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New respect for the mobile acoustic engineers

Well never think you've got it all under control until you've at least tried recording a choir with a full house and no practice run. One shot to erect a stand, line your mics up and get it right gives me a new respect for these mobile engineers around here.

Having the best gear to start with sure helps but man... 6 inches can make a big difference and choosing the right mic and stand height for the room and size of choir (wide and tall) is very interesting and challenging. Especially, when you are doing a variety of different choirs of all sizes in one setting, one after the other!
Do they make remote controlled stands and stereo bars that pivot ?... Now theres a new product I want!

Another thing quite foreign to me is getting used to the open sound of these churches in the mixing stage and living with it. Taking the tracks back to my studio and trying to produce a fat and organic master is a weird learning curve that takes some self discipline. You really have to be "in tune" (head space) with the raw, organic and natural sound that is expected by the Audio Files who love classical music the way it is performed in these halls and auditoriums.
Getting over that big produced sound I'm so used to with commercial music is completely different. It would be so easy to over produce this all... hold me back.
What do you all do at this stage? How much do you process, compression, eq, level tweaking, limiting etc?

I'm so used to close Micing and the virtual world, this stereo Micing in big open spaces is a new game for me and much more fun that I ever expected. But, the ambience is hard to get used to. I'm guessing this is the biggest challenge? Kudo's the the pro's ... looks like I've got some learning to do, I'm going to get there...


Exsultavit Mon, 03/14/2011 - 23:17
It DOES take a different ear than the one used for studio recording. The important thing is to realize that perhaps 90% of one's final sound should be what comes in the main pair. Recording dry and adding verb later, for instance, is not the right concept.

Besides that, a choir in a church will sound very different than a studio version of that choir- it's supposed to. But you know that.

One thing I do to give myself choices very fast is to put up two main pairs on the main stand. They will have different tones and colors, (try an omni pair and a card pair, for instance) and I can mix/ match later- or simply pick my favorite pair and use the other pair as backup.

I record all mics to separate tracks direct to my computer and run an automated mix during the show- give the client a CD at the end. If I need to fix anything or mix more later, it's already in the computer with the mix saved.

Processing: I try to avoid anything obvious, record all tracks clean and direct. In the (live) mix, I have a little peak limiting for protection on the mix bus, verb ready if the hall is dry, EQ ready if it's really needed. Truth is, strong processing just sounds wrong mostly. Listen to other churchy choir CDs to get used to this different kind of sound.

As for the hell of various choirs with different sizes for each piece- no way to really win at that without more mics. I try to have a pair close on the choir so I can get a better S/N when the tiny choir comes on or the kiddies have their turn. If you have them up and add them to your mains when needed, many headaches can be avoided.

Does this help?

Exsultavit Tue, 03/15/2011 - 16:02
I avoid that issue by recording the individual tracks at conservative levels. But in the (live) mix, I push all the levels 6 or so db above their 'recorded' levels. This way, they hit the 2-bus close to zero. Peak limiting keeps it from going over.

Of course, I am riding the levels all the time, and if things get really loud on stage I pull levels down. In worst case where a peak sounds all squashed and 'limited', I go back after the fact to that spot and adjust the automated level already on the computer, and run a fresh CD for the client.

Does this help?

audiokid Tue, 03/15/2011 - 16:16
I would call riding levels from start to finish a form of electronic manipulation and somewhat injustice and destructive, yes? I set my gain staging to the hottest possible overall peak with approx 7 to 10db of headroom and leave it.
During mixing I find the hot spots and within limits, reduced them if necessary. I then smoothen the transient peaks and increase the entire track up to -1 before clip.
Interesting to learn how you do this. Seems very stressful though and not accurate?

Exsultavit Tue, 03/15/2011 - 16:48
Actually, I do roughly what you do, audiokid- I just do it live, not after the fact (if it's a live mix, that is...).

I find the hot spots and within limits, reduced them if necessary. I then smoothen the transient peaks and increase the entire track

There are classical engineers who will tell you that THIS is destructive and an injustice. I happen to disagree- and it seems you do too.

If one simply records a symphonic piece with full dynamic and simply normalizes for the hottest peak, most of the piece will be so quiet that it will please few listeners.

If one accepts THAT statement, then it becomes one's art to change the dynamics the 'right amount'. How much is the 'right amount'? You tell me. But do be careful accusing anyone of 'electronic manipulation" . To record something at all is to change it. IMNSHO, there is no way to capture the reality of a concert on a recording. The job is more subtle than that. One must create something beautiful.

audiokid Tue, 03/15/2011 - 17:09
I not sure I agree or disagree that one is right or wrong from a musical POV. Its simply only my POV.

In a studio environment I would tent to accept riding levels more (but still not really). I have more experience with controlled music where it wouldn't be as noticeable in the same way. The whole mobile recording, and particularity in classical music and choirs, this is all new to me and really enlightening.

The recording rules set by the adjudicators specifically state to not do this, its called electronic manipulation. I'm not accusing you of anything. They specifically state doing this could effect the outcome of any performance from being accepted into the Provincials / Nationals. Its very serious.

So, I am specifically only wondering how you all finish the raw recordings. Its very interesting to learn how we all capture and finish them for submission, or to further on... be Mastered.

The choirs I just recorded didn't have a bunch of out-of-control levels that I would even consider riding faders. When they were whispering, no way would I try and push up the whispering. It is part of the performance. The microphones I use are picking this all up. These choirs can be really dynamic so I simply find the peak, drop it down for headroom and leave it. I don't dare touch them again unless I get surprised with something goofy or unexpected like some kid banging a block for an effect lol..

I find riding level can have a negative effect on sound quality and openness. Do you not find this?

Exsultavit Tue, 03/15/2011 - 17:37
The recording rules set by the adjudicators specifically state to not do this, its called electronic manipulation.

Sorry- you didn't mention that this was for a contest with rules. electronic manipulation in this kind of case usually means they want no edits that fix mistakes. Perhaps even peak limiting or something else that basic is 'breaking the rules'... I suppose it's best to be conservative.
I find riding level can have a negative effect on sound quality and openness. Do you not find this?

Sorry again- I probably should not have used that term here, as it seems to have a different definition for you than for me.

I find the hot spots and within limits, reduced them if necessary. I then smoothen the transient peaks and increase the entire track

That, roughly is what I do too. But in a live mix, I have my hand near the level and will adjust it if the volume gets so hot that the peak limiter is working too often. I call that 'riding the level'. Defined that way, I think 'riding the level' is the only responsible thing to do. No I don't think that doing this WELL has "a negative effect on sound quality and openness", though you might.

Yes, with manipulation, 'less is more', but we each have to find what sounds best to our own- and our clients'- ears.

JoeH Wed, 03/16/2011 - 01:30
Chris; I'm thrilled to see you taking this big step into live, classical/choral recording. I wish I had time to respond in more detail to all of your questions and ideas you've put forth in this thread alone. I've been up way too late tonight and got to grap some Zzzzs, but I'll respond in more detail soon to a couple of specific questions on this thread and a few other new ones.

In the meantime, I have an idea. How about we swap a project or two, since we both use Samp/Sequoia? I could send you a set of tracks & VIP, with my mix already setup, with various tweaks and adjustments. You could in turn send me yours, and we could compare notes. (Of course, this is an open invite for anyone else as well, but if we're all using the same DAW, things will be easier to interpret and compare). Once we each have the raw tracks, the VIPs are small files and easy to send back and forth. (Maybe we can just FTP the audio wav files, or use Sendspace or Dropbox, etc.)

JoeH Fri, 03/18/2011 - 07:45
I don't remember exactly who, but somebody makes that sort of thing, (for the studio anyway?) but it ain't cheap. ;-) I used to have an AKG stereo 422 with adjustable pickup patterns, and that was pretty cool. (till it got stolen out of a box, on a gig.... ;-(

There's no easy-button, and very little "Remote control" available on the front end, sorry to say. ;-)

Live recording (esp with chorus, orchestra, soloists, etc) will indeed challenge you. You've got to make a lot of decisions almost on the fly, usually in the short amount of time between hall acess (esp if it's a church) and when the talent is in place; that's usually a 2 hr (or less) window for most events we do. It's very awkward moving in and around the orchestra once they're in position, warming up, tuning, etc. You need to know your gear, and how well it's going to work once it's set up and left in place. If it's a full-on rehearsal with professionals, you'll get 15-20 minutes to make changes during the enforced lunch or coffee break.

You don't want to be moving things in and around expensive violins and other rare instruments, tripping over music stand light cables, and you don't want to accidently conk the conductor over the head with a tall boom stand. Tip: Remember to double check those lock-nuts, esp if they've just come in from a cold car or van (The thought of that gives me cold sweats and waking up screaming some nights!)

Even if I'm not being paid to record a final dress rehearsal, if it's a new space or new client for me, I try to stop in for a visit, even a brief one, and see what's going on; that way when we arrive for the actual event, we know what mics & stands to bring, where it's all going to fit, etc. Sometimes it's nice to say hello to the soloists and give them a heads-up that there will be a mic in front of their faces at the performance! (I always try to calm the look of concern on some soloist's faces by saying: Don't worry, it wont be amplified, just recorded separately in case we need a little extra afterwards. They're always grateful, no matter how successful or how amatuer they are.)

Oh well, at least we've got amazing DAWs that let us do the real magic on the back end.

TheJackAttack Tue, 03/22/2011 - 11:30
Live recording is always a challenge especially when you are learning new mic's. That SF12 gives great results but it wants to be lower and a little closer than I think it should be. I just recorded a chamber concert last Sunday and threw up an ORTF pair also for insurance. I didn't even use those in the mix. One mic (SF12), a high pass (80hz) to get rid of the damn kids on the street outside, trimmed the applause spikes and normalized. Top and tail and label tracks and voila, instant redbook cd. The post production was one of the easiest concerts I've done.

I'm not familiar with Sequoia but I usually do not break apart the audio into individual compositions. It is easier for me to retain cohesiveness dealing with the complete concert. My track and index markers get automatically added when I send it to the CD function in Audition.

To recap some other threads, I ALWAYS put up two main stereo pairs. I spot as needed. Back at the barn I only try to recreate the audience members experience and not mix in the spots too much or at all, or manipulate too much of anything in fact. Less is more and the key to that is mic placement and mic choice. You've got a deadly combination with those DPA's and the SF24. The R121's for spots or spaced pair is a nice addition as well. One warning about all this, if the instruments throw their sound behind the ensemble that can show as muffled or low level in a main array at least with passive ribbons. I'm thinking for example trios like clarinet horn piano or violin horn piano where the bell of the horn is pointed back. Another example is clarinet and viola and piano. The viola has such a diffuse sound in comparison to the other two mic placement is critical and in concert situations you can't just stick a spot right up next to it. Anyway, enjoy the challenge!

audiokid Tue, 03/22/2011 - 11:47
audiokid, post: 366887 wrote: Yes on both counts

Typo, This is what I'm doing so far.

I do not use anything in the mix (no eq, HP or processing) , only on the 2-bus do I do a bit of optimizing and slight EQ.

I'm like you John, I don't touch the tracks at all actually. I take it back to the barn (like that) and put a limiter just enough to chop a bit of the peaks off, add a bit of sheen around 12k, chop 80hz and normalize to -1 and done.

My next project I will avoid the 2-bus and stem the tracks out to my MixDream first. We'll see how it does with some analog.

Dcohoe Mon, 04/04/2011 - 06:12
In the early 90's we would record the national orchestra direct onto 1/4 inch ,no chance of a multi track we found a spot of reverb and close micing worked for us in the state theater (quite a big space) when I say close I mean 1 Neumann kmf above the 1st violins, 2nd violins, violas and so on including the brass and percussion but the main mic was still a stereo mic out front
Then one day man, professor Mattis came to lecture us from Germany ,his technique was to hang the stereo mic out front and then two omni mics on either side well spaced out to cover the whole stage and then add 1 kmf on the lead cello for some "edge"
after listening to the same piece in the same venue with the same orchestra the prof's technique was definitely MUCH bigger with more of a hall sound
Quite remarkable to hear the difference, and all the brass and woodwind instruments came through just fine
And Oh yes we only had 1 shot at it ,but then to our advantage we did it 2 or 3 times a month in the same venue so we got very good at placing the mics in just the right spot
Still my favorite times -The old days

TheJackAttack Mon, 04/04/2011 - 10:08
A stereo main and omni flanks are one of my favorites for large ensemble. It works well as does a more traditional Decca arrangement. Lots of times, all those many microphones are never used here in the US but you hate not to have a spot mic when you do need it for live radio/tv broadcasts even if most are now an amalgam of performances.

audiokid Mon, 04/04/2011 - 10:23
Here here! , John. Yes indeed.

The DPA MMC2006 omni caps for my 4011A arrived last week. Its the new design for their classic 4011(A). A matched pair of 4011A's become a matched pair of 4006's at half the cost. It sound like the specs are very close. I'm now complete and walking along side! Love them. Thank you for all the tips!