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Thursday, August 8, 2013

HOW TO RECORD A STRING ENSEMBLE!


Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about a very particular topic, that is not often encountered in a home recording environment but which deserves an in-depth analysis, nonetheless:
How to record a string ensemble? And more in general, how to record an acoustic ensemble that we're going to insert in our mix, with lead and/or ambience role?

I had the opportunity to record a string sextet (violins and cello) called to beef up a rock song, and its role was to give a realistic feel to what before was a synth strings part, so I had to deal with a complete equalization spectrum that needed to be recorded in as few tracks as possible (to close-mike any single element would have been quite useless).


Surfing the web there are many ways to microphone an acoustic ensemble, especially a string one, but here's my own way, developed by experimenting different mic placements.
I have placed two micro-condenser microphones, of the kind often used to track the overhead cymbals of a drumset, with the X/Y method, in order to avoid phasing issues, and each microphone was pointing to the center of its half of the ensemble, trying to place them as symmetric as possible.
Then I had the players with the cellos to sit as centered as possible, and the violins, which are higher pitch instruments, on the sides (remember, the lower frequencies should be as mono as possible, while the higher ones can be placed wherever we want, as explained in this article).

Finally, I have placed a Neumann large-condenser microphone at the center of the ensemble, at the height of the "F-holes" of the Cellos (no pun intended), which are located much lower in height than the violins, in order to make it catch specifically the sound coming from these instruments. 
The idea, as you may have already guessed, is to create a frequency separation between lows and highs for panning purposes, and to add some reverb and "room" to the sound catched from the panoramic microphones, since the ensemble has been recorded on a "dead" room, so there was almost no natural reverb, which is actually very useful when recording acoustic instruments.

Now we should have 3 tracks: left, right and center, which are ready to be mixed!

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