Orchestra recording session experience

Recording session

I recently participated in an orchestral recording session.  I’ve done a couple before with WASO and the ABC, but this time still struck me as a very unusual experience.  

So after signing in, I walk into the studio.  It’s basically a really large room with very high ceilings, dimly lit and set up for a full symphony orchestra.  But one major difference is the recording equipment.  There are microphones mounted from stands everywhere.  There are headphones and headphone volume controls on every stand.  There are wires running everywhere on the ground.  There are wires from the lights on the stands.  There are extra people everywhere for sound, etc.   Yep, it’s a major spaghetti and I’m glad I’m not in charge of the sound engineering!

As you may have seen on DVD extras, the conductor has a large video monitor in front of him with the movie footage being played, and probably a video link to the sound control room.

So I find my desk, introduce myself to my desk partner, get out the violin, tune up, turn off my iPhone, put on the single sided headphone.

And then it’s go.


I think every take is recorded.  Even the very first one before we’ve even rehearsed.  The pressure is on.  From doing recordings at home, I know how sensitive the mics are – they will be picking up EVERYTHING – every wrong note, every mis-timing, every paper rustle.

Orchestral playing is an unusual job.  It’s a lonely individual pursuit where you have to perform well yourself. You don’t really talk to the people you’re working with at all when rehearsing/performing.  Yet, you have to play with the others in your section like a single entity.  

In a recording session, that’s even harder as you’re wearing a headphone playing a click track – basically a metronome so that the orchestra and the conductor stays exactly in time with the movie.  And so the conflict – do you play with the click, with the section, with the rest of the orchestra or the conductor?  Ideally, all of the above!

After it was all over, I look back and can categorise the two things you do most at a recording session are: 

1) Sit in absolute silence (when other sections are recording, or if you’ve got rests)

2) Repeatedly play the same part over and over until it’s as perfect as time permits

It almost feels like being used and not very individualistic – either play exactly the same as everyone else in your section, or sit in silence.   I find it ironic that there is a lack of artistic individuality in this artistic pursuit!

Quite different to an office environment where…  I sit in front of a computer in silence for hours at a time 🙂   But at least I can get up and move about, am doing my own set of tasks that are different to everyone else, bounce ideas off others, draw upon references when needed, have meetings where we talk and collaborate, innovate…

And so it all finished, I packed up, caught up with some old friends, waited for my lift..  and now I can’t wait for the next phone call…


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