Recording a grand piano and vocals at the same time

Recording a grand piano is quite an art in itself. So many techniques, opinions, ideas and contradicting information out there.

I was faced by this challenge as part as an EP production for a wonderful duo “Penniless Cove“.

Penniless Cove

Penniless Cove

The challenge is to capture the piano in the most natural way, but in this case it was more complicated because the singer (Phoebe Osborne) was performing her vocals at the same time. I found a great article by Mike Senior (SOS Jan.2008), which investigates many recording techniques for piano and did a comprehensive job, testing out different methods and along with some great audio examples you can really hear the differences mic placements could make on your results.

    After working through the whole article I felt more confidence to go ahead and record the duo using the new tools I discovered. I also got some advice from my good friend and brilliant producer Ori Winokur.

Recording piano at Goldsmiths university

Goldsmiths university studio

The piano we recorded is the in house Yamaha diskclavier concert piano of the music department at Goldsmiths University (London). It sounds great (and also has midi capabilities, which I didn’t use this time).  I used a spaced pair of vintage Neuman U87‘s about 30cm above the strings, (phantom powered from a TLAudio stereo compressor) a stereo pair of AKG451 condensers outside the piano, an AKG D112 (Usually a bass drum mic) below the piano to capture the bass frequencies, and for the vocals I used a great Electrovoice PL-20 Dynamic mic, which was said to have been used for Stevie wonder and Thom Yorke’s vocals..(Not gonna argue with that).

Penniless-cove at the studio (VIDEO)

Neuman U87

Spaced pair Neuman U87

Electrovoice Pl-20

Electrovoice Pl-20 for vocals

I used the music stand as a shield for the vocal mic so it wouldn’t pick up too much piano., and it seemed to do the trick quite well. The singer did a great job performing the songs and we managed to get through four songs in only three hours and plenty of takes to choose from.

AKG 451 on Piano

AKG 451 from outside piano

AKG D112 below the piano

AKG D112 below the piano

Recording music live, naturally and without too many editing tricks is a dying art, so I was happy to go back to it and keep it alive. Next week we will make another piano session, recreating the first one and cutting a few more tracks. Then it’s on to the Cello parts, melodica and possibly some violin as well.

TLAudio Compressor

TLAudio Compressor (Second from top)

I’d like to thank Mike Senior for the great article and the nice slutz at gearslutz who gave their own tips on recording piano and vocals at the same time.

Penniless cove will release their new EP in spring 2012. Visit their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter.

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