Recording Brass – Technique, theory and practice.

Mixing, Music - March 28, 2016, at 4:44 pm

Recording brass can be a bit of an undertaking if one isn’t familiar with the process. Brass instruments (Trumpet, Sax, Tuba, Trombone)  can have a massive large dynamic range, and can be very nuanced if the music at hand is jazz. When recording any of the instruments, there are a couple of things to take into account. Here’s a list of how to approach the session:

 

What Genre is the Music being Recorded?:

Will you be recording a slow jazz with a horn as a lead? A funk track with a brass section performing stabs? Its very important to take a second, and have the instrumentalist(s) play through the tune at hand to get a feel for the dynamic range, bursts (in the case of a funk stab), as well as, whether the player(s) have a tendency to move around. The distance, and direction of the mic will play a big part in how the sound is picked up.   Each one of these factors will come into play when moving on to the next section:

 

Microphone Choice: Condenser or Dynamic or Ribbon?:

For me this question really depends on the answer to the first question. If the session is with experienced jazz musicians, more often than not, I will reach for a condenser, as it allows the expressivity of the player to come across much better. If this is the case, I will place the microphone at least 3 feet from the end of the player’s horn. This will allow for longer notes and crescendos without overwhelming the mic and/or preamp.  A Ribbon mic would fit this application as well, with the difference of being less detailed in the high-end due to its characteristic roll-off in the high frequencies. Nonetheless, these will add a very warm tone.

Condensers are a great choice when recording brass sections that are much more rhythmic (ie funky), and less nuanced when it comes to dynamic range.  The placement in this case would be about 1.5 ft from the end of the horn.

 

Compression?

 

Also depends on the content. I’d use it more than anything to tame peaks, however, unless there’s a section where a brass player belts a note, I typically want the brass to be the masters of their own dynamics. Any compression will be for control more than anything.

 

This is a very simple rundown of how we might record brass or a brass section here at the studio. We enjoy recording all sorts of instruments, and typically, the weirder, the better, as it challenges our ability process different types of sounds. We look forward to your recordings!