On the evening of Thursday May 12th 2011, EU Composers’ Orchestra held their summer concert in the Reid Concert Hall. For me this was my first opportunity to test out recording a big(ish) ensemble in the Reid. However, there was a twist: the concert was being streamed live over the internet, and the audio was being matched to a 720p (almost HD) video being captured in the hall above.

I wanted to test out multi-miking techniques in the Reid, and mix all the channels together, rather than just take a source from a well positioned stereo pair. Not only purely because the studio is more than capable of this, but also because I am very interested in the difference in results from the two very different setups.

Firstly, after much careful consideration, I decided on how to achieve the live stream. Using desk channels 1-16 for the microphone inputs routed to the record bus, I routed a stereo output from Pro Tools to desk channels 23 + 24, and sent it to the mix bus. I was then able to do a live mix for the stream in protools, and not affect the signal I was actually recording. I’m sure there is a way to send the audio pre-fader to the myteks, but I was pressed for time, and didn’t manage to figure it out in time… (still haven’t, perhaps some-one on here knows?)…

This ‘live mix’ was then sent through the Vertigo with a 8:1 ratio and fairly low threshold, empathetic to the fact that it was getting streamed, and then passed through the Manley with a cut on low frequency at 390Hz and a boost around 12kHz, just to try and sweeten the mix a little. This was then sent up through the TRS returns to the hall, plugged into the streaming laptop’s sound card, and that’s where my part ended on the streaming side of things. Due to the way I had routed in the studio, I was able to monitor the mix I was doing in protools, but not the effect of the mastering setup I had passed it through. Very risky, I know, but from what I have heard from people listening to the stream elsewhere, it was sounding pretty good, all things considered. Super duper.

With that out the way: the mic setup.

I decided to do as much as I could with what the Reid had to offer me. For the main pair, I used two of the Schoep dedicated omni’s. I positioned them on a tall mic stand approx. 3m from the ground with the capsules about 45cm apart on the neat Schoep stereo bar provided, and pointing approx. 20 degrees downward towards the Orchestra, directly above the conductor, Prof. Nigel Osbourne. I had the mics angled 45 degrees off centre, remembering that omni directional microphones are not omni directional at all frequencies. After listening back I think this was a good mic choice for the main pair. They are clear, crisp, and the stereo image is pretty solid.

I then spot miked most of the rest of the orchestra. Due to having only 14 channels left, I had to pick and choose which sections/instruments were to be miked. So I miked up:

Violin 1

Violin 2

Violas

Cellos

Double Bass

Flutes

Clarinets

Oboes

Bassoon

Horns

Trumpets

Trombones

Electric guitar amp

Harps

In retrospect, perhaps I should have chosen to stick a mic on the piano instead of the guitar… Hmm… One to think about.

Violin 1 & 2 & Violas:

I used a Schoep multi pattern for each of these sections. I set them all to figure 8 pattern in an attempt to reject the sections to either side of them, and in the case of Violin 1, the noise of the audience. The mic for Violin 1 was placed further to the rear of the section, and the mic for Violin 2 was positioned closer to the front of the section, in an attempt to let the presumably lower harmonies of the Violin 2 part appear a little stronger. I noticed this gave a slight change in the apparent timbre of the instruments, as obviously the sound on the Violin 2 microphone may have been more direct. I feel this would have worked better, or rather had a greater impact had the size of each of these sections been larger. There would have been more difference in how far away the two mics were from the front and back players in the section, and it would have been more noticeable. The viola mic was positioned pretty much in the centre of the group of 4, probably slightly nearer the front pair of players. I should add that these mics were positioned with the capsules at around ear height of the players, who were obviously sitting down.

Cellos and Bass

I used the Neumann U89s for these, and placed them with a cardioid pattern in the centre of the front pair of players, at around the height of the f-holes on the instruments.

Flutes and bassoon

The flutes were given a Sennheiser MD421 Mk2, because of their high frequencies, I figured they probably wouldn’t need too much of a boost as they would likely bleed into nearby mics. Having said this, the Sennys actually did a pretty good job of picking up the section, even although it wasn’t really very close (it is a dynamic, after all…). Likewise, the bassoon was miked in a similar way with a MD421, which also worked surprisingly well. There was only one player in this case, so I was able to mic her pretty close.

Clarinets and Oboes

Rather simplistically, I opted for Shure SM57s on both the clarinets and oboes, close miked from underneath pointing upwards in the centre of the sections.

Horns

I plumped for an EV RE-20 for the horns and positioned it at bell height behind the section. This worked particularly well, and I will be able to push through the little horn parts when needed.

Trumpets and Trombones

I opted an AKG C414 (cardioid) on each of these sections, and stuck a -12db filter on each, as the sound source was obviously pretty loud. Did a Ronseal job with this one, as usual with a C414, and picked up the sections nicely.

Guitar

The guitar amp was also miked up with a C414 (hyper-cardioid) with a -6db filter on it, just in-case.

Harps

There were two harps positioned side-by-side behind the violin 2 group, so I positioned a C414 (figure 8 ) in between the two, rejecting most of the rest of the orchestra.

I would really have loved to put a spot mic on the piano too, but it did manage to come through on the main pair okay.

Once the concert finished, and I’d packed all the mics away into the safe, I went downstairs, curious to do some sort of quick mix to see what I could achieve. I defiantly did not produce the best mix I could, I was tired and I could really have just done with some sleep and a pair of fresh ears. Nevertheless, undeterred I produced a (rough) mix of one piece by Emma Donald (probably the most mainstream of the evening), purely because it was the only piece which used all sections playing at one time, and I wanted a go at balancing the thing.

To be honest, 80 – 85 % plus of the mix was based around the main stereo pair. I found that only small amounts of the other mics were needed for clarity of intricate little bits of orchestration. I do think that adding these channels in in small amounts greatly enhanced the mix.

I think a lot of time will need to be spent when I come to mix and master this properly in getting sample delays correct between the spot mics and the main stereo pair, as some of the further mics did seem noticeably ahead of what the main pair were hearing.

I hope someone has found this interesting, and I will re-post once I have had a chance to mix and master this, with a link to an audio file!

Composers' Orchestra - A Rough Sketch of Mic layout

Composers' Orchestra - A Rough Sketch of Mic layout