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  • Léo Chupin

From Studio to Spotify: The Art of Capturing the Emotion of a Solo Piano

Just over a year ago, Gwendal Giguelay delighted us with his performance of "Chopin: 24 Études". I'm privileged to reveal the secrets of his recording, from mixing to mastering, backstage at the Meudon studio.

The Quest for Perfect Sound

Before even pressing the "Record" button, I immersed myself in a Spotify playlist of 72 interpretations of Chopin's first etude. This quest allowed me to draw the perfect sound map, distilling what I liked and discarding what I wanted to avoid.

Stéréo :

  • They are often very mono, even "shifted", with, for example, most of the signal located between the center and the right side.

  • Horizontal movement of notes in the stereo is barely audible. High notes are very static at a particular point in the stereo.

I'm going to aim for a nice width of the piano where you can hear the movements in the keyboard.

Depth and reverb :

  • The piano sometimes sounds very distant, drowned out by the reverb, which is too long and too artificial.

  • I like it when there's a fairly natural reverb, which you don't hear per se, or when you hear a coherent space.

  • On some recordings, you get the impression that the low and high notes are on two different depth planes.

I'm going to strive for a beautiful perception of the piano: a natural image in a natural space.

Spectral balance :

  • It's often uneven and unbalanced, with very aggressive or metallic trebles, very little air and non-existent bass.

  • The best-sounding recordings have nice timbres in the high notes and good note transparency.

I'll be aiming for a spectral balance that brings out the full spectrum, and making sure to respect the timbres of the piano.

The Meudon studio is a benchmark for the quality of its pianos, its equipment and its team!

Magical recording & mythical microphones

For a perfect recording, three fundamental elements are taken into account: the musician, his instrument and the environment. These parameters interact with each other, and you have to adapt to capture the performance in the best possible way.

I'm very familiar with the Steinway (an incredible instrument) and the studio space in Meudon, and I know how to make the most of their qualities: the room has slightly present acoustics without being excessively reverberate.

I therefore need to position my main pair of microphones in such a way as to maximize the capture of direct sound while maintaining control over reverberation. Last but not least, Gwendal has a precise and delicate touch, which reduces the need for technical compensation on my part.

Main pairing: two DPA 4042 in AB pairing (which tends towards ORTF) for a beautiful, precise and natural image. Perfect for classical music.

Surround pair: two Ehrlund EHR-M in ORTF, these microphones are incredible, nothing to complain about. You feel as if you're in the room, in front of the piano.

Close Couple: To bring back "wood", I placed two Royer R121s under the piano. A very distinctive sound, to be used sparingly to thicken the sound without distorting the stereo image.

The Set-Up

Preamp : HV3D millennia, widely used in classical, are very transparent, but I sometimes find them a little metallic. I used Neve 33115s to add a little color and roundness. It's a sound that you love and recognize.

The format : High definition: 88Khz, 24bits on Pro Tools through an Antelope Orion 32HD.

Mixing: Art and Science

Cleaning up tracks

A quick run through Izotope RX to remove hiss and extraneous noise.

Align microphones in phase

In-Dis-Pen-Sable step! To compensate for differences in distance between microphones. The image gains in precision, bass and treble are restored, and transparency is restored!

Balance between microphones

Finding the right balance where the mics complement each other, where the music comes to life.

The reverb

Four reverbs that complement and compliment each other to build a deep, natural overall image.

The Eqs on the audio tracks are just low cuts. Only the Royer torque is set back to match the DPAs. The Rematrix reverb is a convolution from an Italian concert hall.

Equalization and compression

When it came to mixing, I started the process, but it was clear that Gwendal was aiming for sonic purity without alteration. Indeed, most plug-ins introduce a certain coloration, subtle or pronounced, into the sound. The slightest compression affects the nuances of his playing. Gwendal, gifted with an extremely fine ear, capable of detecting the slightest nuances, let nothing slip through his fingers. As a result, transparency and lightness became the watchwords of our mixing work.

After exploring various approaches, I finally opted for a return to basics. I chose the FabFilter Pro Q3 equalizer, making a few dynamic adjustments to ensure maximum transparency.

The Final Masterpiece

Mastering was carried out with simplicity, and a FabFilter L-2 limiter (which only cuts rare transients) adds the finishing touch. The result is impeccable and ready to share on Spotify and other platforms.

Emotion, Precision and Passion

The journey from recording to mastering is a complex one, with each decision a step closer to a sonic ideal.

Emotion, precision and passion combine to capture the music, and now you can enjoy it on Spotify :

And last but not least: A word from the artist!

"I enormously enjoyed our work on the recording of Chopin's Études with Léo. He modelled an extremely comfortable sound environment, and was able to accompany all my musical desires. Our discussions about editing and mixing were particularly fruitful, and Léo was very pedagogical in his approach to the tools used. I'm proud and happy with the result, which corresponds in every way to what I had planned. " Gwendal Giguelay

Find Gwendal on Instagram:

Released by the label "By Classique" The album is available in high definition on platforms such as Qobuzz.

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