Studio players, hither and yon

Charles Brady’s comment about the presence (and often absence) of union players in sg studios reminds me of a related topic: eastern European orchestras. Is their use popular outside of southern gospel? Are there rules or contractual obligations that prohibit more mainstream genres from regularly outsourcing orchestral work to small ex-Soviet bloc countries? Or have I not noticed because I haven’t looked closely enough? Southern gospel audiences tend to treat the Prague Symphony Orchestra playing on a Greater Vision track or whatever as something of an exotic mark of distinction, but I imagine in the mainstream music bidness this would be looked upon as something just a step above crossing the picket line (yes, I’m looking at you Mike Huckabee).

I don’t have anything much to say about this one way or another. Just curious, mostly. I might have more political qualms with the outsourcing thing if it looked to be a significant trend or if it were actually taking jobs from Nashville players. But we all know that the choice for most sg groups who outsource orchestral arrangements overseas, even top-tier groups, isn’t an American chamber orchestra or a European one, but rather the former Czech Republic or Casio. And as a consumer of gospel music, I’d rather hear live strings from any country than a crummy synthesizer made in the good ole U.S. of A. (or wherever Casios are made, and yes I know they don’t actually use Casios). Thus the global economy comes to sg.

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  1. Kyle wrote:

    I’ve heard quite a few SG projects lately have have not only have no union players on it….it has no players AT ALL. All of the music is done electronically with loops and synth patches - not a live musician anywhere in the mix.

  2. Brad wrote:

    I’ll just stick with Milton Smith…he does amazing orchestrations for me and I don’t have to mortgage the house to get my strings done…technology has come a long long way! Sure…using a real orchestra is great for the ego and bragging rights…and yes…the sound is amazing…but so is a well captured sample… your average listener will not care one way or another.

  3. Daniel J. Mount wrote:

    Doug, the practice is somewhere between “not unheard of” and “somewhat common” in Inspirational/AC/CCM. I recall that back when I followed that genre more closely, several artists issued press releases and made a big deal of trips to Prague, while many others noted it more quietly in the liner notes.

    As I understand, many of the famous orchestras in our country focus on being performing entities and doing their own recordings. A notable exception is the Nashville String Machine. That orchestra, the London Session Orchestra, and the Prague Philharmonic seem to be the three (or three of the) leaders in the commercial studio recording business.

  4. CVH wrote:

    Christian labels have contracted with overseas orchestras since the 70’s. There was a trend, especially with a lot of the Benson and some of the Word product, to arrange it here, cut the rhythm tracks here, then overdub the orchestra in London. Sometimes it was a ‘name’ orchestra, but more often a group of top symphony players they’d give a name to like the London Sinfonia or the Philharmonic Orchestra of London (as opposed to actual standing orchestras like the Royal Philharmonic or the London Philharmonic Orchestra). No problem with the name, they were mostly the same players and it gave a perceived touch of class to the projects. And the playing was top-notch. But a major factor was cost; it was less expensive to fly the conductor (a Ronn Huff, Rick Powell, Lari Goss, etc.) and a technician to London, hire the orchestra and bring the umixed tracks back to Nashville for mixing than it was to do the orchestra in Nashville or elsewhere in the U.S. Plus, given the production schedules for projects by the same company, they would frequently bundle sessions and cut orchestra tracks for several different projects by several artists at the same time. Again, more cost-effective.

    Since the Soviet block began to open up in the early 90s the eastern European orchestras have readily taken on work and at lower cost and non-union. The obstacles are that while they may have material ahead of time they don’t often rehearse it before the recording session (although their sight-reading is generally spot-on) and there needs to be an understanding between the producer and arranger with the local conductor (or a good translator) to make sure cues and parts are clearly understood.

    I’ve been in Greater Vision concerts where Gerald has related the stories of recording in Europe and when he mentions the Prague Symphony there’s a noticeable murmur from the crowd, no doubt impressed by the mystery and intrigue of a former Eastern bloc city or perhaps by the fact that these three guys from little ole Morristown, Tennessee went all the way to Europe to have their orchestrations cut. Pretty heady stuff to Aunt Blabby.

    With one exception I’ve always cut rhythm tracks first, then overdubbed strings separately, then horns, woods, and other stuff later (aux perc, etc.). It’s thousands of dollars per session but still less than hiring a full orchestra. The one time I did that it was around $40,000.

    Like anything else, it’s outsourcing. Whether good U.S. players are losing work is probably debatable. Their share of the overall market is still pretty healthy since most major secular labels budget enough to do the orchestra here rather than overseas.

  5. Montana Man wrote:

    Seems to me the original Couriers did a breakthrough recording with the London Symphony Orchestra, I think rather than the London “Session” Orchestra. Back in the mid 1960’s. Others may have better recall of that, and maybe it was one of their two Warner Brothers albums.

  6. Canuk wrote:

    Interesting tidbit…
    I was just watching some bonus features on a disc that came with the film “Open Range” (Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall). Apparently the soundtrack for the movie was recorded by an orchestra in Prague.

  7. Ben Harris wrote:

    A year or so back we were singing with Greater Vision in Texas and Gerald was telling me about going to Eastern Europe for his orchestral work. He said the players there complained because the tracks were a bit flat. I explained to him that they use a different pitch reference. Ours is 440 = A, but theirs is 445 = A. I have never personally used an Eastern Block string section, but I have recorded many string sessions from New York, Nashville and L. A. String arrangements and hiring an orchestra can be very expensive but nothing quite compares to that sound if recorded properly.

  8. John wrote:

    To #5…

    The original Couriers did make an album with the London Symphony Orchestra.

    “Sweet and Shouting Spirituals” was cut in 1970…Jerry Nelson did the orchestrations, recorded them with the London Symphony, took them back to the States, and the Couriers then added their vocals, and made one of their most distinctive albums.

    They employed a 16-piece orchestra for their famous “Nothing But…The Gospel Truth” album for Warner Brothers in 1963, which was made up primarily of students from Bowling Green State University in Kentucky.

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