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Recording a full orchestra seems like a big task, especially with the size of the ensemble, but through the articles I have read I feel like I have a better grasp on how to record it.
The first article stated that the two main things you have to think about are the environment that you are in as well as the fact that an orchestra balances a lot different than a band. The orchestra already plays with balance so that whatever needs to be heard is heard (at least if you have a well-rehearsed orchestra). The venue is a big factor, though. A hall like Mees is super reverby and that would definitely have to be taken into account.
Next, they explained why a spaced pair might not quite do the trick in that it lacks a center of the image as well as intensity. That’s why a good way to record is the decca tree, using a t-stand that is usually placed above the head of the conductor. The left and right microphones capture the width of the sound and the front microphone helps give it an intensity, especially because of the fact that it is closer than the others. However, this sometimes doesn’t quite capture all of the string sections, and that’s where you can fill in with other stereo pairs as well. You can also use spot mics, but it is not recommended to use too many as this may implement phase issues. Also, when you want to record for surround, usually two more mics are put towards the back of the ensemble.
This was definitely a different approach than the other two, and luckily I found a great article to work with.
The first was an interview with Richard King about how he recorded Yo–Yo Ma’s The Goat Rodeo Sessions. He says he relies heavily on the use of the stereo or surround set up to capture the overall sound of a ensemble. Then, he fills in what he needs to with spot mics. For the main mics, omni microphones are a must.He says this captures not only the performers but the room as well, and the omni helps capture this as well as translate it well to his speakers. The one downside is all the extra noises of the room, but those are not necessarily bad. You can’t possibly erase every single click or hit, every creak of the floors or bows hitting things. King just says he embraces these small noises as part of the performance, since after all, these happen when you’re listening to a live performance anyways.
He also says the performers should not wear headphones so they can hear everything that’s happening acoustically. This has a lot to do with balance as well, since if everyone got their own headphone mix, they would have no concept of how the band actually sounds. This is one of the biggest parts of acoustic ensembles is that they balance themselves. You can also help a lot of the sound by dealing with moving musicians. If an instrument is playing too loud, instead of making them change their playing and possibly messing them up, just move them back and the microphone will pick up less.
For the omnis, either a left-right or left-center-right pair does the trick, depending on the size of the ensemble. He also says that he puts a pair of outriggers out to capture more sound not captured by the decca tree and to help add more depth and blend if it is needed. This especially helps with orchestras and getting a great string sound.
For spot mics, he says he put one on each big section of instruments, although never blended in a lot of them since the main mics covered a lot and the spots just helped reinforce. You have to put the mics where the make the best sound from the instrument, but you also have to factor in phase and time to make sure nothing gets out of time or cancelled in the mix. Make sure the room is taken into account too and the reverb being produced. If you can help it, even changing up the material on the wall can help.
For choral performances, this article rearticulated how a stereo can just about record any ensemble given the right conditions. However, this article went in-depth into the use of Soundfield microphone, which they used for the convenience as well as the ability to do surround-sound material. I thought this was really cool, but considering we won’t have access to one, I researched further to see what other techniques we could use for our own project.
A few things to consider are if there are any soloists, as well as stage noise created by moving feet. For the soloists, you would need to know in advance in order to place a microphone out for them if you want to record their solo. As well, if the players move around at all on stage, you want to make sure to use low-cut filters in order to get the thumping out of the mics.
Another website said that you should mike the choir with two stereo pairs--one far, and one close. They also recommended certain microphones, like small diaphragm condenser microphones. You also should use one with a flat response so that the sound is very clean and the sound of the hall is recorded as well. However, if a more forceful sound is to be achieved, you should use more of a large diaphragm condenser mic.
Now that we have completed our recording of the choir, I know a lot more about it than I originally did! It really pays to do something hands-on sometimes. It was definitely a crazy night since we had little time to get everything up in between the choir rehearsals, but we managed!
I learned that a lot of planning goes a long way. We had a chart of all of our mics and how they were going to be moved beforehand because we only had about an hour to get everything set up. We really got all the mics ready too and made sure we were line checking around 20 mins before. Also, what really sealed all the microphones together were the balcony microphones that added a lot in the end and glued all the other mics together. Also, when we were monitoring in the headphones, what really struck out to us was how much panning really made a difference. There were so many microphones being recorded that spacing them out really helped us hear the hall and gave us a great stereo image.
I also hadn’t known a lot at all about how to mic a choir to make it sound good. We learned a lot from Jay Alton as well who helped us out. We had four spot mics on the choir in front of the risers. Two pairs of mics, NT2s and U87s. We then had a pair of 58s on either side of the conductor for soloist mics when the soloists came forward. There was a x-y pair right above the conductor of small diaphragm condensers. We were also told there would be singers in the aisles, so we put a pair of 414s on either corner of the stage, facing the audience. However, they never really sung anything so they ended being more of audience microphones. Finally, we had a pair of KSM44’s up in the balcony that connect to the zoom and would later be paired with the recording.
Here’s a picture of all the microphones:
‘Capital University Students Use REDNET to Record the Beautiful Sounds of the Choir’
Using the power of an array of microphones, the students were able to put up and capture the choir as they sang. They were even able to capture all of the instruments that made an appearance. Pictured here is the performance as well as a group photo of all of the dedicated students showing off the patchwork of the REDNET system on stage. With the help of the directors and other music faculty, they successfully recorded the entire performance--a little more than 2 hours long! Hopefully we'll get to hear the finished product soon, as I'm sure the University will be very pleased with not only their hard-working choirs, but also their students behind the scenes in the music technology field.