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Recording a live orchestral concert


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I lead the Nottingham Youth Orchestra who have a concert coming up in Southwell Minster (a large medieval church) in Nottinghamshire. When we have played at concert halls I have had no problems recording the orchestra using a pair of AKG C1000s on a large stand about level with the first row of audience seating. However, I need to get a really good quality recording of this concert and as with all amateur groups its on a tight budget! I don't mind hiring mics etc so please give me some ideas for the best way to get a decent sound!


Oh yeh I nearly forgot - we are doing a piece with organ so the mics need to pick that up too.


thanks in advance



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I can't say I've ever done a recording of a live orchestra, but from what I've read in Sound on Sound articles in the past, and my own thoughts, I'd say the following:


You might want to have a few sets of stereo pair microphones to seperate out the different sections of instruments; Brass, Strings, Woodwind, percussion etc.


I'd personally use AKG 414's as well as the C1000s mics.


I'd also guess you'd like some audience response mics too, for the applauding etc, and to add the abience effect too.



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There are a number of ways of approaching your recording. The end product will dictate which is best. A couple of points worth remembering.


NEVER try to use a number of stereo pairs - it doesn't matter if you use x/y or a/b (or to be honest any of the various techniques in use) They all create width by combinations of phase and time differences. Putting in more than one set confuses the stereo image dreadfully - making it sound very unrealistic.


Purists spend loads of time with a single stereo pair finding the 'sweet spot' where the sound really comes together. If you have a conductor, then s/he will balance the sections so it sounds good to them - so, a mic position just above their head is a good starting point. Nearer the audience, the sound gets thinner and in an ambient space, the multiple paths from the walls, floor and ceiling confuse the image even more.


Many put a carefully placed stereo pair up as their main pickup, and then add very small amounts of so called spot mics to pick up individual instruments or weak voices. Snag is, if this isn't done correctly, the image shifts around and the perspective changes from ambient to dry as the spot miked instrument is faded in. The spot mics also have a habit of also picking up unwanted instruments that are already too loud. fading the mic in/out while recording creates a really nasty effect - very obvious.


In very dry spaces, an extra pair to pick up and enhance any ambience you have may work - but check the phasing - sometimes its easy to destroy the image again by cancellation.


For my money - C1000's don't work all that well like this - to my ears a very hard edged sound, although tons of people do use them. A pair of large diaphragm mics in x/y format are my preferred choice - much warmer sounding. Monitor on real speakers somewhere else - never on cans - they simply don't work as they are binaural, not stereo, making placement decisions difficult. Biggest asset if you can get one is a stereo analyser then most of the phase cockups can be seen. I use one all the time on direct to stereo recordings and they reveal so much. With practice you can identify many problems with one, before you commit to the performance. If you use direct to harddisc systems, they are available as plug ins or as part of software like wavelab. I use the stereo in on a laptop running to monitor phase - I don't record on it.



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Good advice from paul there. I would agree about the C1000's they have quite a brittle "tinny" sound in my opinion.


Some good mikes to look at for classical recording are AKG 414, Schoeps MK4 cardioid, Sennheiser MKH40, Neumann KM184, DPA 4006 Omni or DPA 4011 Cardioid. Some of the Audio Technica stuff is also well worth a look at.


A lot of people use the Decca Tree technique for recording an Orchestra, this consists of 3 omni microphones arranged on a bar above the conductor. Looking from above the left mike is about a metre to the left of the conductor, the centre mike a metre in front of the conductor and right mike a metre to the right of conductor. These are panned Left, Centre and Right respectively. This gives quite a spacious recording with a good low frequency response. Downside is it looks a bit ugly in a concert situation! This technique forms the basis of all the BBC Proms orchestral mixes


Another technique you can easily achieve with a stereo bar is the ORTF config, which has given me good results when I have been short of time and guessed the positioning! (see Innocent Ear for a good description!)


In terms of spot mikes usual canditates are a pair of mikes on the woodwind, 1 mike on the horns and 1 mike on the harp. Usually kept fairly low in the mix


Hope thats of some use!

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Adding to some good advice already given, here are my thoughts!


Firstly there are 2 main theories of stereo miking(ignoring m+s), coincident pair or spaced omnis. conincident microphones create stereo as there is a level difference due to the directional nature of the microphones response, either cardiod, hyper-cardiod or fig.8 mics can be used for this. Spaced omnis aim to replicate your ears and create stereo by phase differences, for this technique the mics should be a little further apart than your ears and obviously omnis. Sorry if that is basic, but it should always be remembered what you are trying to get the mics to do.


What you use is very subjective, omni's tend to sound fuller but can create phasing problems and a common mistake is to have them too wide and create a hole in the middle of your mix. Coincident pairs tend to be easier to position but can sound a little narrow and thin.


There are a number of hybrid solutions as mentioned already - ORTF is a spaced cardiod solution and decca tree is a wide omni, nb: a true decca tree has 5 microphones as it is normally always used with outriggers. If you can afford to hire in 5 mics then I would be tempted to go for 5 414s or similar high quality omni mics (b and k 4003's, schoeps smc54u, neumann u87's etc.) and go for a decca tree.


With regards to spot mics, it is the conductors job to balance the orchestra so the primary use of spot mics is for focus, any instruments that sound a little distant can be correctly placed with very small level of signal from the spot. Although percussion is often the loudest section in an orchestra they are often the first to be spotted to capture the transients that are lost by the main pair.



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I can recommend a book called "5.1 Surround Sound Up and Running" by Tomlinson Holman, which has some quite good stuff about recording live concerts - as most surround recording uses stereo as a starting point, he describes the various techniques quite well (including the DECCA tree mentioned elsewhere). It's available from PLASA or ETNow.


surprisingly good results can be got using a stereo pair - it's all in the positioning of the mics. I got pretty good results using a crossed pair of S391s rigged on a lighting bridge about a metre downstage of the conductor to record an opera - Iexpected poor results in terms of balance between pit and stage, as the venue had an "open" pit (i.e. not recessed under the stage "Bayreuth style"), and the orchestration pretty percussion-heavy. It actually came out quite well, as I guess the mics were hearing more or less what the conductor was hearing. (this recording was for archive only, so top broadcast quality wasn't necessarily the priority, but I was pleasantly surprised....)

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thanks for all the replies - as always, blue room members know their stuff!


my school does have a Soundfield mic which I could borrow instead of using C1000s, and then perhaps hire a few AKG 414s for the woodwind, brass & percussion. still not sure what to do about the organ though... I mean its quite a loud instrument (!) and the pipes for this particular organ are on one side of the nave, and therefore on one side of the orchestra. I'm just thinking if its an organ and orchestra piece the imaging might be a little strange.



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When recording classical concerts you are generally trying to capture the best sound in the room, if the sound from the organ is far left in the concert then that is where it should appear in your recording. I don't think you will need anything other than your carefully placed main microphones, anything close on the organ would sound very un-natural.
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