OT: cost of an orchestra session?

Hey music friends, a quick question. How much would it cost to get a studio recording with a good orchestra? I’m sure there are a number of factors, but any estimates and cost breakdowns you could give would be helpful. Thanks.

If it helps narrow it down, my arrangements are all tonal, pretty easy to play, standard orchestra, under 5 minutes in length.

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I know that the rules change from country to country.
Generally there’s a minimum amount of time for a session. So you probably couldn’t have a half hour session.
It also depends on the size of the orchestra.
Remember that anyone doubling (ie: flute/piccolo, oboe/cor anglais, etc…) gets paid 1.5x the going union rate, first desks get paid extra (IIIRC it’s double), there’s one designated “contractor” for the orchestra who also gets paid extra (I don’t remember the rate.)
This doesn’t include the conductor as by union rules they’re not considered “a musician”.

All I can tell you is that a session with a symphony orchestra can REALLY add up.

EDIT:
oh damn, I didn’t notice that you said “studio recording”.
This changes the tarification as well, as it depends on what use you are making of the recording. Will it be broadcast, used in another medium (ie: film/video), as promotional material, etc…

and “studio recording” implies having the staff from a recording studio present, the rental of a hall suitable to a recording, the use of equipment… all extra costs.

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Thanks. Aren’t there orchestras who offer this sort of thing? I thought I remember hearing of one that sort of bundles a bunch of clients together and basically sight-reads, and it’s not as pricey.

On some FB groups (try composers, film music composers, etc…) sometimes there are offers from orchestras that have an extra slot (usually 1-5min but sometimes more) in their sessions, often at a discount cause the session is already paid for so it’s more an extra for them, but the score needs to be perfectly checked and match the amount of players/instrumentation, cause usually it’s a one shot take with no rehearsal, depending on the length of your track.
I guess it can be good if you’re on a budget.

Hi @dan_kreider
Here some links in Europe (I know you live in USA…):

Here you can ask some information and pricing (contact at the bottom) to have an idea:
Studio Production | Filmorchester Babelsberg

In Italy they offer remote shared sessions too (but only strings for the moment…):
https://www.orchestraitalianadelcinema.it/shared-sessions/

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+1. It can easily hit $100 per minute. A 60 piece orchestra is probably closer to $150 a minute now for union scale at a high level NYC studio with a 3 hr minimum.

If it’s a union gig, it’s quite complicated. I’m not sure what’s public and what’s not, but here’s a link to the Local 802 Contracts page. I’m happy to PM you anything that isn’t publicly available off of that, but as @Michel_Edward already said, the output medium matters a lot.

Least expensive way would probably be to find a local contractor, and a local studio that can handle the number of musicians you require. I’m actually contracting a big band session for next Wednesday that I’m playing on and I’m getting triple scale as contractor. (The band I have coming is ridiculous!) For studios, make sure they can accommodate the number of musicians you want, with the number of mics needed, and any isolation booths for soloists. If you want a fuller sound for the string section you can record multiple passes too, but obviously your studio then needs cans and monitor setups for everyone. A brass or woodwind section can be filled out with multiple passes too, so you’re paying for time rather than additional musicians. Depending on mic scheme, orchestra recording can be a complete PITA, or it can just be a Decca tree with solo mics. Be sure to have the Piano tuned that day if used, and make sure the engineer knows what they are doing with the type of music you are recording.

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I would check out: https://www.budapestscoring.com
I booked a four hour session with an 80 piece orchestra (Stgs 14,12,10,8,6, Brass 4,3,3,1, Triple WW with doublings, 4 percussionists including timpani and harp) last June and the cost was very reasonable. I actually went to Budapest (I live in the US) and attended the session and in fact conducted one of my pieces. The quality of the musicians, the studio, the in-house conductor are first class and I got great results. I did not get to record everything I had prepared, so I booked an extra 30 minute slot in what they call a shared session, and this I did virtually from my studio at home after I had returned from Europe. The virtual session was just like being in Budapest - I had the audio coming out of my studio monitors with no discernible time lag and I was able to see the orchestra and talk to the conductor via zoom on my iPad. It was amazing…The shared sessions have a slightly smaller orchestra than my original booking (12,10,8,6,4 and Dble.WW etc) but I was able to overdub any parts that were not covered by this ensemble. The musicians are first rate and are basically sight-reading, so good score preparation in essential - I did all mine in Dorico, of course.
Depending on the difficulty of the music, they say you can expect to get about 5 minutes of finished recorded music for every hour of recording time. I had a total of 4 1/2 hours recording time (they take at least 5 minutes of break every hour) so in total I probably had just over four hours of recording time and I ended up with 23 minutes of high quality finished music. For best results, they will record from a click track, and although this might sound like you will get a rhythmically stiff recording, I did not find it a problem. The players are very spread out in a big studio with screens etc, so along with the fact that they are sight-reading, it’s not possible for them to really play as an ensemble and hear each other properly, so playing with a click keeps them together and saves a lot of time. If you have some rits or tempo changes, you can record in smaller sections and edit it together afterwards. Standard stuff really. If your music is fairly easy, you might be able to get one long take.
The files are delivered as a stereo monitor mix and all the individual stems (in my case about 60 tracks) in ProTools format, but I imported them into Cubase for editing. The session is a buyout - so no residuals or anything. They do lots of film and TV/Netflix stuff so it’s a very slick operation. The studio was originally owned by Hungaroton, originally initiated my Kodaly, so it has a lot of history. There are a few other similar services in Europe - I know of another one in Hungary https://www.inspiredsymphony.com and there’s one in Prague I think, too.
It was truly amazing, and when you’re working with samples all the time, it’s easy to forget what a real orchestra is really like. The biggest thing is the strings - you simply cannot beat 50 highly trained string players!

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A great post - but you did not answer the most important question of the OP: What did it cost?
Both websites you mention don’t give any pricing information, nothing at all…

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If my maths is right, you’re talking 180 minutes * $150 = 27,000…?

That would fall into the category of “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it”.

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Here in the UK it really depends on what it is you’re recording.

PACT rate for a three hour combined use session (think, ahem, Gladiator 2) is £91.56 per hour per musician, so £16,480 for the musicians, plus the studio, plus the conductor, plus double for the leader, plus the fixer, plus the engineers etc.

That said, the BPI non-classical rate is only £130 per musician for three hours (£43.33 per hour) and the classical rate is lower still:

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The best option for 5 Minutes of music would indeed be Budapest Scoring but their Shared Session model. You can book them in 30 min session slots. So if you book 2-3 slots you should be fine to cover these 5 minutes in that time.
One slot with a standard line-up is currently at approx 1200 USD. It’s an all inclusive service. You deliver score and parts as PDF, join in remotely on the recording date and receive a Protools Session with all takes back.

There are other options, but they would require booking an entire session which is just too much for 5 minutes of music.

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That sounds like a good fit for me. Thanks!

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Using the Local 802 “Sound Recording Labor Agreement - Low Budget” scale, the base rate is $266.33 for a 3 hour session, plus 14.09% Pension ($27.52) and $30 Health & Welfare for a total of $323.85 for a musician without doubles. That number x 60 musicians is $19,431 plus doubler, leader, and contractor premiums, let’s say $21K. A studio large enough, like the Powerstation studio A, that will have enough headphones, mics, stands, iso booths, etc, for everyone plus an engineer, at least 2 assistants, a minimum of a couple of hours set up and breakdown, would probably be $3500 at least (I might be lowballing this) so that’s $24,500. Add some catering, piano tuning, etc and it’s an even $25K. Divided by 180 minutes is $139 a minute, so my guesstimate wasn’t too far off. Obviously the larger budget scales are quite a bit higher too.

Back when I was still doing a bunch of copying in that scene I used to roughly keep on top of those figures, so if I ever got any grief over the copying bill, I could come back with “I caught x number of mistakes, which probably saved over a half hour of recording time.” As the rate of a half hour of studio time with a room full of musicians was often way more expensive than my bill, that often ended that discussion, LOL!

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I had a private composition student who wanted his piece recorded. Basic stuff (all tonal and quite easy to sightread). I made a deal with what is probably the best amateur orcestra in the UK (Kensington Symphony Orchestra). They are stuffed with conservatoire trained performers who now make music for a hobby, rather than a living.

A five minute piece, which they played through twice then recorded. A donation of £1,000 to the orchestra funds and everybody was happy. OK, it was about 10 years ago so maybe £1,500 today.

Depends on what you’re looking for but the quality was excellent.

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Well yes, I’m a bit hesitant to advertise other people’s prices if they don’t advertise them themselves on their site, and I figured that Dan could email them and get a quote, but Robin’s answer is accurate from my experience. Because of my custom line-up, I paid around 12% more, and I also had it videoed for $500. This was a year ago, so the prices may have increased. The shared session model is certainly very useful for shorter pieces, but 30 minutes does go by quite quickly, and they will move onto the next person in line right on 30 minutes (there’s also a few minutes of break built in, so you can think of it as more like 25 minutes of useful recording time). For a 5 minute piece, unless it is quite straight forward, an hour would be best, simply because you don’t want to be left with a partially finished recording. If it’s fairly easy to sight-read, with no tricky tempo issues or overdubs, you could expect maybe four complete run-throughs in a 30 minute session, and this might be enough. The players are excellent, and will play beautifully right away.

just to add I’ve heard some of the stuff they did for @Grainger2001 and was pretty impressed. I believe you used to sometimes get good deals from Russian orchestras but unfortunately that’s rather ruled out for the moment.

Well, I guess there has to be some downside to a war. :neutral_face: Personally, I would draw the line elsewhere, though.

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I’ll second all the :+1:t3:’s for Budapest Scoring Orchestra. I recorded Fanfare for a New Era of American Spaceflight with them summer 2022, and all in (including the mixing and mastering and the video production work), it was $2,660. That also included pulling in a number of extra instrumentalists:

  • a piccolo
  • a cor anglais
  • a contrabassoon
  • a bass trombone
  • a pianist
  • a timpanist
  • 5 percussionists (bass drum, 5 toms, clash cymbal, tubular bells, and glockenspiel)

(I think the default is 2 percussionists, but it has been a minute). So that was a bunch extra. :sweat_smile:

The recording session was great, and the mix and master they gave me was quite satisfactory—and they took feedback and input on it and executed very well on it; when I asked for some tweaks, they made them. Critically, you also get all the original audio (and video) files as well as the actual mix so you can do what you like with them.

Would absolutely work with them again.

Depending on the difficulty, for a five-minute piece I would definitely also second @Grainger2001’s suggestion of booking an hour. The fanfare is ~2:30 all told, and is not an especially challenging piece (I’m happy to share the score if you want to see it), and we just squeaked in getting it done in a 30-minute session—the first couple takes we had intonation issues to clean up to get a clean recording, and there were the usual on-the-spot “okay, make that fortississimo instead of forte” calls you really only learn when getting a live orchestra to play something.

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