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Live choral recording on a tight budget

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by porskjaer, Mar 17, 2005.

  1. porskjaer

    porskjaer Guest

    My choir is preparing for a spring concert, and I - as the hifi nut around - have been assigned the task of researching how to do a decent recording of the event. We are on an extremely tight budget (I couldn't even get a figure from our head of finances) - so we are really talking next step up from nothing.

    First question: What equipment do I need? I'm guessing: Some kind of microphone (how badly do I need more than one?), maybe a pre-amp, and a recording device (notebook w/adequate soundcard, CD-recorder, DAT-recorder, or ...???)

    Second question: What do I need to know about setup, mixing and what not? (Please don't tell me to just give up and leave it to the pros :wink: )

  2. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    What are your plans for the recording? Is this so you can evaluate the performance, for demo purposes, or will you have copies produced for sale to the public, or ... ?
  3. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    Hi -Fi and audio engineering are two very different animals. Before you try a DIY approach, you may want to invest in an engineer who's done this sort of thing before and watch how he/she works. Take notes, ask questions and learn.

    With practice and a good ear, you can create a very nice recording (suitable for distribution) using two omnidirectional mics, a small mixer or pre/ a decent A/D converter and a laptop if you record in a decent room.

    Without practice and/ or experience you can spend 10k-20k and still get lousy results.
  4. JonLewis

    JonLewis Guest

    pmolsonmus is right. You can spend A LOT of money to do this. Or, you can go to your local equipment rental place (many music stores rent equipment) and get a pair of condenser mics with stands, a couple of mic preamps or a small mixer, and a stand alone CD recorder. You can also record to a computer but keep in mind that the quality of your sound card will effect the quality of your recording. Also, make sure the computer and software are stable; if you crash while recording you have to start over!

    Again, as pmolsonmus said, the quality of your room matters. Some may say it matters the most. So, try to do this in the best sounding room you can. Some schools have well designed auditoriums (some just use a really bad sounding gym) and may let a church use it for a few hours one weekend for little to nothing.

    The next most important thing is your micing. A google search on "x-y micing pattern" first result was this (http://www.trubitt.com/field_3.html) web site. It has the discription of a few good stereo micing techniques. Make sure you use condenser mics (this also means that the pre-ampss or mixer has to have phantom power). Try using some good, full size headphones and move the mics around the room during "sound check" while you listen to the CD recorder to find the "sweet spot".

    Of corse, since you are recording digital, make sure you get a good level on the recorder. It needs to be as hot as possible without EVER hitting the "over" (the red light at the top of the meter). An over can be real bad news in digital audio.

    When you are done, if you used a CD recorder, you can make copies straight from the original or you can have soneone master it. I would at least back it up on a computer because burned CDs can go bad. If you can't have it mastered, you may want to put it into your computer and make sure the level is as good and maybe a little EQ. If you have the capability, some compression would be nice to. But be careful, too much 'tweeking" can be, well, too much.

    Good luck,
  5. TeddyG

    TeddyG Well-Known Member

    Indeed, rent! Or borrow, if you can? Use your stuff if you must...!

    Recorder - headphones - microphone(s) with their proper mic mounts(Shock mounts if possible) - microphone stand(s) - cables - batteries(Fresh batteries - maybe the mic will use one(?), ALWAYS use a new one for performance! The rental people can help you pick what you need. Set-up on your own table. Tape down the cables, don't let anyone trip over your stuff. Don't let anyone touch your stuff.

    Get the operations manuals! Manuals for almost everything are available on-line these days.

    Rent early, so you can play with the stuff - during rehersals in the same hall if at all possible.

    Of course you can use one mic and record in mono!!! Who will know??? Who will care???

    Sure, use stereo if you like. BUT, use a stereo mic! A single stereo mic - like the Rode(Guys? Name/number?). Do not mess with two(Or more) mics - that can get way tricky for the best of pros. Just move the one you have around(Mono or stereo) until it sounds good and forget it(As a hi-fi nut/choir person, you won't have the slightest problem placing it.). Again, if at all possible do this during several rehersals. Let the choir director listen to different mic placements(Record a little from here, a little from there, etc. play it back after rehersals.), then let it sit where the director decides. Make him/her "place" the black gaffers tape "X" on the mic spot(You may need it for evidence when they question the recordings' balance later...).

    Primary Directive! It is not the job of the recordist to "mix" a choir, that is the job of the choir director. You only try to make sure the machine is actually recording - from before "start" to well after finish(You would be neither the first nor the last to come up blank.) and to keep the level from going into the red on the loudest passages(Whether you can hear the low ones is, again, up to the director, not you - don't "ride" the gain!). Truly, by the end of dress rehersal, your mic gain could almost be "locked", as you've, by now, started at a high level and, throughout the performance, everytime the meter hit the red, you turned the level down a bit, until by the end of dress rehersal, you know where to set the knob("pot", we calls' it) position on the recorder input level control and could tape the thing down. To repeat, there is only one(1) "highest" level in the whole show!!! Every Other Second of the performance is lower in volume, even if only slightly. That "high point" is where you set the position of the level control on the recorder - just barely below the red. The rest of the show, the level is NOT under your control! Can't hear it? Not your fault, let it alone!!! Get it? That said, planning done, yes, you still will have to keep your hand on the knob sometimes(You should know the show by now, with notes on the score), as the addition of the crowd, the mood of the "real performance", may change the levels. STILL! Try to only bring it down when you must, try not to turn it up and certainly not up/down/up/down.

    Boy, I'm so nervous! Showtime is coming up and I don't have a thing to wear!!! Must get my nails done!!!!!!! Excuse me while I run screaming from the building!!!



    More: Don't stop and start, stop and start the recording to "check" whether you "got it". You'll miss something for sure. Let it run start to finish, stopping only when you know you don't have enough media(CD, tape, whatever) room to get through the next segment or two(Buy and waste as many CD's/ tapes/flashcards as you have to, they're cheap.). It's so tempting to hit the "pause" button. If you don't have to ... don't do it - not even during the intermission.

    The last: "NO" budget!?!? A local music store(Or not so local? Maybe the one that supplies your band instruments?) might give you the sutff for free, for a mention in the program? Another... Not as fun for you maybe(Unless you can help?), but, the local cable company might video-record the thing for nothing and put it on TV! They love that sort of thing! Sound quality may not be great, but likely OK and frankly, nobody will care as long as Mom can see "Junior"(Oh! Look Daddy! It's Junior!!! MY Junior!!!). A local radio station might loan you the gear, maybe even with someone to run it, again, for a mention in the program? A recording studio in your area might do the same(Don't hurt to ask!). Tell 'em to bring their family to the show and have punch and cookies after?(Might be the first time out for the studio guys family since Uncle harry died?)

    And remember, in show business, ESPECIALLY school show business, its the PEOPLE on the recording, NOT the recording. Do your best, even if your best is a $29.95 Sony cassette machine with a built-in mic. You can always put it to computer and make a fine CD, later. Everyone will love it.

    Dress well. Act like you know what you're doing. Take your bow...


    This stuff is fun!

  6. o2x

    o2x Active Member

    I once had to record a choir in a cathedral in South Wales. I was recording it for a radio programme. It was also being recorded by the BBC. You wouldn't believe the amount of kit they used.

    Me i just got a cheapo realistic pressure zone mic, stuck it to a big board of MDF and plugged it staight into a dat machine.

    Guess who's came out best.
  7. TeddyG

    TeddyG Well-Known Member

    Indeed o2x!

    Bravo! Bravo!

    Les Izmore, couldn't have said it better...

    The PZM? Radio Shack's is "like" the Crown PZM, right? Never used one(From either company). I don't recall, do they come in stereo versions? Often thought of getting one or 3, for just such occasions, or for meetings, etc. Though again, for my ears, a good mono recording of a choir would be fine...

  8. o2x

    o2x Active Member

    Yeah, pretty much the same animal. One of the best pieces of kit I ever bought (comparitively!!).

    Didn't really see the need for stereo. Could have done - but that would have meant shoving another big bit of MDF in my car. It was hard enough to get the one in hehe.

    I've also used it blue tacked to the bottom of a yamaha C7 grand piano. I used a pair of AKG c12's, but it seemed to be missing a lot of the warmth. a bit of blue-tac and 2 mins later in conjunction with the c12's a lovely natural warm sound.

    I only have one left now - boo hoo

    It just goes to demonstrate that sometimes, just sometimes you don't need to spend an arm and a leg to get decent results!
  9. o2x

    o2x Active Member

    ...just as an additional piece of info, i've used AKG c400's to record meetings with good results. You'll need a couple to get a good all round level in a decent sized room, but they're nice and small - so unobtusive. Fairly cheap too. Around the £30/$50 mark.

    I wanna get my hands on the new c542BL. Dunno how much its gonna be yet tho'

    Shall wait and see.
  10. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    for low-end omnis, I've had some decent results with Behringer ECM-8000s - $35-$40 each. My standard setup is with them spaced @ 27" - they need phantom power.
  11. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    I've got 4 of the Crown PZM's (30d) and depending on the room and the ensemble they range from ok to excellent in that setting. At $300 a pop they are not an inexpensive mic however.

    I built a wooden platform with a mic clip on it so I can send them up on a boom and forget about 'em.

    They don't have a lot of gain so a quality pre is a must from my perspective. Once that is done - they can be the most "natural" sounding mics I own. They work the way my ears do. Unfortunately, natural isn't always "best" when you need to play it back on a variety of systems.

    Just my .02 but I record choirs all the time (I'm a full time choral director) I still use the PZMs but find I use C414s more often these days in omni through a Seb preamp.
  12. o2x

    o2x Active Member

    I've used c414's to record a male voice choir (I am from Wales after all :wink: ) I find that they are far less forgiving than PZM's if you have a huge hall with reflections here there and everywhere.

    I agree about the gain though - never used a Sebatron pre, there not widely available over here, but from what i gather on this here forum, they seem to be well liked.
  13. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    porskjaer, you may want to check my thread in the Acoustic Music forum (if you haven't already) - the title is something like "Newbie with a question - recording choir". I'm doing much the same thing as you, and I probably don't have much more experience than you do.

    We do have some equipment going into it... we have several microphones running into a Mackie 1402 mixer, and that probably puts us ahead of most. I've rented a Fostex VF160 digital multitracker for doing the recording, and I can connect each channel individually from the Mackie. I've run a test, and I think this will give me a very acceptable result.

    The Fostex cost only $71 (Canadian) for a 10-day rental. We'll be making a CD for sale to the church congregation out of this. It won't be a truly professional product, but I think we'll be able to take pride in it...

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