November 16, 2020
From live to studio
Recording a jazz band with multiple instruments is no easy task, and different considerations need to be taken when recording live or in the studio. Extra attention to timing, rigging and pre- and post- production are essential to capturing the vintage sound of a multi-instrumental jazz track.
Here, we take a look at a few jazz recording techniques to create the optimal set up for capturing the magic of a genre that defined the 1900s.
Get the Mic right
There are numerous different types of microphones with varying uses. Jazz requires careful thought about which ones to use, given the breadth of instruments that can be involved in a track.
Having a public address (PA) system along with a multitrack recording is usually favoured by jazz engineers when capturing live music as it allows them to capture all the details, replace or add parts, and apply pitch correction.
Recording Jazz Live
A live venue implies the jazz band will be playing in an open area or theatre, so the main concern for a sound engineer is to reduce sound spill.
Using closed mics (such as a ribbon mic) eliminates this issue since they are bi-directional and only respond to the velocity of air particles. With tight front/rear pick up, they block out sound waves from the sides, creating a warm midrange that works well for acoustic instruments.
Combining this with numerous omnidirectional mics positioned left, right, and center, the engineer can capture as much of the room as possible whilst giving prominence to specific instruments at certain times.
Jazz recording techniques
With jazz, closed mics are essential for capturing the piano, drums, guitar and saxophone. The drums can have mics positioned at the toms, kick, hat and snare along with two overheads to ensure the clarity of each layer.
For the piano, there are a number of different setups. Placing a tube condenser mic, for instance, on the inside lid of a piano helps to isolate the sound from other instruments in the set and accentuate the harmonics of a recording. Alternatively, mics can be placed outside the piano; a well-positioned cardioid condenser mic can separate the sound of the piano from other instruments whilst providing a more natural, ambient sound from the room.
When it comes to brass and reed instruments, on the other hand, sound engineers are faced with numerous challenges. For a start, reed instruments emit sound from their bodies as well as their bells. This means that the sound frequency can vary greatly in the area around the player. To record the right sound, therefore, the mic has to be positioned at a suitable distance away from them, and needs to be angled correctly. A clarinet, for example, will bounce sound waves off the ground before being picked, whilst a saxophone will direct sound upwards according to the shape of its bell.
Another consideration is the strength of sound emitted from brass instruments. When three or four brass instruments are playing, the sound can easily overcome weaker elements of a track that are being recorded at the same time. To get around this, brass sections can either be recorded in a separate session or booth, or be rigged at a certain distance away from other instruments so as to not interfere with their sounds.
In the studio
The main difference with recording within a studio is the increased scale for creative freedom when using different kinds of mics and playing with their positioning.
The mics can be placed further away from instruments to allow them to resonate and achieve a more natural sound. This is especially true when using a cardioid ribbon mic for the bass, since it can take the low notes and fundamentals longer to form.
Small diaphragm condenser mics work well as overheads for drums, and give a greater ‘punch’ to the sound. Alternatively, using an array of mics in an iso booth creates varying dynamics and drum sounds that can be used when mixing. For example, if the music has a driven tempo with a lot of cymbal crashes and toms, ribbon mics can soften this. The same mic for a ballad, on the other hand, would be too dark.
Mono over Stereo
Mono, or monophonic sound reproduction, is recorded with just one mic, meaning you hear the same elements in both the right and left speaker. In stereo systems, alternatively, multiple mics are used to clearly identify the location of each instrument in the room.
In 1939, the American jazz record label Blue Note Records was established, and until 1958, recorded everything in mono. After this point, everything was released in stereo – even previous recordings were re-produced. Despite being more accurate, many still favour the mono sound over stereo for its authenticity and association with the golden era of jazz music.
However, the choice is very dependent on the preference of the band, and since there are numerous instruments to be caught in a session, many opt for stereo to catch the clarity and depth of each sound when mixing a jazz track together.
If you’re looking to record jazz, book in a session with Kore Studios. Our veteran producers will work with you to identify your sound, and are equipped with both vintage and modern recording tech to make it happen. Having worked with many well-known bands across multiple genres, we’ll ensure that the authenticity of your jazz is preserved with our recordings.