When working with Earth, Wind & Fire, they’re called horns. When I worked with the band Chicago, they’re called the brass – go figure. Regardless, recording horns in the studio can be a challenge. Like all good sounding recordings you start with the room the musicians are in. After all, the room will be part of the sound of the instrument as notes make there way from the trumpets, trombones or saxes to your microphone. Remember that horn players can really produce some serious volume depending on the track and arrangement type.
Some players will want to stand while playing while others will want to sit. Just make sure you arrange your recording space so that it’s nice and comfortable for the players. Usually I’ll put a few gobo’s around along with a nice big rug on the floor. Also, be aware that squeezing in the chairs, the microphones on their stands along with music stands can be quite a challenge. You have to get creative here, but it’s best to check with the players if the setup is comfortable for them. It’s also a good idea to give the conductor or arranger his own talkback mic as he will be positioned in front of the players. From my experience, if you’re working on a track where the players are really blowin’, your horn mic’s gain will be potted way down, so you won’t be able to hear your arranger through those horn mic’s that may be only a few feet away.
So, let’s talk microphones. Whatever you do, whatever you may think, if you are going to be recording horns in a studio I highly recommend using Royer microphones. At least on the trumpets. They are absolutely incredible. They are ribbon mic’s that are warm and fat and can handle very high SPL. Drop these on your trumpets, maybe a 414, 89 or TLM 170 on the rest of your section and you’re in business.
Remember to keep the mic’s back a good foot or two to get some air between the bell of the horns and the mic (this is where having a good room comes into play) as the farther back you pull the mic’s from the instrument the more room sound will be in your recording – which is not necessarily a bad thing. Depending on the production, you may want a tighter sound (mic’s a little closer) vs. a little wider sound with the mic’s further back. Whatever you do – don’t get them too close!
So if you’re calling them horns or brass, you can’t go wrong with a couple of Royer 121’s a good sounding room and of course a great arrang