Recording Rock Like Classical

Could a clever engineer record a rock band with only two microphones like an audiophile jazz or classical recording set up? Has anyone ever tried?

The twenty-some members of Broken Social Scene got me through my morning commute. For an indie rock band that’s enough members to accommodate two full drum kits, a percussion station, a half dozen electric guitars and basses, a horn section, a string section and everybody singing, chanting and clapping. The supergroup has a big sound that isn’t always recorded all that well (the self-titled album from this morning sounded best). Could a band of this size’s sound improve with a different type of recording? Is multi-track, discrete recording always the answer for amplified rock? What if we recorded BSS in an acoustically controlled space with just two mikes?

I’m not a recording engineer, but I imagine you’d have to accomplish the following to successfully record a band like Broken Social Scene with just two mikes:

  • Drums: Both full drum kits and a percussion stand would be set up behind the rest of the instruments. The drum kits would need those clear plastic cages to balance the loudness with rest of the band
  • Guitars: All electric guitars could be split equally on either side of the band, mimicking the usual indie-rock stereo spread. Each guitar would be amped at the musician’s position and volume set to a level not overpowering the other instruments. Acoustic guitars would need to be closer to the mikes to make up for their relative quiet
  • Bass: Electric bass belongs just stage left and slightly in front of the rhythm section. The bass would be amped at musician position just like the guitars.
  • Strings: Set up the string section just like a normal symphony
  • Horns: Again, as in a symphony, opposite the strings
  • Vocals: Solo vocals may be impossible to not mike individually, but our fantasy engineer could pull it off. Choral vocals would be recorded in front of all the other instruments (aren’t they usually in back? You couldn’t hear them beyond the drums).
  • Hall: I’m not sure if a normal symphony hall would work. You may have to make many special and focused acoustic treatments (like the drum cages) to make it work.

Beyond Broken Social Scene, the Polyphonic Spree could really benefit from this type of natural stereo recording. Any giant, wall of sound band really.

When buying this fantasy LP I would anticipate true stereo imaging, with massive depth, perfect balance and placement of instruments and a huge dynamic range.

Maybe Stereophile’s John Atkinson could make it his next recording project.

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