I would like to record Rachmaninoff's 2nd piano concerto, accompanied by the Stuttgart Symphony orchestra (Music Minus One CD). The setting is our parlor in an antebellum Virginia plantation home. The dimensions of the room are 18'wide, 24' long and 12' high. There is a large bay window and two other windows (9'high, 4' wide), three doors, a marble fireplace and a wide-plank heart-pine floor. The living room is furnished with several sofas, easy chairs, chests, small occasional tables and an Indian carpet. The acoustics are excellent.

The piano is located against the inner wall and will be "the star" of the show, a vintage 9' Bechstein concert grand (1896) that has undergone a meticulous 21st century restoration. Its dramatic base register, the finest I have ever heard, will tear your heart out. This is the same model as Rachmaninoff's personal piano currently displayed in The Museum of Vano Sarajishvili, Tbilisi State Conservatoire, Georgia.

Because Bechstein pianos had to inform Rachmaninoff's Russian compositions, including Rach II, I would like to achieve the best sound reproduction possible and set our Bechstein afloat on Youtube for everyone to hear and enjoy the same reverberations that captured Rachmaninoff's imagination.

However, I am a total novice in sound recording. To produce audio recordings for family, I have been using two pencil microphones directed respectively to the base and treble sections of the piano near its rim (lid fully opened) and a Z2 hand-held recorder. Obviously, we are now taking a more serious turn that will demand the best possible sound engineering possible on a reasonable budget.

Here are the problems:

  1. How do we get the best out of the Bechstein? How many speakers are needed, what kind and where to place them? I would like to keep it as simple as possible, so it will not require a mixer to manage them.
  2. How do we best pick up the orchestra which will be playing from two stereo speakers on either side of the room?
  3. For dialogue, will I need a separate lapel mike, or can the voice be picked up from one of the existing microphones?
  4. What would be the best semi-pro camcorder to buy (it would need to accommodate two XRL couplings)?
    1. Where is the best place to get recording advice?
    2. Should I give up the idea of recording myself (which provides flexibility and ongoing use) and simply have it done professionally?
  • Imagine if you were an expert at sound recording and a novice at playing the piano. What would you do? Perhaps you would spend 10+ years practicing piano and then play it and record it yourself, or maybe you would find a great pianist so you could be confident of capturing a great performance. I posed that hypothetical because learning to record is just as demanding as learning to play an instrument. It's not as simple as getting some pointers online and then making a great recording. If you want it to sound its best, you'll have to find an experienced recordist to handle that part. – Todd Wilcox Oct 13 '17 at 11:24
  • Gary - please read our tour and How to Ask pages to understand why this post has been put on hold. 1) opinion based questions are not a good fit here 2) hardware recommendations are off topic, generally, and 3) please just ask 1 question, not multiple ones. – Doktor Mayhem Oct 16 '17 at 13:46

If you are serious about the audio quality, IMO you most definitely need a mixer.

The Music Minus 1 CD presumably has been produced with the ambience and reverberation of the hall where it was made. Playing that back and re-recording it in a different room (especially one that may have its own acoustical problems) will most likely end up sounding like a poor quality copy of the original.

Since two plays of a CD using the same player are "guaranteed" to be perfectly synchronized, personally I would make two takes of this: one to record the video, not bothering too much about the audio quality, and a second one to record the piano only, with the performer listening to the CD through headphones. You don't need to "re-record" the CD - just rip the audio from it!

Unless the performer is indulging in a lot of rubato, there should be no serious problems syncing the audio and video streams - and you can probably "hide" any problems by using a video shot from an angle that doesn't actually show the performer's hands. That might mean you need two video cameras, of course, or you could shoot multiple takes of any problem sections.

I would attempt to get the room as acoustically "dead" as possible for the audio recording the piano, and then add reverb and equalization to match the orchestra environment as closely as possible. Cover all the walls and floor with the thickest blankets (or better, duvets and pillows) available. If the location is quiet enough, opening all the windows would be more effective than covering them the same way as the walls - glass is an excellent sound reflector!

Note: professional music recordings on location are often made in the middle of the night, to avoid "random noises" from the environment.

From the dimensions you give, the room is really too small to record a concert grand piano well, and the dimensions (exactly in the proportion of 2:3:4) are to say the least "unfortunate". Hence the strategy eliminate as much of the room ambience as possible in the recording itself, and replacing it with something that sounds better at the mixing stage.

This approach would also avoid any problems in balancing the sound level of the orchestra and piano, which is unlikely to "just work out OK" if you positions the mike(s) to record the piano sound and hope they will pick up the orchestra.

All this effort (and using equipment you don't own and don't have any experience of using) might suggest you get some professional help. Considering the cost of "doing it right", it would certainly be worth getting a quote, and advice, from a recording engineer who is used to working on location.

An alternative plan would be to move the piano to a proper recording studio rather than attempt to fix the acoustics of your room. Of course you can record the video anywhere you like, since its audio track won't be used except as a guide for syncing the other audio.

Finally, recording the "dialogue" is a completely separate issue - there is no point making things even harder by trying to capture everything "all in one take." Whether you use a lapel mike, or an "old school" huge ribbon mike (see http://www.coutant.org/bbc/ for lots of images, and technical details) on a stand with an enormous wind shield, is entirely up to you!

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