Recording - May 2018 - 30

BY
BILL STUNT

RECORDING

HORNS
...by which we really mean brass and woodwinds!

I

have plenty of chances to hone my recording chops for guitars, keyboards,
and vocals. "Horn" (brass and woodwind instrument) sessions come up far
less often, and that's a shame. There is something very satisfying about capturing the harmonically rich and resonant sound of these instruments.
Horns can be incredibly expressive; on driving uptempo tunes, they can take
the sound over the top, and on ballads they can tear your heart out. With a little
care to the particulars of the various instruments and attention to the feel of the
tune, recording horns is fairly straightforward-it's really not that difficult to get
a very satisfying recording.
Once the player and instrument are on the mark, mic selection and placement
are the two most critical factors for a good recording. I'm going to show you
some techniques that have worked for me over the years.

The instruments

While there are many different brass and woodwind instruments,
I'm going to focus on the most common ones you'll run into while
recording pop, rock, soul, R&B, jazz, and blues. For brass, that means
trumpet first and foremost, then trombone and occasionally tuba. For
woodwinds, it's saxophones-tenor, alto, baritone and occasional
soprano-and occasionally a flute rears its delicate little head.
With brass instruments, the sound is created by buzzing lips into
a mouthpiece and fingering valves (or working the slide in the case
of the trombone) to change pitch. The bulk of the sound comes from
the bell and projects out in the direction that it is pointed.
The sound from woodwinds is generated by either vibrating
a reed (or reeds in the case of instruments like the oboe or
bassoon) or by blowing across the top of a hole, as is the case
with the flute. That sound travels and resonates throughout the
length of the body of the instrument. Pitch is created by opening
and closing (with fingers or keys) the holes that extend from the
mouthpiece to the the bell.
Woodwind instruments have a bell as well, but sound
emanates essentially from the entire instrument, especially the
open holes. The flute's sound comes from the holes and from
the mouthpiece (attack and breath noises).

Mic selection

If your mic locker cabinet is a little thin in terms of variety,
don't fret too much. You can get a decent sound from brass
and woodwinds with just about any mic. If you position it
carefully, even a good old Shure SM57 or 58 (or similar mics
from many other companies) will work fine.
A well-positioned dynamic microphone will get you a fairly neutral
brass sound, which is not a bad thing. As a bonus, a dynamic mic
can easily manage the high SPL that brass instruments can put out.
30

RECORDING May 2018

That said, other mic types are more sensitive and tonally
sophisticated, and can add richness to your recording. My
first call for brass is usually a ribbon mic-I love the open,
natural sound that a ribbon can provide.
The typically smooth top end of a ribbon mic can tame some of the
harsh harmonics that a brass instrument can generate. They can also
help bring out the sound of the room, thanks to their figure-8 pattern.
Tube condenser microphones can warm up the sound of an
overly bright or brassy horn as well. In my experience, they work
equally well on intimate ballads and on tunes with a lot of
dynamics and drive. For the former, the warmth and roundness of
a tube mic can be appealing. On the latter, a little tube-generated
harmonic enhancement and compression can add excitement.
Large-capsule solid-state condenser mics can certainly also be
used effectively. These often have a selectable polar pickup pattern,
which can be very useful for dialing in rich ambience or dialing
out unwanted bleed from adjacent instruments-see below.
In a tight recording environment where bleed is a real issue, you
can even clip a lavalier mic on or close to the edge of the bell. You
can buy specially-designed mic clips for just this purpose. I made
one out of a padded clip and a piece of stiff but flexible electrical
wire-see Figure 1, here clipped to the bell of a tenor saxophone.
I have a small collection of cardioid and omni lav mics. For
me, in this application, the cardioids perform the best. This is
not one of my preferred options, but sometimes the situation
demands compromise. On the other hand, I haven't tried the
DPA 4099, a dedicated clip-on instrument mic that many
engineers (like our Paul Vnuk Jr.) swear by.

Placement

No matter what mic you choose, placement is critical to
ensure a musically pleasing result.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recording - May 2018

Contents
Recording - May 2018 - Intro
Recording - May 2018 - Cover1
Recording - May 2018 - Cover2
Recording - May 2018 - 1
Recording - May 2018 - 2
Recording - May 2018 - 3
Recording - May 2018 - 4
Recording - May 2018 - 5
Recording - May 2018 - Contents
Recording - May 2018 - 7
Recording - May 2018 - 8
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Recording - May 2018 - Cover3
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