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Festival Recording

Howdy from San Antonio. Does anyone have any experience and/or advice for recording in a festival setting? There will be 2 to 4 choirs per hour for 2 days, with barely enough time to finalize a CD in between the choirs. I did this for the first time last spring, and didn't have any real problems, but I'm always looking for ways to improve. Last year I used a stereo pair of 414s in omni. I've since picked up a pair of Schoeps omnis. I'm thinking of using both this year, with the 414s in ORTF, and the Schoeps spaced 10 feet or so, and back a bit from the 414s. I've got 2 channels of Millennia, and 2 channels of Grace for preamps. I use a Motu 828 as my mixer and converter, and record into a Tascam CDRW750 for the choir's CD, and a Tascam DVRA1000 for backup/archive. Any thoughts would be welcome!


Cucco Wed, 03/22/2006 - 11:17
It's funny you ask about this. I was just about to make a post about my recent experiences with just this very thing. I'll go ahead and do just that at the risk of "hijacking" this thread. Maybe there will be some nuggets of wisdom or some things that you can avoid in reading it.

So, here it goes....

I was contacted this year after a very successful event last year at recording the local High School and Junior High All-District Choral Festival. The concept is that all of the schools in the district bring their various choirs (some schools having up to 5 choirs) to the event and perform for a panel of judges for ratings. At last year's event, I was taken by surprise to find out that the choirs from each school did not go back to back. For example, it went something like this:

School A / Choir 1
School B / Choir 1
School A / Choir 2
School B / Choir 2
School C / Choir 1
School A / Choir 3

You get the point.

At both years' events, I used a modified AB setup with Schoeps CMC6 MK 2s's as my main AB pair (spaced roughly 17" apart and angled only slightly off of center axis) and Gefell M296s as my flank pair. (Roughly 8-12 feet off of dead center). The piano (an old, beautiful but in-need-of-repair) Steinway was mic'ed with AKG Bluelines mounted directly in the piano over the soundboard. The intent was to only provide enough for definition and lack of "mush".

The gamut of mics was patched through outboard preamps but ultimately bused down to two track through a mixer. The two track output was fed directly into Sequoia.

In every case, I had a VIP (Sequioa's terminology for an audio project) established for each school. When a school's performance was completed, I would save and close. At their next performance, I would re-open the VIP and add to it. At the end, when their last group had performed, I would burn down to CDs which I had pre-printed with each school's name. After each performance, I would trim each track and mark tracks, that way there wasn't a lot of dead air between tracks, as well as making appropriate fades in and fades out. (beginning and end of disc only).

The event lasted for 2 days and ran 10 hours each day. Obviously, I needed a little bit of sanity check, as this could seriously grate on ones nerves. I had my laptop with Doom and Solitare close by... :wink:

For a backup, I ran an Alesis HD 24 for the entire time. I kept logs showing start time and end time for each group so that if the PC failed (which, I'm happy to say - running 10 hours straight for 2 days, it never once even hiccuped!), I could easily go back to the Alesis and locate the exact spots where each group started.

In all, the events were a success. Both years, there were no failures and only the occassional close call (where the CD was finalizing as the next group was progressing on stage...yikes!!!). Everyone was ecstatic as they were able to pick up their discs before their groups even finished getting off stage. And hey, if I don't mind saying so myself, they sounded pretty damned good too!

Here was my only bad experience.

Last year, 2 kids in two completely different groups threw up in the exact same spot as eachother on the stage. Unfortunately, this was directly below my right flank mic. More unfortunately, this was directly on one of my 30 foot Monster Cables. Let's just say, that cable was donated to the school in which the performances took place!

This year, a very large kid decided to give back his lunch, but instead of doing it on stage for my mics to clearly display the lovely sounds to me, he made it over to my recording table back stage to ask where the bathroom was (bear in mind, I'm wearing cans, so I had to have him repeat himself when I finally was able to get them off.) Well, he didn't make it to the bathroom - instead, he used the trashcan directly behind my seated position!!! OMG - that's a smell I'd prefer to never experience again!!!! It took 15 minutes for the janitorial staff to get on site to clean it up!!!!

Moral of the story - be prepared, be hyper aware and bring lysol!!!! Someone is bound to throw up!

In any case - it sounds like you've got your head in the game. Good luck and let us know how it goes.

J 8-)

Member Wed, 03/22/2006 - 16:58

Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm going to assume my best "I have no idea where the bathroom is" look at all times during the event. As far as the recording setup goes, I generally find that I get plenty of piano without miking it directly to suit the choir directors. I think they're looking for more of a diagnostic recording. And if their kids nail the performance, they'll have a recording that showcases the choir to submit for Honor Choir (a huge deal) at the music educator's conference here in San Antonio. There's also the issue of the piano being moved around between groups. Is that not a problem for you? There's really not enough time between groups for me to re-position anything.

Cucco Wed, 03/22/2006 - 17:37
Hey srs -

yeah - the piano levels are kept at a bare minimum (otherwise, they can actually significantly overpower.) I only bring it up enough to put some articulation back into the mix, no more. (I brought the preamp to the level that I would like for a real piano recording to get to the sweet spot on the preamp, then I lowered it at the mixer by around -35 to -40 dB).

As for the moving issue - I mounted the mics directly inside the piano using Audix's piano mount system. Then, I leave enough slack at the piano that they can easily reposition the piano with ease.


JoeH Wed, 03/22/2006 - 17:42
Sounds like you guys have the technical side down nicely. I'd add a few other things as well: Have your media/materials ready to go ahead of time as well - at least as much as you can afford to, if you have a count. Preprinted labels, tray cards, etc., all add up to a nice looking product. (Make sure you've got a lot of biz cards and/or brochures ready to give out to folks, as well, if you want more of that kind of work, that is.)

At the risk of sounding crass (oh, like we don't need MONEY, eh?), make sure you have clearly worked out your payment ahead of time with these groups. It can get hairy at the end of it all if you haven't clearly defined your payment terms. People scatter, forget their checkbooks, leave without paying you, etc. I've heard every excuse there is.

Like many others here, we have a several ways of pricing the recording; flat fees with low-cost CDs aftewards (say, $5 each in quantity) or as an alternative, we offer a "minimum copy" arrangement, where they agree to, say, 50-75 copies at $15 each. This type of deal is attractive to larger groups (esp the teaching kind, where folks WANT to hear what they sound like, and want to learn, improve, etc.) But don't get trapped by lazy or sloppy record-keepers who want to turn it around on YOU, and have you chase folks around, one at a time, for payment.

Of course, sometimes that's the arrangement, and the recording company takes the risk by setting up a sales table and hoping for the best. I've never found that to be a good thing, I prefer to let the folks hiring us work that out ahead of time, or be prepared to cover any shortfall. We try to be very clear about this: The "minimum number of copies" is THEIR responsibility. If there's a shortfall, someone has to cover it. (NOT us.)

As recently as last spring, we added video recording (edited onto DVD) to a school musical where we did audio recording and reinforcement. The school paid us the full amount agreed-upon for the sound, but then got very weird and difficult when paying for the DVDs. Citing a lack of sales, we got every kind of excuse and delay because they hadn't done their work on THEIR side of the bargain.

I got VERY puzzled and confused looks (dumb like a fox, perhaps?) when I asked them to cover the shortfall of the "unsold" DVDs. I think they though I was going to just let it slide. In the end, I had to, actually....they were paying me one DVD at a time, and finally the cash just ran out, and their attitude was: "um....sorry! That's all we have!"

I'm not working for them this year, btw. :roll:

One last thing about the piano mic'ing: I prefer to "have it and not need it" than the other way around. I always find that a LITTLE detail goes a long way.

If the piano sound is REALLY inconsequential, then you can have some fun with a little technique I use with PZMs. (Oooh, I can hear the howls of outrage already! :wink: ) For a grand piano, even the smallish ones, I tape them to the inside of the lid (very securely, so they won't fall into the strings) one nearest the mid/high hammers, and one down in the middle of the case, nearer the low strings. I then tape & run the wires under the lid, down to the leg on the LH (accompanists) side of the piano, and strap the male XLR connectors onto the leg for easy access. You can even let them close the lid with it this way.

This way, the piano is totally mobile (even with XLR cables attached) and you can quickly move it around anywhere you like without changing the mics. (Which you may never need anyway.) Very often, you can get the stage crew (if there IS one) hip to the concept to break the connections and roll the piano away. All you're disconnecting/changing is two XLR cables and the piano is gone, if nec.

I know some might scream in horror at the idea of using PZMs these days, but if all you need is a little bit of detail (not nec. volume) on the piano, it's quick and easy to do. A little EQ and some separate room sim can go a long way to polish up an otherwise ugly piano sound. (sorta like an acoustic guitar pickup, or one of those horrible "electric" violin pickups. :twisted:

Most of all, enjoy the gig, and bring lots of coffee.

Cucco Wed, 03/22/2006 - 20:07
Good notes Joe.

A couple items -
1 - I actually only used the Audix mounts. The mics were AKGs. For classical, I generally go with these mounted inside the piano for detail as they are a far softer sounding mic. The Audix (SCX25s) are great for jazz and rock and only good for classical.

2 - My personal rates for this event were $1000. That included both days, 10 hours each day and 1 copy of each choirs' disc for each director (all told, about 15 or so choirs.)

I preprinted the discs so they looked nice and professional (direct, on-disc printing) and choir directors were always pleased to see their names/choir names on the disc as they were leaving the stage.

Generally, I let the choir directors know that, if they'd like additional copies, 1 or 2 are on the house. Beyond that, there's a minimal charge of around $5 per disc (I say "around" because so far, 1 disc has been sufficient for all of the directors).

It's a low-cost event for me but a high-intensity one. Basically, the $1000 charge comes by adding 2 of my "All-Day" packages ($500 each) together.


Member Wed, 03/22/2006 - 20:52
Again, thanks for the input. I'm actually a subcontractor on this gig, so I don't have to worry about the financial stuff. I get paid a day rate, which isn't tremendous, but I like to use my gear every chance I get. My hope is that one of these groups will be at their best, I'll capture it for them, and it'll lead to something else for all concerned.