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classical singer in dead room

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by Graham Kennedy, Feb 26, 2001.

  1. Hello

    Its the first time that I have posted here. I have been watching the forum grow over the last month or so. Looks good so far. Hopfully someone can help me.

    I have been recording quite a bit of classical voice / piano stuff recently (with varying degress of success). My problem is that my studio is really dead and none of the singers really like singing in there. I can get quite a good sound on my side of the glass but all the singers have said that they can not really judge what they are doing while they are singing.

    I cant really put them on cans or they will freak out even more. I was wondering if I should put a couple of speakers in the room just with a bit of reverb coming out of them. Has anyone done this before?

    I realise that this is less than ideal. I would much rather go and hire a nice church or hall or somthing but most of this work is student demos and the ££££ is an issue. Anyone have any tricks?

    Thanks

    Graham K
     
  2. Greg Malcangi

    Greg Malcangi Member

    Hi Graham,

    An old trick which might help if you are going to use speakers in your live room is to place the mic precisely between your two speakers. Then feed two identical mono signals (your reverb) to both speakers but reverse the phase on one of them. In theory your singer should be able to hear what is coming out of the speakers but the signal should cancel itself out where the mic is.

    I've never tried this myself, just heard about it from others.

    I personally would try to find a little hall somewhere. If it is mainly students you're working with, they must be able to get the use of a decent room for a few hours somewhere in their university.

    As a last option, force them to use headphones! Point out that now is a good time to learn how to sing wearing cans as undoubtedly at some point in their professional career they will have to use them. Better to learn now than in a professional situation costing mucho £s per minute.

    Good luck,

    Greg
     
  3. Dan Popp

    Dan Popp Active Member

    Dear Graham,
    If they want reverberation, tell them to suck it up and put on the cans, man. After a few sessions of griping, they'll like that a lot better than the dry room, and it will save everybody a lot of hassle and money with the alternative solutions.

    I think this is why God created headphones.

    Yours,
    Dan Popp
    Colors Audio
    USA
     
  4. Kosmolith

    Kosmolith Guest

    Wearing the phones on one ear only works well for some. It's mostly psychological, I guess, especially for a trained singer.

    Maybe you should point out to them (nicely) that depending on room response is bad news for a classical singer- better get used to the emptiness of the stage, not to mention outdoor gigs.

    Cameron Bobro
     
  5. Greg Malcangi

    Greg Malcangi Member

    << Maybe you should point out to them (nicely) that depending on room response is bad news for a classical singer >>

    Sorry Cameron, I have to disagree with this one. Classical music is essentially an acoustic medium. How your instrument or voice reacts in a particular room acoustic is probably the single most important external influence on any professional classical music performance. In fact in many instances the "sound" of the instrument can ONLY be acheived with the help of acoustics. Try to close mic a top class flautist, timpanist or tuba player for example. The "sound" of a tuba for instance needs quite a lot of space to develop and needs to reflect off various surfaces, it's not the sound that comes out of the end of the bell. Classical musicians from a fairly young age learn to alter their performance style depending on the varying acoustics of a range of room sizes, from a relatively small recital hall to a cathederal. However, a very small dead room is too far outside of the range of room sizes for which a classical singer is trained. They are never going to feel comfortable and therefore will never be able to produce their best.

    In short, "depending on room respose" is absolutely essential for ALL classical musicians, including the singer.

    Greg
     
  6. anonymous

    anonymous Guests

    You have a small dilemma here. On the one hand, it seems that you're trying to capture a dry sound from the performer, and put them into a larger "performance space" with a 'reverb in the box'...but the singer is performing in an uncomfortable environment.

    Your next job is to find a way to make the performance space more comfortable to the performer. A performer can not give it's best performance if it's uncomfortable. I know I have a bit of a problem with overly dead rooms, I start feeling a bit claustrophobic. I'm quite sure the artists you record in an overly dead room will have a similar reaction.

    The only cure for this is to add some 'hard surfaces'. This, unfortunately, must be done on a 'trial and error' basis. The recipe for quadratic diffusors is easily found, you might want to start with some of those. Some 'half round' barrels mounted on the walls might help.

    I would have to guess that you have a fairly small physical space in which to record these singers, which is why you chose to make the treatment fairly 'dead'. This has it's own set of problems. When you add hard surfaces you will alter the character of the room so it too can feel unnatural, you really have to be very careful your selection and placement of treatments, or you'll end up with something that sounds equally false and uncomfortable.

    You'll also have to be very careful with your microphone selection and placement, as well as pickup patterns chosen. The natural ambience of a room is heard differently by a microphone than by the human ear, so you're going to have to experiment with both until you find a happy/workable medium.

    The "tell them to suck it up and wear headphones" thing isn't going to work. While the singer may hear something that approximates the performance space they would prefer for performing, the fact of the matter is that they will be equally uncomfortable from wearing headphones. Using headphones for monitoring is an aquired skill, it's very unnatural. The performer doesn't rehearse wearing headphones, they don't perform wearing headphones, so asking them to have a performance documented while they're performing in an unfamiliar environment is quite a bit much to ask from them.

    Your best bet for a starting point is going to be building some rather uneven, hard material surfaces. Good luck, your gonna need it.
     
  7. Kosmolith

    Kosmolith Guest

    Originally posted by Greg Malcangi:
    << Maybe you should point out to them (nicely) that depending on room response is bad news for a classical singer >>

    Sorry Cameron, I have to disagree with this one. Classical music is essentially an acoustic medium. How your instrument or voice reacts in a particular room acoustic is probably the single most important external influence on any professional classical music performance. In fact in many instances the "sound" of the instrument can ONLY be acheived with the help of acoustics. Try to close mic a top class flautist, timpanist or tuba player for example. The "sound" of a tuba for instance needs quite a lot of space to develop and needs to reflect off various surfaces, it's not the sound that comes out of the end of the bell. Classical musicians from a fairly young age learn to alter their performance style depending on the varying acoustics of a range of room sizes, from a relatively small recital hall to a cathederal.

    In short, "depending on room respose" is absolutely essential for ALL classical musicians, including the singer.

    Greg



    Of course every musician adjusts, consciously or subconciously, to the sound of the acoustic space, but I maintain that DEPENDING on room response is dangerous to the classical vocalist, especially an operatic singer.

    I suspect that we are not in disagreement, just talking about different things.

    The dependency to which I am referring is the need to "hear yourself well" in order to place the voice at all, as well as the common danger of developing a voice suited to a specific small space.

    Plenty of "classroom Verdi" singers disappear into an enormous yodeling shake that carries for about 10 feet when they get on the stage, defeaning their partners and delighting the audience with a mime show- the instrument is "tuned" to the overly live rooms they have studied in for years. A huge part of this is probably simply impatience- the desire to sound more developed than one's years, often in emulation of idols.

    Perhaps you have also experienced the phenomenon of a "tragfaehige" (learned this one in German- "capable of carrying" I guess would be a good translation) voice being often surprisingly or even uncomfortably dark, or plummy, or sweet, or ringing, or snarling, in close quarters.

    The other half of the Kosmolith duo, Bernarda, has no problem being heard in the Wiener Volksoper, which is reknowned for having the worst acoustics in the country.

    We work on her sweet bell colored with a pale burgundy, never sheer volume, and finding that within, not from aural feedback in the horrible acoustics of our old apartment, the lovely tiny "slapback" of our new apartment, or the ominous deathly vaccuum of the Volksoper.


    However, a very small dead room is too far outside of the range of room sizes for which a classical singer is trained. They are never going to feel comfortable and therefore will never be able to produce their best.[/B]

    I agree absolutely. One reason we moved. :)Headphones on one ear seems to be a good compromise for some, why not try it.

    Cameron Bobro

    PS- (Edit) Thinking it over more, it is a very complex issue... for instance, if you work continually and only in small live rooms, you run the risk of bonsai-ing the voice to that proportion, but very live rooms are also important to get that feel of just how little sound you can make and still have a full and present tone... etc. etc.

    Anyway, from the perspective of the performance of the moment, looks like Fletcher's idea is the one, as our recent solution- pack up and move- probably isn't practical.
     
  8. "My problem is that my studio is really dead and none of the singers really like singing in there. I can get quite a good sound on my side of the glass but all the singers have said that they can not really judge what they are doing while they are singing."

    While the singer should feel comfortable while performing to sing well (and you can try all of the above tricks to try to achieve this), I myself have trouble believing that you're getting the sound on tape that *I* would want for classical from a dead room, reverb or no. Close micing and then verbing is a totally different sound than distance micing in a reverberant space. Distant micing in a dead room and then adding verb is also quite different than the "real thing".

    Truth is, there's an excellent reason that so many of the exemplary recordings in this idiom still come from churches and halls. If this is/ will be your main clientele, I strongly suggest getting together a portable rig to at least have that option available for the fussier (that is, more professional)clients.

    Using phones is NOT the way to go in these classical gigs, IMNSHO. Pressuring the talent to wear them to compensate for an inappropriate setup is probably not a good way to encourage repeat business. If they understand the limitataions and have chosen your studio anyway, then perhaps they are happier to save $$$ or it's near their home or something. For the REAL clientele that you probably would rather be recording, you must get an excellent room- there really is no substitute.

    WOE
     
  9. Hi again,

    Some interesting responses. I really didnt want to go down the headphone route. That would definitly make the peformers more uncomfortable. I know that Fletcher gets rock bands to record without HPs so it feels more natural and more like a perfomance. That is sort of my way of thinking. i have done that with rock bands - but more out of lazyness than thinking about it. I hate doing headphone mixes for bands who dont know what they actually want.

    Here is what I ended up trying. I got a really good result. The singer thought it was great. It is kind of what i asked about in the first place - I was interested to see if anyone had tried this or anything similar before.

    Room is about 10m x 5m with a 2.5m celing. carpeted floor. Accoustic deadening tiles everywhere. So it isnt tiny but it does sound boxy.

    KM 183 in bow of the piano. 30 - 40 cm out.

    I put the singer around the back of the piano with an x/y pair of schoeps CMC5s about 2m in front of her and a bit over head height. This is what I usually do any way in this room. I move the pair back until the sound that the room does have becomes audible. Lots of off axis piano leakage but it sounded fine and helped the piano sound behind the singer. I still do this in stereo because I think it sounds better going to the reverb.

    I put a pair of speakers at the back of the x/y pair facing the walls - not the singer and I got two large table tops against each wall to refect the sound out again.

    The speakers had a bit of the rev return sent to them. This had the potential for feedback but they were only up a tiny bit plus they were not actually pointed at the mics, they were at the wall.

    The mics did pick up a bit of the speaker reverb but this is all random reflection stuff so I dont think it could cause much phase probs - could it? mono sounded fine.

    The nice thing was I didnt have to add as much reverb in the contol room as I would usually and the peaks in the voice didnt jump out and get the reverb going. It was similar to compressing the send to the reverb. It didnt dry up in the quiet bits and didnt get too much in the loud bits.

    If anyone thinks this is crazy talk please tell me - or try it for yourself and tell me what you think.

    All in all an interesting afternoons experimenting.

    Graham K
     

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