Posted tagged ‘Musical ensemble’


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.