Flip Flops in the Windy City: Chicago Recording Company

We have three recording sessions this semester at the Chicago Recording Company.  These guys are the real deal– with industry standard equipment, facilities, and engineers.  We learn a tremendous amount from essentially playing in a major league stadium at CRC.  Want to see how cool this place is? …

CRC booth

Here is CRC’s website.  If you want to know bare-bones facts about the place, read up there.  I will tell you about the personal and awesome experiences we’ve had there.

We recorded a modestly sized ensemble: 3 violin I, 3 violin II, 2 viola, 2 cello, 1 bass, 1 flute, 1 oboe, 1 clarinet, 1 bassoon, 1 french horn, and 1 harp.  CRC has a big enough space that we were able to do a lot of sound isolation.  When we mix our music, we usually rely heavily on the stereo-paired room microphones.  Those are the two microphones that are in front of all the players and are most accurately picking up the sound of all the instruments playing together.  In order to preserve quality, we have to separate the sections.  So we put the string ensemble in one room with the conductor…

Steven Delong, conductor extraordinaire

…the wind ensemble in another room…


…and the french horn and harp in their own smaller rooms:

French horn & harp

Separating the sections like this allows for purity of both the close mics & room mics, but it also gives us flexibility when editing takes.  If the harpist or french horn make a mistake on what would have been a perfect string track, we can still use that string take because they are completely isolated.  I ended up using this creatively and had the harpist play two different takes during my time.  One take was what I wrote, and the other I told her to just vamp (improvise), playing whatever came naturally to her.  Between the two takes, I’ll have an awesome harp part.  Plus, I’ll get a first-hand peek into how the harpist likes to play.

Conducing an orchestra is hard.  Conducting an orchestra with a click track and an engineer in your ear is harder.  Conducing an orchestra in 4 different rooms is even harder.  It was important to give my horn player a clear cue, since he had roughly 40 measures of rest before his first entrance.  And I literally couldn’t see him!    It was hard enough cuing the harpist 60 feet away through two different plates of sound-proof glass.

The equipment at CRC is legit.  Below are some photos.  I could do an entire blog post about each piece of outboard gear in the photo, so just be impressed by all the knobs and dials and buttons…

Outboard gear

Outboard gear

The space sounds amazing as well.  Even when mixing, we didn’t have to add that much reverb.  This is great, because nothing sounds better than the real thing:

Lots of microphones...

Steinway piano

I’m still mixing my cue from last Saturday.  For now, here is the video from our first session. More to come!