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Advice requested re: recording small choir in a school
Old 2 weeks ago
  #1
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Advice requested re: recording small choir in a school

I have been asked to record a 9 member adult male choir at a location that they have chosen, a school gymnasium with an elevated stage at one end. There will be no audience present.

I'm taking this on as a favour for an old friend. I have recorded small projects before but this will be my first location recording and my first time working with a chorale ensemble. I would greatly appreciate any advice you might be able to offer.

The choir is very talented and experienced, but the space presents challenges.

The gymnasium acoustics produce a sort of "giant shower stall/public swimming pool" sound. The only area that isn't excessively reverberant is the stage, which is equipped with rows of heavy curtains that cut down on reflections. I intend to set up there.

The gear I have available includes:

- a matched pair of Gefell M300 cardioid sdc mics
- one Cascade Fathead active ribbon mic
- Millennia HV-3C preamp
- A-Designs Pacifica preamp
- UA Apollo interface
- a pair of MC125 boom stands

Having read that it is generally best to keep things as simple as possible, I was thinking of going with just the M300's in a coincident XY arrangement, maybe at an angle wider than 90 degrees to yield a slightly broader stereo image that still has good mono compatibility. I'm thinking of using these with the Millennia preamp in order to get good detail and a less coloured sound than might be possible with the Pacifica.

The choir will arrange themselves in an arc, just about shoulder to shoulder. If I understand correctly, the width of the group and the angle of the coincident XY pair will partly determine how far back to set the stereo pair; that and the relative amount of direct and reflected/ambient sound at a given distance. Some engineers suggest having the mics positioned as high up as they are far away, and aimed a couple of feet above the head of the tallest singer.

Originally I had thought that the ribbon mic might come in handy for capturing some room sound, but the room sound may not be an ally here. I'll probably set it up anyway using the Pacifica preamp, but I'm not optimistic.

I'm also bringing in as many moving blankets as I can to try to deaden some of the reflections. The stage has a tiled floor, which is where I intend to spread some of the moving blankets. The stage ceiling is quite high and there doesn't seem to be much sound reflecting back from it, perhaps due to the rows of curtains suspended near the ceiling.

I've done my best to prepare for this with what is available to me. Again, any words of wisdom you might wish to share would be most appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Cheers!
Old 2 weeks ago
  #2
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John Willett's Avatar
 

Smile

I would also consider using the M 300 pair in ORTF rather than XY - I tend to prefer ORTF over XY nowadays.

You are right with the curtains.

I assume they want to use that space as they often perform there - I would suggest putting chairs out, especially if they are padded, as it will break up the room reflections.

As it's a gym, there may be loads of gym floor pads available - these could be used to help with the room acoustics and imitate an audience.

But, before you set up, listen to the rehearsal with your ears - this will give you a good idea of how it sounds in the room and the best place to put the mics.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #3
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depends on what you're trying to achieve/what the choir is into:
if it's an 'ensemble' which mixes itself, then ortf should be great and you don't need separate mics for soprano, alto, tenor and bass.
if you could get another mic, i suggest setting up an m/s at the far end of the room to capture ambient sound: might be handy during mixing...
Old 2 weeks ago
  #4
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I use 4 CM3s and adjust placement proximity to singers to control the amount of room that is captured. This is what works for me in highly reverberant venues.
Hugh
Old 2 weeks ago
  #5
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Lots of discussion about the microphones, the stage, the reverberation in the room, etc....but how are you going to judge what you're actually recording....what's going down "on tape" ?

If you're attempting to cut down on hall ambience via mic choice and placement, moving blankets etc you'll ideally want to monitor the recording (and soundcheck beforehand) from an adjoining room...and not be in the same hall as the singers

The easiest method of monitoring is via high quality headphones which you trust to give a good representation of what you'll be recording

If you can retire to an adjoining room while recording (thanks to long mic cables) those headphones can be open backed....but if you're forced to be in the same hall as the singers, you'll absolutely need closed back, ear-sealing headphones.

You can find either type in any pro audio store....but don't leave home without them....you'll be flying (recording) blind without them, and they will guide your mic and singer and room treatment/absorption placements with solid auditory information you simply can't do without !

Recording, especially if this is your first location gig, will be sheer guesswork without headphones.

You could replace the headphones with your regular monitor speakers (in that nearby adjoining room).....but you'd need to treat that room with dampening material to render it suitable and trustworthy for monitoring judgements.

Headphones are infinitely easier and more convenient.....
Old 2 weeks ago
  #6
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Stradivariusz's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 View Post

Headphones are infinitely easier and more convenient.....
Sorry not to be sure who gave me this advice, but it's important to consider:
if you are monitoring through headphones always record the sound which seems to be a bit closer that you like, to make it work well on the speakers. It's easy to push the sound back, hardly possible to do the opposite.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stradivariusz View Post
Sorry not to be sure who gave me this advice, but it's important to consider:
if you are monitoring through headphones always record the sound which seems to be a bit closer that you like, to make it work well on the speakers. It's easy to push the sound back, hardly possible to do the opposite.
Good point.....and also consider that headphones inherently lack the 'cross feed' that speakers in a room have, so the same material played on both will tend to sound wider (stereo-width wise) on headphones than speakers....so you will aim your miking to get a somewhat wider stereo soundstage on headphones....so that it translates better when ultimately played back on speakers
Old 2 weeks ago
  #8
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Did they pick the gymnasium for its reverberation?
Old 2 weeks ago
  #9
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Definitely listen to them, and the room, in situ during a rehearsal/soundcheck where you can (first) move them around until you find a suitable place for minimal "bad" effect of the gym... being certain to listen to the sounds of the room itself (HVAC and street noise being the most likely culprits). Then, with mics set up in your "best guess" position, listen through good closed headphones and choose mics position, arrangement (X/Y, A/B, ORTF, NOS, or some permutation). This gets a bit boring for the group, as it would be good to hear identical source material with a range of levels. Sketch your setup, mark with gaff tape, or otherwise notate the setup if it must be done more than once.

Let us know how it goes!

HB
Old 2 weeks ago
  #10
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Thanks very much for the advice, John. I also tend to prefer the way ORTF sounds. Cheers.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #11
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Thanks, deedeeyeah. The singers are very good at controlling their own mix, fortunately for me since I have only 3 mics to use. I might set the ribbon mic quite a bit farther back, maybe with the null pointed at the choir, and see what sort of ambient sound we get.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #12
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Good point, studer58:
"Lots of discussion about the microphones, the stage, the reverberation in the room, etc....but how are you going to judge what you're actually recording....what's going down "on tape" ?

I will be monitoring through closed-back headphones while positioning the mics and during tracking, and I'm bringing along a pair of small monitor speakers for comparison and to let the choir assess whether they're satisfied with a take. Unfortunately, due to time constraints we will not likely have the opportunity to listen in a better acoustic environment during the session. I'm going to risk erring in the direction of too little room sound rather than too much.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stradivariusz View Post
Sorry not to be sure who gave me this advice, but it's important to consider:
if you are monitoring through headphones always record the sound which seems to be a bit closer that you like, to make it work well on the speakers. It's easy to push the sound back, hardly possible to do the opposite.
Thanks for the tip.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 2manyrocks View Post
Did they pick the gymnasium for its reverberation?
Good point.

One of the choir members teaches at the school. It's really a matter of availability. The gymnasium is the only room with a high ceiling, as far as I know, although I haven't seen the school's library.

The choir had originally wanted to record in a certain church partly because of its reverberant sound, but it was not available. The gymnasium is reverberant, but not in a pleasing way.

The choir is very well rehearsed. If we have time, maybe we'll try a second round of recordings in the more reverberant part of the gymnasium.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hbphotoav View Post
Definitely listen to them, and the room, in situ during a rehearsal/soundcheck where you can (first) move them around until you find a suitable place for minimal "bad" effect of the gym... being certain to listen to the sounds of the room itself (HVAC and street noise being the most likely culprits). Then, with mics set up in your "best guess" position, listen through good closed headphones and choose mics position, arrangement (X/Y, A/B, ORTF, NOS, or some permutation). This gets a bit boring for the group, as it would be good to hear identical source material with a range of levels. Sketch your setup, mark with gaff tape, or otherwise notate the setup if it must be done more than once.

Let us know how it goes!

HB
Thanks for all the helpful ideas.

I will certainly try moving the choir around if we have time. The sound quality changes quite a bit from area to area.

Good point re: heating/cooling system noise. I mentioned this to the choir member who teaches at the school. That and the buzz from the fluorescent lighting. We're going to bring in some quieter lights and shut off the fluorescents. I'm not sure whether we'll be able to do anything about the noise from the climate control system.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #16
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tourtelot's Avatar
Sounds challenging. Best of luck. Mici'ng closer with a ORTF pair seems a good idea. Choir seems small enough to cover rather closer with that array and still be in the SRA of the ensemble. I don't think you will want?need room mics, especially in a bad room. Altiverb (or whatever) will be a much better choice to take some of the closeness out of you recording.

D.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tourtelot View Post
Sounds challenging. Best of luck. Mici'ng closer with a ORTF pair seems a good idea. Choir seems small enough to cover rather closer with that array and still be in the SRA of the ensemble. I don't think you will want?need room mics, especially in a bad room. Altiverb (or whatever) will be a much better choice to take some of the closeness out of you recording.

D.
Another very good point. It's always possible to add ambience afterwards; removing ambient sound from a recorded track is not always possible.

Having listened to the room's character, I tend to agree with your opinion that the results will likely be better if I keep room sound to a minimum. Still, I'll probably put up a room mic just to see whether the ambient sound enhances or detracts.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hughshouse View Post
I use 4 CM3s and adjust placement proximity to singers to control the amount of room that is captured. This is what works for me in highly reverberant venues.
Hugh
I wish I had four CM3's.

I will probably mic reasonably close to the choir with the M300's in ORTF and set up a room mic at some distance away.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #19
#friendsdontletfriendsxy

This sounds like so much fun! Have any pictures of the space or the group? You'll be great with two mics and you've even got good pres! Let them stand where they are comfortable and then move the mics to where they like the blend and balance.

(Church, wet)


(big room, dry)


(Medium room, semiwet)


Look up videos of Cantus for some great small-male choir performances.

My two cents: don't worry about blankets. Just worry about your two mics and where to put em! No need to go high. Just focus on distance from the group.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #20
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Aww you guys,, just take the the best microphones you have and place them at the best spots using your ear while they sing.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NorseHorse View Post
#friendsdontletfriendsxy

This sounds like so much fun! Have any pictures of the space or the group? You'll be great with two mics and you've even got good pres! Let them stand where they are comfortable and then move the mics to where they like the blend and balance.

(Church, wet)


(big room, dry)


(Medium room, semiwet)


Look up videos of Cantus for some great small-male choir performances.

My two cents: don't worry about blankets. Just worry about your two mics and where to put em! No need to go high. Just focus on distance from the group.
Thanks for the suggestions, and the YouTube examples. Cantus is a very interesting ensemble. Great rendition of Biebl's Ave Maria.

I am looking forward to trying this type of recording, parachuting in with not a lot of time to set up and having to quickly adapt to the circumstances.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Griz55 View Post
(...) Having listened to the room's character, (...) results will likely be better if I keep room sound to a minimum. Still, I'll probably put up a room mic just to see whether the ambient sound enhances or detracts.
the reason for picking up room sound is not necessariliy to use the signals in mixdown but

a) to have a reference how the room did sound without much direct sound and early relections (and to have a better understanding how it did affect the choir's performance),

b) for comparison with artificial efx (try to 'beat' it) and

c) to have the option to feed the ambient tracks into an efx device (which allows to achieve another level of density which many artificial efx devices otherwise fail to achieve: 'real' modulation imo often beats artificial modulation (unless you have a couple of quantec, tc, lex, sony and eventide devices and can chose which one or which combination comes close to the real room you tracked...)

i almost always set up ambient mics, often two pairs!



(working on recording the entire catalogue of gesualdo - recording takes place in all different places, from shelters to cooling towers of nuclear power stations to churches and barrages: every place needs a different approach and all have unique ambient sound which imo is worth getting captured for said reasons)
Old 2 weeks ago
  #23
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Advice about the concept of 'playback and the group will asses if they're happy with a take'

This can easily balloon out to become a huge consumer of your precious available time in the venue, as a group focussed on task.

By all means do an initial playback of the warm-up take... to encourage and enthuse them that you're nailing the sound, their balance, and that they're singing on tempo and in key.

Once that confidence hurdle is overcome, resist the urge for frequent sequential playbacks....far better to have someone familiar with their material following the score (either in the hall as they're singing, or next to you with a pair of headphones on)

In other words, a producer. It could be a friend or spouse of the singers, a trusted conductor...anyone with sufficient knowledge of the pieces to make quick, accurate judgement calls about whether a whole (or part thereof) take is up to standard.

This producer calls the shots...whether and when to move on to the next piece...or whether to repeat. Waiting for a consensus choir agreement on playback of each take will drastically reduce their productivity within the allotted time.

You describe them thus: "The choir is very talented and experienced..." so they likely will know if a take is sufficiently well rendered even before a playback....but similarly, if they are each pedantic perfectionists you may spend hours trying to nail a take to their individual satisfactions...whereas a competent producer will know when the standard has been attained (or...never is going to be !) and thus makes the call to move on to the next piece.

You may take on the role of the producer, if all are in agreement with that...I'm simply suggesting the whole-group 'judgement by take-playback' method is potentially a huge, inefficient time gobbler ! Beware.....
Old 2 weeks ago
  #24
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Oh no! Do not offer to play back the music for anyone but the producer, and the conductor (maybe). Nothing will kill the vibe of a session faster than a "group consensus".

The Producer is really important; someone who can watch the score, can speak to intonation, balance, articulation, etc, etc. The recoding needs a "boss" and it is a job that I never take on after being hired as a session engineer. Firstly, I don't know enough and secondly, I am busy doing other important tasks.

D.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #25
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tourtelot's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by deedeeyeah View Post

i almost always set up ambient mics, often two pairs!
Yeah, me too.

I just almost never find much of a use for them in the final rendition even in "good rooms". If you don't have any spare mics, save them for the music.

D.

Last edited by tourtelot; 2 weeks ago at 01:30 AM..
Old 2 weeks ago
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 View Post
Advice about the concept of 'playback and the group will asses if they're happy with a take'

This can easily balloon out to become a huge consumer of your precious available time in the venue, as a group focussed on task.

By all means do an initial playback of the warm-up take... to encourage and enthuse them that you're nailing the sound, their balance, and that they're singing on tempo and in key.

Once that confidence hurdle is overcome, resist the urge for frequent sequential playbacks....far better to have someone familiar with their material following the score (either in the hall as they're singing, or next to you with a pair of headphones on)

In other words, a producer. It could be a friend or spouse of the singers, a trusted conductor...anyone with sufficient knowledge of the pieces to make quick, accurate judgement calls about whether a whole (or part thereof) take is up to standard.

This producer calls the shots...whether and when to move on to the next piece...or whether to repeat. Waiting for a consensus choir agreement on playback of each take will drastically reduce their productivity within the allotted time.

You describe them thus: "The choir is very talented and experienced..." so they likely will know if a take is sufficiently well rendered even before a playback....but similarly, if they are each pedantic perfectionists you may spend hours trying to nail a take to their individual satisfactions...whereas a competent producer will know when the standard has been attained (or...never is going to be !) and thus makes the call to move on to the next piece.

You may take on the role of the producer, if all are in agreement with that...I'm simply suggesting the whole-group 'judgement by take-playback' method is potentially a huge, inefficient time gobbler ! Beware.....
Good advice.

Like you, I expect that the group will most likely know whether they have a good take by the time they finish singing a piece. Monitor speakers will be available only in case they request a playback. We won't automatically play back a take. Everyone in the group is well aware of the time constraints.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tourtelot View Post
Oh no! Do not offer to play back the music for anyone but the producer, and the conductor (maybe). Nothing will kill the vibe of a session faster than a "group consensus".

The Producer is really important; someone who can watch the score, can speak to intonation, balance, articulation, etc, etc. The recoding needs a "boss" and it is a job that I never take on after being hired as a session engineer. Firstly, I don't know enough and secondly, I am busy doing other important tasks.

D.
Thanks for the tip.

The group is small, very experienced, and unlikely to want to spend a lot of time listening to playback given the time constraints. It will not be a focus, especially in such a poor listening environment.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #28
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tourtelot View Post
Oh no! Do not offer to play back the music for anyone but the producer, and the conductor (maybe).
Take a good read on them first. My default position is more like, don't offer to play back period. If sounds good to you, playing back for them won't make it any better.

And here's something that's similar to the situation at hand. Sixteen high school kids (15 singers and a beatboxer). It was done with a pair of LDCs about a foot apart and 7 feet up, plus a handheld dynamic for the beatboxer. The kids were arranged in a semicircle about three feet from the mics. The ambience is artificial in this case, but here we're more interested in the stereo pickup.

Old 2 weeks ago
  #29
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Thank You Gearslutz

Hearty thanks to all for your thoughtful input.

Looking forward to this session with a bit less trepidation.
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