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Dear Listers,
after about 10 years in NYC I just moved back to the Vaterland in Germany and I am looking to continue my work recording opera singers on the side. In NY I always had the luxury of being able to use a studio at a major radio station, in few words I got spoiled, all I had to do was to sit down and work with the singers on interpretation, words etc.
I brought the following goodies with me and would like to set up a small private studio without spending a lot of extra money.

Monitors Roland DS-90
M-Audio 410 Firewire Interface
Powerbook G4
Desktop 3ghy 2GB Ram
Nuendo II with Waves and Autotune
Logic Express 7
The only mics I brough was a RODE NTK, some Marshall MXL mic I used once, and an Audio-Technica AT 820 I use for live recording.

My goal is to record a clean vocal sound with little coloration, I prefer to let the pro's do that when I send it of to be mastered.
When recording singers the distance of the mic can vary between one and 15 feet depending on the voice so the mic should not be dead if you aremore then one foot away.

My questions:
1. Small recording room or large live room

I only need to record one voice at a time but that needs to be top notch, opera and musical theater.

I have two options, I can record in the living room.
15 foot ceiling, wood floors 15x 42 feet but little controll over the acoustic or I can build out a small room 11x 14 feet with 10' ceiling. Any thoughts?

2. In the sudio we always had a couple of U87's, anything cheaper that would compare in clarity?

3. Should I record in the larger room and use panels behind the mic to enhance clarity?

My feeling is to build out the smaller room but for the cost of doing that I could buy one kick ass microphone.

thank you for your input, this forum has so far answered all my questions without posting but recording opera singers is a very specialised field and maybe someone knows a little about it and could spend the time to help out. thank you for your time.

best wishes.


pmolsonmus Sat, 07/09/2005 - 05:15

Don't build a small room for big voices! You will be setting yourself up for dissapointment.

You may have to invest in some treatment for the large room, but the folks (Rod et al) at the acoustic treatment forum may be of some greater assistance. Bass traps or other standing mode type absorbers might be necessary. Some are not permanent installations. With wooden floors you might just get a very recital hall type sound and it could be very useable in post production.

If it were me, I would consider 3 mics. 1 for the close work and 2 mics for stereo techniques (probably omni) for natural acoutsics. The three working together with proper placement could give you excellent results. Let us know you budget and we can suggest some. Although I like the Rode mics, I don't think you would be satisfied with that one. For the stereo pair, I love the versatility and options offered by the AKG 414 B/ULS, and they can be used in either capacity. Schoeps would also be an excellent choice, and the people in the acoustic music forum might be able to help even more. Good Luck

anonymous Mon, 07/11/2005 - 08:18

Having done precisely what you are planning on doing for several years, and with a wife who is an opera singer, I give you some of what I know:

Most times an opera singer wants a recording they will want it done in an acoustical hall with which they are familiar, and they will hire an accompanist and expect a very good, tuned piano. Typically they will book a church or an auditorium or a hall of some form. They typically know the good halls in the area and have an in with various churches or auditoriums. You, as the recording engineer, will show up on site with a minimum of equipment and record them. A typical recording session is about 3-4 hours. From the first note they sing while warming up you have about an hour to an hour and a half before they fall apart. The rooms also cost money so they will want you in and out of there relatively quickly. Budget an hour for set-up and a half hour for tear-down and that is a full day.

Do not plan on doing this in either of your current spaces. Instead, turn the small space into your editing room where you will chop up the various takes (they will sing 12 minute arias and want to re-take a verse or chorus or a riff in there without redoing the whole thing).

Singers are picky about a lot of things - the accompanist, the piano, the space (so they can hear their intonation) and the final recorded sound of their voice. Singers work very hard at perfecting certain frequencies in the formants of their voice. If these don't come through the way they think they should they get ancy. If you can't afford a $60k piano I wouldn't even think about using your own space. If you CAN afford a $60k piano then spend it on other equipment and still record out on-site.

Microphones - these are pretty important with opera singers. I'd go with a pair of omnis (Earthworks makes some reasonably priced ones) and perhaps a spot mic for the piano or the voice. I generally recorded 6 tracks with the aim of only keeping 2, but due to the circumstances I always wanted some flexibility. Unlike a studio band you don't get to fine tune the setup for an hour. Once they hit their first warmup note the clock starts ticking. Have everything ready to go and ask them to warm up in front of the mics - that's where you do your sound check and make any minor adjustments. Once they're warm you hit record and take what you can get.


anonymous Tue, 07/12/2005 - 12:45

Thank you for the advise

Thank you both for your input and for taking the time to answer my questions. I will go with the option of recording in the large room and editing in the small room.

The piano is not so much an issue since I will be using a sampled piano for my next project anyway. I am working on a cross over project that will be arranged by someone else and I just have to contribute the vocal track.

I am totally inexperienced in creating a pop sounding vocal track with an operatic voice, kind of like Boccelli even though his voice is rather small and made for recording.

I guess the room should not add to much character but the voice needs to retain the individual quality that makes close miking insufficient.

Any experience with this issue? Again, help is appreciated.
best wishes,