Posted tagged ‘Live Recording’


October 14, 2011

TCM Mastering & TCM Music Group Owner And Founder, Ted Carfrae Discusses How To Achieve A Great Vocal Recording.

In our Monday blogs (TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Series) we’re currently discussing the multitrack process. So we thought it might be useful to include a few videos that relate to this series – specifically recording vocals – as most great songs are best remembered for their vocal performance.

In the first video below, Ted Carfrae owner and founder of TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group, discusses vocal recording, microphone technique and finding your microphone’s ‘sweet spot’ to get that great vocal sound.

In the second video, Ted discusses how he and many other producers and engineers achieve a ‘magical’ vocal performance in the recording studio.

If you’re looking for help, putting those finishing touches to a music track or would like more information on our affordable studio packages, please contact us by clicking here.

If you would like more information about recording at home, why not subscribe to the TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio series of blogs. You can do this by filling out your e-mail address in the e-mail subscription box on the right. We respect your privacy. We hate spam and will never rent, sell or trade your information with anyone for any reason.



October 3, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 31 Multitrack Recording

At TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group we love what we do. We love music. So if you have any questions please feel free to drop us a line or call us. Our contact details are here.

We started outlining the multitrack process in TCM Mastering’s Home Music Studio Part 29. Then last week we discussed basic setups (MIDI or Live band) and signal paths.

Before we embark on the Recording stage, it may be useful to refer back to a few earlier blog posts.

Mic Selection And Polarity Patterns.

If you want to read more on microphone types and techniques look at parts 5 and 6.

The Glyn Johns 3 Mic Technique For Recording Drums.

Check out parts 9 and 10 for recording guitars…..followed by strings, horns and woodwind, then drums kicked off in part 18 going through to part 23 for percussion.

Signal Processing – Dynamics And EQ Plug-Ins.

Signal processing started at part 24 and the multitracking process came in at 29.

 TCM Editor’s Note: In order to keep the blogs to a reasonable length every week, we have to make some assumptions. But if you have questions – please let us know by dropping us a line.

Assuming most of you are working in the digital realm, to start recording you will need to open up a new session in your software programme or Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).

Pro Tools I/O Setup Matrix Page.

If we use Pro Tools on a Mac as our example…..when you first open up a new session, there are no tracks or mix channels set up. You have to create ‘new’ tracks, set up input/output (I/Os) routings, set your sampling (44.1/48/96 kHz) and bit (16/24 bit) rates etc.

If you are setting up the same parameters, inputs/outputs, plug-ins, tracks and instruments for each session, you will want to put together a Template session. Pro Tools 9 offers several ready to use Templates (see pix below), but it’s also easy to make one to your own specific requirements.

Pro Tools Offers Various Ready To Use Templates.

For example, you could have a Template setup for a 4 piece band or a MIDI setup depending on how you work.

It’s a similar concept to the Word Processing Template, this will pull together all the common things you want in your session, so that you don’t have to start from scratch every time…..a huge time saver.

There will be slight differences for a PC. And other programmes will be different again. But most offer this facility as well as many other time saving options, which you should explore to make your recording experience easier and more efficient.

Remember each system is different, so for specific details read your user manual.

Recording Electric Guitar In Home Studio.

So your DAW is set up and ready for recording. Make sure your input and mixer fader (real or virtual) are turned down all the way. This is just good practice to prevent any unwanted clicks or snaps damaging the speakers (and your ears) when connecting anything.

Plug in the mic or instrument into the correct input of your mixer or interface. Remember an electric or bass guitar will probably need to go through a DI box or into the Hi-Z input and condenser mics will need phantom power.

Providing You Have Setup Your I/Os Correctly, You Should See Your Track Meter Registering Some Activity When There Is A Sound Source Present.

In your programme or DAW, choose the track you want to record to. Providing you have set up I/O routings (as part of your Template) you can then arm the track for record. In Pro Tools you can arm your track in either the Edit or Mix page.

As mentioned in last week’s blog, take care to set the optimum level at each stage of the signal path. Remember your aim is to record the best quality sound signal into your DAW. You want the highest level at each stage with as little noise as possible (a high signal-to-noise ratio) and without distortion or clipping.

There Are Various Types Of Meters To Measure Sound Levels.

Instruments and voices have dynamic range, so you need to allow for the highest peaks and transients from them. Recording in the digital realm is nowhere near as forgiving as analog tape. So if your system allows, always use 24 bit rate over 16 bit, this will give you better signal-to-noise, and remember to peak your recording level no higher than about minus 6-8dB.

Whilst recommending the higher bit rate, I should mention that a 3 minute song with say, 16 tracks recorded at 24 bit rate and 44.1 kHz sample rate will  need about 360 MB of space on your hard drive. If you choose a 96 kHz sample rate you’d be looking at double this amount.

I also recommend you use a separate hard drive from your computer system drive for storing all your audio files and session data, with as much storage space as possible. Audio sessions can use up an awful lot of space.

And whilst we’re on the subject of equipment, don’t under-estimate the importance of a good pair of monitor speakers. To record and mix effectively, you need a pair of monitors that do not colour the sound. Some speakers may accentuate high frequencies whilst some enhance the bass.

KRK VXT6 Active Studio Monitors.

Monitor speakers are available as either Passive or Active. Passive monitors require a separate amp to power them, much like speakers in a Hi-Fi. Active monitors have their own built-in amps. There are plenty of choices on the market in all price ranges. So go for the best you can afford.

A Single Analog Mixer Channel Strip, Split Into 3 Sections For Easy Viewing: Section A – Input Pot & Preamp Plus EQ…..Section B – Aux & Monitor Sends…..Section C – Fader, Pan, Mute, Solo & Bus Assigns Switches.

Meter levels can often be monitored at different points in the signal path but not all systems are the same.

The Prefader Input Level shows you the level of signal entering the mixer channel before it passes through the fader and channel EQ. How much level the meter registers depends on how loud or soft the sound source is and the adjustment of the trim pot (or input gain pot). If you’re using a separate preamp you can make adjustments on the preamp’s trim pot. And if you’re recording with a mic, the position and proximity of the mic will affect the level of your sound source too.

Logic Studio And Cubase Record Pages, Both Systems Offer Excellent Facilities.

The Postfader Input Level shows the signal level after passing through the channel strip including the fader and any EQ adjustments that have been made. The level you see here is different to the prefader level only if the channel trim pot is in a position other than unity gain or if EQ has been adjusted in some way.

The Prefader Track Level is the level actually being recorded on the hard drive or recorder. If you’re setup uses a separate analog mixer and a stand alone recorder, this level is shown on the recorder not the mixer.

The Postfader Track Level displays the level after you have made changes to the track channel’s fader and EQ. This level will only be different to the Prefader Track Level if adjustments have been made to the track fader level and/or EQ.

The Meter Level On The Pro Tools Master Track Represents The Sum Of All The Tracks Being Fed To It.

Master Bus Levels need to be monitored very carefully when mixing. In a typical session there will be many tracks being routed to the Master Bus. Which means that this level represents the sum of all those tracks.

The reason I mention these various points in the signal path is to make you aware that a problem with the sound could be at any one of these stages. If you hear distortion when recording, systematically check your various levels and trust your ears.

It’s also important to mention that in Pro Tools, a track’s channel fader only affects the track’s output level, it does not affect the input (record) level. That is set earlier in the signal chain at the sound source itself or the mic’s preamp.

If you want more information and are using Pro Tools, click here for an excellent article on headroom and the use of the Mix Bus. If you’re using MIDI with Pro Tools you might find this article useful too.

Next week we will continue with the Recording stage by discussing the use of EQ and Effects, recording your first take, punching in and the importance of saving your work.


June 26, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 17 Recording Woodwind – Harmonica, Accordion and Bagpipes

Last week in the Home Music Studio series we discussed the more common Woodwind instruments – the Clarinet, Oboe, Cor Anglais, Bassoon and Flute (the Saxophone was covered in the Horn Section). Today we’ll look at the best ways to record the Harmonica, Accordion and Bagpipes. Three quite different instruments in the way they look and the way they’re played.

Colourful Harmonica Collection.

The Harmonica – also called the Blues Harp, French Harp or Mouth Organ – is a free reed Wind instrument. Sound is produced by blowing in or out over the reed chambers enclosed within the metal housing or frame. The Harmonica comes in different sizes and types including the diatonic, chromatic, tremolo, orchestral and bass versions…but they can all be treated in a similar fashion when it comes to recording them.

Hohner Chromatic Harmonica.

The chromatic (see picture above) has a button on the side of the instrument which when depressed allows you to play all the sharps or flats. Enabling the musician to play in any key.

If you’re after the classic blues sound, try the Shure Green Bullet mic. It’s an omnidirectional mic but is cupped in the hands along with the Harmonica.

Shure 520DX Green Bullet Mic.

A popular technique is to plug the mic into a guitar amp…something like a Pignose or Vox AC30, then mic the amp’s speaker or take the direct out into a direct box. The nice thing about the Pignose is that you can overdrive it and get a little ‘grit’ to the sound. If you use an amp without a direct out and are recording with other instruments, try moving the amp into a separate room to mic it, so that you can achieve some separation from the rest of the band.

Top class results have been achieved using a Green Bullet mic (£150) into a REDDI tube direct box ($795) into an A Designs Pacifica Preamp ($2250)… expensive setup. Purists prefer the vintage Green Bullets, but if you’re not too bothered a modern version does a pretty good job. Not everyone will want to spend this amount of cash to record a Harmonica…..but I mention these items so that you are aware that it is the whole recording chain that needs to be considered in any recording situation.

Condenser mics are unsuitable for close miking, because they will pick up the breaths from the player and accentuate bad player technique. So if you do want to use a condenser mic, place it a foot or two away possibly off axis.

Toots Thielemans on Harmonica.

If you need some inspiration have a listen to Toots Thielemans. Quincy Jones has called him ‘one of the greatest musicians of our time’.

At a pinch a dynamic Shure SM58 positioned a foot or so from the instrument will capture a good ‘folky’ sound.

Harmonicas can sound very shrill, so listen to the instrument direct and then monitor the recorded sound. You may want to apply some judicious EQ to roll off frequencies at and above 5K and add some bottom end at 80Hz. Ultimately, the sound you’re recording and want to capture will be determined by the style of music it is to be a part of. A short delay or slap back can also add body and fatten the sound.

Some compression can help the Harmonica sit well in a mix. But if you’re not sure about how much to use, wait until the mix stage before applying it.

Piano Accordion.

The Accordion’s sound is produced when the bellows are compressed (squeezed) or expanded whilst pressing keys or buttons causing valves to open, forcing air over the brass or steel reeds. Like the Harmonica, there are several different types.

I find it hard to believe, but some Accordion players when recording, actually play the left hand and then do a separate pass for the right hand…..but then I don’t play Accordion. However, I’m sure there are also plenty of players who prefer to play both hands simultaneously when recording their instrument.

At about two feet away and at chin level, try an AT 4050 cardioid on the keyboard side and a dynamic Shure Beta 57 cardioid on the button/bass side. As an alternative, you could use a couple of large condensers – Neumann U87 and a Groove Tubes GT 55. Record each mic to its own track so that you can maintain flexibility up to the mix stage.

Accordion With Mics On Both Sides.

Technically speaking the Accordion might produce some phase shift issues between two mics, because the instrument moves when the bellows are squeezed in and out.

There are small diaphragm capsule mics on the market (made by Schoeps or MBHO) which can be attached to the instrument, thus keeping the mic distance constant to the sound source…..effectively getting rid of any phase problems.

You could also try an X-Y pair set up in front of the performer. Remember, the closer you mike the less the room will be a part of the sound. So if you have a decent recording room, back off the mics a little to take advantage of the room acoustics.

Pay careful attention to mic positions and any EQ you add – you don’t want to emphasise the key/button noise. Adding a little reverb sometimes helps the sound, but again leave these signal processing adjustments to the mix stage unless you’re absolutely sure you have the sound you want.


Bagpipes in a Home Studio I hear you say!!! Well, you never know do you? There are plenty of recordings with Bagpipes, from traditional Scottish pipes playing Amazing Grace to Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre and they’ve been used in films (Braveheart) and theatrical shows (Riverdance) too.

They do have a very ethereal quality about them and if recorded well in the right song, can really make those record executives sit up and listen when you play your latest offering to them.

Bagpipes consist of an air supply (which the player provides) in a bag, a chanter and drone or drones. Traditionally the bag was made from a sheep’s stomach! But Gore-tex is used extensively these days. The chanter is the melody pipe played with two hands. The drones do just that – provide a drone/constant pitch or pitches over the melody played on the chanter.

You can mic the chanter and each drone individually, but if you’re recording more than one piper at a time you’ll need a lot of mics.

Sound tends to emanate from many parts of the instrument. So close miking will only serve to accentuate certain parts of the instrument. Best to place a mic or stereo pair some distance away, they are after all very loud instruments. Condensers and especially ribbons need to be well away from the instrument if those are your mics of choice.

Try an X-Y configuration at least 3-5 feet distant (more may be better), 4-5 feet off the ground. You may have to move the player around the room to find the sweet spot first, then place your mics.

X-Y Stereo and Blumlein Mic Techniques. 

If you have a good sounding room you could try the Blumlein technique, just remember this will pick up sounds from in front and behind the mics (as you’ll be using figure-8s).

Alternatively, move the two mics further apart from each other, maybe 6-8 feet and direct them towards the instrument.

Maybe you could borrow or hire a school hall or church for a few hours. The larger space will allow you to capture the instrument from a distance as well as closer if necessary. Combining the two mic positions in this situation can give you an interesting sound with a little natural delay…..but always record separate mics to discrete tracks on your recorder.

Finally, consider recording the Bagpipes outside if you can find a quiet spot without traffic, birds and other sundry distractions. There’ll be little in the way of reflected sound, unless you can find a spot overlooking a lake surrounded by mountains!

Always check your sound for phase issues and mono compatibility when employing multiple mics.

Next week we’ll attack Drums and follow that with Percussion.

Thanks again to everyone who is following this series. We really appreciate you taking the time to check us out. If you need some real Drums overlaying on your latest track or maybe a whole package offering recording, mixing and mastering contact us for more information by clicking here.


June 19, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 16 Recording Woodwind

This week and next we will discuss recording Woodwind. Like the String family and the Brass or Horn group of instruments, the Woodwind family is extensive and varied. So, if we miss out one that you’re particularly interested in, we’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with us by going to the TCM Music Group, Contact Page – leave us a message or call us.

The Woodwind Group Includes – Bassoon, Clarinet, Saxophone, English Horn, Oboe and Flute.

Not all Woodwind instruments are made of wood. Some are made from metal or plastic. This diverse group includes the single-reed instruments – namely Clarinet and Saxophone; the double-reed Oboe, the Cor Anglais (or English Horn) and Bassoon; the Bagpipe which can be single or double reed; and the reedless Flutes which include the Classical Flute and Recorder. You can also include the free reed aerophone instruments like Harmonica and Accordion.

Hohner Harmonica, Accordion and Bagpipes.

When it comes to the recording of some Woodwind instruments – for example the Saxophone and Clarinet – they produce sound over a much wider pattern than most Brass, because sound emanates from the bell end and the holes along the length of the instrument’s body. So you will need to think carefully where to place a mic or mics to capture a full sound. Flutes on the other hand produce most of their sound from the area around the mouth piece hole.

The Saxophone was discussed in an earlier blog, along with the Horns because it is popularly used in many modern Horn sections.

Detail Of A Clarinet…Showing Some Of The Keys.

At some point you will have the opportunity or the need to record Woodwind in your Home Music Studio. This group of instruments produce rich harmonic content and possess a large dynamic range but are not quite as loud as the Brass family. They generally sound best in a room that is lively rather than dead. If your room needs livening up a bit, use some reflective panels around the instrument.

Also the keys on these instruments, can be quite noisy sometimes. You may or may not like this added quality to the recorded sound, so play around with mic positions to take advantage or minimise this effect.

If you position a mic to capture just the bell end of Woodwind instruments you will capture a bright sound, but will miss out on a lot of the overall spectrum of sound produced. However, try it and compare the results with other miking positions. You may prefer it for the particular track you’re working on.

Sennheiser MD441 – Dynamic Super-Cardioid Mic.

Both the Clarinet and the Oboe benefit from using a mic with a good warm bottom end. If you’re recording them solo, place the mic 2-3 feet away, level with the head of the player aimed towards the middle of the instrument between the left and right hands. For the Clarinet try a nice bass sensitive cardioid condenser or a ribbon if you have one (eg. Beyer M130/160). The dynamic Sennheiser MD441 (see picture above) seems to work well on the Oboe.

An alternative would be to add another mic to pick up the bell end sound or place it underneath the instrument to pick up any reflected sounds from the reflective floor. At the risk of repeating myself, always check for phase problems when using multiple mics.

 Miking Is Similar For The Oboe And The Cor Anglais.

The English Horn or Cor Anglais having a similar shape to the Clarinet and Oboe can be recorded using similar techniques and mics. Try miking 3-6 feet away if the room will take it. But be prepared to experiment.

The size of the Bassoon and the angle that it’s played at, make it a little more difficult to record. Plus the bell end is at the top of the instrument. Good results should be possible by using a quality large diaphragm condenser about 5 feet distant and about 5 feet off the ground. Or try the Audix i5 dynamic directed towards the middle of the instrument.

The Bassoon – Large Woodwind With The Bell End At The Top.

If that doesn’t work for you, try using two mics. One to catch the upper part of the instrument and the other lower down. Listen to each mic separately and together, so that you can judge the best positions to place them. Record each to a separate track and check for phase issues.

There are some reasonably priced mics eg. AKG C3000, Rode NT-1, AT 4033 which should produce good results. But always use the best mic you have for the situation.

Of course if you’re recording these instruments along with other instruments in the same take, then you’ll have to employ closer mic techniques and maybe some separation panels.

EQ Plug In For Pro tools.

With any mic, you are likely to want to use some EQ. Don’t overdo it though. Remember, you can always use EQ in the mix. Your aim when recording should be to get as true a sound as possible of the instrument. Always actively listen with your ears to the instrument first, before you place any mic and apply any signal processing.

If you have the time and the mic selection available, it’s always worth experimenting with unusual choices. Just be sure to make notes on the results and how you rate a mic and instrument combination, so that you can use the information in the future.

Mic Positioned Level With Player’s Head Pointing Towards The MouthPiece.

Most of the sound out of a Flute comes from the mouthpiece end of the instrument. That sound is produced by the player blowing across the top of the mouthpiece hole. You therefore have to be careful positioning your mic so that you get the right amount of breath sound in your recording.

Place your mic about a foot or so in front and above the player or at a level with the player’s head, pointing down to the mouthpiece area.

A Couple Of Mics On Flute.

If you place the mic directly in front of the mouthpiece, you will most likely experience problems with the players breath hitting the mic’s capsule causing an unpleasant noise or even popping.

Depending on what type of music you’re Flute is playing will determine which type of microphone to use. Of course there are no hard and fast rules but the characteristics of some mics can favour certain genres.

A condenser is well suited to Jazz. It will capture a lot of the harmonics and overtones resulting in a bright recording. Dynamic mics work well in a rock or R & B setting – they’re not as bright and if you use a cardioid, can give good separation from other instruments. And for a classical recording, ribbons are ideal, giving a fuller bottom end and slightly less top end…..a warmer sound.

Next week I’ll cover recording the Harmonica, Accordion and Bagpipes…..could you get three more diverse instruments…..and in the same family too!

Don’t forget, TCM Music are offering some fantastic ‘recording packages’ at the moment. But if you just have a question regarding the recording process, feel free to get in touch with us – click here. We’re here to help.

Editor’s Note: News that Clarence Clemons, Sax player extraordinaire, died in Florida Saturday night. From the early 1970’s, he was a huge influence on the E Street Band sound. And has played with many greats over the years from Jackson Browne to Aretha Franklin. Just recently he played on Lady Gaga’s album ‘Born This Way’. He will be sorely missed, our thoughts go out to his family.


June 6, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 14 Recording Horns

Last week in the Home Music Studio series of blogs, we rounded up our look at String Instruments by considering the challenges of recording the Harp and String Ensembles.

We couldn’t cover everything in the String Group – it’s a huge family – but we hope we have given you enough insight into the problems you may encounter with the most common String Instruments. If there is enough interest we will come back to the Strings and cover them in more depth.

The Wind Instrument family consists of both Woodwind and Brass instruments.

Woodwind includes – Flute, Oboe, Clarinet and Saxophone. The Harmonica or Mouth Organ is classed as a (free reed) Wind instrument.

Brass includes – Trumpets, Cornets, Trombones, Flugelhorn and Tubas.

This week we will discuss recording small Horn sections or ensembles and next we will discuss recording specific Horns –  all part of the Brass family. Technically the Sax is a Woodwind instrument because it employs a reed. But it’s commonly found in many Horn sections, so we’ll include it in our discussions here.

Chicago Horn Section.

Horns or Brass mean different things to different musicians. Depending on whether you’re dealing with a Symphony Orchestra, a Brass Band or a more ‘popular’ idiom like R & B, Funk, Rock or Jazz – will determine the number and type of instruments comprising the Horn section.

Most ‘modern’ Horn sections tend to utilise three Horns – Trumpet, Trombone and Sax – in some combination, but you may also come across Brass Quintets or larger Ensembles.

Brass Band.

Of course once you start using more than one Horn you (or they) can figure out harmonies, which enriches the sound immensely…..relatively easy for two Horns, but becomes much more difficult for three or more.

A word of warning…..whenever you are recording any group of musicians, plan out the session as well as you can before they arrive. A Home Studio can often be a pretty relaxed setting when you are the only one recording. But, as soon as you invite others to record in your Studio they will undoubtedly expect things to move along at a brisker pace. They are bound to ask for something you have not thought about. Make sure you have ready – spare mics, cables, headphones, music stands, chairs etc. Plus they may have other commitments or gigs to go to. So be prepared for any eventuality.

5 Man Horn Section.

Capturing the players of a Horn section in isolation, one at a time (except for a solo) usually results in a far inferior recording than if the players are allowed to play as a group.

In a Home Studio setting with limited space, you may have to record a Horn section with a mic on each player and record them to separate tracks… that you have some degree of control in the mix.

The expensive Sennheiser MKH20s do a good job when using the pad switch (see further below ###). Even good old Shure SM57/58s can yield good results.

However, close miking is not necessarily the best solution for Horns.

And no matter which way you decide to record, always get the musicians to play before positioning the mics, so that you can see where the player positions the bell of the instrument. That way you can place the mic as opposed to the musician trying to move his/her instrument onto the mic.

Mics On Trombone, Sax and Two Trumpets.

They are loud instruments producing high SPLs or Sound Pressure Levels (so take care especially when using delicate Ribbon mics) and it might be difficult to get good separation on them in a Home Studio environment, although it’s often achievable in a pro studio.

In addition, a Horn section will usually want to play close together to give a tight performance. Which means multiple mics in close proximity leading to almost zero separation and phasing problems.

If you get to record a working Horn or Brass Ensemble chances are they’ll be pretty tight, good at blending together, working out harmonies and mixing themselves. So with a bit of luck all you’ll have to do is choose the right mics and place them accordingly.

### A microphone converts acoustical energy (sound waves) into electrical energy (the audio signal). Some Condensers have a pad switch – which reduces the amount of electrical energy coming from the mic capsule, effectively reducing sound by 10-20dB. This helps prevent distortion. But by engaging the switch this also decreases the signal to noise ratio by the same amount. So a better solution may be to just back off the mic to a safe distance…..Trumpets and Trombones produce around 130dB SPL just a couple of feet from their bells.

X-Y Stereo Mic Pair.

Providing the musicians are good and tight, using one mic or an X-Y Stereo pair or Blumlein pair 5 or 6 feet away, on a small Horn section could produce a great result. The Blumlein technique is explained in last week’s blog.

The Sax is the quietest of the three, so you may want to position it closer than the Trumpet or Trombone. The Trumpet will cut through everything, so you will need to adjust the various players’ positions to get a balanced sound for the group as a whole. Try positioning the musicians in a semi-circular layout for starters, then go from there.

Once you get a solid performance you can then thicken the sound by double tracking the Horns. Leave any solos ’til last and record them to separate tracks.

Blumlein Mic Pair.

Remember that the Blumlein technique, because it uses figure-8 mics, will capture a lot of the room sound.

Like many String instruments, Horns do well in a large space which allows their sound to develop. They are generally powerful instruments and need room to breathe. At the same time you don’t want a room that’s too live which produces an echo. So if you find yourself recording them in your Home Music Studio consider carefully your room and have a few acoustic and/or reflective panels at the ready. Don’t forget you can always add a good reverb in the mix if the recorded sound is too dry.

Next week I’ll consider Trumpet, Trombone and Sax separately. Many recordings feature these Horns as solo instruments. So I’ll spend some time considering the best mics and technique options. Then the week after go onto Woodwind.

All of us at TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group are passionate about music recording, mixing and mastering. So if you feel we have left out a major instrument, or simply have a question about recording please let us know and we’ll try to cover it in a future blog. Leave us a message or call us here.


May 30, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 13 Recording Acoustic Stringed Instruments

Thanks to those of you who are following the Home Music Studio series, we at TCM Mastering and Music Group really appreciate your interest. Don’t forget, if you have any questions on the recording process please get in touch…click here for contact details.

Today’s blog will complete our look at the challenges of recording stringed instruments by considering the Harp and String Ensembles. These two instrument groups may be a rarity in the Home Studio setting, but one or both will crop up at some time during your recording career. And they do add a definite touch of class to a recording.

Harpo Marx – An Accomplished Harp Player.

Recording Harp

The Harp presents several problems when recording. First, it is notoriously difficult to tune and then keep in tune. If it is a Harp with pedals you will have the added problem of noise from the pedal movements. Plus there will be resonances in the lower strings which aren’t always pleasant and the smaller Celtic Harp poses challenges of its own.

So where do you place a mic or mics?

In some respects, you can treat the Harp like a Grand Piano on its end. It has the same basic string shape to a Grand, so you could try using some of the techniques mentioned for Piano in this earlier blog.

Dynamic mics do not have a flat enough response and tend to be used close up (accentuating the bass-proximity effect). Which means specific strings will be favoured over others. So the recording would be coloured and unbalanced to say the least.

Single Mic On Harp In A Large Live Room.

Condensers or Ribbons are your best choice. Try placing a condenser a few feet from the striking point. Angle the mic slightly so that it’s not pointing directly at the hands to reduce the percussive sounds produced. The picture above shows one mic in this position. You can achieve a good stereo recording by placing another mic in the same position on the other side of the Harp.

Harp With Multiple Stereo Mic Setups.

The picture above shows several mics in different positions. If you have a good selection of mics, this is a great time saver. Set up different pairs, feed each mic to a separate track on your DAW or recorder and monitor each pair separately. This way you can quickly compare each pair’s sound to see which you like best for recording…..consider this same technique when recording any acoustic instrument.

A favoured method of recording a Harp is to use a Blumlein pair of mics. It’s like the X-Y technique (see Part 6 Mic Technique Blog) but with two figure-8 mics set at 90 degrees to each other in a column arrangement. See the diagram below, which also shows the two overlapping polarity patterns.

Place the two mics so that the capsules are at the same level as the hands about 2 feet from the Harp. This method really requires a quiet, good sounding room to produce the best results.

If you have to record the Harp alongside other instruments at the same time, try this method. Wrap a KM 84/184 or something similar in some foam rubber (except for the capsule part, obviously) and wedge it into the upper sound hole. Secure it in position with some surgical type tape. This will hopefully keep the mic fixed (preventing rattles and knocks) without damaging the instrument. The resultant sound might not be perfect but will give you good isolation from other instruments.

You could also try a stereo pair with one mic registering the lower end and another aimed toward the upper strings. Careful placement should result in a good balanced spectrum of sound.

And remember, always check for phasing problems whenever you use more than one mic.

If you need further ideas for recording the Harp, check out this article.

Recording a String Ensemble

For most Home Studio setups, it would be extremely difficult to record a String Ensemble at home. But the members of the Ensemble probably practice in a Hall, Church or School so you could always take your DAW and mics to them.

When having to deal with a ‘foreign’ recording location it’s always wise to arrive well before the musicians so that you can get set up and test mic cables, headphones and all the other sundry items that need checking.

Will you be providing a click track or backing track for the musicians to play along to? Will you provide music for them to read from? Have they had time to rehearse?

Royer SF-24 Stereo Ribbon Mic Placed Above Conductor, With All String Sections Spot Miked.

How do you group and position the various players? The same instruments should be grouped together, obviously. That is, all Double Basses in one group, Cellos in another group etc. You may need to set up a separate solo mic for a Violin.

You will also want to check out the room. If it’s long and thin, which way do you position the players? Use your ears to determine the best position and direction the players need to face. If there is time you can do a test, positioning the players one way and then another.

Sound Engineer James Stone, Recording String Quartet for UK band fiN

Using distant miking techniques means that you’re going to need to choose sensitive, quiet mics and quiet mic preamps. Either high output Condenser mics or Ribbons (eg. AEA R84) will work well. Both types have a good, wide frequency range and respond quickly to transients.

However, it’s probably wise to avoid capacitor mics as they tend to emphasise the presence peaks which can sound unpleasant on Violins especially. The smooth, resonance free top end of a Ribbon mic works very well.

The easiest and possibly best way of recording an Ensemble is to employ a stereo pair of mics placed between 10 and 20 feet away. Some engineers like to use omnidirectional and small diaphragm mics for strings.

X-Y or Coincident Pair Technique.

There are several stereo techniques. One which has been mentioned already is the X-Y or Coincident pair technique (see diagram above). This employs two identical directional mics angled apart with their capsules almost touching. The resultant stereo image can be narrow, but it provides good mono compatibility.

Spaced Pair Technique. 

The above diagram shows a Spaced pair setup (not to scale). This method uses two mics spaced apart and pointing straight ahead. Phase problems are inherent with this approach, but can be reduced to a minimum by using the 3:1 rule. Place the mics three times farther from each other than they are from the source. However, use your ears to determine the optimum mic positions. It’s also possible to introduce a third mic in the middle to help fill out the stereo spread.

Near-Coincident Pair Technique.

The Near-Coincident pair technique, above, uses two directional mics spaced and angled with their capsules apart horizontally. The greater the angle or spacing the bigger the stereo effect. Again this tends not to be very mono compatible, but play around with positions until you get the best possible compromise.

There are many stereo methods you could try. See Home Music Studio Part 6 Mic Techniques for more ideas.

Next week we will move onto the Horn section.

If you have any questions or comments you’d like to raise, get in touch with us through the TCM Music Group Contact Page.


May 26, 2011


TCM Music Group’s CJ Boggs – Pro Tools expert – has just started on the Taylor Swift 2011 USA tour. CJ has completed the European leg of the tour and is looking forward to an exciting series of major gigs.

The USA tour kicked off in Nashville, Tennessee last Saturday and runs through ’til November, finishing in New York. Many of the venues are already sold out.

Meanwhile CJ’s daughter, Nicole Boggs has just recorded vocals for a sampler CD that was produced by TCM. She is also working with legendary drummer Ed Green, keyboardist Michael Holmes, bassist Bob Marinelli and guitarist Scott Van Zen.

Nicole has been working very hard with CJ on her demos and is in demand and getting a name for herself in music city, Nashville.

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to the music industry for decades. So if you have a music project that needs recording, production, mixing or mastering services give us a call or drop us a line.

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