Eek! Piano and Tuba!

Oh boy.

Two good friends (husband and wife) have a very musically talented son (daughter too, but she’s not relevant in this story) who is applying for a fairly prestigious music college. As part of the application process, he needs to record an audition.

They’ve approached me to record this, on location, tomorrow. While I’m humbled that they think my engineering skills are good enough for them to trust their son’s future in my hands, I’m also scared to death. I will be recording tomorrow on location and EQ’ing / mastering at home later in the day.

Realizing that this needs to be submitted in MP3 format, I am bringing an 8 channel Mackie board (with 4 XLR inputs), my Tascam US-144 USB 2.0 interface, and Cubase 6.5.2 on my laptop. But now I have to figure out how to mic this. It should be simple, I realize, but my dilemma is whether I go with ambient mics or not.

I have a Neumann TLM103, an AKG C414, and two AKG C1000S pencil condenser mics plus a few dynamics. I am figuring on the following possible configurations:

  1. Use the 2 pencil condensers to mic the piano soundboard directly creating a decent stereo image. Use the Neumann on the tuba.

  2. Raise the piano top so that the sound bounces off of it and into the room. Use the C414 to capture it in mono and the Neumann on the tuba. Use the pencil condensers to capture reverberations from the walls. (I haven’t yet visited the location, but the father is somewhat well-versed in acoustics and has assured me that the place we’re using was specifically chosen for the acoustic. I doubt, however, that he’s used any sort of spectral analysis to check for standing waves or resonating frequencies.)

I have briefly considered an M-S configuration but realize that it probably wouldn’t buy much in terms of sound quality since it’s just two instruments, and the headache in getting it right is too risky.

How would you approach a tuba in a duet with a grand piano from a mic’ing perspective?

I don’t have any micing advice to give you, since other than vocals I’m a direct kinda guy, but I’d advise you
not to sweat it - or be “scared to death”.

I don’t get it - if they’re good friends, and if “their sons future is in your hands”, why would they approach
you at the last minute and give you only a day to do the entire project?? Clearly -they’re- not worried about it.

I think you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. I would think that the college is only interested in the performance, and that the recording only needs to be adequate. Why not run 2 or 3 quick tests with different
mic placements, then go with the one that sounds best? The sound quality of all your recent song postings
leads me to believe that you’ll do just fine, Larry. Don’t seat it! :sunglasses:

Well, I’ve known about it for a week but didn’t get confirmation on the date until last night.

I agree that multiple takes with different placements would be best, but I don’t want to have the situation where he has a great take but the mics make it sound like crap vs. the next take where the mics make it sound amazing but he flubs a few important phrases. He’s very good at every instrument he plays (tuba, french horn, guitar, etc.) but he’s still a teenager who realizes that this is an important moment in his life.

I realize I could “punch-in, punch-out” but that seems amoral since they’re trying to evaluate him on the quality of his performance.

Thanks, though, for the vote of confidence!

I’m certain any thing you master will be far superior to the average audition recording heard by the admittance committee. They’re listening for the talent not the production. Enjoy helping a young kid on his way.

I said “a few quick tests”. Don’t record entire takes with different placements. I’m suggesting you
run a short 15 second or so snippet with a few different mic placements, then listen back and see what sounds best.
THEN proceed to do the complete takes.

Exactly!! :slight_smile:

Thanks for correcting my misinterpretation. Old age and all… :stuck_out_tongue:

Easiest with the piano is XY. It will give you roughly 220º stereo pickup with the image center being 60º in their combined coverage. If you place them on center, you can elevate them a foot or foot and a half, maybe 2’ Keep an eye on angles when you first place them then adjust to taste. Obviously the closer to the hammers gives you more attack. I record pianos with the top off because the reflection of the top can smear and comb the image when placing mics over the soundboard. It can get really bad if the microphone’s off-axis response isn’t musical.

With brass instruments I normally use dynamics (a EV RE20 or EV PL9), but you could try the tlm103. I think the presence peak the 103 has from 5kHz-20khz may make it sound harsh though. Condensers can be challenging with brass due to their sensitivity. I’ve never recorded a tuba. It may not have the harshness of sax the other horn instruments I’ve had experience with. I’ve recorded a flugelhorn and even though it was more mellow than a trumpet, I still wound up using a dynamic for the near sound and had a spaced omni pair of mics a ways back from him to capture the room.

Listen to some piano and tuba recordings before you start and compare. It will give you something to aim for.

Thanks for the tips. I was hoping to avoid the comb effect by using a single mic for the piano. Granted, that screws up the stereo image, but it may be sufficient if I use the C1000s for room sound.

The piano belongs to a church - where we will be recording too - so I’m not sure I’ll be able to take the top off. But if I can, I was thinking of doing it as well. The only question, based on your advice, will be whether the C1000s will make a good X-Y pair since they aren’t matched.

As far as the tuba goes, I thought of the same thing too but I haven’t yet heard the piece he’s playing. I’ve seen a video of him in a recital on Facebook before and it was more melodic, so perhaps the SPLs won’t be high enough especially if I attenuate at the pre-amp stage on the Mackie board. (It’s a 1202-VLZ3.) However, I wasn’t thinking of submerging the mic in the bell anyway, so if I hoist it high enough on the boom stand won’t that counter the higher sensitivity of the condenser?

I wouldn’t worry about the c1000s not being matched. I doubt they are so different sonically that it will matter and with the xy, one will be pointing to the bass while the other points to the treble.

Maybe I worded it wrong. When I mentioned sensitivity, I meant the level of articulation and detail that a condenser has. Brass can be harsh and the added detail makes it more apparent and “piercing” if you know what I mean.

Creative thoughts:
If everything is going to be recorded in a church, you could setup a xy next to the piano. It would be pointing in between the piano and tuba player if they next to each other. When you go to record the tuba, have them stand at the opposite side of the xy. Have a mono on the tuba and piano closer for direct sound. Take the 2 stereo xy recordings, one from the piano and the other from the tuba and pan the stereo recording center (that is if you setup the input as a stereo source). Turn them on and the piano will be naturally panned left in the stereo file and the tuba would naturally be panned right. The hall/church sound would be in the opposite opposite side. For piano, the right would be more room and visa-versa for the tuba. This would balance the image and make it sound “real” Piano on left, tuba on right, playing together. Then blend in the close mics to balance the image. You can pan them too to the opposite side of where they sit in the stereo recording and use a goniometer to check stereo balance.

Just an idea. I have recorded this way before and it turns out good.

Good thoughts. This is similar to what I was thinking in concept, but your “XY in the middle” idea is different than my “put them further away and pointing at the wall to catch reverberation” idea.

I’ll be sure to draw the various tests on a clipboard and maybe take a picture or two for posterity’s sake.

My advice, don’t, whatever you do, drag out the setup, or take a lot of time doing test runs. It isn’t about the recording quality, it’s about the playing quality. As long as you’re getting the tracks, you really don’t want to get the kids nervous or self conscious or concerned. Whatever you do get will be far better than the colleges usually get, which is a zoom, or the audio of a camcorder. And not that either of those is terrible for the situation either. This is not an album. I would suggest you do not hamper the tuba kid’s playing by putting a mic in the bell. Just playing in the church is already a great advantage.

Just enjoy the process and so will the kids. I’ve recorded some friends kids a few times, always big fun and they are so talented.

Agreed, don’t mess with the take. I did once for a friends daughter doing a hip happy birthday for a friend of hers. Ran it through Melodyne for pitch, which was great to give to the friend. Problem was, the chorus director heard it and thought he had overlooked a shining star in his class so he moved her up front and encouraged her to belt it out…she had some explaining to do :wink:

One more point, if it’s a conservatory, then they don’t want any processing… reverb, compression, eq, etc. Usually the schools will publish guidelines.

This is an excellent point. I’ll need to ask Tom (the father) if he has a list of requirements.

Been keeping up with this thread. Any chance we might be allowed to hear the end result? I’m kinda nervous for the kid myself now.
Don’t doubt your skills though - you have the most important piece of equipment which is clearly the ability to be a loving friend to these people.(Admit it - if the college were accepting videos, you’d be asking us about aspect ratio :wink: )

Good luck to all of you. :smiley:

Sounds like fun, would like to hear the end result too!

Yeah, TJ is cool and his parents are absolutely awesome people so I don’t think they’ll have a problem with me posting the end result.

And :laughing: @ asking about aspect ratios. Yeah, that’s pretty accurate.

The father, lol…

I’ve done recordings for college entrance. I haven’t received guidelines from the school or client. Knowing what it was for, I never made them sound better than they were, but I made sure the recordings sounded good if that makes sense. The 2 times I have done it, I let the client pick their best take.

Dammit dammit dammit

The recording came out well but there’s no stereo image to speak of. Then I realized…

…I forgot to set the panning on the mixing board.

StereoEnhancer set to LargerThanLive is giving a small amount of stereo due to the XY room mics, but this is essentially a mono recording.

Dammit. :imp: