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Advice Sought: Politics of Recording a Regional Symphony Orchestra


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I've been doing some 'other' services for a regional symphony for many years.

Recently, I got serious about my videography and sound recording business, and seeing that the orchestra has never been recorded, and seeing how desparate the Classical music sector is, financially, I thought that an audiophile-grade recording of their performance would yield opportunities to promote both the orchestra and my recording talents.

I've made an informal proposal and the staff have been forwarding my ideas to the orchestra chair. They like what I'm proposing, but the situation is deeply-immersed in politics of union contracts, internationally-acclaimed soloists and a variety of yet to be discovered issues.

I've attended one of their dress rehearsals and will be attending another this month to get a feel for the venue (over 1400 seats and nice acoustics), talk to the stage manager about mechanical and electrical matters and to sketch out possible camera and microphone locations.

 

Some of the big concerns are:

 

The orchestra is unionized.

Money is an issue.

The soloists are said to be 'not recordable' per contracts they may have.

 

Someone in another forum posed an interesting thought that an 'archival' recording for the venue could be made for archival purposes only, and that would get around the solo issue. Anything we distribute with the orchestra would be in bits & pieces, not the whole recording.

 

I've stressed to them that I would do this at minimal cost for the sake of granting me the opportunity to try out some new recording methods I have in mind. The resulting product would end up mastered in both DVD (video) and SACD forms and I stated that I would make all recordings available to the orchestra members who wanted to have a keepsake of their performance that they could hand down for generations.

 

Some ancillary facts, if they help:

 

The orchestra is more than 50% supported by donations. The rest from ticket sales.

Regional orchestras in the northeast have been suffering a decline in attendance due to attrition/aging of the audience.

 

 

The obstacles, as I am aware of them:

 

How to deal with the soloists and their managers. (I hate to take 'no' for an answer and hope to work out some mutually agreeable arrangement such that we can maximize benefit to all parties).

 

Dealing with a unionized orchestra of 65 or so players. Getting them all to agree to do this project.

 

Dealing with 'protocol' (it's an apparent fact that recording engineers are the lowest scum of the earth, in the eyes of the orchestra members and the conductor. We can't even speak directly to any of them, I've been warned!)

 

I realize this was rather abbreviated, but I'm sure there are folks here who 'know the drill' and can fill in the holes.

 

So what do you do about the politics and legal issues? How do you succeed in 'getting your way' and getting the sound and picture in totality?

 

This can be a very impressive project and I believe I will pull it off successfully, if I can overcome the legal hurdles and deal with the people issues.

 

If we brainstorm, what sort of solutions to these issues can we develop?

 

Anxious to hear from seasoned recording engineers with orchestral backgrounds!

Best Regards,

 

Mark A. Weiss, P.E.

www.ampexperts.com

-

 

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The ploitics and leagal issues are for the orchestra committee to work out, not you. AFA the logistics, I just did this last weekend with the New Philharmonia Orchestra , a regional orchestra comprised of mostly players from the Boston Pops and BSO. The venue was a beautiful sounding 18th century church, and my approach was simple and massively effective; AN ORTF pair of 414's about 6 feet in front of a 3 feet above the conductor, with a room facing Shure VP-88 on the same stand for any potential surround mix.

 

AFA the musicians being unaproachable, as in your situation, where your face has been seen a few times, these members knew me, and many conversed with me, however I kept out of the limelight, and let them approach me. There's no necessary conversation that must take place between them and you unlike recording a pop band, they do what they do, you capture it, pretty simple. I have a wonderful rappore with the conductor, who infact invited me into his dressing room after the show to share some pizza and smalltalk.

 

Bottom line is to be unobtrusive. Caputre the orchestra as one big instrument.

 

If the soloists refuse to be recorded and have it legally contracted, there's no getting around that, and it's not your job to try to, it's the orchestra managers. My suggestion is DON'T get involved with the politics. If they can't work it out, look for another orchestra that is interested in recording. I'm sure you won't have to look far.

Hope this is helpful.

 

NP Recording Studios

Analog approach to digital recording.

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The orchesttra is allowed to record itself for archival purposes, but it does not sound like all you wish to do is create a recording that can never be distributed, and exists only in some administration member's drawer.

 

In the mindset of the players, there's nothing in it for them except:

 

The union contract allows for recording at a higher rate. Thus, when you record an orchestra, the players get paid more for their performance than usual.

 

Occassionally, if there is a special concert or some other compelling reason to be recorded, the players may take a vote to permit recording and wave their recording fee. The orchestra administration can't do this on behalf of the players; the players must take an actual vote.

 

during recording sessions, orchestras are very regulated. For example, every 10 minutes of music, I believe, gets an hour of recording (which includes a 15 minute break). So if a piece is 12 minutes, that requires more than an hour of recording.

 

If an orchestra knows you, and plays your music from time to time, they may cut you, the composer, some slack. However, they can also be very un-slack-cutting at times. A friend of mine who is a Pulitzer Prize winning composer made a recording system out of a pocket book wiith a hidden microphone in it, so his wife could hold the pocket book and he could secretly record his pieces.

 

What orchestra are you talking about? I see you're from New Milford. What's around there?

 

One solution for you is to record a non-union orchestra, such as a college orchestra, which doesn't have the same limitations and would welcome the opportunity to record.

 

-Peace, Love, and Brittanylips

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I do recordings of all types of orchestras here in LA....

 

What you're discribing is a disaster waiting to happen.

 

1.If you're doing this for free or "low cost" you're never going to be able to get them to pay you more when you get serious and they WILL become more demanding of your time and gear untill you can't possibly make any money.

 

2. If you do work "low cost" they will ALWAYS view you as a cheap beginner and never as a serious professional... even if you work with them for 20 years.

 

3. By charging "less" or doing it for free you'll be lowering both YOUR services and the services of any other engineer who trys to work with the orchestra.

 

4. The union doesn't care WHY you are recording (for yourself... for archive... whatever)....

When they realize you are recording they WILL be upset and probably demand that the orchestra never hire you again. I'm serious... even if you do everything right... ask permission of everyone (including the union) all you need is ONE upset oboe player to raise a fuss and the orchestra will NEVER allow you in the building again for political reasons. It may not be your fault... they won't care....

You'll also loose any gigs you get through the players themselves (recitals, audition tapes etc) which are a big part of the business.

 

What it sounds like to me, is that you'd be putting yourself into one of the most complex political situations possible without any reward.

Most people I know don't record union orchestras until they've worked as an assistant with THAT orchestra first. The ONLY way to get the politics in your favor is to learn the situation first before even hitting a record button.

 

If you want to test out your gear and such find a smaller non-union orchestra FIRST. Find one that is eager to be recorded. If you mess around with the union orchestra you WILL loose, they WILL remember who you are (in a bad way), and you will never be able to get a gig with them or anyone they know (which in most towns is anyone who counts since the orchestra community is small and they all know each other.)

 

My advice.... run... don't walk... away.

 

Some of my gigs:

www.vsoundinc.com

Valkyrie Sound:

http://www.vsoundinc.com

Now at TSUTAYA USA:

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Originally posted by Valkyrie Sound:

I do recordings of all types of orchestras here in LA....

 

What you're discribing is a disaster waiting to happen.

 

1.If you're doing this for free or "low cost" you're never going to be able to get them to pay you more when you get serious and they WILL become more demanding of your time and gear untill you can't possibly make any money.

 

2. If you do work "low cost" they will ALWAYS view you as a cheap beginner and never as a serious professional... even if you work with them for 20 years.

 

3. By charging "less" or doing it for free you'll be lowering both YOUR services and the services of any other engineer who trys to work with the orchestra.

 

4. The union doesn't care WHY you are recording (for yourself... for archive... whatever)....

When they realize you are recording they WILL be upset and probably demand that the orchestra never hire you again. I'm serious... even if you do everything right... ask permission of everyone (including the union) all you need is ONE upset oboe player to raise a fuss and the orchestra will NEVER allow you in the building again for political reasons. It may not be your fault... they won't care....

You'll also loose any gigs you get through the players themselves (recitals, audition tapes etc) which are a big part of the business.

 

What it sounds like to me, is that you'd be putting yourself into one of the most complex political situations possible without any reward.

Most people I know don't record union orchestras until they've worked as an assistant with THAT orchestra first. The ONLY way to get the politics in your favor is to learn the situation first before even hitting a record button.

 

If you want to test out your gear and such find a smaller non-union orchestra FIRST. Find one that is eager to be recorded. If you mess around with the union orchestra you WILL loose, they WILL remember who you are (in a bad way), and you will never be able to get a gig with them or anyone they know (which in most towns is anyone who counts since the orchestra community is small and they all know each other.)

 

My advice.... run... don't walk... away.

 

Some of my gigs:

www.vsoundinc.com

Great advice. The forest through the trees.

 

I do disagree, however, wiith your point #4. There are occassions when the union does care why you are recording, and will support a vote to allow recording or other fees to be waived. This from personal experience. However, those types of circumstances are very different form the one Mark is describing. For his circumstance, you could not be more right.

 

If I were him, I would cut my chops on a university orchestra.

 

-Peace, Love, and Brittanylips

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Originally posted by Valkyrie Sound:

Yes unions do sometimes vote to allow recording....

 

In my personal experience, I've seen union TEACHERS of youth orchestras prohibit PARENTS recording the youth orchestra on their camcorders. :mad:

Me too!

 

I've had orchestras (through a union rep) threaten not to play a concert if a parent videotapes it.

 

It's interesting, this whole union thing with orchestras. For decades (centuries, actually), musicians were exploited, giving rise to the unions. But now, the unions probably go overboard.

 

During recording sessions with orchestras, during the obligatory 15 minute break each so-called hour, I've seen the union rep make sure that the composer and conductor are not allowed to talk to any players, since that would constitute work rather than break.

 

Speaking of NPR (I know you work for NPR), I was working with an orchestra and NPR wanted to come in and do a story on it. The orchestra voted to allow NPR to come in and record them as part of a news piece. However, musical excerpts that were broadcast were limited to a certain number of minutes.

 

-PL&B

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Incidentally, just last week the Philadelphia Orchestra signed a new recording contract with a Finish label in which risk and revenue are shared. The deal required changes in the players contracts with the orchestra, and instead of a flat fee for recording, players will now get a cut.

 

It's really a revolutionary step, the classical counterpart to producer independance from major labels in popular music.

 

-PL&Blips

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Man, you should see some of the crazy union rules surrounding recording for film scores.

 

Depending on where you record, you may not be allowed to record multiple takes for purposes of layering. The idea is if you want it to sound bigger, you have to higher more players.

 

:freak:

----------------------------

Phil Mann

http://www.wideblacksky.com

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Good responses from everyone! Thank you for taking the time to uncover some issues that I can expect.

 

Based on the cautionary comments here, I can foresee carrying some extra protections into the contract, should we sign one. I'm going to treat this like defusing a bomb--very carefully.

 

The orchestra is one that I've been working for for a number of years, in a different capacity.

It is the Greater Bridgeport Symphony Orchestra.

 

I chose them because of our existing relationship and the fact that they aren't a recorded orchestra.

 

I have looked into other orchestras in the area and see that a number of them have contracts with Naxos, so all outside interlopers are discouraged.

 

Interesting point about recording school orchestras. I know that in England, they have gone off the deep end with this 'no recording' rule. Parents can record their child's performance, if another child can be seen in the frame.

 

With laws the way they currently are, I see that opportunities to gain a positive reputation for my business are few to none.

 

I plan to forge ahead with my plan, as the administration is warm to the idea of a "60th Anniversary DVD" celebrating the GBSo's 60th season since their formation.

 

It's frustrating how these orchestras, themselves starving in a dying market, as so stuffy about recording. It seems like a self-destructive behavior.

 

I am writing my proposal from the the angle of providing them a tool which they can use to expand their audience and thus their survivability.

 

I envision two versions of this recording:

 

An archival (me and the orchestra only)

A Distribution/Promotional (heavily edited and abridged.

 

My inside reason is to have simple done this feat, to own the SACD recording that *I* made, and to be able to have material that is actually up to the expectations for which I built my large listening system. That's why I'm not big on the money issue. If I press for $$$, the project will not happen. The orchestra cannot afford it.

 

There is much time yet. The fall season is a ways off yet. Much room to work on the relations, trust building, etc. But I'd like to share the experience and hear from others (and thank you for sharing).

Best Regards,

 

Mark A. Weiss, P.E.

www.ampexperts.com

-

 

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Nobody has the "right" to record or photograph somebody else without their permission unless we are talking about news reporting. It has nothing to do with unions, contracts or anything else other than every individual's right to control the creation and distribution of any audio or visual likeness of themselves.

 

It's just everybody's basic right to privacy.

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Man. I can write volumes on this very subject but I wil outline some very basics.

 

1. The orchestra has a board of directors (not in the musical sense). They are the shot callers.

 

2. If the Orchestra is suppoeted by a "Society" of donars (which they are..and usually listed in the program book) then perhaps the "Society" needs a letter to them from the board asking if they would petition a santioned recording of either one performance or the entire season, paid for by said society. The Board of directors have problems finding any kind of budget for recording, archive or whatever. I worked with an Opera society and all video/audio recordings (world class as well) were archival. Imagine working in a split union/non union venture. Not easy.

 

3. Wear black. Not only will you not be seen from the stage but you may give a menancing appearance so as to not run into any arguments

 

(Number 3 is inserted as humor)

 

Geeze, all of these situations contain so many varibles that must be hammered out prior to the event.

 

Lets look at it this way..

 

Would the Society benefit from the sale of these productions?

 

Would the Board of directors benefit from these productions?

 

Do you have a liason? (Very important if you want to do business with this type of hirarchy)

 

Would you be the one supplying the future material if not for archival purposes?

 

Who is going to pay? It would seem if the Society were to be petitioned, they would be the ones paying for the production.

 

Many unanswered questions here.

 

Their are 3 ways I have been involved with this:

 

1. Hired by the hall underwriters to archive all performances.

 

2. Santioned by the Society and approved by the board.

 

3. That of press credentials covering the story from a news perspective.

 

Who would "Own" these works?

 

College and Universities work differently but major City Symphonies, usually it is best to go through the board.

Bill Roberts Precision Mastering

-----------Since 1975-----------

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Most major label contracts have been with the conductors. The orchestra was treated as employees who worked according to the rules set up by contracts they negotiated with whoever "owns" the orchestra.

 

There is nobody stopping any orchestra from signing artists contracts and working for a percentage. All too often "the union" is used as an excuse by people who aren't willing to just come out and say they don't want to be recorded for some reason or other.

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Originally posted by Bob Olhsson:

There is nobody stopping any orchestra from signing artists contracts and working for a percentage. All too often "the union" is used as an excuse by people who aren't willing to just come out and say they don't want to be recorded for some reason or other.

I think this is the first time this has happened with an established orchestra (in Philly). Typically, orchestra players record for a flat fee.

 

i don't think the union is invoked as an excuse by orchestra musicians who do not want to be recorded. All orchestra musicians I have ever known are delighted to record. The union collectively bargains on their behalf, because you can't have 100 different recording contracts with each individual player. However, as a result of musician exploitation in the past, the union has become awfully hard-assed about recording fees and conditions.

 

-Peace peace peace, Love love love, and Britanylips lips lips

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