As printed in the September 2007 issue of Classical Singer Magazine.
Say It With Orchestra
by Amanda White
Gurari Studios has long been one of the nation’s top go-to
spots for recording your demo. Now Gurari has taken laying down the tracks to an
entirely new level with a new
project, the Gurari Studios Orchestra. Head engineer Jeremy Gerard and conductor Thomas Carlo Bo sat down with Classical Singer to explain how they made it work, and to provide some advice to keep in mind when you plan your next recording.
Classical Singer: Are you the only place that does this?
Jeremy Gerard: Well, yeah, in America. That’s how I came to starting this whole thing. I’ve mastered a lot of projects from Eastern European countries, from Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia, and I kind of thought of
the idea of doing it here instead of [having] all these American singers running over to Eastern European countries to do this type of thing. There’s nothing [else] like this in America.
We have heard that you can go over to Romania for example and have some great orchestral recording made, and that it’s affordable. Have you made it as affordable here?
JG: We have. We’ve been able to negotiate very good rates with the orchestra. It’s very competitive.
Thomas Carlo Bo: A couple weeks back I went to some of the websites of some of the people who offer these [recording] packages, and they’re really pretty expensive. This way, one of the advantages is you’re in New York. You can call your engineer; you can call Jeremy on the phone. If you’re going to Europe for a three- or four-day package, you’re crunched with the coachings. For one of the sessions we did, I rehearsed with the singer as much as three or four weeks in advance, just because
we could do it on the schedule—so we were quite comfortable going in. So there are lots of small things that make the New York location more convenient.
JG: Well, not only that, but we’ve been able to negotiate minimal contractual times with the orchestra. If we have multiple people you could book as little as one hour of time and you could theoretically lay down two arias. So if you only have a certain amount of money to spend, it’s possible to just book an hour of time.
TCB: If we can schedule it so you fi nd, say, one other person with a compatible orchestra size.
JG: We have a minimal contractual period of two hours with the orchestra, so that’s another unique thing. Everyone’s willing to do this for just a two-hour setup.
Before we go into this any further, tell me: What’s the damage?
JG: The price will vary. I can’t give you a set price because it will vary per aria. The base orchestra of any Mozart or Handel would be about 23 players.
TCB: We’re looking at sort of a base, which could actually be smaller. We have a set number of strings, and I think we’re imagining, between woodwinds and brass, about eight. Now it just so happens some Mozart arias can be done with six on the woodwind and brass side. Some need 10.
JG: So you’d be looking at about—this includes everything: orchestra, contractor, parts, venue rental, sound engineer, producer, conductor, and two free coachings—so the first hour is approximately $2,400, and then it drops for the second hour to like $1,700 or $1,800. So it’ll vary. And we have a fantastic contractor. Anywhere from these smaller Mozartean type orchestras of 23 players all the way up to a full Wagner orchestra of 50 to 70 players. It would be no problem. So it can be totally customized to the person’s liking and the individual aria.
So how much would it cost comparatively to go over to Eastern Europe and do something like that?
JG: I don’t really want to say because I’d be misquoting, but it was literally double, more than double those figures.
TCB: What some of the people do is they sell a package. Three days, so many hours with the recording, and then the package has to include hotels, it includes cabs to and from the hotels, so there’s a whole list of
additional things, and it doesn’t include airfare.
JG: We’re not in competition with them. People from Europe are going to do these things. This is for Americans, or for people while they’re maybe singing in America. They might be Europeans that have gigs
So how did you get your orchestra to agree to such reasonable fees?
JG: I know some . . .
TCB: This is going to be the “I know a guy who knows a guy . . .” right?
This is New York!
TCB: “I know dis guy...”
You’re Italian, I know.
TCB: Only half. No, I knew a bunch of people who were sort of in the business, and I knew a couple of guys who had done this kind of work before—the contracting work—but for ensembles that might not be, say, the philharmonic, but had excellent reputations for quality. And so we talked to a couple of them and we came to terms. . . . The basic answer, I think, is that the contractor and the musicians that have worked with us so far see this as a couple of things that make it of interest to them. They see that it’s going to grow, and they know from what we’ve done so far that we’re going to try to be loyal to a base of musicians, so they see it as the beginning of a work pool for them.
JG: Yeah, and it’s a steady, easy gig for them. After our fi rst session awhile back I got numerous, numerous e-mails from the orchestra saying how impressed they were with how the whole thing was run, the “professionality” of the whole thing, and how much they enjoyed it, because it was very tight and organized, and for that particular session it was just a fantastic singer, so everyone seemed to be very into it.
How long have you been doing this?
JG: We started this about five months ago, or so. We had numerous test sessions. We needed to make sure the room was right, how the whole miking was going to work, and so there were numerous sessions of that. Then we finally put together the whole package with brochures and CD examples, that kind of thing. So we’re kind of like officially just starting within the last month or so.
Who are your clients? I mean, who does this? Is it top-level professional singers? Is it composers?
JG: Right now it’s been mostly singers. There have been a couple people with established careers and then a couple people on the young artist level who just want a really good demo that will last them for years.
It’s very useful having an orchestral demo, something you can do actual edits with. The normal thing is you would just record your live performance with a full orchestra and then if there’s a mistake, you know, you’re stuck with it. But [with] this you can do everything you do in the studio: full edits, total balance control. You’re on separate tracks between you and the orchestra. So it’s a demo that can really last you for years.
If this is just a demo, what would make a person want to make an orchestral demo, instead of just a piano demo? Their voice is going to sound the same, right?
JG: Well, first of all, that is one aspect, the demo. The other thing is, these recordings, they sound fantastic, and they can be for major release. So that’s just one aspect of it. The advantage of doing the demo with orchestra instead of piano is that it demonstrates many aspects [of a singer’s abilities]. First, your musicality and your color, how you sound with an orchestra. Many companies and competitions would prefer to hear you with an orchestra than with just a piano.
TCB: I know from my end, as a conductor, one of the professional needs you have as a singer is: Ultimately, if you’re preparing for the stage, you need to know that you can sing with an orchestra and with a conductor. It’s an utterly different relationship than the relationship between you and your pianist, who can, shall we say, cover a multitude of sins. I know because I have been in the position of sin-coverer myself as a pianist on occasion. But one aspect of doing it this way is you sort of demonstrate that level of professionalism, that you’re capable of making the coordination with conductor and orchestra as well. And so, if you’re on the hiring end and you hear that, that’s one element that you check off. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had somebody come in and just sing a stunning audition, and then you get them with the orchestra and you find they’re a musical idiot. It might not be the most obvious concern, but it is a legitimate concern on the other side.
JG: And it’s not like it’s stress-free, doing these sessions. It’s a lot of money being laid out and you need to have your stuff together. It’s kind of like doing a performance. It’s not like I’m going to make it [all happen] for them, in terms of the engineering.
TCB: No, that’s true, I have to say. That was one of the things that I realized as we were doing it: that to come into this situation and just function with this level of pressure, showing that you can function that way—well, it
speaks well for you. It speaks well for you as a singer, and that, of course, translates to the other side.
For more information about Gurari Studios, visit their website at www.guraristudios.com.
Amanda White, a coloratura soprano and new resident of New
York City, specializes in contemporary music and crossover. She loves to talk
about singing and just about anything else, so don't hesitate to contact her at
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