Christian Howes String Productions Interview with Releasetime.de

We had the chance to talk with ReleaseTime.de, a website dedicated to interviews with industry leaders, world-renowned artists, tests on hardware and software and detailed tutorials. Originally done in German, here is the English translated version.


Q: When did you decide something like your Strings recordings service needs to be established? What were the reasons – apart from the financial aspects?

A:  I played with Les Paul a lot during the last ten years of his life and we became friends. He and I used to talk all the time about overdubbing (he invented it!). He got a kick out of the fact that I overdubbed string sections by myself. I used to work with a lot of producers who would hire me to come in and improvise and/or “stack” (overdub) many violin parts. Then I acquired an “Octavegeige,” which sounds an octave beneath the violin, so this enabled me to create fuller string sections. Once I was a teacher at Berklee College of Music and file sharing became the norm (about five years ago), I figured it would be a natural idea to assemble a team of musicians who could record remotely from their own studios. Some of my students at helped me get started with this collaboration idea, and my “star” student, Christopher Marion, went on become the most integral part of our creative team, because he had all the abilities as an arranger, player, and improviser.


Q: In your opinion, what makes your service unique?

A: Our service is unique particularly due to our fast turn around. We’ve got players standing by at all times to field whatever work comes in, so for us to turn around a job in 3 hours is not unusual!  We’re also unique because of our versatility as players and our ability to improvise in many styles.


Q: Do you see your service as only important for semi-professional and professional composers or do you see a market in hobby musicians who want to hear their music played by top-notch string players?

A: Though most of our work is for professional composers and producers, we’ve done plenty of work for hobby musicians! On many of these projects, we’re asked to write and arrange strings for the artist.


Q: What do you do in order to keep the prices affordable?

A: We use fewer players than a live section recording, save studio costs, and engineering costs, so there is a ton of cost savings inherent in our process. Also, our team is extremely efficient. We’re also able to deliver accurate parts when reading and creative/appropriate arrangements when composing string parts. A vast majority of the time, our clients respond to our first draft enthusiastically, so there’s rarely a need to put in significant additional time doing revisions. Our players don’t have to leave their homes, they can work at their own convenience, and since we often bundle projects together, they’re able to deliver the same results at a reduced hourly rate.


Q: There are full orchestra solutions out there – any thoughts on why someone writing for orchestra should still choose your service?

A: While delivering a comparable result, our turnaround time is faster and our rates are more affordable than most full orchestra solutions.


Q: Is there any way a composer can attend their recording session personally or remotely?

A: We often collaborate with composers by sending drafts very quickly to check articulations and other nuances. It is possible for composers to collaborate via Skype, but often, once our clients have worked with us, they prefer to use their time doing other things and let us execute the tracks.


Q: Prior to the interview, you’ve already told me you can work with MIDI arrangements and a mock-up in order to create the parts – I don’t need to supply a fully-fledged sheet version of my music. How does this additional service affect the price?

A: We offer a transcription service at a low hourly rate to transcribe charts for composers who prefer not to spend time on notation or transcription.


Q: Do you use more than one microphone (position) when recording strings?

A: In general, the technique that we’ve found to produce the most natural sounding results is to leave the microphone in one place and physically move the player to various positions around the room. This way the character of the room is captured as it would be if a group of players was playing into an overhead mic.


Q: Do you only send me the finished mix or can I get the individual tracks/positions to do my own mixing?

A: We’re generally asked to deliver dry and uncompressed individual files, but we’re fully capable of delivering our own mixes.


Q: On the technological side: What kind of record equipment do you use? 

A: Our preferred DAW is Pro Tools.  Our players each use 3rd generation Avid M-boxes and various large and small diaphragm condenser, dynamic, and ribbon microphones.


Q: A competitor of yours who does full-orchestra recordings on demand stresses how important Union players are for them. Are the string players you record members of the AFM?

A: We are capable of working union or non union. The union has not really dealt with the question regarding how home studios change the nature of recording work. In other words, if a player is working at his home studio, there is no travel involved, no cartage, etc. I agree that a musician should be paid a certain minimum to leave his house and drive to a studio at a specified time, but it also follows that the same musician could afford to do the project for less money if he/she can stay home and work on the project at his or her convenience.


Q: Another question concerning the AFM: Are there different pricing models based on what I need the music for? Competitors use lower prices for demos, individual models for small-budget movies and soon-to-be blockbusters and so on.

A: We provide a flexible pricing structure to address the ranging needs of hobbyist composers and very successful producers. This is similar to what you’ll find working with commercial production houses, i.e., in that they often pay one price for a “demo,” with residual payments following if the piece goes “final” (to broadcast).


Q: Are you planning on expanding your service? Any plans concerning full orchestra, ethnic instruments, or choirs? [If possible, please elaborate on why or why not you’d like to expand.]

A: We actually have expended our service to include brass, choir, and all kinds of live remote recording of just about anything you can imagine! Our specialty is in strings, and this has allowed us to develop many relationships with clients around the world. Once the trust and credibility has been established, many clients turn to us for all their remote recording needs. The focus of our work is in providing the highest quality of musicianship. As an established violinist in the jazz community and a former teacher at the Berklee College of Music, I believe that clients are drawn to work with me because of the high standards that these accomplishments represent. Many of my clients have seen me perform with Les Paul, Bill Evans, Greg Osby, and other jazz greats, so they know that first and foremost, I’m a violinist who brings a great deal of care to the music. This care for the quality of the music transfers into everything our team does.


Learn more about Christian Howes String Productions by clicking here.




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