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Laying out a headphone-less big band session? Condenser Microphones
Old 4th September 2011
  #1
Gear Nut
 

Laying out a headphone-less big band session?

Hey guys
I'm after advice on how to setup a to record my uni big band in our rehearsal room. It's carpeted and has what I believe is an absorbent drop ceiling (not particularly high), and is quite large - best described as a rectangle with a corner missing, or a really fat L shape! I don't have good ears for judging rooms, but I'd say it's pretty dead, and big enough not to sound like a small room? There's more than enough room to set up with the bones, saxes and trumpets forming a U shape, with the rhythm section behind the bottom of the U.
We want to do a quick, but reasonable sounding (ie better than just 1 mic at the front of the room) recording for archival purposes, and for some demo recordings of original music by band members. So I'm looking for advice on how to layout the room (no headphones, no booths, no panels/gobos, no overdubs) for good sound/management of leakage, and what mics to use.
My initial thoughts are to flip the setup around a bit and have basically a square - a section for each side - so as to get mics picking up as much of only their own sections as possible.
Channels-wise, I've got my Tascam US-1641 which provides 8 mic pres, and a further 6 line-ins. Could also borrow a mixer of the live/powered ~16 channels variety for more pres/submixing if necessary.
Mic-wise, I own:
2 Rode NT5s (SDC)
2 ADK A51 (LDC)
2 'Stellar' Chinese Royer clone ribbons (with different ribbons, ie. not matched)
AKG c414 XLS
Shure Beta 52
SM57
plus I should have access to a reasonably inexhaustible supply of SM58s and other cheap and cheerful dynamic vocal mics (and probably a couple more cheap condensors like NT1s, other SDCs) where necessary (borrowed from my school).
My first thoughts are:
Bass (electric), guitar - direct
Mono overhead (rode or 414?) + kick (beta 52) for drums
Mono piano (rode #2 or 414?)
2 ribbons on trumpets - 2/3 players per mic (5 person section)
2 ADKs or 2 or 4 SM57/58s for trombones
2 ADKs or SM57/58s for saxes (maybe with an extra to spot the bari?)

What do you reckon? I reckon I should use the versatility of the 414's pickup patterns to my advantage. Where would that best be suited? Which miking scheme for the bones/saxes do you like better - dynamics or LDCs on which section?

Thanks in advance!
Will
PS. please no "I'd use 5 U47s on the saxes, an RCA 77 for every brass player and a stereo pair of M49s" etc. No extra gear is gunna be purchased/hired for this project, we're only using what's listed above!
Old 6th September 2011
  #2
Gear Nut
 

bump
Old 6th September 2011
  #3
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hbphotoav's Avatar
 

I'd say, try it your way first. If the results are less than what you'd want (I can hear trumpets bleeding into just about everything in an unbaffled square) then have the band return to their "usual" stage setup. Use the NT5s as a main pair (with enough distance to get the entire band into the prime angle) and spot the drums (ADK OH, Beta52 kick), saxes (I use a 57 between every stand) and brass... two mics is fine, if the bones are seated with the trumpets standing behind (try the ribbons... usually there's no lack of signal). Use the 414 as a "step out" solo/vocal mic and take the bass and acoustic guitar direct, or mic their amps. The other ADK might be good on piano, if you can keep the bleed to a minimum.
Old 6th September 2011
  #4
Gear Nut
 

Hey hb, thanks for the great reply! One concern I've always had with ribbon mics - and I haven't had enough experience with them to know if it should be a concern - do you have to worry about the rear lobe of the figure of 8 pattern in situations like mine? Ie. ribbons pointing at trumpets, trumpets facing trombones 5 or 6 metres away? If so is there an effective way to baffle them, or does one just try to position them more carefully?
Photos in pro studios often have Royers, RCA 77s/44s pointing at brass players facing other players, but I imagine the nature of the room treatment means anything making it into the rear lobe is still gunna sound great!
Old 6th September 2011
  #5
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Matti's Avatar
Why would you want to baffle a big band ( live as they play the best ) recording
Fig. of 8 mics give separation IF needed

Matti
Old 6th September 2011
  #6
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hbphotoav's Avatar
 

My thought is that trumpets facing bones will always end up badly, whether fig 8 or cards... seems like bleed city, and not in a helpful manner... but, then, since I've never tried it, I can't rightly say. So... try it, and post up some samples... then we can all take a listen and I, for one, will no longer be ignorant.

FWIW, I'm a location "you-were-there-at-the-event" kind of recordist. My aim is usually to record from a POV that balances what the conductor hears with what the audience experiences in the room. You're suggesting a studio-type setup. That pretty well puts my fish out of the water. To wit, anything I suggest will be irrelevant to the discussion, so I'll just be quiet now.
Old 6th September 2011
  #7
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Matti's Avatar
As for me I meant the trad big band setup on stage or imitation of the setup if in studio

Matti
Old 6th September 2011
  #8
Gear Maniac
 
Hornblower64's Avatar
 

The best sounding big band recordings I've ever heard use minimal mic'ing; a main stereo array, spot(s) for vox, perhaps some spots on the rhythm section (acoustic bass, kick primarily), and that's it. A good big band, like a good orchestra, can mostly balance itself. Set them up as they do to rehearse or perform.
Old 7th September 2011
  #9
Gear Nut
 

The 'main pair' style of miking would demand a reasonably flattering room though wouldn't it? Can you suggest some recordings using that style hornblower? I'd been interested to listen and compare to recordings that i know to be close miked...
I believe another common technique of the Basie era was to group individual sections around omni/ribbon mics. Andy Farber knows a heap about that and th the other old school approaches. Perhaps he'll chime in soon...
Old 7th September 2011
  #10
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hbphotoav's Avatar
 

Harry James & His Big Band - The Sheffield Sessions 1974 - 1979 (Amazon.com: Harry James & His Big Band - The Sheffield Sessions 1974 - 1979: Harry James: Music) The first disk, "The King James Version", was recorded in a chapel with one stereo mic. Granted, it was a classic C-24... but this is definitely what "Big Band" can sound like. No tracks, no overdubs... just one nearly perfectly-placed mic driving several stereo cutting lathes (from which masters, the mothers were made for the pressings of a limited audiophile vinyl release) and, subsequently, 16- and 24-bit CDs. This, from the liner notes...

"... But on that day they did something remarkable. They booked, not a small acoustic group, but the Harry James Big Band. Of course prior to that they had recorded the band live on tape, discussed many aspects of the recording with Harry and generally prepared the ground, but when the band sat down to record all bets were off.

"Instead of the cosy confines of the recording studio the band were arranged in the Wylie chapel just down the road. Instead of an array of microphones, each allowing for level adjustment, the whole thing was to be recorded by a single AKG C-24 mike. Levels were adjusted by moving people about, the stereo image would be that of the chapel, the acoustic that of the chapel and so on. No atmosphere mikes, no fake echo or effects. This mike fed direct to a simple portable console which in turn drove 600 feet of cable to the cutting lathe at the Sheffield Labs Mastering Lab. All this system was designed and set up for this recording. Not one transformer was in the music path. Then the band played. People were moved about, the running order was swapped (mostly by Harry), and nine tracks laid down. According to Producer Doug Sax, it was their smoothest recording session ever. Everyone was over the moon. Harry James said it was the best recording he'd made in 36 years.

"Trial pressings were made, the sound was wonderful, everyone impressed, but one instrument didn't sound quite right - Harry James' horn. So close to perfection, the staff knew that somehow they just hadn't captured those brassy peaks properly. With a conventional recording a quick retake of the horn alone would have fixed things - here that wasn't an option. Harry James was contacted and persuaded to return with the band and do it all again in July.

"This time the recording went badly - people were moved about, the balance was poor. The chapel filled with an invited audience, Harry as very unhappy, and then at last everything clicked, and not only did the sound come right - so did the band. These final tracks are what was cut into that master and on my turntable right now is a slab of vinyl that was pressed from it. "


I got one of the first releases of "TKJV" for my Dad for his birthday in 1975. He literally wore it out. And several cassettes from it in the car. It was his favorite record in the last couple of decades of his life. I clearly remember never having heard a recorded Big Band (I was a jazzer in HS... bass bone) sound as "real" as this recording. But, see (hear) for yourself. Order up a used CD (it's way out of print) from Amazon, or (shudder...!) download the (I can barely force my fingers - both of them - to type this...) the MP3s. Yuk. But, they will give you the farthest foggiest freaking idea how it sounds, when done "right".

You might also get a feel for how the Sheffield lads approached jazz, in general, with "Sheffield Jazz Experience"... also available on Amazon.

HTH.

HB
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Old 7th September 2011
  #11
Gear Maniac
 
Hornblower64's Avatar
 

This was, in fact, one of the recordings of which I was thinking. I played trumpet in a big band for many years. Multi-mic'ed recordings just never sound right.
Old 7th September 2011
  #12
Gear Maniac
 
Hornblower64's Avatar
 

You'd be surprised how many rooms can yield good sound with just a stereo pair, if you're careful, and know what you're doing. Sometimes just a half inch, when positioning the microphones, can make all the difference.
Old 8th September 2011
  #13
Gear Nut
 

They're great sounding recordings, and it's a fascinating approach! But alas, time to move the band around etc. is one thing I don't have here. I get an extra hour beforehand to set up, and then the band turns up at its usual timetabled rehearsal time but records instead.
Norrbotten Big Band - NBB in New York
A bit down the page is a photo of the approach that I'm hoping to try, albeit with a mic per person. It is however in Avatar studios so yeah... can it be done in NOT avatar studios??
Old 8th September 2011
  #14
Gear Nut
 

By the way - any votes on who gets the dynamics and who gets the condensors (out of saxes and bones) if I did it the way I originally posted?
Old 8th September 2011
  #15
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hbphotoav's Avatar
 

If this is a one-shot thing, and you have an hour to move in, set up, get levels and hit record... there's no room for futzing. I'd be uncomfortable in a mission critical situation to take the band out of their usual setup. But, then, I'm old and conservative, and don't like my ass hanging out needlessly. When there's a question, I like 57s. They're not a standard instrument mic for nothing. Sooooo...

Do your thing and post up some samples. Even an old fart like me can learn something from your experience.

Good luck.

HB
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