In the Live Room: Tracking Horns at BB4


How can bands and producers blast their way out of the box? In a software-driven music production world, horns are a big X factor.

At BB4, we have an affinity for instruments whose sound moves through the air and hits a microphone. Drums and guitar amps get us giddy, and we get a high from horns -- saxophones, trumpets, trombones, and even the occasional tuba. That’s why our tracking spaces are set up for recording horns with aplomb.

We put our dual-purpose tracking room and lounge to the test recently, recording trumpet with the busy NYC-based studio musician Jay Ambrose. To get ready, BB4 founder Rafael Planten and studio manager/engineer Kiara Mudd set up several different microphones in advance of his arrival, each one with its own characteristics that we thought would bring out the best in his playing.

On call for the session: the Earthworks SR25 (stereo pair) whose omnidirectional design is ideal for picking up the whole room; Manley Reference, a tube mic with its own flavor; Electro Voice RE15, a vintage mic perfect for the track’s old skool hip hop beat; Audio-Technica ATM450, perfect as the clear upfront microphone; and Sennheiser MD421, which was new to our collection and in the mix as an experiment.

The Envelope Please...

When Jay arrived and began belting out his magic, we commenced recording and blending in search of the optimal combination. The winning mics for this session? The EV RE15, A-T ATM450, and Sennheiser MD421.

“The RE15 had a lower-mid and darker sound, the ATM450 provided great overall balance, and the MD421 was more upfront and cut through the most,” reports Mudd. “I like to capture more of that midrangey sound from the trumpet. In these particular tracks the trumpet is filling up that space where the voice would be, in arrangements that also feature organ, guitar, bass and drums.

“Our tracking lounge isn’t as acoustically treated as our dedicated live room, so it’s much more musical with a bigger sound. That brings out more of a natural-sounding environment, where a horn player would typically be when they’re performing live.”

Planten’s history of working with Ambrose on previous sessions for the studio’s BB4 Publishing catalog also came in horny – oops, we mean handy. “After two previous trumpet recordings with Jay, I know how he moves when he starts to jam and really get into it,” Planten says. “The mic selections and placement for this most recent session was informed by our previous experience.”

Return Visitor

For our friend Jay Ambrose, BB4 recording sessions are always a positive experience. “What I like about tracking at BB4 is the amount of detail they’re able to capture,” he says. “Details and nuance are really important for the trumpet. It’s a very emotional instrument, and slight variations make a big difference in the nuances that are captured.

“BB4 has the studio elements to record trumpet right. They have a lot of quality microphones, the shape and acoustics of that lounge tracking room, the silver wiring and Neve input components, and Kiara Mudd is a super-talented engineer. That’s a great combination.”

That adds up to an environment where the horn player can trust their ears -- a quality of BB4 that  extends from the performance to the tracking and onto the mixing and mastering.

“Recording at BB4, what you play on the horn is exactly what gets recorded, it’s very transparent,” says Ambrose. “When you’re creating in the moment, its essential to feel that what you play is what you get. I always know that what I hear coming out of the horn is being captured very accurately at BB4. It all comes through.”  

David Weiss