Monday, November 12, 2007
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Over the years, many directors have contacted me to either come and record their Jazz Band or, offer advice on how to do it themselves. Of course I want their business however, I'm always willing to give some pointers using the equipment the director already has to his/her disposal. There are many things to consider when recording a Jazz Ensemble.This article contains some fundamental things to consider before the actual recording takes place.
1] Venue - Is the band recorded in the Band Room? Perhaps an auditorium with a large stage and nice acoustics. Is this a “Live” performance in the gymnasium? The BEST place to record the band is usually a nice auditorium or even an acoustically treated rehearsal facility. If your school has neither of these, then perhaps you can contact a local community center or even other directors in your area who might have a suitable location. Recording “Live” is okay but you only get “One Shot” at each of the tunes.
2] Condition of the Rhythm Section Instruments - A lot of things can be done with the advances in technology to make “bad instruments sound better” however, it is best to have the instruments in “top” playing condition. New drum heads make an average trap set sound as good as the more expensive kits. A set of new strings on the bass (upright or electric) can bring out a much richer tone. Amplifiers can be a problem due to the type of equipment and the many adjustments made by students and director over the course of the year. I suggest using quality equipment that was manufactured for specific electronic instruments. Each amplifier should contain at least (1) 12-inch or 15-inch speaker. The smaller amps sound very thin and “boxy”. Also, beware of the guitarist with effects pedals. If they are using pedals, they really need only two. One with mild chorus and distortion and the other as a “wa-wa” effect. If you have access to a grand piano, congratulations! If you have an upright, you can still get a good sound but it will require a different method of microphone placement. TUNE THE PIANO! If you are using a keyboard, make sure it has quality piano sounds. (Editor's note: Here is my chance for a plug...<grin>...visit with your PMC road rep to get those drum heads, amps, and strings replaced.)
3] Recording Devices - Over the last 20 years, I have recorded groups to cassette, reel to reel, VCR (using a Pulse Code Modulator), DAT (Digital Audio Tape), 2 channel Hard Drive and 24 channel Multi-Track Hard Drives. I personally am not a big fan of recording directly to a PC or laptop due to “glitches” that tend to occur because of all the other operating applications that continuously run on the computer. There are many choices out there in regards to the type of recording device one can use. You must decide what your budget will allow and purchase accordingly. Obviously the 24-channel multi-track unit would be the best. It gives you a lot more freedom when it comes to the final mix. Many schools today have either a 2-channel digital recorder in their band room or one located in their performance hall. Most of these work just fine as long as a qualified person is monitoring the recording. The most important aspect of making a recording is to make sure the final product sounds just like it did on stage. The person with the best “ears” and knowledge of the equipment, will produce the better recording.
There are three different types of 2-channel recorders on the market today. The first is the “stand alone” recorder with built-in microphone inputs, a CD burner and built-in speakers for playback. These devices work okay however in my opinion, the preamps (where the microphones plug in) are weak and quite noisy or “hissy”. The solution to this problem is to incorporate a separate mixer from the microphones to the machine. Most midgrade mixers will have better preamps than the recorder. The second type of recorder is a rack-mountable unit consisting of a 2-channel hard drive along with a built in CD burner. This unit requires a separate mixer because there are no powered inputs on the recorder itself.
Multi-track recorders come in a variety of set-ups such as 4, 8, 12, 16, and 24-channel options. The smaller units (up to 8 channels) have built-in microphone preamps that work quite well and also allow you the possibility of “bouncing” tracks to create up to 16 channels of audio. A 24-channel unit requires at least a 16-channel mixer (with direct outputs) however, a 24-channel mixer would allow you the full capabilities of the machine.
4] Microphones - There are so many choices in today's market with new companies emerging every day. There is also a variety of combinations of different types used in the industry as well. Any of the following recommendations I make are simply that, (recommendations). These are microphones that I have used over the years and feel that would be suitable to most limited budgets. Most PA microphones can be used as recording microphones however, if the budget allows, try to purchase some mics for recording purposes only.
(Example 1) 2 Microphone Set-up: If your situation only allows you to record directly to a 2-channel recorder, I recommend 2 large diaphragm mics with suspension baskets. The mics should be placed approximately 12 inches apart on a single boom stand with a cross bar. If you put the mics in the area in front of the stage, the rhythm section and soloists will not come through as well. The best place to put the stand is right up on stage with the stand placed about 6 feet in front of your 1st tenor sax. If possible, have your horn soloists come to the front of the stage and play towards the mics. This setup will also bring out the piano and guitar. Have the bass player lower their volume slightly to make sure the recording does not sound “boomy”.
(Example 2) Multiple Microphones with Mixer: If you have the capabilities to have a qualified engineer monitor the recording, this method works very well. Please remember, he or she is in control of the entire mix. You will not have the option of adjusting the balance after the recording. Here's where it is very nice to have an individual with good “ears”. Place two large diaphragm microphones on a tall adjustable stand on the floor in front of the stage. These microphones should be approximately 3 to 6 feet above the director's head. Place three cardioid or condenser microphones on boom stands in front of the sax section. You can mic the piano with a single SM58 vocal microphone however it will tend to sound "tinny”. I like to use two condenser mics (one for high and one for low). The base can be incorporated via a direct line from the amplifier itself or with the use of a direct box. Mic the guitar with a SM57 pointed slightly off center to the speaker cone. All soloists can use standard SM58's either in their sections, or place a couple up front.
I like to use a condenser on both vibes and auxiliary percussion. I tend to mic the vibes from the bottom of the instrument. If needed you can place a pair of condenser mics on a boom stand in front of the trombones to bring out a little more of the overall brass sound.
5] Miscellaneous Equipment and Supplies - If the budget is limited from year to year, try to supply your recording closet with quality equipment a little bit at a time. Why spend $1,000 on a recorder and then purchase a $150 mixer? A good console should start at $400 to $600. Buy metal mic stands instead of the cheaper plastic ones. They are more durable and will last a long time. Buy quality microphone cables and teach the students how to properly wrap the cables. Improperly wrapped cables will degrade and stop functioning over time. Purchase at least two quality direct boxes (for bass and electric piano). A good direct box will run about $75.00. Make sure you have a good microphone storage case. The gym bag just won't protect the mics. A good 100' snake is also a good idea if your performance venue does not have inputs built into the stage.
If you have any questions regarding additional information on recording your jazz band, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach me at 636-464-6099. Good luck with your future recording projects. Thank you for all you do for music education!!
Scott E. Harris
3691 Paulina Drive
Arnold , MO 63010
Can we assist you with anything? Please contact your local Palen Music Center school road representative for all of your music education needs.
|Bob Hopkins, Mike Brown
, and Zach Houser
|(417) 862-2700||Burl Williams|
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|Liberty||(816) 792-8301||Ken Crisp and Dick Murdock|
|Broken Arrow||(918) 770-6827||Mackey Amos and Mark VanVranken|
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