Engineers Gus Pollek and Jack Vad (l to r) placing Royer SF-2 ribbon mics on side-by-side pianos while recording the San Francisco Symphony on stage at Davies Symphony Hall. Photo: Kristen Loken
San Francisco, CA – February 2015…West Side Story, the timeless musical set in the Upper West Side neighborhood of New York City that explores the rivalry between two gangs—the Jets and the Sharks—while drawing inspiration from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, was recorded by the San Francisco Symphony for release on SACD and digital download. Released on the SFS Media label in June 2014, the recording recently received a Grammy® Awards nomination in the category Best Musical Theater Album. To capture the orchestral performances, ribbon microphones from Burbank, CA-based Royer Labs were utilized.
San Francisco-based Jack Vad, whose pedigree includes over 200 commercial classical releases for prominent labels including BMG Classics, Nonesuch Records, and New Albion Records in addition to projects for SFS Media, serves as the producer / engineer of the San Francisco Symphony. Since 2009, Vad has been the producer/engineer for all SFS Media in-house recording productions. With credentials like these, Vad can choose any microphones he wants. He discussed the challenges of the West Side Story project and his fondness for the Royer Labs SF-24 Stereo Active Ribbon Microphone, the SF-2 Mono Ribbon Microphone, and the R-122 Active Ribbon Microphone.
“West Side Story was recorded at Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, home of the San Francisco Symphony June 27-July 2, 2013,” Vad reports. “Since we had to capture everything from the live, semi-staged performance, the main challenge was to ensure a studio caliber sound. Although there are many fine microphones available, I find that Royer ribbons add a warmth and depth of character that isn’t always present with other microphone types. The ribbon microphone’s characteristics are the ideal complement to the digital recording process.”
For the West Side Story project, Vad used a Royer SF-24 as the primary drum kit mic, three SF-2 microphones for celli, solo bass, and piano, plus an R-122 to capture the saxophone ensemble. “The Royer SF-24 on the drum kit was something we had wanted to try for a long time,” Vad explains. “Although we needed to experiment with placement, we ultimately ended up with a front of kit location that was slightly higher than the cymbals and angled slightly down to ‘look’ at drummer Raymond Froehlich. In this position, we were able to capture the complete kit—including the kick. We were amazed how much of the kick we were able to pick up from the SF-24! Ultimately, no other drum kit microphones were used for this recording.”
“West Side Story required closer mic placement than is usually the case for the San Francisco Symphony recordings,” Vad added. “It was extremely important that those instances of close mic locations still achieved a natural, non-hyped quality that would blend with the standard hall pickup. As a result, the R-122 microphones on the three sax players excelled compared to other microphones by providing a wonderfully balanced and impactful sound.”
Vad was also very complimentary of the Royer SF-2’s versatility. “The downstage location of the lidless piano allowed us to place an SF-2 high above the strings in a vertical pickup pattern which offered us a beautiful piano sound and terrific flexibility in the mixing process,” Vad explained. “Further, the SF-2s on the first stand celli and principal bass has become a standard for us, as the SF-2 produces clarity and a full range response without any high frequency exaggeration.”
When the West Side Story recording was nominated for the Grammy Award, Vad reflected on the project, “Working with Michael Tilson Thomas, the wonderful cast, and the San Francisco Symphony on this recording project was a great honor. Receiving the Grammy nomination further confirmed our sense of the special and important quality of this production, which has now become our most highly reviewed recording. We are continually amazed at the versatility of the Royer microphones—especially the SF-2 and SF-24 models. At this point, they are absolutely essential to the recorded sound of all the San Francisco Symphony media releases.”
For additional information about the San Francisco Symphony, visit them online at www.sfsymphony.org. More information about SFS Media recordings can be found in the online press kit at http://www.sfsymphony.org/About-Us/Press-Room/Press-Kits/SFS-Media.aspx.
About Royer Labs
Located in Burbank, California, Royer Labs’ microphones are a staple of leading recording and broadcast facilities. For additional information about the SF-24, SF-2, R-122 and all Royer microphones, please visit the company at www.royerlabs.com.