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Recording opera vocals in tiny home studio - mic & placement suggestions

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by BluMaterial, May 6, 2011.

  1. BluMaterial

    BluMaterial Active Member

    I know, you're supposed to record opera singers in acoustically perfect concert halls, but I'm on a budget and all I have is my 8 x 10 home studio which doubles as both a control room and a live room. My goal is to record live vocals over pre-recorded orchestra karaoke tracks to famous soprano arias.

    Here's a recording I just made a few minutes ago of Ach Ich Fuhls from Magic Flute. I'm using a Blue Baby Bottle with a pop screen through a MAudio FastTrack Pro (I normally use an Apogee Duet but I have no idea where it is right now). Using Garageband on a Mac Pro quadcore, and added a hint of reverb & echo. Please excuse my bad German and wonky voice, I didn't really warm up. :smile:

    Ach Ich Fuhl's - Baby Bottle & FastTrack Pro

    I *really* don't like the high notes, they sound really shrieky, and I know from other recordings that I'm not shrieky in real life. :biggrin: Also, the resonance is just not there in the lower register. The middle register sounds pretty decent IMHO.

    I've done a lot of reading on forums and such, and I see a lot of recommendations for dynamic and ribbon mics with opera singers. I've also seen a lot of posts on using stereo pairs, preferably matched pairs, and a lot of votes for M/S or similar arrangements in close quarters.

    So, I'm thinking of getting an additional mic to use with the Blue Baby Bottle, something that will capture a warmer sound, and then hopefully the final mix can be a nice blend of the two.

    Suggestions on mics? So far I've seen a lot of good things about the Cascade Fatheads, and also EV RE20s. My budget is around $300 max, so a matched pair is unfortunately not in my near future. (Also I'm thinking keeping the Baby Bottle in the mix is a good way to capture sibilance that may be lost with a warmer mic.)

    Also suggestions on mic arrangement and placement in my tiny room? For reference, here's a sketch of my "vocal booth" setup: the X is where I stand, back to the wall, and the big pole thing is my mic stand & boom hanging over the gobos. The mic itself is at the tip of the boom, which is about 3 ft away from where I stand. Mic head is pointing downward, tilted slightly away from me. I can probably move things back to make it 4 ft away, but that's the max distance I can arrange.
  2. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    That's an impressive track! The Blue Baby Bottle captures your voice and its timbre reasonably well, but the FastTrack Pro does not do you any favours.

    Before spending any more money on microphones, it would be worth trying to locate your Apogee Duet and re-recording the track using that. After you posted that result here, we would be in a better position to judge how you should spend your money, and whether indeed $300 can deliver a worthwhile improvement.
  3. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    +1 on trying again with the Apogee. The Fast Track doesn't present the Blue Bottle fairly.
  4. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Upon listening to your recording, I would skip the Cascade and go straight to an Avantone or Royer. Your voice is better than the Cascade though it might take you a bit to start noticing. Also, if I went with a ribbon I would set both the ribbon and the Blue up for simultaneous capture. The ribbons will smooth out your voice especially in the upper register but there will be some "air" missing that the condenser will fold back in. I often record classical chamber concerts with a stereo ribbon and stereo pair of condensers for that purpose. Sometimes only one pair gets used in the mixdown but equally often one is selected as the main audio and the other is mixed in just enough to augment-never equal measure unless I just happened to mix the mic levels that way at the gig.
  5. BluMaterial

    BluMaterial Active Member

    Ok, I'll dig up my Duet this weekend and re-do the demo. I still think a second mic, even <$300 in price, would be worth it just to record in stereo.

    I can't even begin to afford a Royer. Avantone CR-14 would be doable. (Probably should have posted this in the Home Recording forum, whoops!)
  6. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    To record in stereo you need a pair of identical microphones. You would need a second baby bottle for instance. You can use two different pairs but each coincident pair or near-coincident pair needs to be the same type/brand. One possible exception is the mid side technique but a condenser mid and dynamic side would not work well.
  7. BluMaterial

    BluMaterial Active Member

    Thanks for the info, Jack. I was already leaning towards using mid/side, since I could get by with purchasing only one additional mic instead of two, which would allow me to possibly spring for a better, more expensive mic. The Fathead is a ribbon, as is the CR-14 and several of the Royers. Would a ribbon work well with my Baby Bottle condenser? Also, I'm curious why you say a condenser & dynamic in mid/side configuration would not work well.

    Ok, off to discover where my Duet is hiding...
  8. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Can it be done? Yes. Is it a good combo? No. If you were going to purposefully mismatch a ribbon and condenser, the condenser should be the side mic but it would of course need to be figure of 8. Even so, I'm not a fan of trying to combine mic types for MS.
  9. BluMaterial

    BluMaterial Active Member

    Hmm, ok. Just trying to understand the reasoning behind your assertion: if the side mic is ribbon, which tends to drop off in the high freqs (at least for cheaper ribbons), then the high pitched notes will be picked up by the mid condenser more than the ribbon and the resulting mix will sound more mono on the high notes. Whereas in the opposite configuration, the condenser would be picking up most of the high freqs and the mix will sound more stereo on the higher pitched notes which is more of a realistic sound. Is that basically it? At any rate that rules out my Bottle & ribbon M/S plans. Curse you recording gods! :mad:

    So now I'm puzzling over whether it is better to use a matched pair in M/S (or another stereo config) or a condenser & ribbon pair in M/S, given my limited budget. Basically, I'm worried that with a matched pair in my price range (if I give up eating out and Starbucks I might be able to spend up to $500) I'll end up with two mics that only have good response over a limited portion of the frequency spectrum. Whereas if I carefully select two complementary mics in my price range (maybe both ribbons, maybe condenser and ribbon) I can cover the frequency spectrum more fully between the two. Thoughts?

    (PS found the Duet, but not my 400f-800m Firewire converter. Gotta get another one tomorrow.)
  10. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    John's take on the M/S is conventional wisdom, but if you end up buying the ribbon you should give it a try in M/S with the Blue. The mid and the side do serve different functions and the standard configuration is cardioid for the mid and figure 8 for the side. So it's never a matched pair - though the recommendation is to get something similar. My bigger concern is that I feel M/S sounds best if you have a good room and are picking up a lot of the room with the mid. Given your constraints, I doubt that any stereo recording is going to reap huge benefits - though that doesn't mean you shouldn't try.

    The sad fact is, recording a classical soprano is about as good a recipe as possible for exposing the weakness of a signal chain. My guess is that the Duet is going to be a significant improvement. You should also experiment more with placement. Bracket the elevation, distance away, and the angle. Get a tape measure. Take notes. A lot more boring than shopping for mics, but probably more effective.
  11. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    I agree with Bob's inre the room and MS. Also, I don't think you're going to be happy with stereo anything in your room. Something you could try is this. Sing directly into ribbon "front" (with appropriate breath guard) and place the Blue about 3-6' back further. So both microphones are in "cardioid" mode but you still get to blend the two technologies. I once recorded he Hummel trumpet concerto with 2 RE27's this way only spread more like 20 feet. No solo spot and into a Sony Pro DAT portable recorder. An RE27 is not what one thinks of as a classical recording mic but it worked very well in that church. Just another idea.
  12. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the Avantone's frequency response. The ribbon character is still on display but the 'brown' edge of a ribbon like the Cascade is gone and is replaced by a 'presence' though not in a harsh way. It is smooth and extremely quiet.

    I'm of the school of thought in this case that you do use the ribbon as the throat/chest tone mic while placing the Blue above and back a bit to capture the development of the voice in the space. Though your space is small, you can use the gobo's to your advantage by damping some areas and livening up others.

    This is a case of the engineering ....ie: mic placements, becoming the important part of this capture. Its boring but amazing what you can do with the right stuff in any space. Especially with talent.
  13. BluMaterial

    BluMaterial Active Member

    Wow, lots of suggestions to mull over...many thanks to those contributing! I might rent a Fathead or a CR-14 next weekend and try some things out.

    Ok, I finally got the FW 400-800 cable and set up my Duet, so here's a recording with the exact same spatial configuration as the one with the FastTrack Pro in my first post. Also this time I enabled 24-bit recording---d'oh!---so it's not a true comparison, but oh well. :tongue: At any rate, it's definitely a cleaner, crisper sound, though the high end could be more crystal-clear, and the low end still lacks depth. Basically, my ears can tell they're being "cheated" on the high and low notes...not sure how much of this I can compensate for with good reverb plugins like Altiverb.

    (By the way, any pops you hear are either from the orchestra track or me cracking my neck.)

    Ach Ich Fuhl's - Baby Bottle & Duet

    I did another take moving the mic back another foot (4' away from mouth as opposed to 3') and I got some feedback from the untreated portions of my walls...the beats were audible & annoying. I need two large gobos on the sides, I think, at that distance, and possibly some ceiling panels overhead as well.

    EDIT - Regarding Stereo Recording: ok, to me, the reason for using stereo on classical recordings is to do the best job possible of capturing the room or the hall that the musician is playing/singing in. So, I can understand why using mono in a dead room (it will be dead when I'm done with it!) makes sense even for classical. I guess my question is how to take that mono dead-room recording and make it sound like a stereo live-hall recording? Obviously it's not possible to mimic 100%, esp in my price range, but how would I go about trying to reach this goal in my final mix? Even with good mic placement, the recording will still sound like mono, right?
  14. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Well you shouldn't feel "cheated" of those highs and lows. Sounds like you are starting to get your money's worth. Try to imagine someone in the 70's being told that in the future they will get this kind of quality with a few hundred dollars worth of equipment. As I said before, your voice is going to show off every dollar you spend. Better mics and preamps will improve your sound, but a recording like this is a great start.

    It's a great idea to rent the ribbons if you have a chance. I'd love to hear a comparison.

    A good reverb is what you need to artificially create the sound of good hall. It won't really do much to improve the highs and lows. (Though it can sometimes mask flaws.) I'll let the classical guys chime in with recommendations for reverbs. With the stuff I record, I've been looking for classic artificial sounds (e.g. plate reverb) rather than a natural hall sound. There are some good sounding low cost options, but again, you get what you pay for.
  15. BluMaterial

    BluMaterial Active Member

    All my hard work has paid off: I finally sound better than Maria Callas! :)

    Actually I just found some Bricasti M7 IRs from Samplicity. When I get to that point, I'll try them out in Logic and see what sort of results I can get.
  16. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    The Bricasti hardware unit is top dog. Period. There are some usable VST plugin verbs based on impulse sampling. Check out SIR for one. The name escapes me but it's probably some Waves something, it allows you to tweak for known halls and seating area-say Sidney Opera House in the loge. It's been a long time and I've forgotten he name. You would be advised to check with your local colleges and theater halls. You might find one that would let you come in and record for an afternoon for a small fee. The catch is of course to have everything completely prepared and ready to go so your money isn't wasted. And stick with your strengths. Callas was crap on Wagner and Flagstad struggled with Mozart.
  17. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Your second sound sample using the Duet is so much better than the first! However, the type and amount of reverb that you have applied detracts from the musicality. If you can get the Bricasti reverb plug-in and apply it sparingly, it will give a very good result. Don't forget that the background orchestra has its own acoustic and probably a reverb of its own applied as well, so it's important not to be at odds with that. In addition, don't judge the solo track by itself for things like frequency response - what counts in this case is how it sits with the orchestral background.

    Personally, given the conditions under which you are recording, I would stick with mono miking. If this were a vocal solo or even vocal with piano accompaniment, there's a good case for recording the vocal using multiple mics in some defined pattern. However, a good reverb on a well-controlled mono vocal track will spread the acoustic tails in the sound field and will probably give a better result than attempting to set up a stereo pair or other multiple-mic pattern in your particular acoustic environment.
  18. BluMaterial

    BluMaterial Active Member

    Thanks Boswell...and thanks again to everyone else, I'm still digesting all the advice.

    I am pretty committed to recording in my tiny home studio, partly because it's a challenge and I love challenges, but also partly because it's the only place I have to record on a regular basis. I bought my house so I would have a quiet place to record at any time, day or night, so it behooves me to learn how to properly record in it and get as much out of it as possible. If I'm still not getting a sound I like after more experimenting then I'll start looking for a hall I can use.

    The reverb I am ashamed to admit is Garageband FX. :redface: I hate to hear myself dry so I apply reverb all the time. I am very confused in general about applying reverb in Logic, and I don't know how to effectively use Space Designer at all. If anyone has a good reverb or SD tutorial somewhere---a basic yet thorough intro like this one on compression would be great---I would VERY much appreciate a link, as the stuff I've found from google and forum searches hasn't yet abated that overwhelmed feeling I get from staring at the plethora of tweak-able reverb parameters available to me.

    I think a good experiment to try next will be to use the Bricasti IR on the dry vocals from my Baby Bottle + Duet take and see what sort of sound I can get...that is if I can figure out how to use them!

    Well, it turns out that in LA there are a host of places where you can rent good mics! I'm thinking now about expanding my mic budget and just renting a really great one for a few days in a row. I found one outfit where I can get a Royer SF24 for $100/day, which is pricey but maybe just one day to experiment at first and see if I can get a good sound out of it.

    Thanks again, and more experiment results to come!
  19. BluMaterial

    BluMaterial Active Member

    Same take as before, with main vocals and orchestra sent in Logic to a bus with Amsterdam Hall Space Designer preset using the Samplicity Bricasti M7 IRs (24bit 44.1kHz). I also carved out an EQ niche for the vocals around 500-1kHz in the orchestral track, lowered the vocal EQ above 7kHz to make it less "present", and applied a hint of compression to the vocals. Since Space Designer doesn't do true stereo (or so I've read), I had one bus with the Right IR wav file applied and a second bus with the Left IR wav files applied. (I may check out Reverberate at a later date.)

    Ach Ich Fuhls - Baby Bottle + Duet w/ SD
  20. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    I'm not going to chime in here but I will sing along.

    This is all good pertinent advice you've received from many of my colleagues. My approach is somewhat different since I'm used to working with coloratura's & Wagnerian sopranos mostly. Mom is a former Metropolitan Opera star, Marilyn Cotlow and is best known for her role as Lucy in Minotti's, The Telephone. I've recorded lots of demos in this manner in the center townhouse living room at mom's place. While I recorded plenty of Sopranos on mics similar to yours. All large diaphragms which has nothing to do with birth control but rather screech control. Not all soprano sound good on condenser microphones and that's why you heard these other instances of utilizing ribbons & dynamics, Such as the Electro-Voice RE 20. But when you want that brighter texture you need a condenser microphone. You absolutely do not want to record what you are doing with ANY XY nor MS stereo micing, in your freaking living room. Not unless you're in a lovely sounding hall to begin with which you are not.

    I take issue about everybody's microphone preamp suggestions. This is where Transformers can make a huge difference and no inexpensive microphone preamp's use any decent ones. Sopranos already sound too thin already and you need something to fatten you up a bit. Transformers are the old-fashioned analogy to petticoats. Yes, I prefer ribbons mostly on coloratura's but your microphone is perfectly fine. My Grammy nomination was for recording Alessandra Marc on a AKG 414BULS which doesn't have the hyped presence nor top end of its fraternal twins And others similar textured condenser microphones like you are using. A lot of your problem may be right there with that tailored response of a microphone. And I like to work the Sopranos approximately 1 m or 3 feet directly in front Of the microphone. I generally wouldn't raise the height in your situation as you want as much of your chest voice/tone the microphone can pick up. And it's quite alright if you're on the carpet as you probably don't have any carpeting on your walls or ceiling. A live small room will sound like a small room so we don't want to hear the room at all. So dead is not to dread. It will work well for you that way.

    In a simple test of ridiculousness, with your Apogee, you might only want to purchase a 10:1 winding, shielded microphone transformer (Such as a Jensen, St. Ives, Rickenbacker, Beyer, etc., to run into your Apogee. This will also give you 10 DB more input level to your Apogee which will require you to run its gain lower or to utilize an input pad. This is where the Cascades cheap ribbon might be the solution. Didn't you like the way Joan Sutherland used to sound? Maria Callas? All Transformers. Because you are doing classic classical classics, the transformer suggestion gets you back into the same time frame of the Sopranos that all made the big time. Nobody cared how clean and bright, transparent, Neutered/neutral sounding a soprano was Back in the day of practical recording engineers. You need to color your voice and your recording. Mom thought you sound like a good church soloist and I argued that with her as I believe you are better than that. Alessandra Marc & Jennifer Wilson were a couple of her most successful students. I might think that instead of purchasing another microphone or goofing around with other similar preamps, you might be better off purchasing a used API or NEVE Preamp even with older less desirable transformers In them such as the Beyer. And don't think for a minute that limiters were not used. Especially to cut into vinyl. This is also where a slightly high frequency weighted (In the sidechain detector circuit) limiter can round off the shriek factor.

    You want to blow people away with your voice and not your engineering prowess don't you? I've worked with plenty of excellent Sopranos and in your example, I think I'm hearing a new one. Some of your shriekiness is accentuated by your current batch of preamps, tailored presence peak in your microphone, all adding insult to injury. Getting cleaner preamps is not going to help that. It's going to make it worse. And some of this is vocal focus & support from a lack of proper technique. Not everybody can teach the kind of technique that Marilyn teaches and having heard over 50 years of it, I know what I'm hearing. You have a beautiful instrument, one that you should be very proud of but technique could be your limiting factor? Most teachers are frauds unfortunately. What part of the world are you in? Feel free to send me a PM if you'd like to speak to Marilyn directly? You're almost there and it's not just your recording chain. But I really hate that crispy wispy sound on coloratura's and other female singers. It's great when you want that breathy edgy edge but that's not appropriate for what you're doing and your name isn't Britney Spears. Another soprano with great technique is Renée Fleming who did not study with Marilyn but they have communicated as mom was very impressed with her technique.

    Artificial acoustics can easily be had these days through stock audio software without the need to purchase the additional expense of plug-ins. Too much can sound cheesy even though I love fondue. You want to try and match up the reverb in your software to that of your orchestral karaoke playbacks which ain't rocket science. I've done plenty on the cheap even though at one point in the early 1980s, I had a studio technologies EMT style stainless steel plate reverb in the basement since Springs (except the BX 20E by AKG) was the only decent reverb available. This before digital technologies. Now the sky along with the software is the limit, so you won't need a plate reverb In your basement. Especially when you can't get them up and down stairs very conveniently and around turns.

    With unidirectional microphones even at 3 feet (1 m) there is still a touch of proximity effect which will warm your voice. The closer, the warmer, more intimate sound you'll achieve and that limiter will put you more in the ballpark so to speak. Pop singers can work microphones but not Opera singers are you must keep your distance consistent. Music stands can also be a huge problem acoustically. I've discovered that if you can place your music stand in a parallel flat like position to the floor instead of at an angle you will experience far less acoustical aberrations in your sound, than if it is tilted as most people customarily do. This is a huge issue that most people just don't get. Of course it's different if you're doing this all from memory and don't require any music stand.

    I only sing in the bathroom and on rock 'n roll albums for other bands.
    Mx. Remy Ann David

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