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Recording a solo acoustic act in a small venue

I just got the go-ahead to record a live show. This is a very small venue (30 is crowded) and the show is totally acoustic. The woman I'm recording has a strong, soulful voice, plays guitar, a bad-ass blues harp, and sometimes just a tambourine.

Her CDs to date are, IMHO, flat. Her live shows are MAGIC. I want to capture that live magic she creates. The venue is the back end of a bookstore, so irregular surfaces abound. I think it's going to be an OK space. The crowd will be right there - just a few feet from the performer.

My current plan is to record this with a stereo pair between the singer and audience. I'm thinking that my new toys - a pair of RØDE NT2000's might be the right choice - MS, probably. I can play with the mid-mic pattern to see what works best.

I also have a pair of AKG Bluelines with 2 cardioid capsules and a figure-8, so I could do MS with those too, and they'd be a whole-lot more discreet than the big Rodes. Considering the cramped quarters these might be the better choice.

XY or ORTF would be an option with either mics, but I want to make sure the crowd responses sound clean. I would not be opposed to XY for the singer and another pair of mics for the crowd. I'll have 4 channels of preamp there. Blumlein with the Rodes ... ?

I know this is risky, so I've offered to do the recording no-charge. If I get something good, then we'll talk about what to do with it.

I haven't attempted anything quite like this before - I'd be interested in hearing from others who have attempted this sort of recording - lessons learned, success stories ...

Thanks.

Comments

zemlin Tue, 08/22/2006 - 04:55
Thanks for all the tips, folks. Tonight's the night. I've decided to take only 4 channels of preamp. I plan to put the Blueline MS pair front and center. I'll use an NT2000 as a vocal spot - as high and as distant as I can manage and still get good sound - just to keep it out of the way. I'm sure the variable pattern will be my friend tonight.

The 4th channel might be a guitar spot, depending on how the guitar sounds in the MS pair. I'm bringing all my mics, so I'll have some options to play with on the 4th track.

I thought about loading up the mixer so I could hook up more channels if I needed them, but decided to leave the board at home - maybe as a personal challenge (and laziness) as much as anything.

I'll check with the artist tonight about posting samples along with (or without) her identity here.

Simmosonic Tue, 08/22/2006 - 05:51
zemlin wrote: I thought about loading up the mixer so I could hook up more channels if I needed them, but decided to leave the board at home - maybe as a personal challenge (and laziness) as much as anything.

I often convince myself that going with a simpler rig is more of a challenge, when in fact I'm subconsciously justifying my laziness and/or utter lack of interest in that particular job...

Good luck with the recording!

zemlin Tue, 08/22/2006 - 08:39
There's certainly no lack of interest here - of the folks I've worked concerts for, she's one of my favorites. I just want to take a fairly minimalist approach here and see if I can make it work. I have a small mackie (1402 VLZ) that I could unplug easy enough if I wanted a safety net, but I'm really quite set on doing this with 4 tracks.

I'll have other chances to record her if I fall on my face this time. :-?

zemlin Sun, 08/27/2006 - 04:25
Costy wrote: Good job, Karl. Sounds very nice. The foot tapping is not bad, it's kinda suits this kind record. You can always control
it in the mix by rolling off low end more or less. I noticed,
the ambience is not ballanced for voc and guitar. Are you
going to fix it ?
Thanks. Yeah, I'm not worried about the foot tapping - that should be pretty easy to control. I'm not quite sure what you mean by"the ambience is not ballanced" ... but I will be adding some light, short reverb to the mix.

Pro Audio Guest Wed, 08/16/2006 - 06:59
Hey Karl, good luck. But let me ask: you don't plan to use
any close-mics ? What are you going to do if in the middle
of a song someone come over and moves chairs ? Throw
away the recording ?
In this case I'd certaintly get close mics on vocal/harp and
guitar in addition to distant stereo pair in whatever configuration.
If she uses any PA system you may just tap into it.
Just an opinion.

zemlin Wed, 08/16/2006 - 07:10
Costy wrote: What are you going to do if in the middle
of a song someone come over and moves chairs ? Throw
away the recording?
Yep - at least that track would likely be trash.

There won't be any PA gear used for the show - totally acoustic/unplugged. The only mics up will be mine.

Another thought I had this morning would be to point one LDC at her, and then setup the bluelines MS pointed at the crowd REAL close to the LDC. I could then do two MS mixes both using the same figure-8 mic - one of the stage, one of the crowd, and mix to taste.

zemlin Mon, 08/28/2006 - 06:19
Here's another sample - a story and part of a song - about 7 minutes long - I like this story. This sample is closer to a final mix - a little reverb to open/warm things up a bit.

I thought it interesting that the bulk of the "thump" from foot tapping was in the figure-8 side mic. All mics were shock-mounted. I chopped the bottom off the side mic with an FFT filter.

In any case, I'm pleased with the outcome. Her harmonica playing is great - that recorded well too, but there isn't any in this sample.

http://www.cheap-tracks.com/mp3/trina_earthquake_story_beautiful_01.mp3

Cucco Wed, 08/16/2006 - 14:24
I agree with David -

I would go M/S but I would use the Bluelines. They are very easy to align in MS and sound fantastic on acoustic works. Get them a little farther back than you might think.

Then, if possible, I would go ahead and spot mic where possible and practical. Even if you wind up not using them, they're there if you need them. (The idea of a spot on the vocalist is good - dial your Rodes into a hypercardioid and you can actually get your mic a good distance back and still have it be quite useful).

J.

Zilla Wed, 08/16/2006 - 15:00
Hmmm...

1. Small, dry acoustic: unflattering sound.
2. Small audience: may sound poorly attended->pathetic.
3. Close audience: distracting noises, lack of performer presence.

Lots of things to avoid. Unless you are looking for that 'living room' sound this doesn't really seem like a stereo mic situation to me. Have you visualized (audiolized?) what you want the final recording to be? Is a coincident mic technique really going to achieve that effect?

What I am imagining as a final recorded listening experience would not be served by such a technique. I would be thinking more along close individual mics and multitrack. Vocal mic (stereo?), guitar mic, Harp mic (maybe), stereo audience.

Boswell Wed, 08/16/2006 - 15:42
This is a very common setup for me, and I've tried all sorts over the years. When I first started on this recording game, more decades ago than I care to remember, I too thought that a single stereo pair would do the job, but I was very wrong. It records like the bad end of a drawing room with the audience close-miked and not the performer.

I went from there to just having close mics on the singer and the guitar. Bad again, although I did learn the saving lesson of taking the guitar pickup to a separate track and blending on mixdown. One problem is that if performers are not going through a PA they don't keep still. No matter what you set up at a rehearsal, the carefully positioned instrument mic will be way out of place come the performance.

So now I run a mixture of MS or XY stereo pair set away from the performer to get the lateral positioning and audience width, a spot LDC for the vocal, a single or MS pair for the acoustic instrument and a track for the pickup.

Choice of vocal mic is a problem if it has to double as a harmonica instrument mic. You might be better of with a good dynamic there.

I'd be really interested in hearing how you get on.

rfreez Sun, 08/20/2006 - 08:23
oh... and i just want to point you in the direction of 'american recordings' by johnny cash... recorded in his living room... presumably close-multi-mic'd. I believe it has been slammed for over compression... but i find the sound very direct and immediate in a good way. Multiple close micing is not how i tend to approach these things, but i must admit that the results are sometimes very appealing.

also... since the moment you described your artiste i thought of rory block i thought i'll point you in the direction of this free telarc download... solo performance... vox+gat.

ftp://telmedia.telarc.com/telarc/83593%5CMP3%5C83593-11-128.mp3

edit: can anybody make a guess on how the rory block performance was recorded...? personally... i think it has the sort of detail and is somewhat artificial in a way that distracts from the music itself, but thats just me :?

good luck.

Pro Audio Guest Thu, 08/17/2006 - 05:46
There won't be any PA gear used for the show - totally acoustic/unplugged. The only mics up will be mine.
Well then. That's what I'd do. I' use a couple of close mics - one on
guitar, one on vocal/harp. Placement - ask singer at what distance
she feels most comfortable, set at that distance, adjust levels. I'd use
very gentle compression on both (if she moves from/to mics it helps).
To avoid "pops" and "clips" I'd have a limiter as well.
What kind of mics ? I'd choose on the spot between pensil condencers
or dynamic. Since there's no PA, the crowd may incline to stay quiet,
so, the SC mics might be ok. The crowd I'd mic with the stereo
something & somewhere. But I would not stick any additional stand
between singer and audience (it just sucks to perform like that).
IMO, you'll need to have a guitar, vocal and crowd tracks with with as
small amount of leakage and dry (no crappy reflections) as possible.
As Zilla said: multi- tracking. This way you can fix most of things while
editing and mixing.
Let us know how it'll turn out.

zemlin Thu, 08/17/2006 - 07:36
Costy wrote: As Zilla said: multi- tracking.
That's the only way I fly. Thanks for the tips. I just got word that she may invite a buddy to play as well. I was hoping to get by just with my 4 channel SEB preamp, but maybe I'll bring the ol' Mixwizard too just so I have some extra mic preamps if I need them.

rfreez Thu, 08/17/2006 - 07:41

1. Small, dry acoustic: unflattering sound.
2. Small audience: may sound poorly attended->pathetic.
3. Close audience: distracting noises, lack of performer presence.

all true, tho' personally i'd reserve the word 'pathetic' for other things :)

IMHO:

i think it depends on what you want from the recording. If you want to catalogue the event 'as is' and then maybe just sweeten it a little in post, i think m/s is a fair compromise (assuming the singer and her instruments sound acoustically balanced, else all of this is moot). Plenty of old/bootleg recordings suffer from the problems zilla mentions, but the character and the honesty of the music perseveres, thanks to the simplicity of the recording.

if you plan to release it outside the context of the situation it was recorded in, i.e. if you want it to sound 'produced', i think you're barking up the wrong tree. You are probably better off in a studio. But if its really what you want to accomplish with this, you should probably close mic + room mic + audience mic and have all the options you could use in post.

i think that if the performance is acoustically balanced and the music is worth capturing, a simpler mic technique will serve the music better.

respect,

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