Live Orchestra Recording: An Introduction To The Trickiest Easy Gig You'll Ever Get
Someday you might be called upon to record an orchestra or choir, whether in a school or at a local concert or public event. It’s an interesting exercise, one that’s different than most of the recording work people do today. First, you’re likely doing it at some other location—unless you have a studio the size of a concert hall?—and that means working with unfamiliar monitoring. Second, you’re miking the room and not the orchestra itself; I’ll explain in a bit what that entails. Third, you are giving up much of the control that you’re used to having; the conductor and the room dictate the balance of elements, not you.
Before I mix, I first consider: what is this music about? It’s almost always about the vocal, when a song has one. Sometimes it’s about the guitar. In jazz it could be about the horn or piano, or even the interaction between performers rather than one specific “money track” (a frequently-heard term that I find rather offensive). I build my mixes by starting with what the music’s about, and then bringing up everything else to sit well with it in the mix. (No song is ever about the kick drum.)
Orchestral music is about the orchestra as a whole. Even for a typical piano or violin concerto, it’s more about the orchestra than the solo instrument. So we’re miking the orchestra as a whole and bringing that up, and then working with that as the starting point for our mix. All, or nearly all, of the final product will be a recording of the room with a single pair of mics, and your goal should be to get the balances in that single pair as good as possible.