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Faux String Section Recording?
Old 21st October 2013
  #1
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Faux String Section Recording?

Hey guys - I have a session tomorrow recording a small string section, with a twist. It's one dude. I recommended to hire a section and record them as such, but it's not my call. So we have a single player who is going to layer himself on violin and cello (possibly more? I'm not sure.). I think we'll end up with at least 2 violin parts and maybe viola?

Anyway, I had the idea to set up a nice stereo pair and have him move his seat for each part. Is this foolish? Any thoughts on building up a nice small section sound from one player?

String recording tips in general would be cool too, haven't done much beyond jazz upright and fiddle. Studio has a nice sounding room approx 500sf with high ceilings, good mic locker and a lot of outboard, so throw out your best (reasonable) suggestions.

Thanks.
Old 21st October 2013
  #2
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We have pairs of KM84s, Coles, c37a's (gorgeous but noisy sometimes), avenson STO omnis, alesis gt am61, at 4033... royer 121 but one is on repair right now.

Oh, and the project is a sort of 70's funky rnb type sound, most of the arrangements are already quite full, some of the string parts are doubling horns, some are call-and-response with the horns. So I think I'll need to keep the strings small but strong, stereo image-wise.
Old 21st October 2013
  #3
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I have done layered recordings of my wife playing violin. It never sounds like a real string section, because she always sounds like herself, if you get my meaning. Good luck.
Old 21st October 2013
  #4
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fred2bern's Avatar
What about renting musicians for a real string session?
If they all play together you'll spend less time and have a better quality.
For me there is no interest, except for a bet, to record x times the same player trying to sound as an orchestra... It's a nonsense.
Old 21st October 2013
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fred2bern View Post
What about renting musicians for a real string session?
If they all play together you'll spend less time and have a better quality.
For me there is no interest, except for a bet, to record x times the same player trying to sound as an orchestra... It's a nonsense.
Agreed, but like I said I made my recommendation to the client to hire a section, and it is his decision.

To be clear, I'm not expecting, or even looking for, an orchestra 30+ person string sound. We're looking to approximate a small group (~5-6 players) with a single person.
Old 21st October 2013
  #6
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code green's Avatar
I recently heard very nice results coming out of the same approach. In this case, it was a layering of one violin player playing into a single ribbon mic, with a combination of playing in different registers and, I believe, some messing about with pitch in post. I'm afraid I don't know the mix panning (if any) that was ultimately used, and I can't say that it produced this amazing verisimilitude of a true ensemble...but it sounded great and, in the mix, it's not as if I would have guessed it was only one player.
Old 21st October 2013
  #7
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I've overdubbed myself playing violin. Just two parts - never had any songs I felt needed/wanted more parts in the mix.

Used an AKG C414B XLII in front of the violin. I personally prefer the sound of violins mic'd quite simply in front of the violin, the way a member of the audience would hear it. Sounds better to me than the standard above-the-sound-hole technique which is what all studios I've ever recorded violin in go for.

Panned one hard left, one hard right. Sounded good to me. I don't think any listener would notice or care whether it sounded to them like one guy overdubbing or a string duo.

...But is this a string part for a song, or is this guy trying to replicate a string quartet full stop? Will the string part be all there is to the track?
Old 21st October 2013
  #8
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Use a mono mic and do it as more of a spot mic up closer. The reasoning is that if you do it like a main pair recording a section and then layer it, you will compound the ambient room sound and it will be much higher than if you had a real section playing at the same time. I would use the coles, but the km84 is fine too. Panning will be dictated by aesthetics and the number of parts you have. For the type of tune you describe this approach will be just fine. You will need to achieve a sense of depth, room and space in post with reverb and panning.
Old 22nd October 2013
  #9
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As nnajar says, multiple overdubs from a distant stereo setup will compound the room sound. However, depending on the sound you're going for, sometimes close mic'd strings simply won't cut it, esp for a retro organic ensemble vibe that you seem to be going for. If the room is good like you say, more roominess might be preferable to strings that are too upfront and out of character for the genre. Experiment and see of course.

Beyond that, one of the biggest problems in single player overdub situations is that the "ensemble" obviously cannot tune to itself or lock in rhythmically in real time, so be prepared and unafraid to autotune and nudge. (The flip side advantage to this situation is that these things at least *can* be technically fixed, whereas with a true ensemble that is out of tune or off rhythm, you are pretty much stuck with what they lay down.)

Also, if more players are not an option, see if acquiring more instruments is possible. A single player multi-tracking on two violins will sound more organic and group-like than a double of the same instrument. Think of it like a vocal -- double/triple etc tracking a lead vox can be a cool production technique, but it most certainly does not sound like a "group" of singers. You can also have him experiment w/ using mutes, bowing various distances from the bridge, etc -- anything to change up the timbre a bit between layers.
Old 22nd October 2013
  #10
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Awesome input everyone - thank you!
Old 22nd October 2013
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rcb4t2 View Post
Anyway, I had the idea to set up a nice stereo pair and have him move his seat for each part. Is this foolish?
Not at all. I have done this with a singer and also did some percussion myself this way, and it really does create a sense of a group in a space there. Sort of an audio version of a multiple exposure


Quote:
Any thoughts on building up a nice small section sound from one player?
besides varying the distance from the mics, some people who do this kind of thing a lot will bring more than one violin and more than one bow. Even if the secondary instrument is 'not as good'. Mix them up so that the layers are each a little different. I even heard one guy saying how he 'visualizes' other violinists he knows and more or less says to himself "Tommy would play it like this" and "Jane would play it like that".

Pretty subtle, I would imagine, but every little bit probably helps when you are faking a group of people using one person.
Old 22nd October 2013
  #12
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andychamp's Avatar
I've done the stereo mic/seat change thing, and it's worked quite well in a pop context. Some things to remember, though:
- avoid omni or fig.-8 mics, as the room sound will start piling up. Put blankets on the empty seats.
- try to get only 1, or more than 2 takes per part/instrument. 1 may sound thin, but 2 sounds very amateurish. 3-4 starts getting authentic.
- if you go for a string quartet sound, have the player use different instruments and bows for the two violin parts. (good idea for the ensemble approach, too, BTW).
Old 22nd October 2013
  #13
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NetworkAudio's Avatar
It will never sound like a string ensemble.

Presuming that this player is a professional who charges for his or her time, it makes more sense to hire two players for 6 hours rather than one player for twelve, or better yet, hire a quartet for one service (3 hours)
Old 22nd October 2013
  #14
mds
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I've done this a lot. Some things that help: play different violins and/or bows if possible. Play parts on different strings. Double everything possible on viola. Viola is key. Its the glue between the cello and violin. Have the player tune to 441 and play the parts. Try to get them to phrase slightly differently or shift some parts around after the fact. If its too tight it'll sound small. There's an art to getting it wrong in just the right way.

That all helps. Moving the player and/or mics around is also somewhat useful.

Bottom line: the arrangement is what will really make it work. Hopefully someone involved wrote some good parts and knows how to write for strings and voice chords in a string ensemble. :-)

Good luck! Writing for and recording strings is one of my favorite parts of the job.
Old 22nd October 2013
  #15
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I did this: 60s - 70s soundtrack type instrumental home recording - YouTube

starting at 1:20.. it's 11 viola and 1 cello tracked one at a time.. playing 4-note chord voicings for a background pad. Just one SM57 about a foot or two away in a bad carpeted room. I'm not a viola/violin or cello player, so it's just simple stuff. Doesn't sound great, but not horrible either. Kinda like a 2nd rate mellotron. Would like to hear a real violinist try it. My problem was always the opposite, the vibrato pulses would never properly overlap, and it'd get this cloudy phasey kind of sound that was unpleasant.
Old 22nd October 2013
  #16
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Gravit Dinchy's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by jdsowa View Post
I did this: 60s - 70s soundtrack type instrumental home recording - YouTube

starting at 1:20.. it's 11 viola and 1 cello tracked one at a time.. playing 4-note chord voicings for a background pad. Just one SM57 about a foot or two away in a bad carpeted room. I'm not a viola/violin or cello player, so it's just simple stuff. Doesn't sound great, but not horrible either. Kinda like a 2nd rate mellotron. Would like to hear a real violinist try it. My problem was always the opposite, the vibrato pulses would never properly overlap, and it'd get this cloudy phasey kind of sound that was unpleasant.
Those strings are barely audible! TURN THEM UP, MAN!
Old 22nd October 2013
  #17
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Eldhrimnir's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by mds View Post
That all helps. Moving the player and/or mics around is also somewhat useful.
This.

/dB
Old 22nd October 2013
  #18
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Wyllys's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
Not at all. I have done this with a singer and also did some percussion myself this way, and it really does create a sense of a group in a space there. Sort of an audio version of a multiple exposure




besides varying the distance from the mics, some people who do this kind of thing a lot will bring more than one violin and more than one bow. Even if the secondary instrument is 'not as good'. Mix them up so that the layers are each a little different. I even heard one guy saying how he 'visualizes' other violinists he knows and more or less says to himself "Tommy would play it like this" and "Jane would play it like that".

Pretty subtle, I would imagine, but every little bit probably helps when you are faking a group of people using one person.
Good take.

I also find that a shot and a beer between takes will help as long as you don't do an excessive number of takes.....
Old 22nd October 2013
  #19
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Hey y'all - I'm mid-session and its going great. 3 harmony parts with 3 violins each. Viola got scrapped and cello is a maybe for another day.

I'm doing c37a for 2 takes and Coles for the 3rd - coincidentish placement.

The player is killer so that's all that really matters ha.

Thanks again for the help.
Old 23rd October 2013
  #20
mds
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Oh, one more thought...cello has a large range and can play viola parts much of the time. Can help fill things out.
Old 23rd October 2013
  #21
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ionian's Avatar
If it's a small amount of parts, like maybe 4 where room build up might not be a big problem, a good way to go about it is set up like 4 chairs in a row with a stereo mic setup and make him move to a different seat for each take so it sounds like a section when put together instead of panning 4 close mic'd takes.

Regards,
Frank

edit: wow - I just saw you wrote that in the first post. Damn. I have to get my reading comprehension up! Yes, it's a good idea. Bringing different instruments and bows is also a great idea as Joeq said. I work with one violinist who does that when I track her multiple times.

I've worked with a producer who tracked "sections" that way. Where he wants 16 violins and violas so he hires 4 of them and sets up 16 chairs (4 rows of 4) and makes them move back a row each take using a single stereo mic setup in the front of the room.
Old 23rd October 2013
  #22
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You're already tracking so this may be a bit late, but unless you're in a very quiet room, I'd suggest close miking. Not only will your room sound build up, but any HVAC/etc. will build too. Close mic, and if it's possible to change the instrument that will help, or maybe change the mic itself after a few takes?

After tracking, maybe put a nice set of monitors in the live room with a pair of room mics and record that? Haven't tried it, but could be cool
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