Recording Orchestra - Home Theater Forum and Systems -

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post #1 of 9 Old 08-17-10, 07:01 PM Thread Starter
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Recording Orchestra

Hi everybody!

I have my hands on a new project that I don't often do: I will be recording a youth symphonic orchestra with choir.

I have recorded large ensembles before and have a good idea of the sound I will be going for, but I'm sure that there are some of you out there with some experience doing this, and I would like to hear about it.

The place I will be recording is a pretty good sounding hall with a pleasant reverb, no too long. I'm planning to do a decca tree with some spot mics for percussion and some soloists, and will be placing an ORTF pair for the choir (maybe 2 pairs depending the size of the choir).

the mics I have acces to are: KM184 (4); 414 (2); U87(2); Soundelux U99S (1)

So, what would be your approach?
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post #2 of 9 Old 08-17-10, 09:13 PM
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Re: Recording Orchestra

Two pencil condensers.
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post #3 of 9 Old 08-17-10, 09:32 PM
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Re: Recording Orchestra

I have done quite a bit of Orchestra recordings (our Christmas production at our church for example was a 40 piece orchestra and 250 voice choir). I tried to mic as much as I could so as to give me a nice clean mix and the ability to pan instruments.
I used several sure SM81s on the woodwinds, and a SM58 for the bass. The drums I used two SM81s as overheads to give me a nice stereo mix and of course miked the Kick, snare and floor tom.
I went direct with the Bass guitar and used several SM58s on the brass. I used a whole bunch of wired lapel mic's on the strings we I clipped the mic directly on the chin rest (worked really well as long as the violinist did not hit it with their bow or chin.
The choir I used 12 Sure SM81s hung from fishing line from the roof a foot above there heads and about 3ft out.
This all took up 56 channels and allot of coordination. We had 12 performances to get the mix just right and the first two dress rehearsals usually were quite a bit of hair pulling out.

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post #4 of 9 Old 08-17-10, 09:40 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Recording Orchestra

AstralPlaneStudios wrote: View Post
Two pencil condensers.
Yeah... I have done great orchestra recordings with just two KM184s, but this time there are soloists and I would like to have some control over the choir. Otherwise, a single, well placed ORTF pair is hard to beat!!
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post #5 of 9 Old 08-18-10, 12:03 AM
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Re: Recording Orchestra

Ahhh, so you can mix the solos to be a little more prominent and whatnot?
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post #6 of 9 Old 08-18-10, 12:23 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Recording Orchestra

AstralPlaneStudios wrote: View Post
Ahhh, so you can mix the solos to be a little more prominent and whatnot?
Exactly! I also leaning toward the Decca Tree config because the hall really has superb acoustics. And the spot mics for the choir, also to have control over their sound.

All and all, it is really not a very accomplished orchestra (it is formed by very young people that have started fairly recently their classical formation) so I don't want to overdo the microphone number/placing thing so I can get the sound more "mixed" in the air not revealing any subtleties that might give the individual limitations away. Does that make sense?

Also, I will not be able to record rehearsals, so I will not have material to edit. It is really a 1 take shot! Maybe that's why I'm thinking about the spot mics... I might be using just the Decca at the end.
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post #7 of 9 Old 08-18-10, 10:51 AM
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Re: Recording Orchestra

I've only ever recorded small choral groups in less-than-ideal acoustics, so I've used a spaced pair of small-diaphragm condensers, placed about a quarter of the way from each end (choir standing in a line) and stood back about the same length as the choir group itself. So if the line were 8' long, mics about 4' apart in the middle and 8' back. Worked pretty well

Why don't you use the Decca and spot mics as well, and fade the spots up and down as necessary during mixing?
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post #8 of 9 Old 11-03-10, 11:59 PM
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Re: Recording Orchestra

I don't know when your event takes place but I would put two mic's on the orchestra and two high ones on the choir. That's it.

It is the conductor's job to manage dynamics. They are practicing not just to learn the music but to adjust the loudness and blend of the entire work. The soloists are to play at the level the conductor determines is correct in order to be heard but not be too loud. And if you use the correct mics, setup right, you won't need to worry about pan or placement. You can just lay the choir on top of the orchestra, ride the levels a bit and done.

Good luck.
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post #9 of 9 Old 11-04-10, 08:06 AM
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Re: Recording Orchestra


What you didn't specify was how many discrete channels you could record at a time. if you have eight or sixteen, go ahead and mike away. If you are only recording stereo, use your single point XY, ORTF, M/S, binaural or Blumelein pair. Here's why.

If you have a lot of microphones scattered about, mixed through a board down to stereo, there are going to be multiple points in space picking up the same sounds at different times. Now some people like this effect and feel like it adds ambience, but it really is time smearing single events and creating a mushy mix, IMO.

If you have a lot of discrete recording channels, you can time fix some of this in mixdown with any good DAW. However, I do agree with the previous poster that it is a conductor's job to create a 'mix' for the listener. Classical music is somehow 'cheapened' when you can sense someone tweaking a level. When a soloist comes in, usually the dynamics are lowered, and a level change is accompanied by a rise in the noise floor, easily detectable by most ears.

Recording digital, I try to set levels based on the highest volume the performance produces, keep 6 dB headroom, and leave the recording level set and fight the urge to change it. With the high dynamic range of an orchestra, here is where 24 vs 16 bit really makes a difference. Analog is a little more forgiving of running out of headroom.

I usually fly the pair higher than the audience, to minimize coughing, grunting, and having the applause too high of a volume compared to the performance. I have been known to let those ambient sounds go ahead and clip, and do a separate recording of ambients from a very high level, and paste THOSE snippets in at mixdown, thereby allowing good dynamic range of the performance.

You did say it was a youth orchestra. The one thing you don't want to do is end up with a botched recording, as I guarantee you, you will have parents wanting a copy. So make sure and make an additional safety recording, just in case you have a level, media, or equipment failure. I have at one time let an entire show go through while on Record Pause, getting nothing.

Make sure your preparations don't get in the way of either the conductor or the audience. It's the best way to get invited back the next time.

Happy recording

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