Where to Start if You Want to Record Your Ensemble

There are lots of reasons you might want to record your ensemble: for an ensemble festival or competition submission, for your students and their parents to have something to keep for memories, or for your program’s archives. If you’ve never tried to record a group before, you might be wondering where to start and how much will it cost? We’ve got some tips, tricks and equipment suggestions to help you get started recording your ensemble quickly.

What are Some Basic Ensemble Recording Tips?

Choose the Best Space

Where you choose to record your ensemble can make a huge difference in the sound. If possible, look for the following characteristics in your recording space:

- A large room with high ceilings – this will help with the blending of the instruments and reduce the harsher sounds that can occur in smaller rooms when the musicians are too close together.

- Make sure to minimize background noise, such as outside sounds from traffic or passersby, air vents, any buzzing or vibrating lights and other noise that could be picked up by your microphones.

- Before you go to all the work of setting up your equipment and scheduling your musicians, do some test recording in the space. Using something like Zoom H1n Handy Recorder will help you make sure it sounds how you want and that there aren’t any ambient noises that you didn’t previously notice.

Select the Appropriate Equipment

While it’s likely that you’re operating on a limited budget, try to use the best ensemble recording equipment you can afford, such as condenser microphones and high quality cables and headphones. If you’re short on funds, you could rent some equipment or see if another music program might allow you to borrow from them. 


High-quality microphones are probably the single most important piece of equipment to successfully record your ensemble. Luckily there are great options for all sizes of groups and budget considerations:  Audio-Technica AT2035 Cardioid Condenser Microphone, Beyerdynamic M 201 TG Dynamic Directional Microphone, Peavey VCM 3 Choir Mic, Audix F9 Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone, and the Korg CM-300 Contact Microphone are all excellent products. If you’re looking for an all-in-one package, take a look at the Shure Beta 58A, Stand & Cable Package.

You can also consider portable recording studios depending on your budget, space and group size. Products like the Tascam DP-24SD 24-Track Digital Portastudio may be useful for quicker setup and post-production work. 

Browse a complete selection of gear to record your ensemble to start planning your needs.

Set up the equipment properly

This may be the most intimidating part of recording your ensemble, but it doesn’t have to be! These simple set up tips will have you well on your way.

- Use two condenser microphones on a bar on one stand, or you can use two stands and place them about 4 feet apart.

- For a small ensemble, like a string quartet or wind quintet, you can place the microphones about 5 feet in front of the musicians on a mic stand about 4 feet high. For larger ensembles, you’ll want to position the microphones quite a bit higher above the musicians – 12-15 feet if possible. In this situation, you could use a fifteen-foot mic stand with a stereo pair bracket or mics hanging from the ceiling.

- Be sure to follow the instructions on your equipment to ensure that all the cables are plugged into the appropriate input and output sockets. Do some test recording to confirm you are capturing sound from all your microphones.

Perform Some Test Recordings

Before you bring your students in for final recording, it’s important to work out the kinks in the room and equipment set up by performing some test recordings. Using the tips from above, set up your equipment in the way you think will work best for your room, your ensemble and your musical selections. Ask a small group of students to help you make several brief recordings. You should carefully note the setup, adjust the equipment and seating for each test recording. Once you have several tests completed, listen to the recordings and note which set up gave you the best sound – you’ll use this setup for your final recording.

Recording Your Ensemble

Now you’re ready to record your ensemble. Set up the equipment and the musicians in the manner that gave you the best test recording. Set the recording levels carefully and check them using the loudest passage of the selection. Recording experts recommend you set the levels just under the loudest level on the meter. If you are using a mixer, set levels in this order: input level, mix, main and finally recorder levels.

On the day of your recording, budget enough time to do a sound check. Ideally, you’d also allow enough time to do more than one recording so you can get the absolute best results possible. Resist the temptation to adjust levels during the recording.  Once you have set things up, performed your testing and sound check, then just let the musicians play. Be patient and give yourself time to learn and adjust. This is why it’s great to have time to do a second session – you could make minor adjustments after the first one if necessary.

Congratulations - you’ve successfully recorded your ensemble. Be proud of yourself and your students for tackling this new adventure! If you need more advice on equipment for recording, our music experts are available to help guide your selection of the best products out there.  Give us a call us at 800-346-4448 to discuss your recording needs and budget.