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How to record live choir with tape or CD music tracks?

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by DavePAC, Jan 3, 2006.

  1. DavePAC

    DavePAC Guest

    Our church choir normally performs using CD music tracks. What is the best way to record them live without too much bleed from the CD tracks in monitor speakers? (These recordings would be used for archival purposes or shut-ins, not for resale purposes.) Some added info:

    - Choir size may range from 30-50 in a large multi-purpose worship center. Acoustics are good but not spectacular.
    - Two large EAW monitor speakers facing choir for the music tracks.
    - Plan to get two quality SD condenser mics on Shure SM 15A stand.
    - Presonus Firepod into laptop DAW using Cubase LE or Sonar Producer.

    Also - I am open for recommendations on a couple of good SD condenser mics with budget of $1500 to $2500. (Would certainly prefer the lower end of the scale!) - Thanks for any help.
  2. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Here are my suggestions.
    First, you are looking for some affordable small diameter condenser microphones. That's all right for choirs but I find that choirs end up with too many "ess", sibilence problems. That sound honestly drives me insane, along with most women. I do not find that a flattering sound. To prevent this problem I honestly prefer the Beyer M160 HyperCardioid ribbon microphones. These ribbon microphones are beautifully lush sounding and with their smooth high-frequency rolloff, as many ribbons have, sibilence will be far less of a problem. They are within your budget. Of course, as ribbons go, we are more delicate and you do not want to " blow" directly into them as a test, as that will truly destroy the ribbon.

    Now for the recording process.
    When you are ready to record the choir, into your DAW, make sure that the microphones and your monitor speakers are not moved! Not moved so much as an inch. Once you're done and/or before you begin make a recording with your microphones live, at the level that you will be using and without the choir. Once you are finished, import this " choir free" track into your DAW. You will need to flip the phase of this track. When you combine it with your choir recording, with the CD bleed, you will be able to null out most of the monitor speakers. You will hardly believe your ears! So in a sense, you will be mixing 4 tracks together. 2 with the choir and the monitor bleed and 2 monitor bleed tracks, out of phase. Mixed together in stereo, along with including the direct CD track and you'll be cooking with gas. Voila! A trick many engineers have used often in the past when headphones were not used in the studio but monitor speakers instead.

    Makes them beautiful music for those shut-ins
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  3. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Excellent idea, Remy; I'd also suggest trying it without the speakers at all, and have the conductor wear headphones (for count-in and tempo) and of course give the choir their pitches before starting.

    The CD track in the conductor's headphones should have count-ins, and if necessary, (if there's no clear beat or instrument keeping time) someone counting along loud enough in the mix for the conductor to work with.

    They may drift in pitch as they go along, but you can do it a section at a time if necessary and rebuild it in post.
  4. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Thanks JoeH, but not a good idea what you suggest. You just about guarantee yourself an a cappella choir that will never match the CD accompanist in pitch. Probably good for a joke though?? At least I got a laugh out of your suggestion. And everybody here knows what a smart ass I am. I think you just won?

    Remy Ann David
  5. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Thanks JoeH, but not a good idea what you suggest. You just about guarantee yourself an a cappella choir that will never match the CD accompanist in pitch. Probably good for a joke though?? At least I got a laugh out of your suggestion. And everybody here knows what a smart ass I am. I think you just won?

    Remy Ann David
  6. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Thanks JoeH, but not a good idea what you suggest. You just about guarantee yourself an a cappella choir that will never match the CD accompanist in pitch. Probably good for a joke though?? At least I got a laugh out of your suggestion. And everybody here knows what a smart ass I am. I think you just won?

    I'm not sure what I just won, but I suppose I'm glad you got a chuckle out of my suggestion.

    I assure you it works, having done it several times now. (Respectuflly, I think your idea of "flipping the phase" is just as iffy, actually. Just which frequency will cancel? At what distance from the mic to the source? Some will certainly cancel, many will not, certainly not every one.....we could argue that one back and forth as well, I'm sure.)

    Maybe I'm luckier than most, but I work with plenty of choirs (chamber and larger-sized, amatuer and pro) that are up to just this sort of thing. Most professional (and semi-pro) conductors give their a capella choirs pitches from a tuning fork reference in their pocket (at concerts) or a piano note at rehearsal. Getting a tuning reference from a pre-recorded CD is no different, any experienced choir could handle this easily enough. (I have quite a few pitch-corrected CDs in release now, with several conductors discretely taking advantage of Samplitude/Sequioa's excellent "Elastic Audio" features when a verse or chorus droops over time. I assure you, when used properly, it's utterly seamless.)

    Depending on the genre of music, it's certainly conceivable that a talented choir could stay in tune (and tempo) with the music and each other well beyond a verse or two, perhaps more. Several of our client choirs have section leaders with good strong relative pitch (even perfect pitch), so this helps as well.

    In addition, a good conductor knows his choir and what they need to do both (pitch and tempi). It's likely he or she may sing along as well for further pitch and phrasing issues. (One of my clients is the best tenor in the group, and he's sung along once or twice in a pinch, at least to cue his tenors)

    A little rehearsal with the track ahead of time, played in speakers, and then for real in just the conductor's cans, and it's easy enough to get a few takes. (Instead of 50 or 60 heaphone feeds, it's also possible to give just the section leaders their own headphone feeds as well, and thus further increase the accuracy of the ensemble without resorting to foldback speakers mucking things up.)

    Again, I'm not sure why this is funny to you....
  7. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    I'll second Joe H on this one.

    My high school group can do it. They've gotten good training along the way, but it can be done.
    The other alternative is a few leaders with headphones.
  8. IIRs

    IIRs Well-Known Member

    I assure you it works! :wink: If you invert the polarity you causes a 180 degree phase shift at all frequencies. so all frequencies will cancel.
  9. DavePAC

    DavePAC Guest

    Okay - all of these sound like very interesting but workable solutions. I think I saw similar ideas on another forum about a year ago but could not find it again. It seems like one post recommended stacking two monitor speakers on the front of the stage facing the choir but out of phase. Anyway - all of the ideas seem worth trying. I think we all use the phasing thing in one way or another when we rely upon the characteristics of a cardiod mic.

    My only concern is that our choir is very used to a lot of monitor sound from the music tracks. We will have to do a lot of convincing that singing for recording is a lot different than singing for live sound - they'll adjust I hope!)

    I also appreciate the suggestion of a ribbon mic. For years I have owned a pair of large magnaplanar hifi speakers that use very long ribbon tweeters. There is nothing like the sound of their high freq's and I am sure the same goes for a modern ribbon mic.

    Again - thanks for the advice and I will continue to keep an eye on the responses. :cool:
  10. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Hmmm - having.....many......issues......must.....make.....suggestion...

    (Sorry - it's 3 am and my humor sucks at this hour :cry: )

    The phase flip thing -

    Not such a hot idea. Yes, it will work, but it will also cancel out similar frequencies in the voice (bear in mind, you will most noticably be cancelling out mid range frequencies as the higher frequencies won't be picked up too much and the lower frequency cut isn't that noticable. So, you'll be cutting frequencies right around the human voice. Dangerous.)

    I agree that many choirs are up to the task of a capella, but I submit that many church choirs are not "choirs" as much as they are people who THINK they can sing but instead flounder on pitches (what they call "vibrato") and couldn't tell you where middle C is on a piano. (Sorry, a tad harsh, but what I've found to be reality with many choirs.)

    Besides - if they're recording live, I'm assuming he's meaning in front of the congregation. You'll have just as much problems with the house speakers as you will with the monitors in a church situation so simply turning of the monitors won't really help.

    My advice would be to live with what you have as best as you can BUT, try this too - patch the output of the CD directly into a stereo track on your DAW. Mix it in at a low level - just enough to give the monitor bleed a bit more definition. True it won't be ideal, but working with stage monitors never is.

    Another option would be to go with ribbons, specifically fig8s and have the nulls directly over the monitors. It won't get rid of all of the sound, but it will help.

    DavePAC - you're not too far away from where I am. If you want me to come out and help, contact me off-line (my e-mail address is available in my profile or on my website). I could come out and record one of them for you and show you what I would be doing or simply consult with you. (The latter option would be no charge - the first option would be a minimal charge. Of course, I could also bring my mic collection there and let you see which mics would work best for your situation. I have a few that would probably help a great deal.)

    Good luck in any case,

    Jeremy :cool:
  11. ghellquist

    ghellquist Member

    Hmm. A lot of interesting ideas. But I guess what was asked for was simply to get decent stuff for archival purposes. Probably from the live performances.

    I think the first the step would be to simply experiment a bit. Put up a few microphones and see what the balance really is. Maybe test and move microphones and speakers round a bit to see what happens. Often enough simply does it.

    For that first experiment I would simply take whatever microphones I could get my hands on. Maybe you could form a relationship with some recordist around your are or a decent music store and get a selection of mics to try out.

    Don´t be afraid to test various setups and know that to simlpy record is simple, to get exceptional results is exceptionally difficult. I tend to end up somewhere between.

  12. IIRs

    IIRs Well-Known Member

    No it won't: the inverted-polarity backing track should have no vocals at all.. or possibly another vocal take, which would be uncorrelated with the first and wouldn't cancel either: it should just sound double-tracked regardless of the polarity.. and even if it were a problem, you could always invert the polarity of the monitor speakers themselves before the second take.

    I've used the technique myself (also with a choir) it worked very well!
  13. DavePAC

    DavePAC Guest

    Good comment. How true of many things in life!
  14. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Oh, don't get me wrong - I know there shouldn't be vocals on the backing track, but the fact is, it will contain information in the same frequency spectrum as the human voice. This information will be in varying degrees of phase to the similar pitched stuff going on during the live performance. As such, it will cause a boost to some frequencies and a cut of others, not just a complete reversal of the monitor foldback.

  15. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    No, really Jeremy, it virtually cancels out the playback track and doesn't screw with the vocals, no matter how loud the fold back is as long as you match levels when you flip the phase on the duplicate playback track. I did this for years in the studio where musicians did not want to use headphones while cutting string, brass, vocal and woodwind tracks. If you don't move the microphones or speakers and record just a track of the fold back, it will virtually cancel out when combined with the musicians/singers, provided you flip phase of the microphones or, speakers but much easier just to press a button on the console. What does not cancel out is just a little of the fold back when you put people in place where they weren't before as they act like diffusors. Otherwise, a great trick to use.

    Remy Ann David
  16. mrufino1

    mrufino1 Active Member

    Pardon me if this sounds like I'm being a wiseguy or anything, but why is the soundn from the monitors a big deal? Aren't you going to have the backing track on the recording too? I'm assuming you're worried about phasing between the monitors and your track because one would be direct and the other through the mics, but it probably wouldn't be that bad. Could you nudge the direct track to be in phase is it caused a problem? If the monitors are a big concern, what about getting little spot monitors and putting them in each section? They won't have to be as loud and are pretty directional. I've not encountered this situation before, so maybe there is something I'm not thinking of, but just some thoughts and I hope they helped a little.

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