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Recording a small vocal ensemble with voices and acoustic guitar, need some help.

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by Hawkeye, May 17, 2012.

  1. Hawkeye

    Hawkeye Active Member

    Hi folks, I'vedone a few searches but don't seem to find quite what I'm looking for inexisting threads. Here's my situation. I'm going to record a group of singers accompanied by acoustic guitar. They are going to sing Christian songs in the Ojibwe language.

    I don't know a lot of the details that I should know at this stage of the game (so it's freaking me out) but I'm planning as best I can.

    Singers = 5-7

    Guitar = acoustic guitar

    Venue = unknown, probably a local church (I'm travelling to the church on the day of the recording, 2 hrs. away).

    If I can go to a rehearsal beforehand at the actual recording venue, that would be ideal, but I'm not counting on it.

    The recording chain will be:

    Microphones > Allen &Heath MixWiz 16:2 preamps > A&H Direct Outs > Edirol M16DX line-ins > Computer via USB. Monitoring will be done from the board.


    I'll bring my desktop running SONAR X1 Producer and an outboard hard disk to backup the sessions during the day. I'm also going to bring my lap-top running SONAR LE so that I can still track in case I have a computer melt-down.

    Guitar
    Mic with a Rode M3 condenser. In case bleed ends up to be a problem, I'm also going to hunt down a Dean Markley sound hole pickup to go on the guitar and run an additional channel using an EWI active D.I.to the mixer on a second channel.

    Vocals
    - One stereo pair of Rode NT1 LDC's in ORTF config. The stereo bar I have lends itself to ORTF better than XY coincident pair.
    - For another flavour I'll set up a pair of Behringer SDC C2's (yeah I know) in XY coincident config. I'm not planning for these channels to contribute a lot but it can't hurt, I have them lying around and they sound kind of okay.
    - Two Audio Technica AT-4040's set up as spot mics close to the singers so that each one picks up 2-3 singers at a time.


    A total of 8 channels.

    Questions:
    I won't have much time (maybe hardly any at all) to do test recordings so that I can determine the best distance of the microphones to the singers. Any idea of a good starting point for me to try with placement & distance for the:

    - Rode NT1 Stereo ORTF array = X distance
    - Behringer C2 Stereo XY array = X distance
    - Two Audio Technica AT-4040 A-B spot mics = X distance

    What about an 'ambient' (room-sound) mic? Do I need some of those too? I'm thinking that my main stereo pair will capture that, depending on how close/far I am from the singers. I can space the XY Behringers further back from the main stereo pair to capture some more ambient detail.


    One unknown to me is how this ensemble will sound, as it's an amateur group. In a larger vocal group (like a choir) it wouldn't be as much of a consideration, but with only 5-7 people, it would be easy for one voice to stand out from the others.

    Do I need another spot mic, or even individual mics for each of the singers? I've led amateur choirs and have done quite a bit of small ensemble singing myself, so I think I could help them to achieve a reasonably good blend, but.... you never know, stuff happens.

    So, tell me I'm crazy and poke holes in my set-up. I've never done this type of recording before, so my initial set-up is what seemed right to me at the time and is naturally subject to change.Thanks for reading, and thanks in advance for your insights.
     
  2. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I think it's great that you have the determination to get the best recording you can using limited resources in an unknown venue. You don't state whether there will be a conductor (who doubtless would like to position himself exactly where you want to place the main mic stand), or whether the group can perform without.

    As you suspect, the big problem is going to be how to choose and position the mics. For a vocal group of this sort of size, I would normally use an SDC main pair, but since the only SDCs that you list are the C2s, you may have to rely on using the 4040s as the main pair and bringing in the C2s underneath as some fill-in if required. I'm not convinced that ORTF is an appropriate main pair configuration for this size of vocal group. It's a situation where I would set up an M-S pair in addition to everything else, but you don't have mics that can be switched to be fig-8.

    I would try to get the singers grouped fairly tightly and set up the 4040s to minimize the amount of off-axis sound they receive. If this results in a less wide image in the mix, you could width-expand it a little (by generating a mid/side pair of channels, changing the level of the side relative to the mid, and then re-coding back to L-R), or you could leave it knowing that it's the best balance of what was achievable with what you had.

    Without any clues as the the venue acoustics, my inclination would be to try placing the guitarist facing the singers, i.e. in the null of the X-Y pair, and then mic him separately. You can invert the phase of the guitar mic in the mix to avoid phase cancellation problems with the reverb. Put the guitarist set back on a rug or carpet to reduce reflections off the floor, and start by positioning the M3 so it's 12"-15" from the body of the instrument roughly level with the 12th fret and facing in towards the sound hole. I know you will be short of rehearsal time, but you should try to schedule a little of it for experimentation with guitar mic positioning. It's certainly worth having a good-quality pickup channel available in addition to the guitar mic, but if you use the pickup at mixdown, you should delay the pickup channel by a couple of milliseconds so that you hear the transients from the mic channel first.

    Unless the venue acoustics turn out to be surprisingly dead, it's likely that you would not need a further ambient pair of mics. However, since you have tracks available, there is no harm in setting up the NT1s as ambients.

    Daisy-chaining the mixers via the A+H direct outs is likely to be the best you can do, assuming that your Mixwizard is still internally jumpered to the default settings of the direct outs being pre-EQ, pre-fader. You may have to be careful not to use too high a level at the mic pre-amp outputs, as it's not very clear from the Edirol specs what their 0dBFS figure is in dBu at the line inputs.

    Good luck, and let us know how you got on!
     
  3. Hawkeye

    Hawkeye Active Member

    Hah! Nice spin! Yes, I'm foolish. This started out with my volunteering to clean up the sound on some cassette tapes of the same type of music. My son is a pastor with a degree in linguistics and has become involved in helping a few of the bands archive their traditional Ojibwe language and songs. I suggested to him that he could probably get a grant to re-do the songs professionally. The folks involved were reluctant to take that step. Being family-oriented, they really liked the idea that my son's dad (me) could help them to do this. So here we are!

    My first inclination was to use the NT1's as the main pair because they excel at "air" and pick up transients nicely. I thought that this characteristic might help me to get my room sound. The 4040's have more body and warmth, hence my thought to use them in close to give me some solidity that the NT1's might not portray. It's certainly easy enough to switch them up with a couple of test runs to see which is best. I'll see if I can find a mount for my LDC's so that I can try them in XY. Otherwise, I'll just grab another mic stand.

    The C2's are the weak link in this "collection" so they would be relegated to the mid/side duty that you suggest. I hadn't thought of that.

    Interesting take on the positioning for the guitarist. I could see how that could work. Also has the benefit of the singers being able to hear the guitar better. The mic placement you suggested is one I've used before in my home studio. I'm comfortable with that method. The M3 is directional enough to that it can do an okay job at that. Thanks for the suggestion of nudging the DI track on the guitar back a bit. You're right about those pickups, they can blunt transients. You don't get the snap and pluck of the string sound when it's struck.

    I'll test that the direct outs are pre-out and not post. It was purchased new and I didn't change any internal settings so should work. I've recorded my band with a mixer 10 track live off the floor into the Edirol before and it worked rather well. Last time it was with a Soundcraft M-12, but I think the A&H should be as good or better in the microphone preamp section.

    Good luck, and let us know how you got on![/QUOTE]

    Thanks much for spending the time to offer your detailed and helpful response.
     
  4. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I'm sorry I didn't explain my mid-side references very well. I was talking about a mixing technique where you can take a recorded L-R stereo pair of channels, encode them to M-S, adjust the spatial width, then decode back to L-R. The channels could be a stereo microphone pair or even the 2-bus stereo mix, but doing it this way means that you do not have to mic the two channels as M-S. Also, I don't think the C2s are switchable to fig-8, so they could not form an M-S recording pair.
     
  5. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    All good advice, and I think you're going to get some good results no matter what you end up doing. (Remember, the musicians/singers have to deliver the goods in the first place, if you find they're not all that good (which would probably be rare), then no matter what you do, it'll only sound so good...)

    As for the guitarist, don't beat yourself up about this either; you WILL get leakage no matter what, unless you isolate him somewhere, and that's just silly for this kind of recording. You're probably better off mic'ing it "real" vs. sticking a pickup inside it. (So what if you did get leakage?) A pickup is going to sound dead and dull, and the more you bring it up in the mix, the more out of place it will sound; then you'll need to add reverb/ambience in the mix anyway....

    If you can get him away from the singers, fine, but don't count on it too much; they'll need to hear him to get pitch, cues, etc. If it's a session vs. a concert, you could try having him sit in FRONT of the ensemble, facing them, a few feet back, dead center in the front aisle, perhaps, esp if there's no conductor. They'll all see/hear each other pretty well, one would guess. Assuming you mic the guitar with a cardioid like the M3, it'll reject most sound (ie: the choir) from the "rear." Ditto for the chorus mics (which I"d recommend the 4040's in an ORTF or XY pattern, fairly high and in front of the vocal group, close enough to get detail, but NOT close enough to get individual singers.)

    An omni pair would be nice, spread far left/right, fairly high up for the whole ensemble (and pick up any usuable ambience, if it's a nice space), and then spot mics for whoever is singing solo bits.

    So, here's two idea's on what I'd grab for this:

    Option 1:
    RODE M3 for the guitar.
    RODE NT1 for stereo choral pickup (get high enough in the middle, to look down on the singers, avoid putting it right in front of faces; you'll get soloists and too much detail)
    AT 4040's for warm, detailed soloist pickup as needed.
    Behringer C2's as ambience, front/high/wide. (Try taping over the vents on the sides of the capsules to turn them into omni's instead of cardioids - just a crazy thought!)

    Option 2:
    RODE M3 on guitar
    AT 4040's for stereo Choral pickup
    Behringer C2's for soloists
    RODE NT1 for stereo ambient pickup (but placed far enough away from out in front, and high-enough up in the air) to get usuable "air" from the space.

    But keep this in mind: With most good DAW software, you can create any type of 'world' or sound you want in post. If there's great ambience in there already, then GO FOR IT, and capture that as well.

    But by all means, make sure you have the best, detailed, clean sound you can get for the musicians & singers themselves. THEN go mix your masterpiece.

    And let us know how it turns out!
     
  6. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Just saw Boswell had the same idea before I did to put the guitarist facing the singers. GMTA! Good call on that. thumb
     

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