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Help! First small orchestra recording. Condenser Microphones
Old 5 days ago
  #1
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Help! First small orchestra recording.

I’m recording a 20-piece orchestra at the beginning of August. The piece is an original ballet based on “Snow White,” which will be performed on our stage in 2019. The piece was written by a recent graduate (highschool).

The plan is to record it over three four-hour sessions with the option for a fourth day if needed.

The best space is the newer orchestra room that was finished in 2012. It’s one of the few that has actually had proper acoustic treatment and soundproofing. It’s quite live and there is a curtain you can use to deaden it a bit more. It has about a second of reverb time and it sounds pretty nice. The ceiling is 20 ft. high.

My problem is even though I’ve recorded lots of very large orchestras at the center, they are either close miked in the pit or on stage, or if it’s a big acoustic performance, they let me stick a few mics up (if I’m lucky and they aren’t raising or lowering the pit during the event.

The point being, I’ve never recorded that large of a group.

I’ve got: 3 first violins, 3 second violins, three violas, 2 cellos and 1 bass along with what looks like three winds, at least five horns, percussion and harp. There’s a chance there might be less strings or a different configuration. I heard two different numbers from the composer/conductor and the artistic director of the center.

The musicians are all the best in the area, playing in pits or the symphony, etc. And most of them do lots of gigs together so it’s not like putting a bunch of complete strangers together.

So.... To recap... I’m not worried about the players or the space. Or my equipment for that matter. I’m pretty sure it’s up to the task, but I need a bit of guidance on how to approach it.

I’m not going to get into computers and software, because that’s irrelevant to the situation. I am using the latest version of Cubase Pro and for this recording I’m using Audionate’s Dante Virtual Soundcard and Controller with Yamaha’s R Remote, controlling one (or two if needed) Yamaha RIO 1608s. I think the RIO preamps sound rather good, and I’ve always gotten excellent recordings of the CL5 in our main theater. I’ve also use the R Remote software (controls the gain/filter/phantom power) before. So I’m not worried about that. It wouldn’t matter if I was. That’s another thread. My job has always been to make it work...

So, for mics I have...

1 Tracy Korby modded U87
1 Slate ML-1
2 c414 xl II
2 Rode NT4
2 Cascade Fat Head (With Blumlein bar)
2 Earthworks QTC 40
1 KSM32
1 SM7b (have a cloudlifter for it)
lots of sm81s, AT clipon instrument mics, 57s, 58s, Countryman B3s, etc.

That’s, as Mike from “Jersey Shore” would say... “The Situation.”

The musicians are all getting scale and the budget is very tight so I will be lucky if I get an hour to dial things in and get it balanced.

So. My big question is,

What should I use for my main array? I’ve never tried Blumlein, or Decca Tree. Don’t have a tree, so I guess you would have to call it a spaced pair with something in the center. I was actually leaning towards that until I started reading something on one of these threads and that made me a bit skittish.

Anyway.... since I don’t have any time to play around and experiment, I would greatly appreciate any ideas on the best way to approach this so I can set up as much as possible before the meter starts.

Thanks in advance!
Old 5 days ago
  #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jammiedodger666 View Post
...
2 c414 xl II
2 Rode NT4
2 Cascade Fat Head (With Blumlein bar)
2 Earthworks QTC 40
1 KSM32
1 SM7b (have a cloudlifter for it)
lots of sm81s, AT clipon instrument mics, 57s, 58s, Countryman B3s, etc. ...
out of these mics i'd use either the earthworks' in a/b or the akg's in ortf for the main array.

if the akg's, i' d use the earthworks in wide a/b at the rear of the hall for ambient pickup.

and i'd use a ton of sm81's as spot mics which would allow to speed things up by starting with the same gain settings on almost all spot mics, possibly pretty high when using the rios (around 35 to 40db i guess - haven't been using the sm81 in a looong time though)
Old 5 days ago
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deedeeyeah View Post
out of these mics i'd use either the earthworks' in a/b or the akg's in ortf for the main array.

if the akg's, i' d use the earthworks in wide a/b at the rear of the hall for ambient pickup.

and i'd use a ton of sm81's as spot mics which would allow to speed things up by starting with the same gain settings on almost all spot mics, possibly pretty high when using the rios (around 35 to 40db i guess - haven't been using the sm81 in a looong time though)
Thank you. That makes sense. The room isn't huge. It's basically a rehearsal hall. I'll probably stick with the AKGs for the main pair. Just because I've had some luck with them before. I've got at least 8 sm81s.

Thanks again.
Old 5 days ago
  #4
Old 5 days ago
  #5
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how is your room?? if it's really good use the 414's if not use the Earthworks'
Old 5 days ago
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jammiedodger666 View Post
Anyway.... since I don’t have any time to play around and experiment, I would greatly appreciate any ideas on the best way to approach this so I can set up as much as possible before the meter starts.

Thanks in advance!
This could be the best hour's prep you'll spend before your recording: YouTube
Old 5 days ago
  #7
Not very many string players...and five horns! Essential that you spot each string section. Fathead ribbons on violins (use the null, Luke!). You only have two, so let's say KSM32 on violas and your Slate on cellos. Definitely U87 on bass (try omni). I would use the your 414's for the main pair and the Earthworks for percussion overheads. I'd try NT4 on the harp (be certain one side can see the soundboard). That leaves SM-81's for everything else.

David L. Rick
Seventh String Recording
Old 5 days ago
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David Rick View Post
Not very many string players...and five horns! Essential that you spot each string section. Fathead ribbons on violins (use the null, Luke!). You only have two, so let's say KSM32 on violas and your Slate on cellos. Definitely U87 on bass (try omni). I would use the your 414's for the main pair and the Earthworks for percussion overheads. I'd try NT4 on the harp (be certain one side can see the soundboard). That leaves SM-81's for everything else.

David L. Rick
Seventh String Recording
Thanks a bunch. One thing I want to mention about the U87. It's really special sounding. They guy who modded it (Tracy Korby) is an old friend. He did some special mods for me and to make it perfect for female voices. It has a really mellow mid-range and a super silky top end that just makes you wanna weep for joy when you put a great female singer in front of it.

Anyway. I'll take all of your suggestions into consideration. Thanks for replying.
Old 5 days ago
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 View Post
This could be the best hour's prep you'll spend before your recording: YouTube
Thanks! And you are correct. That was enlightening. I'm going to rethink the entire setup. I've just sent a request to the bean counters to grab me a proper array bar.

Thanks again
Old 5 days ago
  #10
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Originally Posted by jammiedodger666 View Post
Thanks! And you are correct. That was enlightening. I'm going to rethink the entire setup. I've just sent a request to the bean counters to grab me a proper array bar.

Thanks again
Just be advised though, if you go the Tony Faulkner "limited or no spots" route...it's a major fork in the road, so make sure you have access to at least one if not more rehearsals..... and listen very critically to what you either record or monitor from those rehearsals. If there's anything substantially missing, that you think you might feel the absence of later, then employ spot mic(s)...

That said, the video shows that the 'dual mic array on one bar arose' (out of necessity from his having to quickly adapt (and think on his feet) ) out of suboptimal conditions...and he maintained it later to become his preferred array where setup time was in short supply
Old 5 days ago
  #11
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Thread Starter
Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 View Post
Just be advised though, if you go the Tony Faulkner "limited or no spots" route...it's a major fork in the road, so make sure you have access to at least one if not more rehearsals..... and listen very critically to what you either record or monitor from those rehearsals. If there's anything substantially missing, that you think you might feel the absence of later, then employ spot mic(s)...

That said, the video shows that the 'dual mic array on one bar arose' (out of necessity from his having to quickly adapt (and think on his feet) ) out of suboptimal conditions...and he maintained it later to become his preferred array where setup time was in short supply
Well. That's the problem with this particular recording project. As far as I can tell, there will be no rehearsals, apart from what they run through during the recording sessions, they don't have any rehearsal scheduled. I am going to try to talk them into using the extra four hour session they were thinking about adding (just in case) as a rehearsal day so I could actually listen to them and try to balance things out.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed on that. I've already been told that there are no funds for the cheapest array bar I could find. I've got a small one on hand that came with the fatheads that I could use to do the parallel AB figure 8 pair or ORTF. We've got a bunch of lighting stands around the video studio, so I might be able to rig something with that hardware to come up with something that could hold a pair of omnis.

I'm not going to forgo spots. I could bring in a second RIO1608 and close mic everything, like I do for large pop orchestras on our main stage, but I'd rather not.

Thanks for the continued advice. I'll keep you apprised of how my suggestion to use a day for rehearsal goes.
Old 4 days ago
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jammiedodger666 View Post
Well. That's the problem with this particular recording project. As far as I can tell, there will be no rehearsals, apart from what they run through during the recording sessions, they don't have any rehearsal scheduled. I am going to try to talk them into using the extra four hour session they were thinking about adding (just in case) as a rehearsal day so I could actually listen to them and try to balance things out.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed on that. I've already been told that there are no funds for the cheapest array bar I could find. I've got a small one on hand that came with the fatheads that I could use to do the parallel AB figure 8 pair or ORTF. We've got a bunch of lighting stands around the video studio, so I might be able to rig something with that hardware to come up with something that could hold a pair of omnis.

I'm not going to forgo spots. I could bring in a second RIO1608 and close mic everything, like I do for large pop orchestras on our main stage, but I'd rather not.

Thanks for the continued advice. I'll keep you apprised of how my suggestion to use a day for rehearsal goes.
Hmmm....on the stereo bar, you could get this Sabra Som for $50, and then buy a 3-foot piece of 3/8-inch hexagonal stock at a local metal shop and have a pretty decent four-mic setup. The lighting stands should work OK; just make sure you have the right thread adapters on hand.

And, given that this is a "real" recording project and not just a live concert capture, having a rehearsal session is clearly a smart move. You vastly increase your chances of getting a good recording by having time to experiment in the space and evaluate the tracks back in your studio. In my experience, people will usually listen to a "quality" argument....hopefully the folks you're working with will!

Good luck with the session!
Old 4 days ago
  #13
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while a main mic array can speed up setup time, i'm having serious doubts that the pickup from it (regardless of technique) will yield reasonable results in this situation, due to the imbalance of sections (with just a hand full of strings) - i therefore would not recommend relying on any main system/array too much and dedicate as many mics and attention as possible to spot mics. and other than i suggested in a previous post, i'd probably drop the room mics as the recording might need lots of time in post anyway and i'd rather spend it then than running cables to the back.



p.s. and then these arrays look so ****ty unless you can fly them...

Last edited by deedeeyeah; 4 days ago at 06:48 PM.. Reason: p.s. added
Old 4 days ago
  #14
I've put the Faulkner interview on my watch list, but I want to add a caution to the OP: There are a couple of things that must be true to successfully record an orchestra without spots. The first is that the hall's "critical distance" must be greater than the maximum dimension of the ensemble. This becomes a problem with large orchestras in very reverberant halls, but should not be a problem here. The second is that the ensemble must be capable of self-balancing in a way that is consistent with the composer's intent. Here I think you may have a problem. If the composer really intended this work to be heard with only 12 string players, then proceed. But if the composer (who is, you say, a high school student) conceived the balance based on samples in Sibelius or the Vienna Symphonic Library, then (s)he may be expecting a very different balance than this number players can naturally produce. It's something to think about before ditching all of your spot mics.

My other caution is that some of Mr. Faulkner's most famous microphone arrangements were invented to solve rather specific acoustical problems. I suspect, from what you've posted, that your room has very different ones. So be careful about applying the solution to someone else's problem in your situation, even if that someone else is (justly) very famous.

I personally find it very satisfying to accomplish a recording with the bare minimum number of microphones, but it's important to understand what that minimum number really is in each situation. Remember Einstein's advice, often paraphrased as "Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler!"
Old 4 days ago
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David Rick View Post
I've put the Faulkner interview on my watch list, but I want to add a caution to the OP: There are a couple of things that must be true to successfully record an orchestra without spots. The first is that the hall's "critical distance" must be greater than the maximum dimension of the ensemble. This becomes a problem with large orchestras in very reverberant halls, but should not be a problem here. The second is that the ensemble must be capable of self-balancing in a way that is consistent with the composer's intent. Here I think you may have a problem. If the composer really intended this work to be heard with only 12 string players, then proceed. But if the composer (who is, you say, a high school student) conceived the balance based on samples in Sibelius or the Vienna Symphonic Library, then (s)he may be expecting a very different balance than this number players can naturally produce. It's something to think about before ditching all of your spot mics.

My other caution is that some of Mr. Faulkner's most famous microphone arrangements were invented to solve rather specific acoustical problems. I suspect, from what you've posted, that your room has very different ones. So be careful about applying the solution to someone else's problem in your situation, even if that someone else is (justly) very famous.

I personally find it very satisfying to accomplish a recording with the bare minimum number of microphones, but it's important to understand what that minimum number really is in each situation. Remember Einstein's advice, often paraphrased as "Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler!"
Thanks David. I should reiterate that I'm not planning on just going with one solution. I can even bring in an additional RIO unit and just close mic the living daylights out of it.

I know the string section is very small and yes, everyone wants it bigger. The main problem is budgetary. I doubt there will be more strings than that for the performances next year. Most likely they will all be miked.

After going through the score, I have a better idea of what I"m dealing with. It's going to be:

flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon for winds
3 french horns, trumpet, trombone and tuba for brass
1 percussionist
harp
and the 12 string players (fingers crossed)

Anyway... It looks like they are planning on rehearsing the first day and maybe some of the second, so I'll at least have some time to work out the kinks.


I'm also a fan of minimal mics. I haven't put more than four on a kit since I started using a ribbon on the snare instead of top/bottom mics.

Thanks again!
Old 4 days ago
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DCtoDaylight View Post
Hmmm....on the stereo bar, you could get this Sabra Som for $50, and then buy a 3-foot piece of 3/8-inch hexagonal stock at a local metal shop and have a pretty decent four-mic setup. The lighting stands should work OK; just make sure you have the right thread adapters on hand.

And, given that this is a "real" recording project and not just a live concert capture, having a rehearsal session is clearly a smart move. You vastly increase your chances of getting a good recording by having time to experiment in the space and evaluate the tracks back in your studio. In my experience, people will usually listen to a "quality" argument....hopefully the folks you're working with will!

Good luck with the session!
Thanks for the response! I am trying to get the bean counters to spring for a real array one of these days. Flying it wouldn't be a problem. I'd just like it for when the local Symphony or Brass Ensemble comes through.

It looks like they did put some thought into pre-production (after 12 years here, I never take that for granted!) and plan to rehearse the first day and some of the second. So I'll have time to experiment. As others have mentioned the balance issues with so few strings, I'm starting to think that close miking is gonna be the way to go. I might put the pair of cascades up as a blumlein or maybe try the Faulkner figure 8 pair just for a lark, and I'll probably stick one of the NT4s up just so I can give the choreographer something to work with.

Thanks!
Old 4 days ago
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deedeeyeah View Post
while a main mic array can speed up setup time, i'm having serious doubts that the pickup from it (regardless of technique) will yield reasonable results in this situation, due to the imbalance of sections (with just a hand full of strings) - i therefore would not recommend relying on any main system/array too much and dedicate as many mics and attention as possible to spot mics. and other than i suggested in a previous post, i'd probably drop the room mics as the recording might need lots of time in post anyway and i'd rather spend it then than running cables to the back.



p.s. and then these arrays look so ****ty unless you can fly them...
Yeah, I'm starting to think close mics are going to be the way to go. I might have to break out a second RIO 1608. I've done close miked projects in that room that sounded fantastic. Maybe I'll just throw one of the NT4s up so I can give the choreographer something to work with while I piece the mess together.

Back to the imbalance thing. Most of the time when we do concerts for the performing arts school portion of the center, there is a serious imbalance between horns and strings. I've done some strange things that worked to fix that in recordings. I wasn't able to put up the 414s in front of the orchestra for one show, so I stuck them on the sides of the conductor's podium. It tended to pick up more strings than the rest and actually sounded quite good.

Thanks again. I'll let you all know how it turns out and post somethings. I was toying with putting miniatures or clip on instrument mics on the violins. I've got the DPA bridge adapters and the aforementioned AT instrument mics, which worked out great when I used them on a four piece string section for a Sinatra tribute concert we did. At least I'll have some time to play around.

THanks again.
Old 4 days ago
  #18
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Originally Posted by deedeeyeah View Post
p.s. and then these arrays look so ****ty unless you can fly them...
who cares...it's a dedicated recording session, see first post
Old 4 days ago
  #19
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Originally Posted by studer58 View Post
who cares...it's a dedicated recording session, see first post
well, i've been switching mics and positions 'cause musicians felt irritated by the sheer presence of a mic already! - regarding bars ("i'm having mixed drinks about feelings"), i've seen rigs that i wouldn't wanna sit just anywhere close to either, certainly not below them! also the op is intending to use a mic bar for visiting orchestras/on other occasions but maybe does not want to become famous for the worst looking gear...

my point is that if you're going to use any mic bar (not much love for sonic reasons in my case) you better make it look okay!
Old 4 days ago
  #20
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Thread Starter
Thanks again for all the help. I've decided to close-mic the lot, with the AT clip-on mics for the 1st and 2nd violins (as I have had great results with them in the past), spot mics on the groups (violas, cellos, horns) and individuals on the rest. I am also going to put up an NT4 in the room and also try the Faulkner bidirectional scheme just for a laugh. I'll have all the time in the world to mix it, as long as I get a listenable rough out to the choreographer in time.

I just found out that they are also adding a digital keyboard (gag). I'm going to DI that and just feed a headphone mix to whoever is playing it. They are just doing string pads to fill things out. I don't really want any sound from that little b**tard leaking into my other mics!

Thanks again!
Old 4 days ago
  #21
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Plush's Avatar
It's not a large orchestra so record it with two AKG 414 mics.

No mulitple sessions needed.

Use the Solti method and play it 3 times.

Then go home.

Don't close mic as that will only pick up all the mistakes in high fidelity.
Old 4 days ago
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jammiedodger666 View Post
I just found out that they are also adding a digital keyboard (gag). I'm going to DI that and just feed a headphone mix to whoever is playing it. They are just doing string pads to fill things out.
DI and cans for just the keyboardist is perfect. It won't be in tune with the real strings, but that's not your fault. Just make sure to keep it separate.

@Plush is the man when it comes to this stuff, so I'd pay attention to his recommendation for the main pair. But I might put up the Earthworks and Cascade pairs as well, to get three shots at it, and then spot with whatever you've got left (you don't have to use them).

Last edited by Brent Hahn; 4 days ago at 04:52 PM..
Old 4 days ago
  #23
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...can't help but telling someone not to use spot mics in this situation (as clearly explained in multiple posts by the op) is poor advice, misleading if not downright wrong!

and then, mistakes magically disappear in a stereo recording if one only puts mics far away enough?!

get real!
Old 4 days ago
  #24
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x2 for Plush's recommendation. Close multi-mic'ing will make your life a living hell. Treat it as a live performance recording and not a studio session, unless you have the time and resources, oh and did I mention time? to do a studio session. You will be amazed how out of tune everyone will be when you close mic this. There will be no fixing it later. Mic'ing with a main pair will smooth all this out and give you a presentable product.

The 414s as a main pair, above and a bit behind the conductor and Bob's yer uncle. Electronic keyboard playing through a little amp? Make sure the conductor is satisfied with the whole orchestra's balance and you'll be satisfied as well.

Done.

As always, just my $.02 and perhaps worth just that.

D.
Old 3 days ago
  #25
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Plush's Avatar
If brass is too loud, tell them to play softer or move them farther away. (to the back.) You and the conductor collaborate to balance the orchestra.

Use 414's in a NOS configuration.

The reason I say that you are a collaborator is that you will hear the orchestra differently in your mics than the conductor will hear them on the podium.

Go by what you hear in your mics. Woodwinds too soft. Have them play out.

Mostly you will be asking players to play softer and to exaggerate dynamics.



Any other set up will be a disaster with youth orchestra.
Old 3 days ago
  #26
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Thread Starter
Quote:
Originally Posted by Plush View Post
If brass is too loud, tell them to play softer or move them farther away. (to the back.) You and the conductor collaborate to balance the orchestra.

Use 414's in a NOS configuration.

The reason I say that you are a collaborator is that you will hear the orchestra differently in your mics than the conductor will hear them on the podium.

Go by what you hear in your mics. Woodwinds too soft. Have them play out.

Mostly you will be asking players to play softer and to exaggerate dynamics.



Any other set up will be a disaster with youth orchestra.
While I appreciate your advice, this is not a youth orchestra, it's a collection of the best pros in the area. I've recorded them with close mics on everything in the pit for years. I've never had any problems with intonation. I've worked with groups of strings, using close mics before in live situations and they still managed to balance themselves well enough that it pretty much mixed itself.

As I mentioned I am planning on putting one or two stereo configurations up to capture the entire orchestra, but I'm still going to close mic as well. I'm going to move them around until I get a nice balance in the monitor speakers, which will be in the room next to the orchestra rehearsal space.

The main purpose of this recording is to give the choreographer and dancers something to rehearse with. The secondary purpose is to give the composer (and he's a prodigy) a quality recording.

I just found out that I've got some rehearsal time, that I can mess around with things. I just can't justify not having more than one backup plan. I will definitely try your suggestion with the 414s, and I will do my usual balancing act but I'm going to mic everything. It's not gonna hurt anyone. I've got at least seven months to edit and mix it the final version for the composer.

Thanks for your input.
Old 3 days ago
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tourtelot View Post
x2 for Plush's recommendation. Close multi-mic'ing will make your life a living hell. Treat it as a live performance recording and not a studio session, unless you have the time and resources, oh and did I mention time? to do a studio session. You will be amazed how out of tune everyone will be when you close mic this. There will be no fixing it later. Mic'ing with a main pair will smooth all this out and give you a presentable product.

The 414s as a main pair, above and a bit behind the conductor and Bob's yer uncle. Electronic keyboard playing through a little amp? Make sure the conductor is satisfied with the whole orchestra's balance and you'll be satisfied as well.

Done.

As always, just my $.02 and perhaps worth just that.

D.
Again. Thanks for your two cents. I've never had problems recording live performances of these same musicians in the pit or on the stage. So I'm going to put up a few stereo pairs where I think they sound good and capture the entire orchestra (minus the keyboard, which is just there to sweeten the strings.)

I will balance them by position and distance, but I'm also going to mic every instrument. I have all the time in the world to set up. 3 weeks if I want. And I have at least six months to get the final product to the composer.
Old 3 days ago
  #28
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Plush's Avatar
Sorry—I was under the mistaken impression it was a youth orchestra.
Old 3 days ago
  #29
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Thread Starter
Quote:
Originally Posted by Plush View Post
It's not a large orchestra so record it with two AKG 414 mics.

No mulitple sessions needed.

Use the Solti method and play it 3 times.

Then go home.

Don't close mic as that will only pick up all the mistakes in high fidelity.
Sorry if this is repeating myself. I really respect your opinion. As I mentioned in my longer reply. This isn't a student orchestra. These guys don't make many mistakes. They usually get a few hours to rehearse a score like Sweeny Todd or Les Mis and then they do it pretty much perfectly. I've got a lot of experience with these musicians recording them close up and have never had any problems. My main worry was the imbalance, which is why I want to also close mic.
Old 3 days ago
  #30
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tourtelot's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by jammiedodger666 View Post
I will balance them by position and distance, but I'm also going to mic every instrument. I have all the time in the world to set up. 3 weeks if I want. And I have at least six months to get the final product to the composer.
Okay. I guess I misunderstood a few parts of the equation. As always, us engineer types (we drive the train after all ) do what we need to do to get the best recording we can allowing for funds, time and available equipment.

Best of luck on this recording.

D.
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