Recording Horns & Strings for the first time....

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Recording Horns & Strings for the first time....

Post by kRza. » Fri Feb 03, 2006 12:32 am

...not at the same time though.
My question would be - would it be best to track them all seperately or together?
Mainly because my only experience with horns and especially strings is that there are few players who can interpret rock randomness....i.e. "this song is in E and I want the part to go...'whooo-who-whooo-wheeee' in a F,G,E,A" and the player freaking out cuz there's no score to play from.
I'm recording digitally - so tracks aren't a problem,...just time and money.
I'll be paying for their time - and don't want a track fucked up cause the trumpet players blowing it, but the tuba guys nailing it.
Make sense?
thanks yall.

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Post by Professor » Fri Feb 03, 2006 1:06 am

For pop stuff I like to get them individually. Heck, even for jazz and some classical if I can manage it.
And for exactly that reason you mentioned - it's too easy for the trumpet player to screw up a perfectly good tuba take.
Oh, and especially if you don't have completely notated parts. The only reason to record them as a "section" is for the acoustic interaction of well written parts. If they are improvising - even if they make stuff up, and rehearse it five times before rolling tape, there's still too much room for variations.


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Post by MechaGodzilla » Fri Feb 03, 2006 2:20 am

Agreed - track 'em seperately, unless there's something really special about having them all going at once. That'll give you a lot more flexibillity in editing and mixing.

I tracked a horn section all together the first time I tracked a ska band, and I never could get the horns to impact like they should. The next time around, we did all the horns individually, and in most cases doubled 'em.

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Post by matyas » Fri Feb 03, 2006 7:59 am

Is there any way you can get an arranger on board? Classically-trained players do not like to play by ear at all (as you noted.) Just having something on paper (even if it leaves out some of the details, or if you change things during the take) is really going to help things out a lot. Jazz guys who are used to improvising are going to be a little more lenient, but they'll probably at least want to see chord changes. I agree that you're better off tracking separately (for all of the reasons noted above) but also be forewarned that classical players aren't used to click tracks unless they do a lot of session work.

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Post by digital eagle audio » Fri Feb 03, 2006 11:28 am

i'd want to record the section as a whole and with close mics.
even if there's a tiny bit of slop, it's worth it for that sound.
and most (competent) section players are going to be able to achieve a much better blend while playing than you are going to be able to in the mix.

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Post by rydberg » Fri Feb 03, 2006 12:29 pm

From your post, it sounds like you're recording this for your own project. FWIW:

1. Get charts - write out some lead sheets or someting useful. It'll at least give the players something to refer to. Past that, I'd have to agree wholeheartedly with finding someone who knows how to write for the sections you're talking about. Arrangers can help you get the texture you're looking for. Asking a string quartet to "just go for it, it's in E" will make them uncomfortable and make you look foolish. Unless you're recording aleatoric music, in which case I'd say "Just go for it, it's in E."

2. Recording by sections is immensely easier, given the parameters you've described. For horns, close mics and a stereo pair placed back a few feet will give you more options at mix time. Depending on how big your string section will get, you can either spot mic or just use a good pair of mics for an overall blend. YMMV.

Good luck. Recording something other than guitar/bass/drums/keys/vocals is always fun.


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Post by roy » Sat Feb 04, 2006 10:32 am

Being a horn player myself, this topic is near and dear to my heart.

Most horn sessions that I have been on as a player, and all as an engineer, have been done as a section. You will almost never achieve a section sound when horns are recorded individually. The unspoken musical communication that occurs between players in the same room is an essential element to the section sound.

Now, that being said, there is a law of diminishing returns here in regards to the size of the section. With anything more than 5 players, I would split them up into smaller, more manageable sections. Group them by family, ie. brass and woodwind, or bones, trumpets, saxes, etc.

Now, onto micing....
IMHO, close micing is the sound of a horn section. As said earlier, having a stereo pair in addition to the close mics gives you more options at mix time. Ultimately, I "embrace the bleed" and work on the section getting it right together.

Final thoughts on mic's: This will depend on the style and the sound, but I find an AKG 414 on tenor sax, Beyer 260 on trumpet and a RE 20 on trombone works well for me.

Have fun with this, and remember, horn players need to breathe!


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Post by river » Sun Feb 05, 2006 10:49 am

Try to find sections that are used to playing together, individually mic horns but indeed, let there be bleed. Use a live room for both horns and strings. An arranger is definitely money well spent. Horns tracked one at a time always sound like toy instruments to me when blended, just my 2cents.
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Post by jmoose » Mon Feb 06, 2006 5:00 pm

I'll just ditto what everyone else has said.

Ask the string & horn players what they would prefer way before they get to the studio & go with their preference. Most of them will probably prefer to track as a section rather then one at a time...that's generally the quickest route to take if you want them to sound like a 'synth' or just plain old bad samples.

When you do record them use lots of room mics & as little compression as needed...just a little bit at like 3:1 or so to even it all out & glue together.
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