162: Capture The Soulful Melodies Of Your Piano: Pro Tips for Crafting Mesmerizing Recordings With Acoustic Or Virtual Pianos

162: Things You Need To Consider When Recording Piano

In this episode we’re taking a dive into something we don’t talk about often… how to record a piano.

Mark sent us a message asking if we could talk more about recording piano. Solo piano, piano with vocals and sparse mixes generally.

Despite working in heavier genres a lot, both Malcom and I have years of experience playing, recording and mixing pianos so we’re stoked to be answering Mark’s question on this episode.


Book a free feedback call with Benedikt, the host of the show!

We’re discussing these important things to consider when capturing a piano:

  • Microphone choice
  • Microphone placement
  • Should you use a real piano or is a virtual MIDI instrument enough?
  • What kind of piano should you use? Grand? Upright? Does it matter?
  • How important is the room and do you have to capture it with dedicated room mics?
  • Is your piano actually in tune and ready to be recorded?
  • How do you get a piano to sit well in the mix?
  • What makes a piano sound intimate and soulful? And how do you capture those details?

Pianos aren’t going anywhere and maybe it’s the component that’s missing from your arrangement that you hadn’t considered.

Or maybe you’re a singer songwriter that works exclusively on piano, in this case you’ve got to take recording your instrument very seriously. It has nowhere to hide!

We cover all of this and more in this episode. 

Let's go!


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Automatic Episode Transcript — Please excuse any errors, not reviewed for accuracy (click for full transcript)

TSRB 162 - Automatic Episode Transcript - Please excuse any errors, not reviewed for accuracy

Benedikt: Hello and welcome to the Self Recording Band podcast. I'm your host, Benedictine, and today we're gonna talk about something we don't talk about as often, and that is piano recording and like sparse arrangements and, um, piano, solo piano, piano plus vocals, you know, these types of songs. Um, and piano recording in general, I'd say. And we got a listener question. This was the, the reason for this episode. And we found it really interesting because Mark sent us, um, a message saying that he loves the podcast. So thank you, mark for listening. And he was asking, or he was basically saying he would love to hear more about solo piano or piano and vocals, spars mix types type of stuff on future episodes. And both Malcolm and I have done some of that and can definitely share, uh, something about it. And we haven't really talked about it on the episode. So I'm stoked to do it this time. And as always, I'm not doing it alone. I'm here with my friend and co-host, Malcolm Owen Flatt. Hello, Malcolm. How are you?

Malcom: Hey everyone. I'm good, Benny. It's great to see you, man. I did my first solo episode on this podcast last week. I'm pretty sure if that's the way these come out. Uh, so it was super weird,

Benedikt: Yep. Was it

Malcom: I missed you, man.

Benedikt: Yeah, totally. Me too. Like, me too. Uh, yeah. It wasn't, wasn't doable for me last week, but, uh, fortunately you did one, so, but I mean, you are used to doing the YouTube thing, so it should,

Malcom: Yeah. It, it, it was fine, but it's, it's always funner with, with you buddy. Um, Ned, I had a, I had a good little musical week. Uh, well, like I didn't get to catch up with you about, um, cuz we didn't get to podcast last week, but I, I got back together with my, like, my really good buddy, um, Luke, he was the drummer and my first like, real band, uh, when I was in like high school, you know, I joined this like hardcore metal band called Messiahs and Fiction.

We were like, like Lama God's like the closest comparison I

Benedikt: I always forget about that, but you told me before. Yeah. Yeah. I always

Malcom: We, we were. F full on metal. But yeah, we, we got hung out and uh, we just like cleared out his garage, set up a jam space and then tried to relearn those songs and it was so fun. . Um, cuz I haven't like, had to play metal since then, since I was like, probably, I bet I was 18 when I left that band or something. Um, so it's been a while. It was a workout. So much fun getting like that loud and distorted again. Such a good time.

Benedikt: That sounds awesome, but it, it was it a one time thing? It's like,

Malcom: Uh, we're, we're gonna keep jamming. I don't know if we're gonna keep jamming the, the metal stuff or, or what, but it's just, uh, yeah, we're both feeling like it's fun to be jamming music right now, just recreationally. Um, so, yeah. We'll, we'll be jamming, but there's, I don't think the band's getting back together,

Benedikt: Yeah. No

Malcom: Um, but, you know, the, the, the cool thing was, Is that we found, um, cause we couldn't remember the songs, all of them, you know, like there was a couple that we kind of could fake our way through. Like the ones that we had recorded onto the little EP we made, I was able to like, you know, get those back in like through playing it, it all came back. But there was all these other songs and they just kind of had ceased to exist because we couldn't remember how they went or like beyond the first riff usually, uh, and how to play them. And it was like, oh that's really sad. Cause we spent so much time on these songs. I remember liking them, but I just don't know what they are anymore. Um, but then we went digging through some old camcorder footage he had and found this show of, we did like a full set we did at a show we put on at like the hall in town. And it was so awesome cause we were able to like re-trigger. Just hearing it, we were able to like be like, oh, I remember the song Start to finish pretty much, and, and relearn it. It was, it's like, it's so important to document, even if it is just like a crappy camcorder recording the songs that your band has, because years from now, if you don't, if you're not into that band anymore and you haven't recorded them, you will forget. Even though it feels like that's impossible cause you play out all the time right now. it, they, they go away. So I'm so glad we found those, like that video recording because it just like brought all those songs back. So now we're trying to relearn them so that we can record them a little bit better

Benedikt: Yeah.

Malcom: that camcorder audio and, and kind of have them, uh, archived away.

Benedikt: Awesome. Yeah, I mean there's, you know, that that's the reason why I love the banter because it's some, it's always unexpected and it's fun to listen to, but also there's always some piece of advice actually in there, which is like, in this case, always the, you know, do these recordings, capture your, your band somehow, even if it's just a crappy recording. You never know once when you, when you need it. And, um, so yeah, I love that, love that story. Really cool. So, but by the way, people have told us, the people have spoken, um, we, I apologized like two episodes ago, so for our banter, whereas I said like, it's too long and I still think it was too long sometimes. So we add the little skip button on YouTube, but since then, I don't know how many people reached out to me. It's like 20 plus people or so who sent me like dms and, and emails and stuff. And then also a thread in the community who were like, Leave the banter alone, you know, definitely keep it in there and we love it.

And the skip button will do for those who don't like it. So people have spoken banter will stay

Malcom: We'll try and keep it on topic as much as possible,

Benedikt: yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But wait, man, that's so cool. I love that you did that. You get, did get to do that. And um, yeah, every once in a while, you know, of course the band probably won't get together again, but like every once in a while doing that is awesome.

Malcom: Oh yeah, so fun. It, it was also really cool because, you know, you, you have your good shows through your life, the ones that you remember. And like, I think I was probably 16 in this video and I remember it being the craziest show ever. There was like, like three or 400 people all, they just show and they're losing their minds.

And that's how I remembered it. And it actually was that way,

Benedikt: Yeah. Of, of

Malcom: like having it captured, it was like, Hey, that, that really happened. It was chaos. Um, , there was ambulances and stuff that had to show up. It was just like a, a total mess. , such a good time.

Benedikt: To totally. By the way, I'm gonna try something now. People, if you are watching this on YouTube, lemme see if that works. I can promise anything, but maybe it works if you're watching on YouTube. Can you guys see this?

Malcom: That's Bander Rascals

Benedikt: yeah, that's better Rascals. But I still wanted to show you this because I, I found this earlier when I searched for you for Malcolm's YouTube channel, and I found the long hair, Malcolm picture here, and I just wanted to share it now that he was talking about the metal band. So this is Malcolm with long hair. Everybody, if you wanna watch this, like go to YouTube and watch the episode there. Uh, . I think it's pretty cool. Yeah. Uh,

Malcom: bet you if you can find photos from that, that metal show. I had a full on Mohawk, like Shave

Benedikt: Really? Oh God, that's

Malcom: Gelled

Benedikt: what we needed, That's what we would, that's what we need. Yeah. So what was the band called actually? Is that footage from, like, can, can you actually find that

Malcom: I mean, that footage is not up there. I, uh, , I just did a search earlier cause we were looking, trying to find recordings and there's like the worst show, like the opposite of what I just described, where there's like hundreds of people screaming and losing their minds. There's one there, it's like there's zero people and we're sucking

Benedikt: yeah, yeah.

Malcom: that's on YouTube.

Um, but uh, the band was called Messiahs and Fiction and the songs aren't up on Spotify or anything. We gotta fix that. Get 'em out there,

Benedikt: Yeah, you have to, man. So yeah, that sounds awesome. Like I had a similar thing actually on the weekend. Um, we, we, because we played a show again, and we don't do that very, very often, but we did now, uh, and this time it worked because the last couple of ones like got canceled and the, and everything. But now we played one. Next Saturday we have another one, and then in May we have another one, which is kind of spectacular for us, that we play that often.

Malcom: Yep. Plug your band name.

Benedikt: Uh, the band is called Farewell Signs. Farewell Signs. Uh, it's a hardcore punk band sort of. And, um, we are, we are, uh, releasing a record in early summer, I think in June, um, on two, two small labels here in Germany. And there's gonna be vinyl, there's gonna be a dig digital version, of course, and it's.

Malcom: That's awesome,

Benedikt: It's such a cool project. Like we have three eps, like two are already out, the next one is coming out, and then those eps get put together to form the album. And there's a concept like the artworks and the titles of the eps, and then the title of the actual, um, lp and all of that is like one piece of art that slowly comes together. Really, really cool. So yeah, I, I just, I'd just love to be a part of that. There's a lot of work in the background and we haven't shared as much of it, um, as we should have probably, but like, it's just a passion project, you know, it's just like one piece of art that we want to bring to life. And, and now it's turns into more of an active band again because uh, yeah. You know, like, it always is. You, you put some work into it and it, it, it's fun and then you wanna make sure that people actually hear it. So as much as we always said to ourselves, we don't have time for this, and this will never be a real sort of active band and all of that, and, you know, now we're starting book and shows and all of that.


Malcom: Ah, I'm glad you're having fun though. That's, that's great.

Benedikt: Totally. So we played a show yesterday that was, oh, like on Saturday. That was awesome. Small packed venue. Um, about a hundred people or so, but like, very small room, sweaty loud, the way a Har crew show has to be. It's super fun. Yeah. Perfect. And, and the next week is gonna be probably like, double that, I think, but still like, like packed. So, yeah. Love that.

Malcom: Sweet dude.

Benedikt: Yeah.

Malcom: Well, hardcore punk and rock, they're heavy metal, not what we're talking about today, but they are music at least. So , you gotta give us points for a music related bander. Guys, at least we didn't talk about trail running for 20 minutes.

Benedikt: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. No, we didn't. So, um, back to the actual topic, piano recording. Let's, let's start by saying, or I wanna start by saying that I, that's something I many, a lot of people maybe don't know. I've been playing in punk rock and loud bands and stuff like that all the time. Uh, my entire, like adult life and like teenage life, but, I've always played the piano as well. That was the first instrument that I learned. I started playing with at like five or so, and then I had actual lessons until I was, uh, 14, 15 or something. Then I thought like, it's like the boring, most boring thing in the world, and I just wanna be in punk bands and play the guitar. But then later, or like bass and, but then later I got back to playing piano and, and I'm so grateful that I learned it and that because that was the foundation for everything else. I was only able to teach myself the guitar and every, and like all the other instruments and everything I do because I had this basic music knowledge and, and the ability to play piano. And I'm telling you this because I've always played the piano and, and I know that instrument very well. I've, of course also experimented with recording it a lot, and I've done quite a few projects with other people too. So I know the instrument pretty well and I have my like go-tos and techniques that. I like to use and that's why I can, I think I can offer advice on this, on this topic, although most of the music I work on now is like heavier stuff. But I definitely have a, a background there and, and I love to listen to that type of music too. I mean, I have loud music all the time when I'm working and, and in my free time I listen to a lot of quiet stuff, if I'm honest. So I don't know about you, man. How much experience do you have with like classical piano or, um, you know, piano project can be pop projects too, but like the, the sparse type of, of piano and vocals thing.

Malcom: Totally. So , ironically, after leaving that metal band, the next band that I focused on was a band called Sound and Science, and it was piano dominant. Like our, our, our lead singer played piano, so kind of like an early cold play esque style where the piano was very per. Prominent. So there was a lot of piano in my life at that point. I also took piano lessons and, and play a little piano. Um, not, not as much as you do, but, um, I, I, it's something that I have played. Um, and then the studio that I worked at and got my internship at, they got me started as longtime listeners of the, of this podcast would be aware at the wood shop recording studio. There was, uh, there was a piano in that room and there was a lot of like folk and, and software recording and country rock recordings going on there that did feature piano as well. Um, so there was a lot of that happening. And then on the. Flip side, going away from kind of the rooty piano, honky-tonk stuff. I also have experience recording kind of ensembles and orchestras, uh, for theater recordings and stuff like that where there's like a grand piano on the stage, for example. So kind of plenty of experience recording piano, I would say. I think I've been pretty lucky to get in a, a room with an ice piano numerous times. Um, they're really fun to record. They're such amazing sounding instruments and, uh, specifically why we thought this would be interesting was. It's really hard to, to fill up a mix with one or two instruments, or even three compared to, uh, what we normally talk about on this podcast where we're talking about drums, bass, guitar, and like all of these super loud, uh, consistent, like kind of statically dynamic instruments, squeezing two speakers. It's like the total opposite scenario when you are dealing with a piano, which is very transient, uh, and not a lot of sustain. And, and we don't have like distortion or, or anything to help help us. Uh, it, it's a, it's a really challenging situation and if you're used to the opposite being like, you know, a, a dense rock mix, you're gonna feel really lost when you get that song that is like a sparse piano arrangement. So I think we could talk about techniques for recording piano, and we could talk about techniques for, for figuring out how to approach a production that is sparse as well.

Benedikt: Yes. So, yeah, that's part, that's part of the reason why, uh oh, like part of the, what, what's so interesting about it is that it's actually so that it can be so hard to mix something like that and to record it properly. The other part that I think is interesting and relevant for people is, and that, that's a question I have for you, Malcolm, is can you record a piano? Without access to a piano, like how good are like virtual pianos and do you even know? Do, do you even need to know how to record one properly? Do you, do you, is it just about how to treat it in the mix because we all have good samples, or is it worth talking about how to capture one and, and like, what, what's your experience there? Has, has most of the productions you've done, have they been done on like actual pianos or do you use a lot of virtual instruments too? And, and what should people do? Because I, I just assume that the majority of people listening to this, that find who find this topic interesting. They will probably work with digital pianos, I think.

Malcom: Yeah. And, and that's, that's fine. Um, I would say that if there's any virtual instrument that sounds, uh, Real, like, like the, the best case scenario for a virtual instrument sounding authentic is a piano virtual instrument. I think that's the technology that's done the best. Um, like drums have obviously come a really far away recently, but I think pianos are like, there's some really fantastic sounding piano native instruments, uh, packs and, and other ones I'm sure as well. That said, I would always want to try and get it from a real piano. I think there, there is, there's still something like different about that to me, um, in how it sounds, but also in how it's played , if that makes sense. Um, like the, the a p a piano player is gonna be able to give you a better performance on a real piano, um, like every time. I think so. That's a little bit of thing is just how it tracks. But also there, there's like, there's just. It just sounds more real still now it's okay. Like I don't want our listeners to be like, oh, I gotta, I gotta redo my pianos and, and scrap this because not everybody has access to a piano. So that's, that's one reason to use a virtual instrument piano. Um, not everybody has access to an in-tune piano because your piano has to be tuned and that's expensive and hard to maintain. Um, and not everybody has access to a room that sounds good with a piano either. So it's not necessarily about having a piano, it's about having a piano in an environment that suits what you're trying to do and sounds correct. Um, because much like drums, the room plays a huge role in how the piano actually sounds. So if you put it into a little boxy room, it's gonna sound like a piano in a little boxy room. Um, and if you put it in a theater, it's gonna sound like a piano in a theater. It's like, it really changes it, I would say. Especially so on a piano over something like drums, because you're not really close micing a piano like you do with drums where your, you know, your snare mic is very close to a snare, but you don't wanna stick a 57 up against the strings on a piano cause it's gonna sound like the hammer hitting the string. Like, it's not gonna really sound like the piano you, you're trying to hear. Um, so it, it's, I think doubly important that your piano is actually in an environment that sounds, that's giving you the sound you're looking to capture. So it's kind of like a hard instrument to, to like pre-pro produce where you're like, okay, we, we want a piano and we want it to sound like this. You have to put in work to making that, that kind of ideal situation happen. Um, so a good room, a good piano that's in tune, not to mention the equipment.

Benedikt: Yeah. Yeah.

Malcom: just thinking that like, you also probably want it to be stereo. So you, if you have a very minimal recording set up, you're gonna need at least two channels.

Benedikt: Yeah, I take a few notes here because there were a couple of things I wanna, I wanna unpack or talk about. So few things that I found interesting. So I agree. The room is important in the instrument itself. Um, finding a piano that's actually tuned well is really difficult because a lot of them are not, and people don't even realize, uh, it's kind of hard to do it yourself. It's expensive to hire someone to do it, and then if temperature changes and whatever, like it's really, um, most pianos out there are not really in good working condition, I'd say. Uh, so you have to find some that's really good. The room is important. I agree. However, I would say that, I mean, maybe I understood it wrong, but, but I actually like to. Get pretty close, like to close mic pianos. I mean, you don't stick it right, right against the strings, but like if you have a, a grand piano, for example, and you open the top and then you put like two condensers in there, one over the lower and one of the higher parts of the strings, you know, and they are pretty close, like not super close, but maybe this high above the strings. And you know, one here, one there. That works pretty well. And also with an upright piano, if you can open it and like put two mics in front of the, the strings, to me those are pretty close. And maybe I'll, I'll add an pair of ambience mics or so, but I, I get pretty close with pianos,

Malcom: So I need to clarify that then, because I, I agree with everything you're saying, but those are condenser microphones, which are gonna pick up more of the, the room than say, 2 57 s shoved up there. Right. So it's, it's just, uh, it's that difference. It's the, it's the equipment is going to get more of the room, um, and it is gonna be a stereo set, so there's gonna be a little bit of a stereo environment spread as well.

Benedikt: and you're gonna be further away compared to like a drum shell. It's not this

Malcom: yeah, exactly.

Benedikt: this desk distance or something, you know?

Malcom: Yeah. So it, it's not that you're micing from far away necessarily, but it is comparatively to like a, a close snare mic thing. It's a different situation. So the just kind of trying to convey that the room is gonna play, the room's gonna be in your recording, kind of no matter what you.

Benedikt: yes. You're absolutely right Al. Also, because depending on the dynamics and the the song and everything, it could be pretty quiet. And so you, same thing you often have with acoustic guitars where. All the nuances, like also noise in the room or other things could, like, you have to be careful with that because it's not a, a very out loud, you know, instrument. And there's a lot of detail, a lot of dynamics. So everything that's happening in the room is gonna be part of the recording. And that's also what's cool about it, because, and that's the next thing I, I, I made a note about. And I, I wanna talk about that. And that's the biggest difference for. Um, recording a real piano versus a digital one is that all these little details that you hear when someone plays the piano are part of the piano sound to me. And this, it's part of what I love about piano recordings depends on the genre, but the more like, intimate dynamic, you know, that sort of stuff. I love to hear the noise of the hammer, you know, hitting the string or like the, the noise that a finger makes when you actually hit the key. And sometimes, you know, you even hear the chair or whatever, like these tiny, like what it sounds like when a person plays piano in a room. That's part of the recording for me. And there are libraries who do a great job at emulating even that. So when you use the pedal, for example, you hear the noise of the pedal and then you hear the, the release of the, the felt against the strings and all of that sort of stuff. And you hear the hammer noise and the fingers. So some libraries do a gr great thing at emulating. But it's so much more unique and unpredictable and, and you know, in a way, I don't know what it is, but I just love that about some piano recordings and some people really overdo it with that stuff. I knew some recordings where I'm almost distracted by all the noise that they, that they intentionally put in there to make it feel real. You know, sometimes it's a little, a little much. But anyway, it's part of the recording and. , that's what separates, that's part of what separates the real thing from the, the digital one for me still. And I also have to say that I haven't found a stock or like very free or very cheap piano thing, um, plugin. That's really that great. There are amazing sounding ones out there, and you're totally right that it's probably the best sounding digital instrument. But I, that's one of those things where I think you have to buy something good. You have to try a few things, try like, you know, trial and, and see if it works. But I, I don't know if there's any like stock instrument that gives you a really awesome piano sound they will do. And as a background thing in a, in a rock song or whatever, it will probably work. But if it's like a solo piano thing where the piano is in the spotlight or where it's just piano and vocals, I would get the exact instrument that is the best for the job. I would just invest in the one plugin that does exactly what you want for that production. It's.

Malcom: that's a, yeah, definitely a good, good point. I don't think I routinely use any, any fruity pianos either, unfortunately. So, sorry for the, the people looking for the perfect free option. I just don't know if it exists. Um, again, like

Benedikt: Cubase just came out with, oh, so, so, sorry. Sorry, I just, the delay. Sorry, I

Malcom: No, no, that's okay. It sounds like you're, you're gonna say that there is a good one,

Benedikt: Uh, yeah, I just say Cubase came out with one that I like. I, I don't like it for everything, but Cubase ca uh, Cubase 12 has. One that's called Verve. Um, so you can buy that individually too, but it's part of Cubase 12, I think. Um, it's included and other, if you buy it as a standalone thing, I think it's a hundred bucks or something. This is a really good one. Not the perfect choice for everything. It's not like a bright grand piano. It's more like a standup, um, yeah, standup piano, you know, a little darker. Um, I don't know. But, but it's, it's cool. It, it's really cool and very detailed and I like that. So if you have Cubase 12, then you can try that. That's good. Um, but other than that, I think, yeah,

Malcom: It, it will be, the free one's probably gonna be good. It just won't be maybe magical. Another thing that makes me think of is that it's not some good is kind of the subjective thing. The, the free one that comes with pro tools, I think is called Ivory. It sounds like a great grand piano, but a grand piano is not by default, the right choice, um, all of the time. Sometimes an upright piano, which sounds totally different to me, uh, is the right call. So that's the other catch, is that it's almost like if you ask somebody to play the song on an acoustic guitar or like an Archtop Hollow body, uh, kind of old jazz guitar, like those sound very different, right? Um, so you, you have to choose the right piano style for the song as well.

So that's another catch. Sometimes you want an e piano, right?

Benedikt: Yes,

Malcom: it's, uh, it's tricky that way as well. You have to kind of figure it out. Uh, there. Going back to the Sounds audience, if you can't tell, we're winging this episode, going all over. Uh, but it, it, there, there's so many sounds to a micd up piano depending on how you mic it, of course. But like, you're gonna hear your performer, your, your pianist is gonna be breathing into the microphone. They're gonna hear that. Uh, if you're not careful, you're gonna hear a click track coming outta their headphones. Really gotta watch that. If you're doing like a stereo by the head thing. Uh, yeah, the pedal noise can be huge. And that's another thing that makes choosing the piano, finding a piano that's suitable for recording hard if the pedals and like stuff can get squeaky and not maintained. So you have to watch out for that stuff as well. There's so much to look at when finding your piano. Um, so yeah, I, I, I think we went into this episode thinking we'll talk about how to record a piano, but I also think we can discuss and, and let people know when they shouldn't necessarily. Spend too much time on it and go with a virtual instrument. Piano. There's kind of both sides to look at. If you can make it work with a an e piano, uh, that might be what you have to do out of circumstance, but it also might just be worth doing if it's not that primary of an instrument.

Benedikt: um, the, the right one for the job basically is what, like, as always, that you have to do it. It can be done digitally. If you can get a good one, a good ruling, and then do it if it's the right one. Yeah. Just, just take it seriously because in in these sparse types of of arrangements, it is gonna be, , it has to be right, because otherwise it just won't feel right. You know, it's not something you can hide behind anything else. It's just, it's in the spotlight. It's, it's the one thing that you pay attention to, plus the vocals maybe. And so it just has to be the right choice and it's worth taking it seriously and investing in it. So now on to actually making that work, um, as we said, there are different like genres and different aesthetics and nuances and we can't probably cover them all, but there are, I think, some go-tos and some maybe do's and don'ts that in our experience work well or don't work and we wanna talk about that. So let's say like, the question was about mixing, so let's maybe focus on that a little bit. I mean, let, let's cover real quick. Let's cover our favorite ways to capture it. We already said it in a way, but then we, we move on to, to mixing. So to me, catch capturing a piano is, um, mostly what I said before is I, I'll, I'll pick two. Decent condenser mics, whatever I have. Ribbons can also be great, but like, like, yeah, some sort of condenser can be small, diaphragm can be large diaphragm. My personal choice are large diaphragm condenser mics, or for some, in some cases, ribbons. And I will, um, put them in a position where one captures the lower part of the strings. The other one captures the higher parts of the strings. It has to be far enough a way that you don't just capture a tiny like, um, snapshot. Three strings or something. But you have to capture the whole, like, you know, half of it. Uh, but it has to be close enough to give you a stereo image and, um, to, to be like, there has to be a balance between the room and the direct sound, but that's usually what I do. I'll, I'll use two mics. Capture stereo image of the guitar. The lower ones will be more on the left. The higher part will be more on the right. Um, and it's a balance between getting close and, but also capturing the whole thing. And you'll find that sweet spot. I think there's not too many, to me, there's not, it's not too big of a sweet spot actually, because if you get too close, what you capture will be too narrow, uh, too focused on, like those strings, if you get too far away, it won't sound, the stereo image won't be as cool anymore, and you will get more of the room and less of the piano. So you'll, you'll find the sweet spot, I think. And sometimes in addition to that, there might be a pair of, of room mics, although I have to say that most of the time I can do with that one pair and it's just fine. So that's as simple as that is. And sometimes it can be an x y inside the piano that can also work, um, or, or TF or something. But most of the time it's, it's gonna be a spaced pair.

Malcom: Yes, I'm, uh, I'm usually a space pair as well. Very, like, pretty much everything Benny just said applies to me as well. Um, I find that you do get enough of the room in that pair that an additional further away room doesn't usually need to be present. And you'll find that with that further away room, all of those extra sounds like the pedal noise, like the squeaking of the bench and the breathing, it becomes pretty problematic. It gets , it gets louder because it's the, the proximity to the, the, the actual sound source where trying to capture of the strings is kinda lost. Um, but it, it, sometimes it's the right call, so you'll play with that. Uh, but more, more importantly, you're just gonna play with the distance of that primary set and just make sure that's exactly. What you want. Um, this is one of those a couple inches makes a huge difference. So if you back it off just a couple inches, it's gonna really change how it sits in your mix. So you really wanna spend the time on positioning your microphones above all else. I think that's gonna make way more of a difference than choosing what, like what type of polar pattern your mics are in. I mean, that's gonna make a big difference too. Or if it's like, you know, your a thousand dollars stereo pair or your $4,000 stereo, stereo pair of condenser bikes, like, it doesn't matter. It's where you put them. That's gonna make the biggest difference as far as where you place them. There is, uh, actually one step before that is really deciding the tone of your piano. And that is actually more customizable than you would think of first glance. Uh, if it's upright piano, you can open the top. or, and you can usually take out the, the plate, uh, I don't know what that's called actually, but there's a piece of wood that you're looking at if you're playing a, a, a piano. And you can either slide that open sometimes or take it out and, and expose the strings entirely. And that changes, uh, the tack, the, the kind of bloom I might call it. Um, it, and the volume, um, and probably a hundred other things. But , it, it really is gonna change how your piano sounds. So you're gonna want to get that combination right on an a gram piano. It's opening the lid to varying degrees. That's gonna change how the piano sounds itself, but it's also gonna change how the sound projects out of that piano, which is important if you are doing ambient micing or either instruments in the room at the same time. So worth noting that. But first off, decide how your piano's gonna sound with those physical alterations, and then placing the mics, uh, on an upright. There is, yeah, a stereo pair kind of at the strings is pretty common for me. But actually I really like to go the opposite side of the piano on the back side of the piano, uh, which you might picture as shoved up against a wall. So you'd have to pull it away from a wall if that's how you have your pianos. And that's called the soundboard. And, uh, you can do a stereo pair on, on the back of the piano there. And it sounds huge and it, it really tams the attack because you're not like, directly against the hammer now. So that's a, a favorite of mine. And ribbon mics are the other way of kind of getting that same sound on the front side of the piano because they just are much softer on the transient. And with a grand piano, it's kind of the same thing just inside the lid or under it. Yeah.

Benedikt: totally, totally. And, and if you're gonna, if you're not gonna open the lid, it's a whole new challenge because now you can't access the strings and you can't do the whole, like what I just described, you, you gotta do it outside of the piano somehow, and it's gonna be less of a, of a stereo, you know, image. And, and it's like just a different way to capture the piano. Um, part of why ribbons are great on the front side of an upright piano for that sound is because if you put it above the hammers, like the hammers are down there somewhere, and then if you, you don't usually, you don't mic the hammers, but you mic the strings in a little distant from, from the hammers. But the, the, with the grand pianos the same thing. The hammers are pretty close to the actual keys, but you put the mics above the strings that are like, you know, a couple of, you know, feet, um, away from the, from the keys with ribbons. The cool thing is that because of their, um, figure of eight pattern, the, the null actually points at the hammer. down there, you know, depending on how you set it up. And so you can, because they capture what's in front of them and what's behind of them. So if you put 'em against the strings, what's below them, the hammers are gonna be, um, you know, reduced a little so you get less attack and you get a little bit of a more mellow sort of sound. So That's great. Uh, and other productions, I love the hammers. So that's the, you know, that's the, that's the thing. So that's what I wanted to ask you. Do you ever, because a lot of some people do that, do you ever mic more of the actual, like keys and hammers than the strings? Or do you put an additional mic there to capture that sort of stuff? Because I know it's been a trend for a couple of years. I believe there's a co, or maybe it's a German thing, I don't know, but there's a couple of like really, really amazing German pianists who have records out where. , they, they did the, the typical stereo mic on the strings thing, but then they also put mics everywhere that makes a noise on the piano, like the panels and the keys and the hammers and all of that. And you hear a lot of that on those productions, and it sounds very intimate and close in all of that. But as I said, sometimes it's a little too much for me and it causes other problems too. But I, I, I wonder, do you ever do that or do you really just focus on what the, the wood and the strings sound like and not so much? What, what's, what the sounds are around the player, basically.

Malcom: Thinking about the experience I've had with pianos, it's usually trying to get, yeah, this amazing sound of piano, but really there's gonna be a vocal. So all of that, like clunks and stuff, I kind of wanna minimize because it's still gonna be there. It's still gonna play. Like the, all those noises will be there, they just won't be as, like, they won't be captured maybe as pristinely or, uh, loudly, which is great

Benedikt: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I agree.

Malcom: getting, uh, taken away from, so not really for me, but if you were doing like a, an instrumental piano recording, you could told the experiment with that. But, uh, the warning I will give is that you should consider a piano to be just as complicated with phase as a drum kit. Um, so the , if you like, if I throw those mics on the opposite side of the piano, like on the backside, on the soundboard, and you've also got like a front mic, all of a sudden you. Two mics capturing the same sound from different directions. So think of that as like a snare mic. It's same problems been introduced, um, and you throw some room mics in, it gets a little more complicated. It, it all gets, every mic is potentially, uh, a worse phase relationship, which means that instead of adding, you could be subtracting potentially if you're not careful.

Benedikt: Ironically, although I said that this is like the cool thing about recording real pianos, ironically. Digital piano can solve that for you if you want that aesthetic, because on some of those, um, or like almost all of the, the really good ones there is, you know, a control for like the noise stuff that you can just turn up without bringing up the rest of the piano. Because in the real world, if you put a piano, a mic on the hammers or the keys or wherever, you're not gonna just capture those sounds. You capture the piano too, of course, the strings. And now if you bring that stuff up, you got that phy, um, you know, there's always a compromise. Whereas with the digital one, if you turn up the noise or the hammers or whatever, you only turn that up and the rest is unaffected.

So that's actually an advantage now of, of the sample pianos if they've done it well.

Malcom: Hey, have I ever told you my Elton John story, uh, about him

Benedikt: told one, uh, I don't know if, if

Malcom: Let's tell it again. It

Benedikt: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Malcom: I think, an engineer at the Warehouse recording Studio, which is like a, a world famous studio that I got to make a record with my band Bander Rascals at, and I think the engineer there, Zach was the one that told. Thisk cause I think he engineered, helped engineer on it, but they essentially had this grand piano from I think Yamaha, the, or Steinberger, you know, whoever. I think he plays Yamaha. So I think it was like a, you know, the Yama sent the nicest piano. They, they have relative to record at, and uh, it's this, this grand piano that you can play. It's got strings and stuff like that, but it also records Miata if you want. So he was able to sit down, play it once, and it records his performance through Miata, and then he can leave and they can replay his performance over and over again and experiment with the micing after he's gone. Right. So the, the piano just keeps playing. Elton John, they captured Elton John in a piano and they can just mess with it until they get the recording they want on the record. Isn't that crazy?

Benedikt: Yeah. That's, that's totally crazy that I, I try to remember the name of that thing.

Malcom: It's kind of like a player piano. Cause like player pianos were, were the old version of that where you could stick like essentially sheet music into it and it would read it and play it. But this is kind of like a, a, a computer brain doing the same thing I think. Um, but very useful. Especially when you're Elton John and he's probably gotta go play a stadium in a couple hours. He just sits down, knocks it out.

Benedikt: That's so cool. Like yeah. Yeah. To totally. Especially for with like someone like that. For sure. No, I haven't heard that story though. I, I, I thought the, but you told an Elton John story not too long ago or you were an at, at, at an Elton John show I

Malcom: it was probably, yeah, I went and saw 'em recently so that, that was probably it.

Benedikt: you can do. I mean, that's essentially, or basically what exactly what you do with a virtual piano. You play the part once and then you maybe edit the mid and then you can do it over and over again and figure out, you know, how you want it to sound.

Malcom: it is. Yeah, it's exactly like that.

Benedikt: So, so, yeah.

Malcom: had the advantage of capturing the room at the same time. Um,

Benedikt: yes. Yeah. Okay. So, so, yeah. Um, I think we both agree that all those details, there's probably more than enough of that in the recording anyways. And you, if you can, you can decide to experiment with it. But just be aware of the side effects and, and the more mics you put against something, the more problems you're gonna get too. So you gotta really, uh, be careful with

Malcom: One more thing. Sorry. I wanna, I wanna riff on that just a little bit further because with drums it's the necessity to add more mics often, you know, um, because you just don't, you, like, you need that proximity to a kick drum to get it to sound like a kick drum. Uh, you need that proximity for the punch of the snare. And, you know, the Toms aren't gonna just, they're not gonna do the tom thing if you're just relying on the overheads. So it's a necessity because of these different sounds with a piano that is not necessarily the case. Um, so don't think I, I, I, this is really, again, me trying to steer you away from using more than two mics on a piano, I think. Um, because it's like, it should be all you need. Uh, like it should be enough to make it sound like a great piano. So if it's not, it's probably, again, a positioning problem or mic choice problem, uh, or mic setting problem. Make sure your low cuts turned off if you want a big low end and stuff like that, uh, rather than, uh, a microphone amount problem. So it, because it's not like the, the pedals on the, on the piano are, the hammers on the piano, sorry, are their own instrument. They're just part of the same instrument. So you really should be able to get it to work with two mics. Um, so yeah, it's about refining those, not about additive mics.

Benedikt: Yeah, I agree. Yeah, because you capture the whole thing and you don't have to try and capture things that otherwise are completely lost, like with a drum kit. Yeah, absolutely.

Malcom: are just like, like a bunch of different instruments being recorded at the same time.

Benedikt: that's, that's the, that's the thing.

Malcom: drum kit is not one instrument.

Benedikt: Exactly. That's, that's honestly how I think about it. Like, you, you have to make it sound like it's one in a way. Like you don't want the drums in space thing, but at the same time it's almost like recording an ensemble or like a small, you know, whatever. Yeah,

Malcom: it absolutely

Benedikt: Totally. Okay, so now let's assume we found the way to capture it or use a digital one and we found our, um, sound. Now what about the actual, like what do we do in the mix to make it work? Or what other challenges compared to making it like, as a background thing? Let's just be, that's just there, like, my experience is, and I don't wanna, I, I'll let you start, but my, I just wanna say that my experience is that with a piano is one of the things where, to me definitely less is more. It's rarely the case. I, I tweak a lot with all kinds of instruments, but I feel for me that I do very little to piano recordings.

Malcom: I'm, I'm told you're with you. That's why it's so important to choose the right piano in the right space because there's, it's kind of like there's not much you can do after the fact. Um, reverb sounds terrible.

Benedikt: Yeah, I, I would've said that. Yeah. Yeah.

Malcom: it's so fake sounding on pianos. I don't know what it is. Um, but it doesn't sound good, so like

Benedikt: It almost always sounds like a delay. Does it to

Malcom: Yeah.

It, it's cuz it's so transient, I think. And like you just, the decay sound all artificial. It's, it's nasty. Um. So the environment, like having that kind of stereo reverb room built into your recording, through the capture that you've done is your reverb if possible. I think that's the ideal situation is that the, you don't need to add more. Um, that's really what you're gonna want . So good luck on that. Um, and yeah, it's, it's, it's kind of like all things fall apart. Like I don't really like EQing them much because the hammers start sounding really weird if you try and brighten it up a bunch. Um, if you compress it, the attack of the hammers gets really weird. And I think that is because the attack sounds different on each string. So how the hammer sounds on low strings sounds different than high strings. So setting your attack, uh, and like transient shaping on a piano is kind of impossible because it's different depending on what's being played. It's not like a consistent drum, for example. Um, I, I, yeah. I don't know if I can accurately describe why all of this processing doesn't work well with the piano, but it doesn't

Benedikt: it doesn't, yeah, I, I totally agree. I have some theories though, so the, I don't, I don't know what it is with the reverb, honestly. It just sounds terrible most of the time to me. Um, sometimes I have luck with like a room sort of impulse response thing. But even that, like, if anything, then it's gonna be a very. Small, short, um, sort of ambience, I dunno, even room mics sometimes half that in a weird way, even if I record real room mics, even they sound weird sometimes on the piano. So that's why I'm not a big fan of them. So, but when it comes to the other, other things that you could do with it, I agree that compression sounds very unnatural very quickly. The, just the ratio between the attack and the sustain and just, it seems like we know very well what a piano should sound like and as soon as that changes, it feels weird. And, and especially as someone who's played the piano for a while, but I think most people can notice that it's just, Very quickly doesn't sound like a piano anymore. And I want dynamics in a solo piano more than than anywhere else basically. I don't wanna reduce that if it's played well. So sometimes a little bit, because of the sound of the compressor or because of a certain vibe and aesthetic that I want, it can sound great to put it through great compressor with just a little bit, just like kissing the needle, you know, making it a little more dense. Um, but not because I really wanna do like Tandy B of game reduction on a piano or something. Most of the time, maybe sometimes transparent limiting can work if it's just, you know, if you really wanna control just the peaks in some sections, but leave the rest alone, that can work too. And even if you do a lot at times it can work, but you gotta be whatever you do. Pay close attention to whether or not it still sounds like a piano and, and what you do to the attack and release behavior. Because if that changes, that's what's weird to me. If it's getting too hard or if it, if the attack is like if you kill the attack too much or if it starts to pump, if it starts to feel too dense, it almost gets annoying and hard to listen to.

So just pay attention to these things, I'd say when you compress it.

Malcom: Yeah, this is another situation that, you know, gives a point to midi uh, virtual pianos because if I'm using a compressor to try and like level out the dynamics of a piano point performance, I've recorded, that's, it's gonna be problematic. Cause we just don't have, it's just start sounding weird. If you have to push the compressor very much, where with a midi, uh, performance, even if the, the performance that was played on a mini keyboard was, was all over the place, dynamically, I can limit the dynamics in the midi data and then it's as if it was played more consistently, right? So it that that's, you have to capture the performance right as well. So not only do you need a great piano in a great room and uh, you know, a decent micing, like great mic positioning, you also have to have a player that can like really nail it because there's, there's no editing in piano as far as I'm concerned. Like really cut editing really doesn't work in piano to me. Um, there's too much sustain for it to work. Well, I think, uh, slip any nice is what I meant to say. Um, so , you, you really need a great piano player. It's so important.

Benedikt: Yes, it is. Um, it is. So, and, and I totally agree with like, um, controlling the dynamics in the mid versus the compressing. That's the way to go. It, I, it's just if you have a real piano, but yeah, you, you're totally right. Um, editing is tricky, especially if it's not a background thing, but a solo thing.

Malcom: Have you had any luck with, uh, elastic audio editing on a piano,

Benedikt: Yes, I did. There were also times where it didn't work. So, but, but yes, in general, yes, it, it works. I also had, I have to say, I also had luck with like slip editing one sometime. That works. Sometimes. The other thing works in general, I have to be way more careful compared to other sources like drums. And that's, I think because of the lack of transient, because you can hide a cut shortly behind or in front of a transient really easily. And our, our ears just don't hear it because the transient masks, whatever comes shortly after it or in front of it. It's a fascinating phenomenon where you can even, you can, even if you don't make a cross fade, if it's like close enough to the actual transient, we just can't hear the click. Um, and like tiny artifacts like that. And with a piano, you can't really do that. And then also, as I said, if the transition, the, the ratio between the attack and sustain is one thing, but the transition between. Sustain and then the hammer hitting again, and like the next attack, we just, for some reason, we just notice if that is not real, if that, if you change that too much, if the attack comes too early, we just feel like this is not what it sounds like when the hammer stops the string, basically. And, and so it's, it's difficult. So I have more luck with the time stretching and compressing all. But there are situations where slip editing can work so hard to answer

Malcom: Yeah. Yeah. It's, it's gonna be one of those nightmares where you have to use every trick in the book to, to fix up a bad piano, um, acoustic piano and, uh, a finger picked acoustic guitar are probably my two least favorite things to edit. And for the same reason, I think, because what happens is the note that you're trying to fix has another note that was played right before it, that's still ringing under it there arpeggiating all of the time. Right. Um, and so you cut one thing, but it, you can hear it in the other note that's being played , and it's just really annoying. Um, that's why I was thinking, yeah, slip editing or elastic audio time stretching probably better, uh, if, if algorithm can handle the different pitches like the polyphonic material, um, without too many artifacts. But again, you just really want them to play it awesomely.

Benedikt: You absolutely do. Yes. What about eq? Because that's another thing. It's funny that even that I have to be very careful with it. Um, piano I'd say is one of those instruments where I really love tilt EQs because I can make it overall brighter or darker. But I keep the internal balance intact because for me, again, the, the ratio and the balance between fundamental notes and overtones, the piano. Piano has a lot of like overtones. It's a very, um, it's not just sine waves, you know, if you hit one note, you're actually hitting a couple of strings at once. So you hear a chord actually, and then you hear the overtones and you hear the other strings resonate with, resonate with that and you hear the wood. So there's so much going on. Even if you hit a single, a piano, uh, key and that. If you boost or cut in certain places, you reduce part of that note, but other parts stay as loud as they were before and you can mess up this internal balance a lot. And then some keys, the result is that some keys sound natural and others sound like harm. More harmonically rich or less harmonically rich. And, and it, it gets weird really quickly. Or if you boost just a bunch of top end in a certain way, it can sound really hard really quickly. And, and so I prefer to just do either like very musical shelves and balance tho those out against each other. Or just a really a tilt where it's just, okay, this is gonna be brighter or darker, but I don't wanna mess it up.


Malcom: Yeah, it, it's very challenging. Um, okay, here's one advanced technique, uh, for people to ponder. So we said, capture it sounding like exactly like you want. Um, so like, you know, take off the lid of the piano or whatever. If you want it to be brighter, close it down if you want it to be dark, but. . If you make that decision and then you want to eq it to be the opposite, you're really in trouble. So if you make it dark, for example, and then uh, you decide you want those, you want more like top harmonics in those warm low notes that are being played on the piano and you boost it all up, your hammer sounds are gonna sound terrible because they're still quite sharp compared to the notes because we've tamed that with the lid. Now this is gonna, this is where it gets advanced. If you did the opposite and you opened it wide up so that your string noise, the actual notes are as rich harmonically as they can be, that's gonna be the most top end in those, uh, in the, in that capture. Now they are kind of in a more similar, uh, like cue curve position to the attack. So now you can darken the whole thing and it's gonna darken the, the rich sounding strings and the hammers at the same time. So you can, like, the more, the less contrasting you make your piano, the more you can alter it in the mix. Does that make sense? It's confusing myself even talking about it, but if, like, if you get it, the darkness wrong by setting up your piano, it you, you're done.

But if you make it all bright and then darken it, you might have luck with that

Benedikt: Yeah, if, if it's all bright, you can make it all, you know, dark in a musical way and not change it too much. But if it's

Malcom: Yeah. Because it is the contrast that makes the EQ not work, um, otherwise, uh, so it's like if, if there's any video people that listen to this, that have video experience, uh, or photography experience, it's like shooting in like a log, an slog setting or something like that where the dynamic range is taken outta the picture, uh, or uh, yeah, yeah. Or a raw photo kind of thing. It's you're, you're getting enough flat thing that you can mess with. Um, but that said, I still recommend that you try and make it sound right on the capture.

Benedikt: Yes, 100% every single time. What do we actually do then? We do whatever is necessary to bring out the cool stuff, reduce stuff that we might, that we think is annoying, while always listening to whether or not it still sounds like a piano. We never wanna miss that sort of, and then, and, and actually, , it's a matter of a little darker, a little brighter. Capture it good, like well, and, and choose the right instrument. Try to get the dynamics right by just playing well or changing the mid use compression only if you really want the sound of the tool you use. I think not so much to really compress it a lot. And then, um, and then also there is, I don't know, it's one of those, of course it has to be, it's always dangerous to give recommendations like that, but, , it's one of those instruments where the ti if it's played well, that's why it's dangerous to say that, um, that where the tiny imperfections are part of it and just are cool and you just have to leave it alone at some part. And I know that a lot of people are gonna use this as an excuse for like, sloppy performances and all kinds of, that's not what I mean. Like, you have to be a really good piano player or have to program it really well. But yeah, the tiny imperfections with pianos is what it's all about. And you have chance kind of have to have to leave it the way it is. And if there's the occasional thing that's jumping out a little or is a little too quiet and like, that's part of it. And, and then at the same time, if we're talking about like a vocal and piano arrangement, then we gotta define what's the, the sort of the star basically. Is it the piano performance? And like, there, there is a vocal, but actually the piano is what, what's important? Or is it the vocal? And then the piano maybe has to, you know, um, support that and, and that that's a whole different conversation. So how do you. How do you marry together with, with like a, a really good vocal performance? What would you do differently compared to a solo piano? Maybe

Malcom: Okay. Couple, uh, things to clarify here. Um, and sorry if you deserve my stomach crumble okay. Yeah. Couple things to clarify here. We generally preach getting really tight performances, but we are generally talking about arrangements that have a lot of instruments. And the more instruments you have in a song or a production or a mix, the more timing discrepancies and intonation discrepancies compound and become a mess. But the less instruments you have, the less that does matter. So you actually can have a pretty loose piano performance as long as it's got feel and groove. Uh, it might not technically be. Accurate to a metronome. But if it sounds good on its own and feels good, then it is good. And, and you know, a vocal on top of that, a piano and a vocal that are kind of playing with each other timing-wise is gonna sound totally great. It's, it's gonna sound like when somebody sits down at the piano in the, your living room and sings a song like it, that relationship can work. It doesn't have to be so on. It's when you have another three instruments that are all trying to do the same thing and they're all a little bit off, that starts getting crummy

Benedikt: yeah.

Malcom: Um, so, so there's, knowing your, your genre and your arrangement density is gonna let you kind of develop a feel for what's acceptable timing-wise.

Benedikt: Mm-hmm.

Malcom: and essentially, uh, I would just mute the metronome and listen to it. And it should, you shouldn't, you shouldn't be thinking about the timing. If you are thinking about the timing, it's probably something's wrong with the timing, right? Um, so there's that. But now, uh, back to like the mixing and, and dealing with that stuff, two things. You're going to have tools that you kind of consider to be your transparent tools. You know, like I've got my transparent kind of mastering eq like that I reach for when I don't want people to necessarily hear the eq, but it's happening. The same with compression and limiting. There's these tools that you're gonna find that are like, this does the job without it being obvious to the job was done. . It's a very valuable thing. Um, and, uh, so you're gonna want those, like, those are the ones that you're using on something like a piano for sure. But the other thing is, is that, uh, you are mixing it. Top down, uh, rather than bottom up, which means that for something that is like a piano and a vocal duo, I am probably doing the bulk of my mixing on the mix bus rather than on the individual tracks. Um, because I find that that just works. Uh, it if, if I brighten up the vocal and the piano together, or, or better yet compress them together, it seems to yield a way more natural result to me for whatever reason. And I think it's because we need to make these two separately recorded. Things sound like they're the same performance, like the singer did sing it well, playing that piano part. So it's just about gluing them together with bus processing rather than individual process.

Benedikt: Maybe we should do an episode on that at some point. How to actually glue things we haven't talked about, like the busing thing, because I know that you're totally right, but I also know that it's pretty difficult and then people will be like, what should I listen to if I treat 'em together at a bus? Like, how do I know when they are? Because I, I remembered when I first like learned that or experimented with that, it was always kind of hard for me to tell whether or not I'm actually gluing things together or if I'm causing more harm than good. And like the, when do I know when it's kind of glued or did I now cause something, you know, another problem by trying to do that. And so it's kind of, we have to think about that. But, but I agree that in a sparse arrangement with only a few elements, it's, it's, it is a good approach to do sort of a top down thing and, and, and treat him as one, as one performance in the room sort of.

Malcom: Yeah. Yeah. Now that is all like the top down mixing thing is usually like sweetening, you know, um, less problem solving. Like if there's like a dynamic like honky midtone boxiness that you need to carve outta your piano, you're not gonna want to chop like 60 B outta your vocal too. So you're gonna, it's gonna always be jump in between the two, like iso TrackX versus the mix top down thing. But um, just know that that's where it works best. is if you can do it on the bus.

Benedikt: Yeah. Agreed. Agreed. Okay. Um, anything else to say about this?

Malcom: Oh, I'm sure. Uh, but, uh, but I think that's a pretty good start and I think, I really hope people enjoy this cuz it's so different.

Benedikt: Yeah, I made so many notes while you were talking all the time. I've never done that on episode, but I've made so many notes now because there's a couple of things for other episodes that we maybe need to dive more into or whatever, because yeah, there's a lot to unpack here. Um,

Malcom: and you know, there's, there's so much value to getting good at the style of recording because it forces you to use your, your ears in a different way than, like, than the scientific, like, if you check these boxes, you're gonna get a good drum recording kind of thing. You know, like you, you can, you can really make it happen with drums by, by like being systematic, but with something like a sparse, uh, piano recording there. There's so much. Listening where you, you, you've just got two mics to make it happen with ultimately two mics and a player

Benedikt: Yeah.

Malcom: Uh, and you have to figure it out with those ingredients. And that really builds a confidence in trusting your ears and learning to listen and, and what translates, um, and, and intuition. So it's a, a great skill as a, like a, a DIY music producer.

Benedikt: If the final thing, maybe before we wrap it up, does anything of what we just said in this episode change when the piano is. part of a bigger arrangement, or when we add another thing, like let's say it's an acoustic guitar comes in or whatever it does that, is that stuff still relevant then, or is it completely different?

Malcom: So let's, let's go with the piano in a, a full mix, like a, a full band. There's

Benedikt: All right.

Malcom: you know, bass, drums, guitar, piano, vocal kind of thing. I think it does get easier because the, the importance on the room. It gets a lot, a lot less important because you don't hear the room, you hear just the impact. Um, so it, it's still gonna be the same in that you're micing it with probably two mics and making it sound like a great piano. But you're gonna be listening to that in the context of the mix, hopefully with, you know, a guitar and drums and bass at, at a minimum. And just hearing how that sits in there. Um, so because the room's less important, you'll probably end up a little bit closer a bet because you don't need any room information necessarily. Um, but maybe not pay attention to that. And then, uh, it becomes much more regimented, timing-wise would be the other thing, because the compounded timing mistakes sounds sloppy, so you're just gonna really want them locked into your drummer, essentially.

Benedikt: Yeah,

Malcom: So I think it's easier

Benedikt: I, I think it's, I think it's way easier also all the whole like detailed conversation and everything we talked about, this just almost doesn't matter anymore then. Um, and you can also processes process it way more because you will bring out the stuff that cuts through. You can eliminate other stuff entirely because it's gonna get masked anyway. So you can be a lot of like very, um, heavy handed without, because it's not gonna be obvious if it played in solo. It often sounds terrible then, but that's not the, but that's not what you wanna do. You wanna

Malcom: uh, acoustic guitars we've mentioned when they're in like a dense rock mix, it's all about the attack. You're just hearing the pick attack as a rhythm instrument. It's not like the, the bass is gone. You don't need that stuff. Um, where it's the same with the piano. You might want only that low end boom, but you also might just want the high stuff. You just mix it to, to, to fit the song at that point.

Benedikt: Yeah, I hope I people, I hope that makes sense, that we just told you basically that a solo piano is le there's less you need to do in the mix, but it's at the same time it's harder

Malcom: Yeah. Way

Benedikt: So, so I hope that makes sense. Yeah, I hope that makes sense. I mean, there's, it, it doesn't mean there's less work to do because the work is in the choosing the right piano, playing it well, uh, micing it well if you have a real one. So there is a lot of work to do, but there's less work in, in post and processing. Um, and overall, if you have a great P player, a great room, a great instrument, then. It's not that much work yet. It is so hard compared to, to the other thing. I hope that really makes sense, and I hope you know what to do with that information because that just means you just can't have acid. You have to really take it seriously, listen closely. Fresh ears. Also a big thing, I think, um, if you are not really paying close attention or if your ears are tired, then it's very hard to pick up these, these tiny details. So you've gotta be really present. Listen for the, for all the details. You gotta know what you actually want it to sound like. Maybe there's some research necessary in like, what does an upright piano sound versus a grand piano, that sort of thing. Um, so a lot of attention to detail, I'd say, because there's no way around capturing it very well. And if you just have it as part of a denser arrangement, then just think about the big picture of the song and where the piano can fit in. And then just carve it out like you would with any other instrument in there. And you can be way more heavy handed than that.

Malcom: Uh, the advice that I would give if you're developing these skills and you just don't feel confident is do both. Um, it's really easy to, you know, prioritize your acoustic guitar or acoustic piano recording story. Uh, if, if that's what you're doing. Um, but then if you're not confident that it's good enough or that you can, you're gonna be able to get it where you want it in the mix. Whip off, uh, a MIDI version as well. And, and then you've got both versions. Everybody's got access to MIDI now, so it's a, it's an option.

Benedikt: it's an option. Yeah, for sure.

Malcom: Something I've done as well. I've, I've, you know, and I just was recording an band and I didn't know how confident I could be with that piano player. I, I would just also get a mid version. Usually the mid version would all redone in pre-production, so That's awesome. Um, the other thing, oh, this is, okay, we're gonna end it on this. We're not gonna get too

Benedikt: Okay. Okay.

Malcom: do another episode on sparse arrangements in general, not just piano. Um, but, uh, sometimes you are micing the piano without knowing what the and context is gonna be. So it's a song that's written on piano by singer songwriter, but you don't have, you're gonna build a band around it, so you don't know how to treat that piano. So you mic it one way with a lot of room and it ends up being a big rock de, like, dense mix, and you have to figure fix it, so you're gonna have to rerecord or, or whatever kind of thing.

So, uh, that is a nightmare situation.

Benedikt: It

Malcom: not a nightmare, but like,

Benedikt: I know what you mean.

Malcom: you, it's really hard to make the right choice without knowing what it's gonna be down the road. Okay, let, let's wrap it up

Benedikt: I have so many thoughts. Even then I could, I I could add something, but I, I've made so many notes. There is gonna be, um, material for other, other episodes too.

Malcom: Yeah, we, we got way more, we could talk for another couple hours, but I, I want to bridge it to stuff beyond just piano. I think so it'll be

Benedikt: Yeah. Maybe, uh, if you're listening now, and you enjoyed this even though we were ringing this episode, if you have. Other topics that you want to want us to cover that are like a little outside of what we usually do, um, there's a chance that we still, that, that we still, we've still done it or have thoughts on it. And so let us know if you wanna do that. And I would fi I, I think some of these episodes that are a little more challenging for us or a little different are actually good for the podcast. Like, I've never taken that many notes throughout an episode. Um, and, and I, maybe that leads us to new things too that we can explore. So if you have any like, suggestions, any, anything you want us to do on the podcast, let let us know. And, uh, if, if you feel like I wasn't that present today, if you're watching the video, usually I, I, I look more into the camera than today, but that was just because when Malcolm was talking, I was constantly making notes and I'm gonna make a bunch of episodes about that I think, in the future. Uh, but yeah, let us know, and I hope that helped Mark. So, um, baby, also just shoot me a message and tell me if, if that solved your, if that answered your question, or, and I'd love to know your progress too, because that question has been submitted like almost a year ago now. We are faster doing that, but there's some still sitting that we just didn't get to. Um, so a lot has happened probably since then. So, mark, let us know maybe you've discovered something that works really well for you now in the meantime, and, and we'd love to hear that. So if that's the case, go to the community, the surf recording, bant.com/community. Post it in there, or send us a message about it. We'd love to hear that stuff from you. Uh, yeah.

Malcom: Yeah.

Benedikt: it up then. As always, if you enjoyed this episode and you got value from it, share it with your friends. Uh, go to your socials, post the screenshot there. Tag us at Malcolm own flood at Benedictine, tag us on Instagram. There's a guest episode with someone else. Tag them too, of course. And yeah, we love, we love to see these. We always share them. We always respond to them because it's so great to see the community grow. We, it's great for us to get the feedback that, um, that we get from you. So if you got any value out of this, please share it. And if you are a new listener, if you just discovered us, then thank you for sticking with us till the end here, and I hope you, you'll, you'll stay around for the next episodes too. And now there's one final thing that I wanna bring up here. Uh, and that is, we just got another amazing review on Apple Podcast. And if you. You know, that's another thing you can do if you listen on Apple Podcast or your favorite podcast platform of choice, and there's the, um, there's a way for you to leave a review, then we especially love that because not many people do it, actually. We always tell them to, but not many people actually take the time to do it. And if you do, we love this. So the surf recording band fan is the name of this. This person we would give you a shout out if there would be your real name, but in this case it's the self recording band fan, which I also love, uh, says like, absolutely the best five stars, of course, and three exclamation marks. If you are a DIY musician or producer who wants to learn more about recording and mixing, this is absolutely the best podcast you could possibly listen to. As a result of this podcast, I signed up for the coaching program and it has been extremely helpful in advancing my knowledge of recording. So thank you for that review. Uh, if you feel like, if you feel the same way about it, we'd really appreciate if you could leave something like that. But even a screenshot, Instagram is totally awesome,

Malcom: Yeah, so, so fantastic. And, and again, yeah, please just connect with us. It's, it's like the most rewarding thing, meeting the people that listen to this, uh, and are getting value out of it and seeing the recordings and stuff like that. It'd be it on Instagram or our Facebook community or whatever that it's, uh, a lot of the time me and Ben are just speaking into the void here, and meanwhile there's a lot of people listening and we, we are not necessarily getting to talk to them, but they're out there.

So it's really cool, um, when we actually do get to, you know, put a, a, a name and a face behind it.

Benedikt: Yes, totally. It's crazy to think actually that there's so many people listening to us and it feels like we're just talking to the computer.

Malcom: Yeah.

Benedikt: I was, I was thinking about that this weekend when we played the show. I was nervous like hell, because I'm not used to it anymore the way I did and, and I was like nervous, like crazy just because we were playing in front of like a hundred people or so. Now thinking about that, you know, a few times that are listening to the episodes and it doesn't make me nervous at all. It's kind of crazy in a

Malcom: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think we did, we just break 60,000 downloads on the BU bus road. I,

Benedikt: I think we did.

Malcom: I, I think we're right around there, but like, it's, it's like, wow. These episodes are like, sometimes like an hour long, like , imagine it's 60,000 hours of us talking

Benedikt: yeah, yeah. To, yeah, to totally. So thank you. Just thank you for listening to us. Thank you for sticking around. Uh, and, uh, thank you for being a listener, and we hope to see you next week again.

Malcom: Yeah. See you next week.

Benedikt: Bye-Bye.

Malcom: Bye.

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  • Hi Benedikt and Malcom, I wanted to thank you for this podcast episode. Funny thing, I listen to each podcast weekly and somehow I had missed this one. As I listened today I heard my name mentioned at the end and soon realized this episode was based on a suggestion for a topic I shared with you about a year ago! What a nice surprise! Thank you so much for taking the time to do what you do! I learn something new all the time and continue to enjoy listening to the show. I have since produced my first solo piano album from my living room and thoroughly enjoyed the process! Still much to learn! I appreciate all your advice on piano and sparse arrangements. I especially liked what you said about processing more on the mix bus to ‘glue’ sparse arrangements together.

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