Acoustic Recording

Marlowe Studios provides acoustic recording services as well as audio mastering/post-production for video and film in stereo and 5.1 surround.

Q: What is acoustic recording and how does it differ from studio recording?

Quite often when someone thinks of recording a CD, an image of musicians isolated behind the control room glass of a recoding studio comes to mind. In a typical recording studio microphones are placed in close proximity to instruments and the resulting sounds processed through a myriad of electronic and digital effects such as equalizers, compressors and reverbs to mention a just few. By emphasizing the creation, altering and mixing of recorded sound, a production completed in a typical recording studio will, in many cases only vaguely resemble the original sound of instruments used for the recording.

What I describe as acoustic recording places an emphasis on capturing the performance of an ensemble rather than creating or altering the sound. Usually microphones are placed in stereo pairs further away from a sound source, with the intent of recording the room or area around the performers to produce a recording that accurately recreates the true sound of the ensemble.

In some cases, pop or commercial recording for example, studio recording is preferable to acoustic recording. But for many jazz, classical or acoustic ensembles where the musical continuity, ensemble and context are important, an acoustic style recording provides distinct advantages. Compared to studio recordings, acoustic recordings create a more natural, open, and ambient sound preferred in audiophile recordings. Recording engineers who specialize in acoustic recording are familiar with acoustic instruments and what they should sound like. Recording engineers in commercial recording studios typically come from an electronic music background and can have little experience with hearing the sound of, for example, an English horn, a lute or a baritone saxophone. In acoustic recording the musicians perform with an environment, setup and process they are accustomed to, rather than the isolated, confined and dry setting of a recording studio.

Q: Why should I use a professional audio engineer for my recording?

Microphones & Equipment – Referred to as the “front end” of the recording process, a good quality microphone can truly make or break a recording. Nothing will have as strong an impact on recording quality. Recordings produced using inferior mics will lack the depth and detail that a professional microphone can create. One of the realities of audio engineering is that good quality microphones and recording equipment are expensive – in short you get what you pay for. In all likelihood, a musician embarking on a recording project would be unwilling to pay $2,000 or more for a microphone to use on a single project, not to mention the cost of preamps, digital converters, recorders, and cabling. For the professional audio engineer, using and maintaining high quality equipment is part of doing business and they usually strive to get the best they can lay their hands on.

Ears – A professional audio engineer knows what to listen for. In many cases even the best-trained musician may not have developed the ability to hear production problems in a recording like noise floor, production thumps, ground hums, or phase interactions. A professional audio engineer is experienced in hearing and dealing with the technical sound of a recording, can avoid production problems, and knows how to correct them when they do arise.

Time & Efficiency – Having someone on a project dedicated to and experienced in the technical production of a recording allows the performers to work efficiently, effectively and comfortably. The musicians can concentrate on making music, allowing them to complete their project with less difficulty.

Q: How much time will it take to complete my recording?

It depends. The workflow of a recording project is very individual and can be affected by many factors. I have worked with performers who are well prepared and experienced, who have the ability to capture a performance they are happy with in one or two takes. I have also worked with equally fine musicians who prefer to record ten times as many takes in an attempt to improve on their performance or try to capture something special. Sometimes this approach is successful; sometimes it’s a waste of time and money. One of the questions you should ask yourself before recording is, as I like to put it, “how fine do you want to set the filter?”