Sound is the Setup, Setup is the Sound

Stéphane Reichart - Music Scorer and Mixer

Sennheiser’s Pro Talk Series on YouTube features interviews with the industry’s most respected audio professionals, including music scorer and mixer, Stéphane Reichart, whose credits are found on countless French films as well as internationally acclaimed movies like Taken 3 and March of the Penguins 2. A trained clarinetist, Reichart’s most preferred type of music to score, record and mix is orchestras, which he primarily does from his home base – Backyard Studios in Paris.

Originally set up for editing and projects with lower budgets, Backyard Studios is aptly named for its beautiful outdoor garden space, which Reichart says is a rarity in Paris. “It’s an old printing house from the beginning of the [last] century,” he says of the studio. “It’s not a formal studio, [but] every client [is] very happy to be [here], so I decided to stay, make some adjustments with my colleague, [including the acoustics of the room and the garden.]”

Reichart’s love for the studio began in his teenage years, while he was studying clarinet in conservatory. On happenstance, someone offered to show him a studio and, “when I saw the desk, I thought ‘wow, I want to do that. I just want to record musicians,’ ” he explains of his first encounter two decades ago. “After that, I just followed the line; found the school and the internship to be a sound engineer.”

Reichart’s parents were very supportive of his choice, even going so far as to help connect him with an engineer. After a short string of ‘telephone,’ Reichart eventually reached the perfect contact, Claude Ermelin, a film sound producer whom Reichart saw as an inspiration because of his credits on major motion pictures. Thanks to his experiences, Reichart was hired directly from school for an internship and, as luck would have it, the assistant at the studio who specialized in orchestral recordings was scheduled to leave just a few months later. “He said ‘you just have three months to prove yourself,’ and then I never left.”

After a couple of years, Reichart met Didier Lizé, and went on to work as his assistant – managing all of the studio set ups and learning the ropes of interacting with clients, as well as the essentials of recording. “Everyone knew I was Didier’s assistant and that I did all the set ups just the way he wanted,” says Reichart. “We had a huge session in Eastern Europe and I didn’t know the studios or the musicians, [just] the crew and the composers. Didier’s wife was really sick and he had to [rush] back to France. He said ‘Stéphane knows everything, he will manage the project.’ We recorded for one week, 14 sessions, and it was huge. Everyone knew about this project… and that was the beginning of my career.”

“I am here right now because of these two guys,” he adds. “I learned everything from them; how to record and how to be with the clients, because it’s really important how you are with the clients.”

For Reichart, this career has been especially profound. “Sound engineers work on TV, for pop music, for commentary, but music scoring mixers work for films specifically,” he explains. “The main difference between recording an orchestra and [other] music is that, in orchestra, we want to have to have the sound of the rooms we’re recording. In pop, you have a close sound and you want to keep something really close and in front. The orchestra, I think, is the opposite. We try to have the acoustics of the of the room, to keep in the best perspective of all the orchestra; the woodwinds, the percussions, the second plan, the first plan, brass on the left and the right, bass on the right, violins on the left – balance. If people listen to the music and just close their eyes, they could see the orchestra as if they were in the room.”

At Backyard Studios, Reichart has this process down-pat. “I enjoy recording orchestras all the time, because I really like to be there before the recordings to setup all the mics [and] the chairs, it's really important,” he says. “One engineer [told me that] ‘sound is the setup, setup is the sound.’ If you get the right setup, you get the right sound. The first thing I do when I come into a room is just clap my hands just to see how it sounds. After that is placing the chairs. It’s very important. I have special spaces between chairs and I know it works. For me, you have to have the right mic at the right place; that’s the rule to get a good recording. I also measure the height of the mics and I click all the mics, so I know which mics, which inputs, which gain I need. So that when I’m recording, I know that everything works just the way I want.”

Reichart says his recording style is influenced by the Decca tree orchestral recording technique. “I try to get 80 or 90 percent of the sound with three mics, [but] I don’t use the original tree,” he continues. “I use something like these speakers [on my mixing room wall, which are arranged in a grid of sorts]. Each speaker is a mic, then I put some mid-mics just to cover each section. And I will just adjust in two or three minutes. Sometimes one pass and I’m ready. If I could offer advice to recording engineers, it’s to put the right mics in the right place. If you have good preparations, good placement of chairs, microphones, everything will be okay. Sound is the setup, setup is the sound.”

When it comes to his setup, Reichart has a full arsenal of Neumann and Sennheiser mics to achieve his desired sound. “I mainly use the M150 or the original M50s from Neumann, it’s my favorite,” he says. “I also use the Sennheiser mics, the MKH series, mainly the MKH 40. It sounds really nice on brass, like trumpets. I also use the new series, the MKH 8040s, 8050s and 8090s, that I really love. I use a lot of [the new] wide cardioids on horns, spots for violins, ambience [and as] mid-mics on percussions, it sounds really nice. I also use the MKH 30s figure 8 as mid-mics on woodwinds and strings, and I use the MKH 800 TWIN as mid- and wide-mics.”

He also has a set of custom, one-of-a-kind microphones from a Swiss company called Myrinx that have Neumann M150s at their core. “We were thinking about the instruments and said, ‘for many centuries we’re using wood for instruments because we know the sound is reflecting the wood, and all the mics are using metal – why can’t we use wood?’ The body is made with Swiss wood… and it has an organic grill, completely round, so you [don’t] have any reflections. I decided to get five M150’s, three of them are now rebuilt and I [have] two original ones.”

In the studio “I work on the ATC speakers,” Reichart adds. “We have [100s for LCR] and 20s for the surround. I use the Sennheiser 650 headphones, they are my second ears. I always have the 650s nearby. When I’m home, when I go to the mastering [session], when I’m working outside, there are always one or two.”

In addition to his equipment choices, Reichart also manages the inputs in a distinctive way. “It’s a really good idea to change the directivity of the mics into the mix,” he says. Send the “mics directly into preamps, [then] directly into ProTools and [don’t] process. I just look in ProTools between the tree and the spot mics and I delay the difference so everything is in phase; that’s my sound. When I’m mixing, I don’t use a lot of process for the orchestra. Most of the time, it’s a bit of EQ in the low end and the high end [to make it] more comfortable for listening. Sometimes [a bit of] compression, but most of the time I try to ride the orchestras. The room is the sound and you just have to enjoy [it].”

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