Some suggestions would be welcome

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by Thomas W. Bethel, May 24, 2007.

  1. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    We record a children's choir on a regular basis. They are GREAT and we have gotten some really good recordings. Lately a couple of problems have developed and I was wondering if someone could offer some suggestions.

    The Director does not want ANY microphones on stage. We use a pair of AKG Blue Line cardioids in an X-Y configuration plus a pair of AT-4051s with Omni capsules as out riggers for most of the recordings. The problem is that we are about 20 to 30 feet from the first row of the singers and there is a piano and the director between us and the choir. The piano keyboard faces right so that the top is opening toward the choir. Sometimes the piano can be over whelming to the voices of the children. The balance in the hall is about what we are picking up on the microphones. A couple of years ago we did a recording where the director let us place microphones on stage between the piano and the choir and everyone remembers that concert as one of the best we have ever recorded. After that concert the Director felt that the microphones intruded on her contact with the singers so we are not able to have them on stage anymore.

    We are getting good recordings but I would like to get GREAT recordings.

    The second problem is one of levels. We record the concert direct to 2 track and I leave plenty of headroom for the occasional peak or when the audience goes nuts clapping. We do some limited gain adjustments if needed after the concert in post production. The average peak level is -3 to -6 dBFS and the RMS average level is about -15 to -12 dBFS during the recording. After post production the peak is about -1 dBFS and the average is about -12 dBFS. The parents say that the recordings we produce sound GREAT but that they are too low in level and they can't enjoy them in their cars or on a boom box. I really don't want to squash what amounts to a classical recording and have refused the idea to compress the whole concert so that a couple of the parents can play the CDs in their cars. More and more parents want LOUDER mixes so that they match better with the pop stuff they listen to in their multi CD changers. Not sure what to do

    Any suggestions would be MOST welcome. Thanks in advance.
  2. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Yikes....-12dBFS RMS? And they complain it's too quiet?? For most choral stuff I do (even BIG choirs) I maybe get an average of -20dBFS with RMS peaks (i know, kind of an oxymoron, but you know what I mean) of -12dBFS and I don't get complaints.

    Perhaps it's time for a paradigm shift with your client. Perhaps they need to hear other recordings as examples.

    Could you fly mics in?

    Could you appeal to the director?

    Could you perhaps do a recording as he proposes and let him hear the crappy results?
  3. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    To me it really depends on the needs of the audience. In a noisy environment like a car, a mix with full dynamic range conveys less music to the listener than one with some compression. A mix that sounds best in a quiet living room with good speakers isn't necessarily the best in the kitchen when you are trying to cook dinner while the kids are going wild in the family room.

    Of course, you have to be the judge of how much musical value is lost for each dB gain in average volume, and you have to judge how many parents want the higher average volume and how many want the greater dynamic range. I'm just suggesting that in many listening situations the choice of higher average volume is musically legitimate.
  4. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    That kind of thought process scares me though. We're now recording and editing to our LOWEST quality clients' desires, not our higher end clients. In rock, pop, country, etc, this may be acceptable, but choral and classical, I just cannot accept this.

    Dynamic range is to be expected during choral concerts as it should be during orchestral concerts. Should we add compression so that the soccer mom doesn't have to touch the dial on her radio when she's listening to her daughter sing in the choir?

    My answer is a resounding "NO!!"

    If it's going out for radio broadcast, they'll handle that for the soccer mom. If it's just for sale to the client and their patrons, I think the person purchasing the disc that expects to receive a quality product deserves one. The person that expects to be lazy and not reach for the volume knob can just get the heck over it.
  5. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    The same argument can be made (and has been made) for the proposition that we shouldn't be recording at all. After all, we are simply abetting those listeners who are too lazy to go out and hear a live performance. And as you acknowledge, the same argument can be made that classical music should be banned from the radio since it has to be compressed for good transmission.

    I was going to say you are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, but in the sense of the previous paragraph you are simply saying that the compromises you have chosen (to record at all, to record in stereo, to record in a particular format, to choose a mic, to adjust eq or anything else) are aesthetically superior to those that someone else would choose. In some environments, I agree. In environments with a high noise floor, I'd say that a recording with large dynamic range is aesthetically inferior. (Turning up the volume can easily result in peaks that are unpleasantly high.) You can say that clients who listen to classical music in such environments are LOWER quality, but I doubt you are charging them a lower price.

    In the end this is a business decision. The question is simply how to get more satisfied long term clients. And it's not a moral question- we are talking about where to set the threshold on a limiter, not how many toxins can be safely released into the environment. Tom has to judge his market - how many people will be turned off by compression - how many people will be turned off by "low" average volume.
  6. Kent L T

    Kent L T Active Member

    You could put 2 version on the cd one with and one without (if there is room) Label one HI-FI the other LO-FI :p
  7. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I think we're getting a little off topic here, but as long as no one is complaining...why not.

    I think we're talking two different things here.

    1st - the difference between deciding whether or not to record is completely different than deciding in the quality of that recording. People don't just buy recordings because their too lazy to go to live events. Some people can't afford to go to live events. Not only does the ticket cost money ($35 for the cheap seats at the Kennedy Center) it costs to park ($14 at the KC), gas costs (a boat load!) hiring the baby sitter, getting dinner. It ain't cheap. Many of the students I teach get their only exposure to classical music from the CDs I buy them as birthday and Christmas presents.

    To lump whether we should record at the absolute highest quality in with whether we should record at all is not right.

    Furthermore - if a person's only exposure to classical music is through the radio, even though it's compressed to heck - hey more power to them! In a town where the average driver commutes over 1.5 hours each way to work, I say that's pretty good exposure to music, even if it is compressed.

    Well, that's making me out to be an elitist, which I am most certainly not. I don't take any offense at the comment, I just want to make sure we're clear. I think that recording at all (especially live events) is a noble venture and worthy of respect and admiration. It's a lot of hard work and let's face it, most people never appreciate it! Not only that, it helps to expose people to recorded and live music.

    But to which demographic do we pander? Shall we say "screw the guy who decides to *listen* to the music" or do we say "gosh, it's going to be inconvenient for the person who just throws this into their car stereo to avoid having to talk to or listen to their kids."

    Besides, what about those people who listen in both scenarios? Do you think the person who WANTS to listen to the musical content of the recording cares if they have to tweak the volume a little?

    I don't know. I listen to my recording of Mahler 2 (SFSO) at a volume so that I can hear the quietest passage acceptably well over the road noise. Yeah, when the finale kicks in, it's a little loud, but not deafening, not even unpleasant. Maybe my Honda is a quiet suv, but I don't think it is.

    I didn't say that. Where did I ever judge the quality of my clients or anyone else's clients. Hell, I listen to classical music in my car - all the time. (And besides, especially for schools, you'd be really surprised how little I charge.)

    I disagree. I think it is a moral question. Do we not have a responsibility to represent the recording as faithfully as humanly possible? Perhaps we also have a responsibility to educate our clients. Perhaps on the liner notes, it can be explained that the recording represents the performance as accurately as possible and that the loudest moments of the recording represent the loudest possible capabilities of the CD medium but the dynamic range of the recording is left in tact.

    It also is a business decision - you are most definitely correct about that. I can honestly say, I have turned away business from such clients that demand the music be compressed. This has most definitely NOT hurt my business. In fact, doing so (compressing it anyway) would, IMO, hurt my business. If any single client of mine heard a disc which were obviously compressed, I would likely lose them as a client or at the very least, they would ask me what was wrong.

    It's a matter of standards more than anything else.

    Is the conductor and/or patron(s) of this recording of high enough standard to understand the difference in quality?

    Is the provider of the service (Tom in this case) up to the standard to be able to say - I'm sorry - I'm not willing to lower the standards of my business to pander to an ignorant client?

    It always hurts turning business away, but it's a temporary pain. So you're out that $300 from doing the work, but isn't it nice to know that you don't have to sell out to soccer moms who are too darned lazy to touch their volume knobs?

    Please understand, I'm not trying to be argumentative and I'm certainly not taking or giving any of this personally. In such a flat medium as e-mail and BBSs, it's tough to tell. I just want to make it perfectly clear that I am against dumbing down our art (which I have personally devoted 24 years of my life to - music that is) just so some lady in a loud Suburban doesn't have to reach for the volume knob. She's welcome to purchase all of the Hillary Duff CDs that she'd like, but if she's going to buy one of my CDs, she's going to have to live the standards of quality which I set for myself and my studio.

    (y) J
  8. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    BTW -

    I in know way intended to state that the recording of Mahler 2 which I own of the San Fran SO was my handiwork. I mean to say it's mine as in, I bought it at Borders...(just to clarify).

    BTW - if you don't own it - BUY IT! I have no less than 10 recordings of Mahler 2 and this to me is an excellent example of recorded music and the exploitation of the digital dynamic range. The performance is good albeit not as exciting as some of my other recordings (although Bob Ward's performance is beyond reproach!!!)

  9. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member


    To me the most important of the questions you pose is, "which clients should we cater to?" (sounds nicer than "pander") My answer would be, "the ones who make our business the healthiest." Now, to me health means more than short term profit. And health certainly includes making a product that we feel is satisfactory. But if live music is to stay a business and not whither away to a hobby it has to be focused on customers.

    Now I don't make any claim to have the classical music business figured out, and I have no brilliant ideas on how to save it. In particular, I have no idea if it is better to cater to "soccer moms" or "purists" or any other group. You have chosen a particular business model and it has been successful. Someone who tries to appeal to a different audience may have to make different aesthetic choices to appeal to them, and while I know you don't agree, I don't think these are necessarily inferior.

    In particular, I think you are placing too much importance on dynamic range relative to other artistic aspects of a CD. Classical music has been compressed since the first needle jumped out of the groove on a 78. We have sacrificed range for both technical and aesthetic reasons. If it is acceptable on a 78, acceptable on an LP, and acceptable on the radio, how does it suddenly become immoral to turn the threshold knob on the limiter down 3dB on a CD? Again, I'm perfectly receptive to the idea that it is better business to cater to audiophiles and people who do more concentrated, intensive listening; but if it is better business to produce a CD with the dynamic range or an LP or even the radio, I'd consider that a very small artistic compromise.
  10. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    In 2000 (or thereabouts) I had to record a youth orchestra, around 110 musicians, along with a 300 voice choir. It was being filmed and the director asked very nicely if it would be possible not to have any microphone stands on stage, because whenever they filmed these kinds of things there was always a microphone stand in the way when they zoomed in on someone. The orchestra is sponsored by the TV station that wanted to film the concert, so their request was not something to be ignored.

    Accepting the challenge, I devised a system using three lengths of almost invisible stainless steel rope (very similar to brake cable for bicycles) stretched across the top of the stage. From this I was able to suspend and angle three Neumann M149s in a Decca Tree, with plenty of ability to position them (I worked out the suspension/angling/rotation system using a clothes drying rack at home).

    All the stainless steel rope, fittings and fixtures came from a shop that supplied sailing equipment. They even lent me the tool for terminating the ends of the cable.

    The camera crew loved it.

    Maybe you could try a similar approach. I am sure you will only need to do it with the main microphones; spotters on harps and so on should not be a problem.

    If you get it right you can get back to the business of making great recordings!
  11. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    One has to try to cater for all needs. We compress schools concerts because they like it, it needs it, and the material is not scrutinized by the critical listener for obvious reasons.

    Bending over backwards for directors who don't respect the laws of physics is questionable though. No microphones visible anywhere, but we need top quality sound are two opposing forces. Simmo's solution with the wire is good if there are hanging points, if not, the director needs some gentle talking to.
  12. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    The director of this children's choir is AMAZING she can work miracles with young voices and the overall sound they get is also AMAZING. The director is usually very easy to work with and she will listen when I discuss audio problems with her. I understand her concern about the microphones but sometimes trying to give her what she wants versus what is physically possible is IMPOSSIBLE.

    These concerts are given at lots of different venues throughout the county we live in and range from smaller churches to large college auditoriums. In most of these cases it is impossible to hang microphones simply because there is nothing to hang them from.

    I should add to this discussion that we are also providing video recording of these events so I am also very conscious of microphones and their placement in and around the auditorium and choir from a visual standpoint.

    Thanks for the input so far and keep those cards and letters coming.
  13. Zilla

    Zilla Active Member

    The schoeps collette tubes or dpa flamingo tubes has never met with any resistance to those of great visually sensitivity. Pricey they are. But they will allow you to place the mics where ever you need them, with no protest from musicians.
  14. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Yes I have used them when I worked for someone else but for what we are being paid to do these concert it would take me years to recoup my investment and I really think this director would be upset at having microphones, of any type, between her and her choirs. GREAT idea and GREAT microphones just a bit out of the question at the present time.
  15. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Yes they are magnificent tubes and fittings, easily the best from any manufacturer. But the prices are truly astonishing, out of this world. If I recall, our local Schoeps rep told me the entire German parliament was fitted out with these mics and accessories, the mind boggles at the price.
  16. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    You'd be amazed how reasonable a price can be when you are spending other people's money. :roll:

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