recording audition tapes for cellist +/-piano

Discussion in 'Guests' started by Tex, Jan 2, 2012.

  1. Tex

    Tex

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    My son is a cellist getting into the advanced student range. My videography and sound recording have not kept pace! My goals are two fold: (1) a compact system for recording concerts where I am just sitting in the audience, with or without space for a tripod but only having a mike mounted on or near the camera, and (2) making live recordings of solo cello or cello + piano for auditions, e.g. for summer festivals, preliminary round of competitions etc. I want to import the data into mac and archive or output after simple processing into (sometimes compressed) formats needed for audition uploads.

    What I've learned so far is that the sound in even "prosumer" video cameras is poor, with multiple limitations. This fits with what we've gotten using our existing canon fs100 and audiotechnica atr25 stereo mic--no control of rec level so high background at quiet moments, deadened sound.

    I expect I can get a big improvement for video with the following for setting #1:
    canon vixia hfm40 and either canon dm-100 or RODE stereo video mic (better but bulkier). Price for these is in the 600-700 range total.

    I'm still pretty unsure about #2--
    From reading on this site and elsewhere, seems it is best to use a stereo video recorder and a stereo studio mike or pair of mics. I want to avoid anything more complicated involving more than two channels and a mixer.

    I'm seeking advice on:
    Hardware for above esp #2. Software and workflow on mac (we have a newer iMac). I am seeking something fairly simple and accept the fact that we probably are best off making some contacts with a professional studio and/or engineer for most important projects. I'm just looking for something significantly better than what I have, that "won't get in the way" of the performance, with enough quality so we can enjoy experimenting and getting better using it, but it needn't be confused with a truly professional recording/DVD. Budget about $1000 for #2, which I've learned is significantly below pro--but I don't think it makes sense for a real amateur to start out investing more anyway.

    Appreciate your input...
    Tex
  2. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Moderator

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    What are these audition tapes for? College, grad school? If so you need to get over having a mic in the video and place it correctly to get a great sound. If this is an "audition" tape for Mi-ma then go with a video mic and accept poor sound. Based on the college audition idea, then really you should have this done professionally if you are shooting for an Eastman, New England Conservatory, Northwestern, North Texas, or Indiana-Bloomington. Of course there isn't any reason not to audition in person at NT or Rice and in fact would be looked at poorly if you were already in state so those aren't a factor per se.

    Here is the reason why audio is MORE important than the video for a college audition: it is the SOUND that is going to get them scholarships and acceptance to the music program or at least an invitation to come audition in person. This is also true of solo competitions like the Young Artists Competition. This is also true if you are looking to get on "From the Top." Crappy sound will not get you to the next round or a letter of invitation. Dump the video mic idea and get a good to great stereo pair of microphones and an interface or a quality portable recorder to get the audio into your Mac.
  3. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Moderator

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    Incidentally there might be grad students at Rice that do this sort of thing as a degree field or at least as a supplement to their career.
  4. Tex

    Tex

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    Hi TJA--Thanks very much for your replies. The current tapes are for national/internationally-recruiting summer programs and local/regional competitions. Conservatory application is not in the picture yet, but my sense is that recording is an iterative learning process and that efforts now will lead to better recordings later, even if we work with a professional later. Or could one make the case that, just as with the primary teacher or an accompanist, you learn "how to be recorded" by working with an experienced and talented engineer (seems like that must be true)....If we decide to upgrade at home, how does the following kit sound as a simple but sufficient solution at this stage (with some flexibility and room for expansion)?

    Apogee duet 2, Shure ksm141 pair
    input to macbook via USB

    If this is a good choice hardware wise, what's a good solution for software for audio on mac and for sync..can I just start with the current v. of garageband and iMovie.
    Thanks,
    Tex
  5. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Moderator

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    The Apogee Duet and the RME Babyface are the only USB two channel interfaces I recommend so that is a good route on that. The Shure KSM141 is a decent enough mic for some things, but I think for cello you would want either a ribbon pair or large diaphragm condenser pair. If you are worried about visual interference-and again you need to get past this and put the microphone much closer to the cello/piano duo-then a stereo ribbon like the Royer SF12 is ideal. As far as LDC then a pair of AT4047's or a pair of AKG C414's would be a good place to start. If you insist on small diaphragm condensers which again aren't ideal for cello or bass, then I think the RODE NT55 stereo pair is a better deal than the KSM141 pair.

    On the Mac go ahead and start with GarageBand or download and run Reaper. If you are willing to spend some money then Adobe Audition CS5.5 is available for Mac and integrates seamlessly with Premiere Pro but those are professional programs with professional prices.

    The Canon Vixia is a good prosumer camera. To get something with SMPTE time code is pretty much outside the scope of your needs. That is the time to rent an engineer.

    Read up on stereo coincident pairs. For your application spaced omni, ORTF, NOS, and Mid/Side are places to start. XY can be useful but the others give better imaging in my opinion. Depending on the microphone type and model, you will want the mic stand with stereo bar (Sabra Som ST-4!) perhaps six to twelve feet from the duo with the cello facing the "audience" to maximize sound projection. The mics could be anywere from four to twelve feet high again depending on whether ribbon or LDC or SDC and most importantly, the room.

    You need to explore the spaces available in your area. Not all church sanctuaries are idea. Some have to much echo/reverb. Some are too dry. The advantage is they are ALL bigger than any room in your house and usually don't cost a lot if any to use. Some local community colleges or universities allow use of recital halls too. If you can audit some audio engineering classes at Rice or U-T or SMU or something that would be a big help for your understanding. Record often and be critical of the recording technique/sound and not as much of the playing unless the recording is for submission. Realize that the best take is likely to be in the first three no matter how many times you repeat the recording within the session. If your child doesn't get it within five tries send him back to the practice room.
  6. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD

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    While I can't address your Macintosh questions directly, here is yet another suggestion. Since your camera position has to be placed somewhere convenient, the audio it receives will generally be quite ambient in nature. This audio is still quite usable. But here's the rub. The most practical thing to do would be to have something like a solid-state recorders such as the ZOOM H 4 n or, even the original H-4. You would then set up a single microphone on a desktop stand or small stand with a boom down near the cello. An additional augmented highlight microphone may also be desirable on the piano. These get plugged into the solid state audio recorder which will be switched to 48 kHz sampling & utilizing the ".wav " format not the MP3 format. Because all of these devices are controlled by crystal controlled clocking, later synchronization in your video editing timeline will allow you to properly align these microphones to the ambient camcorder audio. These will be your primary audio sources with the camcorder audio being mixed in at a much lower level just for the hall ambience. You will also have better ability to manipulate those highlight microphones on cello & piano utilizing some extremely short decay reverb program to create a sonic position for those instruments. You can also slightly Pan them left & right to approximate their positions on stage. But don't pan them extreme left or extreme right. You'll keep them around 10 o'clock & 2 o'clock or, 11 o'clock & 1 o'clock while including a slight amount of that short decay reverb to both. Mixed in with the ambient camcorder microphone can make for lovely recordings which I've done just that way. As long as you can add a secondary audio track or two to your video editing program, there should be no problem with that. If however it won't accommodate but a single audio track, the audio can be post-produced that way in Garage Band at 48 kHz. You render that out to stereo and replace the video soundtrack with your new soundtrack.

    I wouldn't necessarily waste my money on a stereo microphone for this purpose. You want the cello to be as close and intimate as possible. And you'll get your stereo ambience from the camcorder microphone. I used to do something similar to this with my old Canon 1996 vintage XL 1 camcorder. I as a barely reasonable MS stereo shotgun microphone. It also has the ability to record 2 additional tracks from external sources such as a microphone mixer. Luckily it also has manual & a limiter switch position which came in very handy for me. Before our solid-state recorders were available, I would just also run an external DAT recorder at 48 kHz. It's important to stay in 48 kHz when working with video. You can then also downsample that to 44.1 kHz for a plain CD release. And you do that in software which Garage Band should be capable of doing I would imagine. I don't know of any audio program that's not capable of working with both 48 kHz & 44.1 kHz even if it requires some transcoding. Bit depth is most universally used at 16 bit which is more than 100% adequate. Although DVD playback is capable of 24-bit so you might even get lucky with your software of both audio & video versions. Although I can pretty much guarantee you the camcorder is operating at 16 bit, 48 kHz. But that's OK even if your solid-state recorder operates at 24-bit, 48 kHz, .wav (which is equivalent to Macintosh AIF format). Although with pure " AVC ", a.k.a. automatic volume control on your camcorder, that ambient track may need some linear downward expansion which would only be available in your audio software program. Otherwise that might actually sound like dreck? But in very small quantities could still be usable if your level is kept relatively low on that track. One of my first digital camcorders only had AVC audio. Thankfully, when it was at the back of an auditorium, the AVC was generally full balls to the wall and not a whole lot of gain reduction pumping was going on. So it just made for beautiful ambience. Whereas the important stuff was recorded the way it needs to be, close-up.

    I've been doing this for over 20 years this way
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  7. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Has Studio Services

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    For scratch "rehearsal" CDs, I have used a Zoom H4N on its internal microphones, but the small 2-channel rig that I sometimes take out to rehearsal rooms to record "demo" CDs consists of an Audient Mico pre-amp feeding the S/PDIF optical input of a MacBook Pro. I also take a selection of microphones, and use a pair that best fits the performer(s) and acoustic space. I would put the Mico in at least the same sound quality bracket as the Babyface or the Duet, and because it's optically coupled, no USB or other electrical computer noise can get back into the audio.

    Many people overlook the optical input on a MacBook (it's a 1/8" combo input jack with the line input), so it's worth your while checking to see whether your MacBook has it. Despite being optical, it's practically invisible in the Apple specifications, and you have to dig quite deep to discover whether it's there on any particular model.
  8. BobRogers

    BobRogers

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    My daughter just graduated from Duquesne with a sax performance/music tech degree (no tuition payments this year!) so I've been through this recently.

    For audio recordings of concerts I used a flash recorder (the best available now is apparently the Zoom 4N). I put it on a camera tripod set up as a mono pod, grabbed a good seat, and held the monopod between my legs. Put the recorder up about the top of my head. I never got any complaints. It's very unobtrusive - much small profile than most video cameras. I routinely made better recordings than the "professional" CDs of the various All-State and other bands. One of my daughter's friends used a recording of a solo made in this manner as part of a college audition package. I highly recommend a flash recorder for any musician. It's a handy tool for recording lessons and practice sessions. Inexpensive. Easy to use, but responsive to good recording technique in terms of placement. Ridiculously high quality given what you pay for it.

    For video, I found that the RODE stereo video mic was a huge improvement over the internal mics of our Pansonic consumer camera (don't remember the model). Not sure how it would compare to the AT mic. It mounts on the camera's cold shoe, but as you say, it's probably too bulky to use from the seats. Personally, I'd drop the idea of video from the seats.

    I think my recommendation for you would be to get the Zoom as a first step. Positioning the recorder uses the same principles as positioning other microphones, so you will be learning those skills. You can play with editing the audio in Garage Band. Maybe someone can recommend an appropriate piece of software for integrating the audio and video.

    I don't want to discourage you from doing all things yourself, but it really is worth investigating professional studios for demo tapes. Competition is brutal, and this is an easy job for a pro studio. It might be a lot less money than you think. It is almost certainly less than buying a good interface like the Babyface and a couple of good microphones. If you start buying good equipment, it should be for your enjoyment. You won't save money. It's worth making a few demos at a studio even if you ARE buying your own equipment. You would learn a lot.
  9. Tex

    Tex

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    wow, making progress

    Thanks for these three extremely helpful comments, it has taken me some time to think them thru. Its a new world! I am seeing how much the process is like painting (a work of ART, not a door), with lots of choices in approach and execution, even for a solo or duo.

    I want to clarify one concern I raised initially, since my wording might be misleading--when I said i didnt want the recording to get in the way, I didn't mean visually. I meant that I didn't want it to be SO bad that it would prevent a professional evaluator from getting a good sense of the performance (i.e. I'm not worried about the mike being in the video if needed). So I'm not worried about a physically larger or closer positioned mike if that works well, soundwise.

    That said, i am leaning towards a H4n recorder and leaving the higher performing duet/audient mico/etc compact recorder purchase as a second step. Main reasons are that (1) zoom very likely "good enough" for now and (2) although I seem to buy pc or mac laptops for work and family nearly every other year we don't have at home/don't otherwise need a new macbook this year, so that purchase would add another $1200 +/- to my initial setup cost.

    So, mike choices for this first step? Reading more in other threads, get idea that the Shure ksm141 is a durable, less expensive, useful mike but not among the best for lifelike capturing of solo cello. I wouldn't want the most fragile, expensive mike out there in the first round, but if I set budget for mikes of ~$1500 and want to have the opportunity to experiment with stereo recording as discussed by TJA, and also to try highlight miking of piano and cello and using the camera stereo mike (the Canon vixia has manual level control) for sync and room ambiance as suggested by Remy, how would you suggest spending that budget? Last, I understand I need stands and cables and memory cards (have headphones)--aside from stereo bar like Sabra Som ST-4, what other paraphenalia will I realize i need as soon as I get on site and don't have it? N.b., this is all for audition recording, no audience to worry about (the camera mike solution is fine for the family performance archive. More sophisticated performance recording is a "next step"). Thanks again, much appreciate the thoughtful responses!!
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2012
  10. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Has Studio Services

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    The point about the Zoom H4N is that it already has built-in stereo microphones of an adequate quality - all you need is a camera tripod to mount it on plus a few memory cards. If you are going this route, I would not spend any money on external microphones at least until you have got some experience of using the H4N and weighing up what can achieve on its own and where its shortcomings lie in your particular area of usage.

    At that stage, you could look at two main routes.

    The H4N can record two external microphone channels in addition to its internal stereo mics, so a pair of mono "spot" microphones could be added to the setup to give greater definition to the individual instruments within the sound field that was captured by the main stereo H4N pair. After the performance, you would transfer the multitrack recording via USB to an audio program such as Reaper running on any computer, and blend the spot tracks into the stereo pair to get the best balance of instruments and acoustics given what you want to achieve with the recording.

    Alternatively, you could go the route of higher quality and look at better microphones and a real pre-amp/interface. From what you say, you may also be into getting a new computer.
  11. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Moderator

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    FYI: You don't need a new computer to do what you are wanting. Any PC or Mac will record 2-4 tracks without issue especially if it was purchased in the past couple of years. There will be some optimization that is required but there are lots of guides for that.

    I do highly recommend that all music students have an H4n or equivalent. Recording practice sessions and masterclasses and lessons are some very excellent ways to improve quickly. A recording doesn't lie like a human memory does. Back when I was in Chi at Northwestern every horn major recorded their own lessons. Additionally, we were to be at every one else's lessons and could record those too. Many times listening to Clevenger say the same thing to someone else and being able to observe/hear the before-during-after was as valuable as having been in the hot seat yourself. I still have most of those tapes.
  12. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Moderator

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    If you were using the Zoom H4n as the main stereo pair then perhaps an Avantone ribbon would be an excellent choice for a spot mic on the cello. Modern ribbons are not as delicate as vintage ribbons you may have read about. My Royers are pretty robust even if I don't let students anywhere near the mic stand during sessions.
  13. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Has Studio Services

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    You have to be a little careful about using non-buffered ribbons with the H4N, as it does not have enough gain before unacceptable noise at its XLR inputs for low-output microphones. They are fine if you fit a 20dB inline booster such as the Cloudlifter into the XLR mic cable.
  14. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Moderator

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    Very good point. I forgot that when thinking about an affordable mic that would be good for cello. I will consume more coffee and do 200 pushups for incentive.
  15. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Moderator

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    To the OP:
    This is the product in question and I have found it to be useful in conjunction with both ribbon microphones and "normal" dynamic microphones.

    Products | Cloud Microphones
  16. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD

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    Yeah but that's an additional $179 for an in-line preamp. You can purchase a reasonable condenser microphone at that price. Although I think that a ribbon microphone that is only a couple of feet from the cello won't need any additional pre-amplification with the H4n. But it would require that from a fair distance away just not down close and personal. And a ribbon microphone on a cello is a wondrous sound. It's rich, fat, mellow with incredible definition.

    A reasonable inexpensive ribbon can be had from Cascades. Sure, it too is around $160 US and 100 extra dollars US if you want the improved transformer which ain't really necessary. Although I would personally prefer that additional transformer option. Only because of the slightly boxy quality that the Chinese transformer imparts but it still sounds like a long geometry ribbon microphone either way. Big and full bodied not thin and crispy that you get from small diaphragm condenser microphones which are fine for ambient pickup.

    So we all here are in relatively the same agreement with each other about the solid-state flash recorder. And you then also just go with a camcorder microphones that came with the camcorder. A proper MS stereo shotgun for a camcorder is a needless expense for your situation. Although if somebody wanted to give you one for free, I wouldn't turn it down which probably ain't going to happen.

    For audition purposes you want to put her best foot forward in your recorded sound. Putting her on condenser microphones will make her sound like all of the others. And that's the reason why we are recommending a ribbon microphone. It will set her apart from all the rest in the recording quality. After all, they're going to be listening to a lot of condenser-based recordings. Whereas with a ribbon, there will be a mellow sweetness that the others won't possess with a crispy condenser microphone. So it's just not only her auditioning but how that recording of her audition sounds. You can't have one audition without the other.

    Ribbon freak here
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  17. Tex

    Tex

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    zeroing in....

    Thanks again!
    I will try with the Zoom h4n mics but am curious enough about the Cascade Fathead ribbon for the cello to go for that at this round, and compare. It is logistically simple to try several (many) different positions, distances, locations for the cello solo part as my son is playing all the time and will enjoy the process, especially since the mike looks pretty cool. I can get a stand with boom for that mike. I have an ATR 25 camcorder stereo mic. Excited to try this! Technical detail: just how short a cable do you recommend I get to be sure that the signal from the Cascade is adequate?

    Given the above, what approach is recommended with the piano in the duo portion? (The work is the Rococo Variations). Remy, were you suggesting a second Cascade as highlight mike for the piano? I guess that getting a second mike of same type is appealing for all the additional options of stereo recording, but is it also suitable for the piano highlight mike? We are working with a wonderful pianist, so the balance in the room is good, and interaction between the two is good.
  18. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Moderator

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    You are spot micing the cello because it is the instrument making the audition tape. The Zoom will be used in multitrack mode at this point with the in built mic's providing the main stereo pair and the Cascade as a spot/support mic filling out the body of the cello. You will be close enough that the piano sound won't be an issue as it produces WAY MORE SOUND than a cello. You can get whatever length of cable you want-might as well get a 50' cable. What Remy is referring to is the distance of mic to cello and not mic to recorder. Spot the cello within about 3 feet. Set the Zoom up at around 5 feet high and 10 feet back angled down slightly at the shoulders of the cello. The level of the ribbon mic will naturally be less as it is only a spot. If it is too loud in the recording don't worry as when you dump it into GarageBand or Reaper or whatever you can adjust it down then. Make sure phantom power is off.
  19. MadMax

    MadMax

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    Not to throw too much of a monkey wrench at this conversation, but to throw a "workin' stiffs" perspective at this... I'm hoping you'll get a sense of how those of us who hafta' do this for our bread and butter, approach this type of situation.

    Depending upon the size of the hall, I try to stay within 3-6 feet of the primary instrument with a condenser mic, with a stereo pair in the piano and some sort of reasonably decent Mid/Side, XY or blumlien ambient mic's... totaling 5 channels of recorded audio. I do the exact same thing in the studio, but oft times I end up with a mono room mic. Very much echoing Jack's setup... and there will be minor differences in mic positioning, depending on each particular circumstances.

    Unfortunately, while the Zoom type units do allow for monitoring, it's typically marginal at best... but at least serviceable enough to yield a decent recording with some practice.

    Most guys in the live tracking arena at least have some way to adequately monitor the audio being recorded. It can be a DAW on a laptop, a dedicated multitrack device or a line feed to a console that has decent monitoring... thereby avoiding the issues that come from only being able to accurately listen... post recording.
  20. BobRogers

    BobRogers

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    The Cascade would be fine as a spot mic for the piano. As John said, you probably won't "need" it at this point. The "main pair" (the Zoom) should pick up plenty of piano. I would assume you are looking at the package that includes the Blumlein stereo bar (which I have and have used many times.) This would give you the option of two stereo pairs or two mono spots and the zoom pair. If you go this route at least one of your mic stands should have a heavy base. The pair on the bar is pretty heavy, and won't be very stable on a standard vocal mic stand. A single Fat Head on a standard stand is fine - even with a short boom. (I'd recommend booms for flexibility of positioning.) I assume you are experiencing a little sticker shock on the price for the better transformers. Yep, almost twice as much. All I can say is that I went with the cheaper pair starting out, and I wish I had gotten the upgrade. I now have five other ribbon mics all with better parts. The inexpensive option is still usable, but mine now get used in church as live sound mics on violin and mandolin.
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