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Recording a Classical quintet

If anyone is familiar with me and my usual habits, they would know that I generally live in the vague worlds of rock, r&b, and hip-hop. I have a huge love and respect for classical music, but haven't spent much time playing, or being around it since high school. So, a few weeks back, when I received a message about recording a quintet, I was immediately excited to be entered back into this style of music.

Then, for a moment, worry set in. For the Past 6 or so years, for songs I've worked on, my job was to record many many things individually, then add many many compressors, eqs, effects, limiters, and then mash all of these things together to try and make the PHATTEST song I could. I realized my heavily compressed formula wasn't going to lend great results for this gig, so a new approach had to be devised.

Music in its most basic elements are harmony, rhythm, and dynamics. For most modern recording and mixing, essentially all of these elements can be (and usually are) manipulated post recording. When I'm mixing, I end up spending a great bit of time on these things specifically. But what if the musicians are trained in these categories? Cue classical musicians. Our goal for this recording wasn't to make it sound extra phat for clubs with subwoofers, but to simply record the performance.

With that in mind, the thought process shifted greatly. Instead of mic'ing specific instruments, we'd be mic'ing the the room and quintet as a whole. Since classical music is so focused on harmony and dynamics, we simply had capture their perfomance as best as possible. My good friend Jamie Vitullo agreed to help me out with this and came over before the recording date. We set up a psuedo Decca tree and tested on acoustic guitar. It sounded like we were in the room with an acoustic guitar, and we were happy about that. For those unfamiliar, a Decca tree consists of three microphones (left, right, center) with the goal of creating a beautiful stereo image.

The day of the gig, Jamie and I arrived early to set up. The venue was St. Johns Episcopal, a beautiful large church located in Youngstown. This church's hall is spectacular, with very high ceilings and stone from wall to wall. We set up our psuedo decca tree right next to the performers. Our tree consisted of 2 pencil condensors for left/right mics and a cardioid condensor in the center. The pencil condensors were about 8 feet off the ground faceing downward, left aimed towards piano, right aimed towards violins. The center mic was placed at about waist-level exactly between the left and right microphones. In hindsight, I should have taken some photographs to aid in sharing the process, so next time around I hopefully will. Distance between mics was approximately 6 feet from both left and right to center. Since the room was exceptional, we wanted to capture some of the space as well, so we set up another pencil condensor clear on the other side of the hall, aimed straight up at the ceiling.

Once the performance was over, we went back to listen to our spoils. They sounded great! Set up for most recording sessions requires hours of set-up, testing equipment, making sure everyone has earphones and that their in-ear mix is favorable. For this, we simply placed 4 microphones in a room, and moved them a little to adjust the mix until it sounded real. It was about 25 minutes of set-up. They mixed themselves, and we just had to make sure that we captured it. It was a lot of fun to work with the musicians and Jamie, and to get get out of my comfortable usual realm of music. The one problem we did run into was a very prominent hiss in the the quieter songs, but Jamie ended up smoothing all that out while mastering. Thanks Jamie! All in all, it was a great experience, and I'm looking forward to the next opportunity to record something similar. For anyone reading this looking for tips and/or tricks, my biggest takeaway was to practice making the recording sound as if you're in the room with no post mixing. This isn't a new concept, so I have nothing groundbreaking to share, but for music like this, with good mic placement and correct gain, it can be as easy as just recording the mix. I've linked one of the songs recorded below, mastered by Jamie .

Good luck on your endeavors, thanks for reading!

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