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Recommendations for recording a small youth choir

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by Aaron_S, Apr 20, 2012.

  1. Aaron_S

    Aaron_S Active Member

    Our school has a vocally talented group of 8th graders. Their choir director would like to do a recording of the group before the school year ends that could be distributed to the families of the kids...not for sale, but for keepsake...although we'd still like to capture the best recording we can...Both the choir director and I are amateur at best, but we're both fairly technical people... we'd like to experiment with the process to gain some experience so that we are able to make modest quality recordings fairly easily, whenever we need (the choir director would love to be able to record rehearsals, etc, for classroom use).

    We'll be recording in the church sanctuary, which is very acoustically live... (small picture attached) High ceiling, terrazo floors, wood pews, and brick walls. The choir director wants to capture the sound of the entire choir as it is heard in the room, complete with the reverberation of the room.

    We have a large sound board and 5 sennheiser wireless mics (EW-135) at our disposal. We are currently only setup to record directly to cassette tapes at the board.

    Been reading around in all kinds of forums, and have certainly gleaned that there is not going to be a packaged solution. Realizing there will be much experimentation ahead, Here's my questions as we get started...

    -What's the best arrangement for mics to capture the choir and the liveliness of the room? (I've read suggestions for this in other posts for them up in an XY pattern centered on the group, and I've also seen it suggested to use 3 evenly spaced mics in front of the group. The recording company several years back used one mic about 20' back from the choir, and about 10-15' in the air...but I don't know the details of what kind of mic that was used)

    -Will our current mics be suitable for what we are doing?

    -What's the best way to capture the "room"?

    -What's the best way to get the sound from the board to a digital recording? We've discussed purchasing a digital recorder...if that's the best route which one?

    Thanks in advance for any input any of you pros or more experienced people can offer!

    Aaron
     

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  2. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    That is a beautiful church but the problem that will be facing you is how and where to place your microphones. And no, those wireless microphones are certainly not appropriate for your application.

    As you indicated, a previous engineer utilized a single microphone to capture a stereo recording. That microphone was in all likelihood what we would call a all-in-one MS microphone. That means that that single microphone at a forward facing cardioid toward the pulpit and a figure of 8 microphone just behind the cardioid microphone and is facing the left & right walls. That provides for a very solid center image with an adjustable width stereo perspective and a microphone technique that I personally love to use. I don't utilize a single MS microphone but instead, I utilize a single cardioid & a single figure of 8 microphone with a mounting hardware contraption allowing for close proximity of both capsules. XY microphones can also come in a single form factor or a pair of microphones positioned together in an XY or even ORTF where they capsules instead of being placed together are skewed apart on the same mounting hardware.

    Here is where I think you may run into trouble with the children's choir... children because of their smaller stature and much smaller vocal cords along with smaller mouths can become very very sibilant. To reduce that sibilance, you wouldn't necessarily want small diaphragm condenser microphones. You would in all likelihood what large diaphragm condenser microphones. But even those, especially the lesser expensive LDC have extremely thin diaphragms which have a tendency to accentuate the high frequencies making this sibilance all too over accentuated. So the thicker the diaphragm such as a .6 micron will have less obvious sibilance than the lesser expensive .3 & .15 micron LDC's have.

    You're also further handicapped on whether you can utilize a single stand that telescopes up to 10-12 feet sitting in the center of the aisle. So sometimes that's not an option. In that instance, you would be required to place 2 telescopic stands on each side of the aisle. With that technique, you may want to opt for Omni directional microphones? Though I've also utilized cardioids that way as well provided they are spaced at least 3-6 feet apart. Which should be more than adequate. Otherwise, you might want to hang the microphones from the ceiling and utilizing monofilament fishing line to tie them off for proper positioning purposes which I've also done on numerous occasions and I don't even fish! LOL and don't use monofilament fishing line if it has been used for fishing because it will smell fishy and it can be a real turnoff. So I've even utilized microphone cable instead of fishing line just to tie the microphones off in the positions that I need when I've had no monofilament with me. But that does not appear to be an option by the picture that you have provided though there could be provisions to do so? But generally, we'll mostly utilize SDC (small diaphragm condenser microphones) because of their more linear response and better off axis response compared to LDC's rich all have poor sounding off axis responses. So it's a bit of a Catch 22 in that respect. You won't know until you try both. And that might not be within your budget? You could still try to utilize those wireless microphones you mentioned but most will fall short of what you want to obtain because they are not really designed for that kind of an application. They are designed to be placed on the pulpit in front of the pastor.

    With regard to your recorder, you have numerous choices. You can purchase a dedicated pocket sized digital recorder that would accept 2 XLR microphone inputs in lieu of its own built-in SDC XY microphones. Or, you could simply utilize an outboard USB computer audio interface into a simple laptop computer. You could also utilize an outboard USB computer audio interface with a desktop computer back by the soundboard. And you would simply disconnect the analog cassette recorder and instead, plug it into your dedicated pocket sized digital recorder or external USB computer audio interface. So it's actually quite simple. I worked for one of our United States Presidential Churches which actually was set up the same way and creating an analog cassette recorder. OMG how backwards can they get? So I installed one of my older, infrequently used, desktop computers at the soundboard and disconnected the cassette deck. I even used, heaven forbid, the simply awful on board computer sound card line level input (which I am embarrassed to say). But hey, it was free and it worked well enough for that purpose even though I found it rather embarrassing. And that was simply because they had no budget. What? No budget for a US Presidential Church? Yup, hard to believe.

    Foundry United Methodist Church, Washington, DC. Lincoln, Truman and the Clintons went there.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     
  3. Aaron_S

    Aaron_S Active Member

    Thanks for the quick reply...

    Sounds like you have a working knowledge of a church's "sound budget"... :)

    I'm trying to mix "long term " with this short term project. I'd like to end up with a "setup" that we can somewhat easily implement in the sanctuary whenever he needs to record something. A couple other things that I'd like to consider into the equation is that I would want us to have the flexibility of recording the adult choirs, or the children's choirs. So, I'd like the microphones to be suitable for both voice ranges if possible...

    So I'm sure I'm on the same page, it sounds like we have two options: and all-in-one stereo mic or setting up an MS setup using a forward facing LDC cardioid and a figure 8 mic at a right angle. Is this correct? I'm not overly concerned at this point about the aesthetics of the setup...for right now, this would all be rehearsals...if we can find the right location and setup first, then we'll dress it up before an actual performance...

    Finally, what are some recommended options for equipment? Some of the all-in-one stereo mics I've come across are the Shure VP88 and Avantone Audio CK-40. Although its probably out of range of the budget, I also looked at the Shure Beta 181 Stereo Set, that has a little of everything...

    Thanks again for your input!

    Aaron
     
  4. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    While I like dedicated, all-in-one, MS stereo microphones, it's a single microphone. So I'll generally opt for a pair of individual microphones such as the AKG 414's when I want LDC or my Neumann KM 86's SDC but I really love my combination Beyer M-130/160 ribbons because they are so warm and luscious sounding. They sound great on choirs and never really suffer from sibilance and a lot of extraneous noises as much as a condenser microphone does. So depending on the surroundings of the church, that might be a factor?

    Utilizing pairs of microphones you also need some fairly rugged collapsible tall aluminum stands and mounting contraptions in order to keep the capsules spaced as close as possible to each other.

    You're heading in the right direction
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     
  5. Curbside Audio

    Curbside Audio Active Member

    I think Remy nailed it. That was very solid advise. I would definitely avoid your wireless mics at all costs. They simply will not produce a great recording. I'd also opt for individual mics, over a stereo mic. Going for an xy configuration or a spaced pair, I think both result in a good sound.
     
  6. Aaron_S

    Aaron_S Active Member

    So here's where I'm at:

    I'm feeling like setting up two mics in an XY or spaced pair is probably where we will start in our experimentation...sounds like that's going to give us our best chance of something decent (again, it's a fairly low bar in terms of quality that we're seeking, but I'd love to clear it by leaps and measures...).

    In our situation, I'm hearing that our current mics aren't ideal for what we're trying to do...which makes sense, cause they're current purpose is as Remy first mentioned, for capturing the Pastor's voice.

    We're going to need two microphones that are good for this application, but also for a variety of things. I'd really like something that gives us the most flexibility in recording (recording the children's choir, or the adult choir, or maybe the handbells). To complicate things, it's a tight budget. I understand we'll get what we pay for, but I need the cost of the mics around $500 if that's possible. If what we'd get at that price point is garbage, then we'll probably just table the project till we could gather a bigger budget. But if there's some mics out there that are of decent quality that might get us a mediocre recording, I'd love to hear some recommendations.

    Finally, we're looking into a pocket sized digital recorder. I'd like something that can be connected to the soundboard, but also something the choir director can utilize to record with. Tascam and Zoom seem to the be the names I keep seeing...any favorite models out there? (or other brands)...

    Thanks again for your thoughts Remy, I really appreciate the insights and direction...

    Aaron
     
  7. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    I've had a tendency to lean towards the ZOOM H 4 n. Going back to 1993, I've had some bad experiences with TA-SCAM stuff. They seem to have the tendency to put " Professional " on things that are anything but. A complete reversal from what they used to produce. C'est la vie

    MOTU computer audio interfaces seem to have a better reputation but are not little handheld thingies. My 2408 has been adequate along with its own limitations. But that's a device that requires an available internal PCI slot on a desktop computer. That too however is well beyond your budgetary constraints.

    As far as the microphones go, I assume that your $500 budget is for two microphones? And there is a lot available through a whole realm of microphone manufacturers that offer quality at that price point. SHURE, Rode, AT are quick to come to mind and they offer both LDC & SDC within your budget. There are also numerous ribbon microphones within your budget but they are not what we would call, hard use, heavy-duty devices. Drop them on a hard floor and they all go to a place where no one in your congregation wants to go. LOL in a handbasket.

    I pray you find the right ones.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     
  8. Rawbear

    Rawbear Active Member

    I'll risk a newbie response to this. I use stereo mics to record choir music. I use one propped up 10 feet high about 10 feet in front of the choir. I found that to be the best placement for the voices and the church sound. If we have soloists, I will use an extra mic, cardioid, 5-6 feet in front of them. I adjust the mix carefully after recording, on the computer. If I have to record an orchestra too, I use a second stereo mic, placed in front of or within the orchestra, depending on the number of musicians. Since I don't generally have to use monitors for the choir, any preamp interface will do for me. I now use a Roland octa-capture, but I was using a cheap m-audio before. I record in 24 bit so I have enough headroom for post processing. I record directly on a computer, with no effect (eq or reverb), most of the time a netbook (because it's the most portable) or a Mac Mini (nearly as portable)
     
  9. Aaron_S

    Aaron_S Active Member

    Rawbear, no risk involved... if there's one thing I've learned in researching this, it's that there is not a one-size-fits-all recording package...there's just too many variables. This sounds like it would be similar to what the audio pro brought in a few years back when we hired someone... what model of microphone are you using for this and how would your environment compare with the picture I posted? Our sanctuary is very lively acoustically....

    Remy, what would a basic desktop computer system at the soundboard look like ideally? (Software for recording/mixing, and hardware requirements, and interface to the soundboard) I could easily get a desktop together with what we have around here, but it wouldn't be state of the art by any means... I see rawbear is using a netbook, so I'm guessing it wouldn't take anything overly robust in terms of hardware...

    Finally, let me make sure I'm right in setting up that pair of mics in an XY. I will want the mic capsules as close together as possible at a right angle. Do I want one capsule about the other, or right next to each other on the same horizontal plane? Got any pictures of what a setup might look like?

    Thanks everyone for pitching in their ideas...
     
  10. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Numerous companies like Atlas, actually make what they refer to as a stereo mic bar. This allows for very easy positioning of a pair of microphones into XY & ORTF and with a short gooseneck or elbow, can be mounted perpendicularly, front to back instead of side to side for MS positioning of a pair of microphones. And that's what I generally do and use.

    Yeah, regarding the computer, and older, less state-of-the-art computer is still more than adequate to at least lay down the tracks and/or mix a couple of tracks without excessive processing. And even with some excessive processing, depending upon your software, like with Adobe Audition, you can easily render that with even a 75 MHz Pentium. I threw in a 450 MHz Pentium I I and it was fine for that application. And you only need a USB 1.1 audio interface since generally overdubs and latency will not be an issue. ProTools, not so much so as it does all of its processing in real time. And an older slower computer won't do well with ProTools.

    You use what you've got and you make it work.Mx
    . Remy Ann David
     
  11. Rawbear

    Rawbear Active Member

    My setup

    When I was first asked to record a choir, my experience was more studio-oriented. Individual miking and mastering in the mix. Choir miking was very different. The hall is always a significant part of the recording. I started with individual mikes but found that I lost the presence and room interaction. One day, I decided to take the Blue Yeti that I use in the studio for podcasts and try it the the church. Bingo. I was suddenly able to preserve the ambiance of the venue. I then tried other mic configurations, X-Y and others, with rented/borrowed mics. They all sounded great to me, but more specifically they met my clients needs. Most of the time, my clients are recording for keepsakes, like yours, and limited distribution to donors and friends. They also use the raw material for practice and error spotting (difficulty spotting as one conductor puts it). So the budget is always low, and time is always critical, with often only one chance to record (except practices) with no retake (live). So for a quick setup I use the Yeti (and now a Yeti Pro) for small ensembles, and add one or more Sennheiser e835 for spot pickup. Not professional gear, but stuff that my low budget could afford and I can multi-use everything. I use a long, straight up and sturdy mike pole (about 10 feet) that I place near the conductor. I pick up the sound like he/she hears it. An easier sell if you ask me! I place the Senns in such a way that they will not produce too much comb effect by cutting into the stereo mike field. I leave enough headroom on all mics because the choirs can be so quiet and a second later Oh SO loud! I avoid clipping at all cost. Now, recording in 24bits/96KHz lets me adjust volume at the mix, after recording. In fact, I use no effect while recording. No EQ, compression, etc. I re-adjust at mixing time.

    I upgraded to a Roland Octa-capture recently and this allows me to process the signal for direct monitoring without affecting the recorded signal. It is a requirement in one of the venues that I use. Because of bad acoustics, I feed the signal into the PA system, especially if musicians are playing (acoustic instruments). The computer I use most often is an Acer Aspire One. Small double core netbook running at 1.6 Ghz. It's still powerful enough to let Reaper record 8 tracks in parallel at 24/96, as long as I don't use any effects on the incoming signal (hence the Octa-capture, that does the processing in the box for monitoring) and as long as I am patient, for latency is large (but this is OK for recording). I sit at the main computer in the studio to prepare the CD mix using Reaper or Presonus Studio One (or logic). I use an iPad (running V-Control) to interface with the Acer while on location. A lot easier to do sound checks and adjustments this way, all by myself!

    As far as choir venues go, I work mainly in three very different places: a church with hard floors (terrazzo) and wood benches with angled ceiling and walls, which I think is similar to your venue, a school auditorium with awful acoustics and an old large church with wood floors and very high ceiling (and an incredible organ!). The first church has a wireless miking system. I was never able to get decent sound out of it. All sorts of artifacts would colour the music. It is OK for a single, close-up voice (its intended purpose) but it will destroy the low volume ambiance. There might even be integrated signal processing in the receiver! I use the stereo mike up close in there. The room is very lively. I have to remember to turn off the ventilation system. The e835 mic is cardioid and works well from 6 feet in. The yeti's stereo pattern favours the front (so not really omni-stereo) field and is great to isolate the voices from the venue, to a point. Kind of what you would get with coincident cardioids, I guess. If we use the organ (quite underpowered), I use an extra mike just for it, near its speaker array. When I mix, I adjust each track's volume to bring the sound fields toward the center. For example, if the soloists are on the right, facing the audience, I place a mic 4-8 feet in from of them (depending on the number of soloists). But since the stereo mic picks up their voices too, I pan their voice to adjust their placement in the mix. I leave them off center, but the solo-mic will help pull them in, closer to center, and very clear. This might not work well in a studio because of comb effect filtering, but works in a church because so many echoes already influence the sound.

    The total cost for microphones is less than $500 (Yeti PRO is $250 and 3 e835 is $250). I already had the computer (and many others). I started by using an M-Audio FastTrack Pro (not very good and the pre-amps are not sensitive enough for choir), tried a Presonus 1818VSL and borowed a Behringer 1204USB for computer USB interfaces. Wasted a lot of time until I switched to the Roland Octa-Capture. As stated, nothing PRO, but my customers are VERY happy and this keeps me busy enough.

    @REMY: Pentium 75MHz... haven't seen THAT for a while!
     

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