Recording Session: Classical Recital

I recently had the opportunity to record my daughter’s first harp recital with her new instructor. The instructor is a high school student from a very large family in which both parents and many of the kids teach private lessons. The recital included performances from many of their students including violin, viola, piano, and harp, as well as a large ensemble performance from the family itself.

My original plan was to just record my daughter, but the family asked if it would be possible to record the entire recital. I thought that this would be a good opportunity to both practice my recording skills and maybe make a future client, so I said yes.

I was unable to get a list of the performers in advance, so I had to make a flexible plan. I packed a laptop, my interface, mics, stands and cables. My mic locker is not huge, but includes a multi-pattern large diameter condenser, tube LDC, a small diameter condenser and a ribbon mic. My plan was originally to use the SDC as a room mic, put one of the LDCs on the piano as needed, and use the ribbon and the other LDC in Mid/Side configuration for the soloist.

Like most plans, mine did not survive contact with the enemy. First, the recital was being held in the foyer of a retirement home. As such, power supply was limited, and I didn’t think to bring a long extension chord. This limited my setup options. Also, I learned early on that one of my cables (the longest) was not passing phantom power, so I had to swap it to a mic which didn’t need it, but since the cables were different lengths that changed my options for where I could place the mics.

In the end I had no room mic, and just put two mics on the piano. I used the other mics for the various solo instruments, but didn’t have a chance to talk to the students prior to the event. Frequently I was still placing the mics and the kids were beginning their pieces. Fortunately I just left the DAW recording the entire time.

In the end I had just over two hours of audio. I packed up and took everything home, but had a little delay in getting to the mixing. It actually worked out really well – I had a minor surgical procedure two days after the recital, which kept me out of work the next week, but didn’t completely incapacitate me. I set up my laptop in bed and got to work.

I started by color coding the tracks and naming them by the mic I used. I figured out which songs were in mid/side and dragged those clips down to a separate set of tracks set up for that. Then I edited out all the stuff between the songs, which left just over 47 minutes of music.

For this recording the editing and effects were pretty simple. I was looking for a very natural, unprocessed sound, so really the only effect is reverb. I did, however, take the opportunity to clean things up just a little bit. In many cases a solo performer would make an error, stop, back up a little, and play through where the error occurred. I would edit out the error and merge the tracks together.

Now, you can argue that this is contrary to the purpose of recording a recital, but my thinking is that these young performers (or their parents) will likely keep these recordings for a long time – some of them may end up shared with friends and family on social media. None of the performances are perfect, but the errors I edited out were glaringly obvious to even the casual listener. They are also probably errors that the students did not make all the time during rehearsal. I figure I am putting their best foot forward for posterity. There is still plenty of room for improvement.

The other processing I did was to clean up the recorded audio on the tracks. Some of my microphones have a bit of hiss to them – specifically the ribbon and tube mics. For my most recent CD I downloaded and used the demo versions of Izotope RX, which is amazing software. I used the demo version because of the high cost of the software. For this project, though, I found that Izotope is now offering a budget-conscious alternative. They now offer the most popular basic tools from within the comprehensive package as a plug-in suite. I see that Sweetwater now has it for $130 – somehow I bought it from them for just over half that.

The reverb is my new go-to for acoustic/classical recording, the Sonar-included Breverb on the Warm Orchestra patch. I just haven’t been able to make this one sound bad. It just has a great warmth without being overbearing.

In the end I exported each song separately and burned them to a CD. So that’s it for now. There will be another post coming very soon detailing another recording session I just did for the same family – this time a more produced arrangement written by the father for his daughter to dance to at her pageants.

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