This is a guest post by Kyle M. Bagley.
How do I record that thing? Where does the sound come out? There are how many of you playing at the same time?
Horns, as in saxes, brass instruments, and the like, can seem intimidating to an engineer not familiar with them. This series of posts will cover microphones to use, arrangement of the players, and specifics for miking and mixing each instrument.
Choosing an Arrangement and Mic Technique
Horn sections can be made up of a variety of different instruments. An average horn section playing with a band could include 2-5 individuals, often each on a different instrument.
Step one is deciding if the musicians will record playing at the same time or individually.
This is usually mandated by the room, microphone availability, or band personality.
In my experience, both as a trombone player and engineer, recording a horn section all at the same time gives both the tightest performance from the musicians and the best sound for the recording.
A good horn section will latch on to each other’s note articulation and dynamics, making great live sounding recordings that could not be achieved through individual playing.
If enough mics are available, the optimal recording setup has close individual mics on each instrument as well as mics placed farther away to capture the players collectively.
Using Room Mics to Capture the Section
The most common method of far-miking horn players is with a stereo pair of condenser mics, placed at least three feet in front of them.The distance can vary greatly.
Listen for the balance of the instruments and room reverb/reflection.
There is often a “sweet spot” in a room where the horns stand out, which you should listen for while the horn players warm up and check sound.
Don’t be afraid to balance a section by having some players stand closer to the mics than others.
This far-miking method is often not used in a “dead” room, one without much reverb, or if some players are much louder than others. In this scenario, players can be divided by baffles or put in corners so that they can still record at the same time, but with individual mics only.
Overdubs and Solos
It is important to note that room mics often cause a problem when overdubbing parts, as it is impossible to isolate the players and tracks.
However, recording solos after the horn section has finished their parts is very common. Remember to keep the room mics active!
Mixing Considerations for Room Mics
How you use the room tracks is wildly different depending on the tastes of the producer, the style of music, and how the tracks came out.
In a room with lots of reflection, you can mix the tracks in lightly to use as reverb. Other projects use them more to have a larger section sound to cut through a thick mix or loud band. You could also switch between close and room mics in a complex musical arrangement to add depth or highlight parts.
Even with great sounding room mics, close mics on each instrument are important for catching the full range and nuances of each player. They are also crucial for mixing, allowing you to adjust panning and volumes, as well as compress, EQ, or add effects to each.
Stay tuned for future posts covering the specifics of each individual horn player.
Image by: atiredmachine