Recording an orchestra

Haven’t read through the current thread completely but did read a lot and asked friends of mine with more experience in this field before my first serious orchestra recording. I’ve been ‘scared’ a little - the kind of being scared when you are to do something you haven’t done before but have to get it right or get in troubles :laughing:

In real life it’s not that hard. There are a thousand confusing methods and opinions but what I’ve found out by myself to get good results is not really much, my personal guidelines (valid for myself, maybe helpful for others):

  • all mics should basically point to the same direction
  • use at least one pair of great mics to capture the whole thing (in my case a pair of heavily modded ADKs), AB/XY does it for me
  • if possible do an additional M/S pair
  • set up spot mics for each group of instruments (like cellos, violins, flutes, horns etc.), at least one/group, if possible more
  • don’t care about not having a huge amount of the worlds greatest preamps (I have a few pretty good, some more standard plus some really cheap in use - nobody ever complained)

Made myself a lot of headaches before the first job of that kind. The more routined I became the more I realized, it’s just Rock’n’Roll too :mrgreen: The stuff I do ends as the audio part of a video production.

Stop, when you are sure it’s safe to stop. Set your pre-capture time high in Cubase (I’m on 9, but I think that feature is pretty old, you’ll find it in the preferences), in case you’ve accidentially stopped you’ll have a buffer.

Probably less is more with orchestra. Basic EQing and some volume rides when necessary. Before anything see what you can do in terms of phase alignment by moving the tracks around a few samples or milliseconds.

Just ask what they want to have.

Thanks for the help, marQs.

What marQ said.

This can be challenging. Depends on the intended use of the recording. If for a competition, you probably should leave it (after bringing whole file up so that peak is around -0.3). If for general consumption (not necessarily audiophile), then I’d bring levels up. Typically, I set markers and then slice the files up by song in Cubase. I then open each song in Wavelab. Step one is to bring up the file so the loudest peak is at something like -0.3ish. Check the loudness. WL does this with the LUFS scale, which is a handy way to look at loudness. You can use RMS as a substitute if you can’t get to LUFS. It’s not unusual for the initial unprocessed file to be in the negative 20s LUFS for loudness. This is just too quiet for most people. I use the loudness normalizer in wavelab to get the file to approx -17 LUFS. This usually makes the song listenable in a variety of environments, but still retains a large dynamic range.

Classical music can be tough to get under control. Depends on the piece. If there is a lot of quiet space and then some massive percussion hits later, you’ll need to consider other options beyond just loudness normalization. First step would be hard limiting to pull the transient spikes of the percussion down. Second technique would be using volume envelopes - this is tricky and should only be done if it can be finessed so as to not be noticeable. Usually a combo of hard limiting and loudness normalization does the trick for pieces that have a wide dynamic range.

My ultimate check is in my car while driving. I pop in a cd (or an mp3 on my phone) of the songs in and turn my volume up half way. If I can hear everything, then it’s good. If not, I consider tweaking. Also, as I’m adjusting loudness, I try to do the adjustment and then listen to the result. If it negatively impacts the piece, then I undo it and try something different.

EQ - Probably not needed with the mics you’re using.

Reverb - need to listen to determine if any is needed. If needed, I lightly use the built in reverb in Cubase - Reverence.

I would break up into songs, rather than having one giant file. Doing fade outs of the applause for each piece is a good idea. I often do fade ins as well if there is room noise that is audible at the start of a song. This way the listener isn’t jarred by the sudden onslaught of room noise.

You’re on the right track!



On a side note - I think your methodical approach to figuring out things in advance is smart. The first recording I did like this I threw up a pair of 57s in XY at the back of the auditorium. It sounded like utter garbage. Fortunately it was not critical and was just for me and the conductor. I was also manning the conductor’s recorder at the time, which was hooked to two 58s spaced 30 feet apart at the back of the auditorium. His recording also sounded like utter garbage, so I was in good company!


Thanks, Tom, these are good ideas. I don’t have the full Wavelab, but I do have Ozone which has many good tools. Meanwhile, I found this article by Mike Senior (who wrote the excellent book Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio):

It’s not a recording for a competition so I’ll feel free to experiment.

Interesting read. In the end he mentions parallel compression - I said it before, in the end it’s really just rock’n’roll :laughing:

Yeah, it’s a good point!


Have you recorded the groups yet? I would love to know how it went.


Recording dates in about two weeks. Hope to get to a rehearsal for an equipment test before then.

I recorded part of a rehearsal tonight. I used the ORTF setup, having already purchased a mic bar. Here’s something cool you can use:
I printed this out, stapled it to a piece of stiff cardboard, and cut out the correct holes for my mics. No ruler or protractor!

I definitely like the stereo of the ORTF configuration. Obviously I didn’t have a comparison with X-Y, but I’m certain the stereo effect is much better. So I want to go with this for the concerts.

I was wondering about my mic stand. I have several standard mic stands, so I took the sturdiest and extended everything toward the heavens. In the rehearsal venue, it was at about the level of the conductor’s chest. I’m thinking it should have been higher? What sort of mic stand should I be looking for?

Thanks to all for advice on this.

Ideally the stand should reach above the conductors head. Somewhere in the 7-10 feet range (from the deck) usually works well. Typically this works out to be a foot to a few feet above conductor’s head You don’t want to go too far up though. The farther you raise the stand, the more you increase ambience (reverb versus direct sound), and the more you emphasize the rear of the ensemble/group. To contrast this to the horizontal axis, the closer the mic stand is moved to the group, the more you increase direct sound and the more you emphasize the front of the ensemble/group. So many variables, so little time.

Stand should be sturdy, or at least weighted down. People at performances do all sorts of crazy things. Things that can injure themselves and your equipment. I like stands that have a very sturdy base, such as the Quicklock A-50 (which I use for remote recording), or even a latchlake (which is what I use in my studio). The other way to go is to sandbag the stand. Manfrotto stands are popular with many remote recordists, but they are usually lightweight - so they get sandbagged.

On the other hand, if you’re happy with the results of your rehearsal, you could repeat the with the same stand. Listen to your recording. If you believe that the front of the ensemble is emphasized too much, and the rear isn’t being picked up enough - then raising the mics higher should help blend in more of the rear.


Thanks again, for great advice. I thought I would have preferred the back of the ensemble to be a little louder than it is, but I was happy with the direct vs. reflected sound, about 10 feet away from the conductor. Not too much hall sound and not too little. I just learned that at the performance venue, the stage is only a foot or two above the seating, which is lower than the rehearsal stage, so I should be able to get the mics a little higher over the conductor’s head. I’m thinking I’m in good shape for this session, but I will need to get some other stands for other venues in which this outfit performs. I’m feeling somewhat confident, assuming the 10-year-old laptop doesn’t fail. It’s been solid as a rock all this time, so crossing fingers. Once we put something on YT I’ll let you guys know.

In addition to Tom’s mic stand suggestion… the Sontronics Matrix 10 is worth checking out too, i have one here as i got fed up with bending mic stands with reflection filters and heavy valve mics… very nicely made and hugely flexible bit of kit!

Nice, I’m looking forward to the results :slight_smile:
Take some pictures of the setup if you can!

Thanks for suggestions everyone. Looking at specs, the Quicklock A50 extends to 7.5 feet, which is not much higher than I get with my current mic stand. The Sontronics Matrix 10 looks to go over 12 feet. Did I get that right? If I’m at a venue where the stage is say 3 feet above the floor, and my mic stand is down on the floor because the stage is not so deep that there is 10 feet behind the conductor, then I need something that goes as high as the Sontronics, right?

The quicklock a50 goes to a little under 15 feet. 7.5 feet comes from the stand extension. The remaining comes from the boom extension, which is a little less than 7.5 feet.


Yep, it’s a BIG beast!

I did the recordings last weekend, and I’m mixing them now. I used the ORTF configuration, which, as I begin to appreciate, is akin to one’s own ears. 17 CM apart on center, and 110 degrees apart on angle. Stereo image is fantastic. I used my cheap AT2020’s, and I have to admit, I’m not unhappy with what I got. I think they’re maybe a little exaggerated on the high frequencies, or maybe you could say deficient on the mids and lows; in any case, since they’re very clear and able to handle a wide range of amplitudes, there’s something to work with in the equalization stage.

I was able to set up about 10 feet behind the conductor, and a couple of feet above his head. I’ll need a new stand to get that high in another hall, so thanks for the suggestions, but in this hall, I could do it.

Things I’ll try to remember next time:

  1. while I was setting up in dress rehearsal, I had my laptop on the floor in front of the first row. Within minutes, the conductor stepped off the stage and tripped over the laptop. Lucky for me, he didn’t step on it directly or damage it.
  2. While recording in the first few minutes, a latecomer musician ran across the front row to her position and tripped over the extension cord I had just placed there. Next time, I would tape it down before I did anything else.
  3. During the concert on the first day, I had the mics in the row behind me. A family with young kids decided to sit in that row, mom on one side of the mic stand, and dad on the other. The kids were little, and running back and forth between mom and dad. Fortunately, they were fairly well behaved, and with the mic positioning, when the 3-year-old began whistling, my mics didn’t pick it up. Second day I took the seats on both sides of the mic stand.

About mixing, I did feel the need to equalize, in the first place because the bass section was only two players (so boost), and in the second place, because the mics are quite trebly (so cut appropriately). Although I normalized the two tracks to 0 db, I also felt the need to use some of Ozone’s tools to diminish the difference between the loud and soft. Specifically, to use Ozone’s loudness tools (multiband compression and maximizer) rather than trying to play with limiters and compressors myself. I am not comfortable with riding the main volume manually as that SoS article suggested, especially if the tools have a good result. If I compare to professional orchestral recordings on YouTube, I’m still being very conservative in what I’ve done.

Here’s a draft you could listen to:
featuring a guest soloist.

As I try to mix the other piece performed by the orchestra, (Tchaikovsky 4th) I run into the fact that the dynamics are much more extreme compared to the concerto above. Specifically, every time crash cymbals are hit, 2 or 3 decibels of ceiling are lost. So I was not getting the same basic loudness as with the Dvorak. So I think I took the difficult way, and I edited out the peaks of each channel wherever it got loud. It was never anything anyone would miss - basically an extremely loud crash cymbal hit or a bass drum would have the same effect. How do you guys handle this automatically?

Some thoughts:

Going battery powered and not using a laptop eliminates need to tether to wall and the extra cords. Even using a laptop, you’ll want to have it situated where it issn’t in the way. I have a bunch of snakes I use for accomplishing this. Whirlwind makes reasonable priced snakes that hold up well and are easy to see channel numbers in low light. Proco is also good, but not as easy to see in low light.

Always tape down all cords. Leave no part untapped. Also, always tape off recording area. Some people can be unaware of the mics and accidents happen. Because my back bothers me from time to time, I invested in a gaff gun. This provides a quick way to tape down a long cord run (without having to bend over or get on one’s hands and knees). I’d like to congratulate whoever invented that thing. It’s brilliant.

Comments about the mix in the link (I only listed to the first few minutes):
Nice overall job. Your first foray into remote recording produced results that far surpassed my first try. I do have a few minor comments for your consideration. Stereo image seems a tiny bit stretched. This is a very minor comment and is not worth adjusting, just noting for next time. Was the layout of the group wider than a 96 degree angle coming from the ORTF array?

One reason you had to bump the bass is that you were using a mic with a card pattern, which inherently rolls off the low end. Omnis typically don’t have this problem. Everything we do in recording is balancing a bunch of trade offs. The low end roll off is worth it for the ease and consistently good overall sound ORTF delivers. EQ - I’m not sure the high freq cut is fully helping you. It seems like you’ve removed a little too much here - there’s not enough air to the sound. Also - I don’t get enough sense of the hall. Also - how much did you compress (or adjust loudness with Ozone?). What is average RMS or LUFS?

On your other question on peaks and dynamic range. The process I use is as follows. I bring the level up in WL so that I’m peaking at -0.3. Then I use hard limiting. In my case, I use the Precision Limiter in the UAD bundle. Any hard limiter should work. Then I use WL gain adjustment to add say 3-5 db of gain. I use the WL gain plug in so that it’s a precise process. I listen carefully to see how the peaks were handled. May need to horse around with settings and redo it. If I really need to bring the peaks down a lot, I try to do 2-3 passes of the limiter, rather than one pass with a massive reduction. After this, then I use WL’s loudness normalize function. I typically aim for -17 LUFS (I’ll go with lower average levels if the recording is to be submitted in a competition). I see that you have the light version of WL, so you could probably do the same using RMS as your scale. Won’t be much different. I can’t comment on Ozone as I have no experience with it.

I have also used volume automation as well as multiband compression. However, these are more difficult to do (at least for me). Running through a hard limiter with a precise increase in gain is easy. If the limiter is good, it should sound good. Often this is a process of trial and error. I use the undo button frequently. I also put plugins in/out of signal path for A/B comparisons. Your ears are the ultimate guide. I probably use volume automation in WL in 30% of my recordings. Your WL essentials might have this. I often use to adjust the volume of applause relative to the piece. If the piece is at -17, I set the applause for -20 or -21. I hate it when applause is as loud as or louder than the song. Just doesn’t seem right. I also use volume automation when I’m failing at hard limiting. And then if volume automation fails, I reach for the multiband compressor - assuming it’s just a narrow freq that’s too loud.

Overall - you should be very happy with the quality of your recording. Nice job!


If you want - feel free to put the raw files up. I’ll process them and send them back to you for your review.