ARTICLE: How To Record An Orchestra
Updated: Feb 13
Recording your music with a live orchestra is a true milestone for composers, and is something that all should aspire to do at least once. However, assembling 50-plus musicians on stage and getting a high-quality recording is a serious challenge both technically and logistically. In this article, we will guide you through the process.
First things first you will need to scout out a few different spaces and see what works best for you. There is a lot to consider here such as background noise, accessibility, acoustic properties and of course the cost. Hiring a symphonic hall is definitely the best option in terms of sound, but it will come at a higher cost than other options. Cheaper options include town halls, schools, old warehouses, churches.
Stage plan & channel list
List the instrumentation for your pieces and work out how many microphones you will need, including mics for the Decca tree, outriggers, and room mics. For a full orchestra, you are looking at 30-plus channels so make sure you are adequately equipped to deal with a session of this size. This means having a rock-solid computer system, and a desk with the right pre-amps needed to power all those mics. Plan out all of this in detail and create stage diagrams showing the layout for the session, based in the space you have available.
Decca tree, hall mics
The main content of your recording will come from the Decca tree mics, with the ambient and spot mics there to support. You will need 3 mics, one for the left, center and right channels.
Positioning is key for an accurate sound, so make sure you are meticulous in the spacing and angle of your mics. You want there to be a full, lively sound with a nice balance in the stereo image. For your microphone choice, we recommend using small-diaphragm condensers with a neutral response for the tree mics.
In terms of the Decca tree itself, you can buy one online, You can build your own DIY version using metal/wooden frames and sandbags as a counterweight.
A conductor is crucial to getting a great recording, so get one on board as soon as you can. Not only are they there to guide the musicians through the music, but they act as a leader for the orchestra who will keep things on schedule. Make sure they have been given as much information as possible for the session, as the more preparation they can do the better. A conductor will also look at the music and flag up any potential problem areas in the score, which can save you a lot of time of the day.
Plan & Organise
As the old saying goes, failing to prepare is preparing the fail, and this couldn't be more true with a large scale recording like this. Make sure you get all of the music parts printed and organised ready to go on music stands, as last-minute printing is the last thing you want to be doing. Plan out the day in fine detail and prepared for any problems that could arise over the course of the session. What if the fire alarm goes off? What if the musicians get lost? Where can people get tea/coffee? These are all things that you need to have a plan for if you want your session to run smoothly.
Once the orchestra has arrived and is finished tuning, you are ready to begin recording. If you've got this stage congratulations, as you are about to hear your music played by the orchestra which should be an incredible experience. However now is when you need to be extremely mindful of the stage etiquette of the players, as things like chair shuffles, coughs, page turns and stary pencils can spoil a great take. This is where having good communication with the conductor is crucial, as they will manage the conduct of the orchestra once they are on the scoring stage. If you have followed these steps and planned accordingly you should have a fantastic recording experience! We hope that you find this guide useful.
344 Audio is an Audio Post Production studio in Manchester.
Follow our socials!