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Close vs. Distant Miking a Big Band
Old 21st June 2013
  #1
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🎧 10 years
Close vs. Distant Miking a Big Band

When recording a big band, what would be the advantage of close miking each instrument vs. miking sections, i.e. one mic for several instruments in a section? Think 3 - 5 each of trumpets, trombones and saxes as well as percussion, piano and bass (either upright or bass guitar). No strings, no vocals.

I can see close/spot miking the piano and bass and maybe the kick drum, but how about those wind instruments?
Old 21st June 2013
  #2
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boojum's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 10 years
Steve (Remote) has a thread or two on this you might want to look up. He gets "the sound."
Old 22nd June 2013
  #3
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king2070lplaya's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by chris319 ➑️
When recording a big band, what would be the advantage of close miking each instrument vs. miking sections, i.e. one mic for several instruments in a section? Think 3 - 5 each of trumpets, trombones and saxes as well as percussion, piano and bass (either upright or bass guitar). No strings, no vocals.

I can see close/spot miking the piano and bass and maybe the kick drum, but how about those wind instruments?
Close mic'ing allows one to have more control over the individual balances within and between the sections, but sacrifices a sense of "blend", which for me anyways is what makes big band music great. There's some turrrrible big band albums from the 80s and 90s where the sound is mostly close-mic'd, and they are not fun to listen to. Like 15 bees buzzing to a rhythm section.

The truth is that almost all major big band records done today have spot mics within the sections, but the best engineers use these mostly to enhance the room sound, which dominates in the mix.

I just recorded (as a player, not an engineer) with my university big band an album where ALL horn mics were close spots (58s nonetheless!), I'm curious to hear how it's going to come out.... Nervous, too.
Old 22nd June 2013
  #4
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Quote:
Close mic'ing allows one to have more control over the individual balances within and between the sections
Isn't leakage/bleed/spill a concern when one instrument is picked up on more than one mic, potentially creating phasing issues?

It also occurs to me that the engineer would have to synthesize a stereo image entirely with his pan pots as opposed to spaced pair, ORTF, what have you.
Old 22nd June 2013
  #5
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king2070lplaya's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by chris319 ➑️
Isn't leakage/bleed/spill a concern when one instrument is picked up on more than one mic, potentially creating phasing issues?

It also occurs to me that the engineer would have to synthesize a stereo image entirely with his pan pots as opposed to spaced pair, ORTF, what have you.
To the former point, yes there is the risk of phase issues, but if you place the mics well this is very much minimized.

To the latter point, you are absolutely correct. Listen to each of the Bob Brookmeyer big band albums from the 80s until now, in order, and you will see the changing trends in big band recording.

Al Schmitt, for example, uses close mics and room mics for his big band recording. Give some of his work a listen as well, for some beautiful examples of what's possible when recording a great band.
Old 22nd June 2013
  #6
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🎧 10 years
Oh, I forgot to add, this would be in the context of a live mix such as for TV or radio rather than multi-tracked and mixed in post.

I'm aware that the trend has been toward close miking, and this makes all kinds of sense for multi-tracked and mixed-in-post recordings but a live broadcast is another story.
Old 22nd June 2013
  #7
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What inspired my inquiry is that a major-market network-owned TV station I once worked for (not L.A. or N.Y.) did a 40th anniversary show years ago. It had a local big band. The playing was all right but listening to it on YouTube, the mix is worse than awful. I have no idea how they miked it. The brass drown out the reeds and percussion drowns out everything, especially the cymbals. The piano is way off mic. It is hard to listen to.
Old 22nd June 2013
  #8
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king2070lplaya's Avatar
Actually, the trend I wanted to show with the Brookmeyer records is the opposite; the earlier records tend to be more close-mic'd, and the trend has been in recent years towards a more natural, roomy sound.

I suppose I'm curious what specifically you are looking for in your query? If you are mixing live, probably best to start off keeping it simple with the room mics, and add section mics later if you feel you're missing something.

FWIW I find an AB pair to be the best for capturing the whole big band horn section.
Old 22nd June 2013
  #9
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🎧 10 years
Given the potential for phasing issues, I'm wondering if you're mxing a 12-15 piece band live to stereo or even mono, what the technical or acoustical advantage of close miking is. One consideration is that there may be a studio audience getting a P.A. feed. These setups were common back in the days of network radio and early television. Also, the number of available console inputs comes into play.
Old 22nd June 2013
  #10
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Here is a guy who emulated Frank Sinatra's sessions at Capitol Records by studying a photo on an album cover: The Art of Recording the Big Band: Part 3

Also, this is interesting: Frank Sinatra β€˜I’ve Got You Under My Skin’
Old 22nd June 2013
  #11
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 15 years
Here is a live broadcast mix of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra:

WBGO/NPR Live at the Village Vanguard

Everything but brass was close mic'ed, and I had two solo mics per section for those.
Old 22nd June 2013 | Show parent
  #12
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bixby ➑️
Here is a live broadcast mix of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra:

WBGO/NPR Live at the Village Vanguard

Everything but brass was close mic'ed, and I had two solo mics per section for those.
How did you mic the brass?
Old 22nd June 2013
  #13
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🎧 10 years
This TV station with the unlistenable band mix, if they wanted to equip themselves to close-mic the band with something vanilla such as, say, SM-81's, they'd be looking at 15 - 16 mics x $350 plus stands and cables for around $6000 and hope that their console has enough inputs and more for talent mics. In their mic locker they may still have had some 77's or a couple of E-V 665's lying around for spot mics (yes, 665's). For a one-shot special that would probably be considered a lot of money but for a series maybe not.

This is just a mental exercise.
Old 22nd June 2013
  #14
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🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by chris319 ➑️
How did you mic the brass?
Stereo ORTF pair hanging from the ceiling, plus the solo spots (two per section because everyone solos). With this band in that room, it works pretty well. And space is tight so I wanted to simplify.
Old 22nd June 2013
  #15
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Mr. Lau's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by chris319 ➑️
When recording a big band, what would be the advantage of close miking each instrument vs. miking sections, i.e. one mic for several instruments in a section? Think 3 - 5 each of trumpets, trombones and saxes as well as percussion, piano and bass (either upright or bass guitar). No strings, no vocals.

I can see close/spot miking the piano and bass and maybe the kick drum, but how about those wind instruments?
If the band has a conductor, better!

It will greatly depend on the room and the space the band will have, bigger space with musicians not too close will be a great difference. And a bigger sound has to be coherent with the size of the stage.

Which is the lead instrument?

Consider putting the drummer behind one of those transparent walls thinghie (dunno its name in english), so you can get overheads+close miked bass drum. This way, you can get cleaner drum tracks and you have more freedom when placing them in stereo field.

Percussionists close miked congas, etc. Line of sight unblocked between them. Usually placed next to other percs.

Piano at one side, bass at the opposite side, close miked.

A electronic piano would be not so great looking, but it can help a lot to separate it from the rest of the band sound an to get the pianist closer to the rest of them. But forget about electronic piano if it interferes with performance. Just be ready to balance it in the stereo field.

Upright acoustic bass won't be really heard by other musicians on stage. Upright electric is easier.

in ear monitoring for everyone if available. Drums clearly heard. Brass players will hear other brass players very loud and won't get the drums and bass. If tightly packed, a couple of close mics for trumpets, a couple for trombones, etc. Depending on what is the role of each player.

If possible, brass players standing on a higher platform will separate better and minimize spill. And other musicians below won't get deaf

It's not likely to have more than a stereo pair for the whole band. Maybe at the sides, or front of stage, MAYBE M/S, MAYBE 1 central omni mic. I don't know. Depends! And of course, will decide the placement of the instruments on the stereo field and the ambience. How you blend in the mix, is up to you.

Center would be lead instrument. Sax, trumpet? They could use one of those little mics (again, dunno in english, pardon me) attached to their instrument. You have to be ready to ride faders at solos.

Often, what the live audience hear is not the sound of the final recorded mix. Don't try to match recording to live sound. Recording will be 'closer' to listener.

The most 'oops!' live situation for me was with tropical band's pianist digital piano, stand was loose, piano fell, he grabbed it, and kept playing with it at the floor thru the end of the song!
Old 22nd June 2013
  #16
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rumleymusic's Avatar
 
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I usually record big band with an ortf pair for everything, spots on the piano, bass, spaced overheads for the drums and a couple or three mics for various soloist positions if needed.

I would think miking each section is rather unnecessary. I don't like that closed sound close miking creates with a big band.
Old 22nd June 2013
  #17
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3 Reviews written
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I am with rumley here. main ortf pair with Minimal spots.

Sent from my SAMSUNG-SGH-I997
Old 22nd June 2013
  #18
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🎧 5 years
I was in Abbey Rd Studio 2 in front of a big band for a tv film session
I had a MS MKH 40/30 pair on a boom
It sounded great on the cans
Then the chaps gave me a feed of the close mic'd ,grouped band.
It was outstanding........
Old 24th June 2013
  #19
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🎧 15 years
If you're having major phasing problems by close micing a big band, you're doing something wrong...

I see it as being a function of how the music is orchestrated. Some band leaders write for the up close sound. Some write with a more symphonic orchestration that dictates a bit more distant sound. In any case, even if you're doing area micing, you are almost certainly going to need a pretty substantial collection of spot mics. It is a very rare thing that the woodwinds and full rhythm section will hold their own acoustically on tape. I can think of exactly one band that I've worked with that will work in this fashion (The Clayton-Hamilton band if you really want to know).

With a big band, you do need control of all of the elements. You won't get that with just a stereo pair and a couple of spots. you need to be able to dig for solos, you need to be able to make sure that all instruments have clarity. Distant micing of rhythm section elements have a tendency to wash out the sound and you lose impact and rhythmic intensity.

What I usually do is a collection of area micing on the horn section, a spot on every wind instrument and micing the rhythm section completely. Yes, it means 25-40 mics often, but you need to serve the music... I will generally try to keep things like drum micing minimal, but it does add up.

--Ben
Old 24th June 2013
  #20
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Remoteness's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
I don't know; I would mic everything, perhaps some sharing of the horns, but I'd want individual reed mics. Spot mics on percussion, piano and bass is for sure! I'd also would want to add section mics, especially when the players are positioned by the mic correctly.

Quote:
Originally Posted by chris319 ➑️
When recording a big band, what would be the advantage of close miking each instrument vs. miking sections, i.e. one mic for several instruments in a section? Think 3 - 5 each of trumpets, trombones and saxes as well as percussion, piano and bass (either upright or bass guitar). No strings, no vocals.

I can see close/spot miking the piano and bass and maybe the kick drum, but how about those wind instruments?
Old 24th June 2013 | Show parent
  #21
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Remoteness's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
That's so true.

IMHO, the blend from the origination is so important to have in a final mix.

Quote:
Originally Posted by king2070lplaya ➑️
...The truth is that almost all major big band records done today have spot mics within the sections, but the best engineers use these mostly to enhance the room sound, which dominates in the mix...
Old 24th June 2013 | Show parent
  #22
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Remoteness's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Yes!

Quote:
Originally Posted by fifthcircle ➑️
If you're having major phasing problems by close micing a big band, you're doing something wrong...

I see it as being a function of how the music is orchestrated. Some band leaders write for the up close sound. Some write with a more symphonic orchestration that dictates a bit more distant sound. In any case, even if you're doing area micing, you are almost certainly going to need a pretty substantial collection of spot mics. It is a very rare thing that the woodwinds and full rhythm section will hold their own acoustically on tape. I can think of exactly one band that I've worked with that will work in this fashion (The Clayton-Hamilton band if you really want to know).

With a big band, you do need control of all of the elements. You won't get that with just a stereo pair and a couple of spots. you need to be able to dig for solos, you need to be able to make sure that all instruments have clarity. Distant micing of rhythm section elements have a tendency to wash out the sound and you lose impact and rhythmic intensity.

What I usually do is a collection of area micing on the horn section, a spot on every wind instrument and micing the rhythm section completely. Yes, it means 25-40 mics often, but you need to serve the music... I will generally try to keep things like drum micing minimal, but it does add up.

--Ben
Old 24th June 2013
  #23
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all i can say is that you guys must have clients who have the time and inclination to do things right, and have actual money to spend...

if the recording was to be released as a commercial CD, i can understand that kind of effort, but for 99% of what i do, and on the budgets allowed, i would still have to go with a main ORTF pair, and spots on piano and winds.
Old 24th June 2013
  #24
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Mr Lau: "Consider putting the drummer behind one of those transparent walls thinghie (dunno its name in english)"
It's referred to as a "sneeze guard"....
Old 24th June 2013 | Show parent
  #25
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Remoteness's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Man, IMHO, that's the worst thing you can do to the drums.
Consider using those "Clearsonics" panels, not around the drums, but in key positions around the bandstand.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Moonbaby ➑️
Mr Lau: "Consider putting the drummer behind one of those transparent walls thinghie (dunno its name in english)"
It's referred to as a "sneeze guard"....
Old 25th June 2013
  #26
Gear Head
 
Roman English's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Hey guys, just found out that Al Schmitt will conduct a seminar at Capital Studios recording a Big Band in august!
Insane opportunity to learn. He is incredible master in micing sources!

Studio Prodigy | Session Three: Al Schmitt and Steve... Tickets, Los Angeles - Eventbrite

Last edited by Roman English; 25th June 2013 at 12:08 AM.. Reason: bad english knowledge ))
Old 25th June 2013 | Show parent
  #27
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🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by jnorman ➑️
all i can say is that you guys must have clients who have the time and inclination to do things right, and have actual money to spend...

if the recording was to be released as a commercial CD, i can understand that kind of effort, but for 99% of what i do, and on the budgets allowed, i would still have to go with a main ORTF pair, and spots on piano and winds.
Or some of us just refuse to do things in a way that isn't what we view as correct. It isn't always a high budget gig, but there are plenty of opportunities to do things the right way. It also doesn't mean that we're always using a ton of high-end mics. I've done plenty of recordings like this while mixing FOH, in festival situations, etc... When you're taking a split or tracking off the FOH consoles, you have lots of mics. It isn't so hard to add a couple extras to ensure a quality product.

I'll give a hint as well... Those same things I do to ensure a good recording also work when I'm behind a FOH console. Area micing a horn section does wonders for gluing the band's sound together.

In the studio, when recording for an album, it is high-end only. I don't take the gig if they don't want to do it at a high level of quality. The composer/bandleader/whatever's reputation is at stake as well as my own.

--Ben
Old 25th June 2013
  #28
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joelpatterson's Avatar
 
2 Reviews written
🎧 15 years
That's really quite wonderful, but as Jim so succinctly points out, there's a vast army of footsoldiers out here that are getting pretty spectacular results with protocols shaved down to the bone, and hitting the marrow at times.

An ORTF, pedantically articulated or not, over the conductor's head and a few spare mics to capture areas that need boosting? This is one case where less is plenty enough, and as time goes on and things get leaner and meaner, a definite advantage for those who know how to travel lightly.
Old 25th June 2013
  #29
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king2070lplaya's Avatar
You minimalist fans should check out the Telarc big band recordings with Mel Lewis.
Old 25th June 2013 | Show parent
  #30
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Mr. Lau's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Remoteness ➑️
Man, IMHO, that's the worst thing you can do to the drums.
Consider using those "Clearsonics" panels, not around the drums, but in key positions around the bandstand.
I understand your point, but it has worked for me in tight stage, for latin jazz ensemble, where the drums are not too loud.

Let's say in that particular case, it was the adequate place for the panels
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