- despite great results- a conductor who would let a recording engineer walk all over his orchestra would not have the respect of his players. End of story.No Act II
    Luciano - best advice would be to know the score inside and out. Get players to be as close to memorized as possible especially in very difficult passages for eye contact. Biggest thing that jumps out of recordings are intonation problems and incohesiveness. The human ear adjusts to even mediocre sound (you can still listen to great recordings of the 30's and 40's)and accept it but out of tune/time stays.
    Be physically ready for the gig. I've done 15 hour conducting sessions. 8am- 1am. Eat well, take breaks, plan mental down time,smile,joke, relax, shoot for the best take and be ready to move on and come back if time allows. It will never be perfect. If possible, have a playback system ready for the players to hear what you're talking about. It can speed up things considerably.
    Good luck

  7. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    It is obvious to me that you have not done a full orchestral session with a name orchestra. You would not tell the conductor of the Cleveland or Chicago symphony to stop to redo a section that you thought was not done correctly. You would either be asked to shut up (nicely of course) or you would never be hired back again to do another session. Every producer I have ever worked with talks to the conductor in private about any problems and would not announce them to the whole orchestra over the squawk box since this is very bad for the conductor's role as leader of orchestra. The conductor would simply not tolerate this type of behavior. Maybe once but repeated comments from the recording engineer would not be appreciated or called for.

    Every major US orchestra is UNION so you have to deal with them.

    It is the recording engineers job to do a really great recording of what is presented to him or her. It is the producer's job to worry about and work with the conductor and the orchestra on musical matters PERIOD. It seems to me that you are acting as the recording engineer and the producer on the sessions you do. This has never been a good way of working since your attention is split two ways, one worrying about the technical aspects of the recording and at the same time worrying about the musical aspects. Most people I know can't do both well. Maybe you can do both but not well.

    Your comment about future recordist getting some backbone is both misleading and is not at all what a recording engineer is getting paid to do. He or she is being paid to do a job (record the orchestra) to the best of their ability. They are not being paid to add their two cents worth into the discussion about the music. They are there to do the recording PERIOD. If I hear something that is wrong like a percussionist not being heard enough in his solo then it is up to me to tell the producer about it and to find a way around the problem. I would never tell the conductor to have the percussionist play louder especially over the squawk box in front of the orchestra. That is not my job and the percussionist would probably be livid.

    As to your comment about putting the tubas in front. Here is what you said "I re-arrange the seating sometimes for a better capture. Bassoons for example will and should get lost during FF passages since the instrument has limited loudness potential as opposed to the string sections or clarinets." What should I infer from this? That you do not tell conductor how to set up the orchestra AFTER they have rehearsed it a different way? Seems to me that you are telling him or her to put the tubas in front....if you think it necessary.

    Orchestra recording can be one of the most challenging and fun things a recording engineer is called upon to do. It can also be a time of great stress and if something starts going wrong either due to technical problems or the musicians getting upset due to many stops and starts then things can go wrong very quickly. I have seen whole sessions ground to a halt because the recording process is intruding on the making of music (which is why the sessions are being done in the first place - to capture the music) and I have seen the conductor and or some of the musicians get very upset and the producer having to smooth some very ruffled feathers in a very short amount of time so the sessions can proceed. This is not something that is good for the music or the recording session.

    "PS..I apologize if my tone sounds arrogant...after all, I am arrogant." I think this statement sums up all that is wrong with your arguments. You don't get to be a GREAT recording engineer by having an ego especially being arrogant on top of it. You get to be a top recording engineer by being the best and facilitating the recording process. These are the recording engineers that get asked back time after time. Not the ones that take control of the sessions away from the conductor.

    I wish you well with your recording career. I hope that sometime in the future you don't get sick or have other commitments and the orchestra has to find someone else to do the session who is both good and not as arrogant as you appear to be. You will probably never be hired back again. Sometimes being the only game in town is great until someone else steps in and shows them what they have been missing.

    I don't want to prolong this discussion since it has gotten somewhat off topic but I wanted the person who originally started this thread to realize that there are other people who do NOT share your views and this is not the normal way of working for most of us.

    Thanks for the discussion.

    [ March 15, 2004, 09:35 AM: Message edited by: Thomas W. Bethel ]
  8. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    Jun 23, 2003
    Here ends the reading of today's lesson

  9. djui5

    djui5 Guest

    This might be a tad off topic but I've noticed the same thing happening with other types of tracking sessions. Engineers will try to play producer as well as engineer and they wind up doing a half witted job of producing and a less than desirable job of engineering. I'm not a big fan of engineer/producers. I think an engineer should focus of engineering...not playing Mr. Know it all. Just my opinion....I'll keep to engineering and leave the production to someone more qualified.
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    The New AT5047 Premier Studio Microphone Purity Transformed

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