John Marks Teaches ORTF

In a recent news item, John Marks informed readers about free online music production classes now offered from the esteemed Berklee College of Music. Seems like JM himself is taking up this opportunity. In this video assigment, JM shares his explanation of the ORTF microphone placement technique for stereo recording.

Don't be deceived by this simple mic set-up! You don't need six plus microphones in order to record a full band or orchestra with realism and space. Rather, the ORTF method, devised at the Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française at Radio France in 1960 is an easy and efficient way to capture realistic sound with a sense of space as long as the two mics are properly placed. Thankfully, JM's video is a great visual guide.

Here are two recordings ("Not Alone" and "Big Ole Star") I made using ORTF with two inexpensive condenser microphones, certainly not as nice as the Pro Microphones from Sweden JM uses in his video. Though in lossy format from MySpace, you can still perceive the wintry air which surrounded us on that crisp February morning in that old loft space in Harlem, us being the folk super-group Swampluck. You can also hear reflections from the right wall arriving early as a result of the microphones being closer to the right panel of windows, but this is just a tribute to how this simple mic arrangement can accurately represent the sound in the room. In this video, John Marks does an excellent job of explaining why ORTF captures the sound so accurately in real-time, and just why ORTF is just so darn cool.

deckeda's picture

... even before watching this video.

Thanks, John. I'm learning a lot in this course. It's what I needed to dip my toe in these waters.

I was thinking about the mic techniques I've read you use, and of recording just two tracks (since Amadeus only handles 2 tracks). Of course that wouldn't work for everything but it sure does seem simpler than even a fraction of what multi-tracking seems to require.

jimtavegia's picture

With over 50,000 participants world wide it is an amazing opportunity to take this class and I am really enjoying it.  Although all of my recording work is ORTF and spaced omni's, like John, there is still so much to be learned and this class is excellent. Thanks to Stereophile for the heads up. Loudon Stearns is a great teacher. 

Those who use multi-trak DAWs have really been exposed to a great deal of info that will serve them well as they move ahead. 

dalethorn's picture

This is interesting - the Myspace tracks sound like I'm actually listening to people play in my apartment. Now just out of curiosity, what is it that makes these sound real and nearly every commercial recording I have sound lifeless by comparison? I'm hoping for a simple explanation, so I can run down to the Apple store and fetch a couple of inexpensive mics and get started...

Ariel Bitran's picture

I have zero actual recording education other than DIY experiences and a few random tips learned here from JA (including ORTF) and other producer/engineer friends so I will give you my metaphorical answer to your question

this recording was made using only two microphones capturing the event in a real time (all live) in an a pleasing acoustic atmosphere. two microphones is about as close to the experience as listening with two ears as you can get. multi-miked recordings may get you a bit more inner detail (thanks to closer mic placement), but in my opinion, they fail to capture the ambience, the air, and the stereo spread. Sound is just pressurized air so what better way to capture the real event than to capture the artists with all the air surrounding!

luckily for you, April is mic-month at Musician's Friend so you can probably snag a great deal.