Need Advice for Recording Church Choir Perofrmance Tour

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by photowriters, Jun 27, 2007.

  1. photowriters

    photowriters Active Member

    Jun 28, 2007
    Our church choir is going to Great Britain next year on a performance tour. We will be singing in four or five well known English and Scottish cathedrals. I have been tasked with documenting the trip. I'm all set with photographic and video equipment, but I am a newbie in regards to audio recording. The video equipment will record in stereo, but I know from experience that the audio recording by 99% of all the camcorders is atrocious to say the least.

    Therefore, I am looking for the most economical setup that will allow the documentation team to make halfway decent recordings of our performances. The performances last between 50 and 75 minutes. The last time I looked into doing some audio recording was long before it was possible to record digitally, much less ditigtally in the field. I am led to believe that the current crop of solid state, 2-channel, digital recorders will do a very nice job depending, of course, on what mics are used and where they are placed in the space.

    I am looking for some guidance in two areas, equipment and some ideas where to set the mics. I have done some preliminary research and I believe that the setup below would suit our needs and, except for the booms and stands, would fit in a corner of a suitcase.
    • • M-Audio MicroTrack 24/96 2 channel recorder $299 (list $500) or equivalent.
      • Matched pair of RODE NT1 condenser microphones ($400) or equivalent.
      • 2 Beyerdynamic GST500 - Tripod Microphone Stands with Adjustable Boom ($150) or equivalent.
      • Sandisk 4GB Extreme III CompactFlash Card ($87) or equivalent.
      Total $962 (inc. shipping)
    I would like to know if you have any experience with those items and if they are a good match for what we are trying to accomplish. If not, perhaps you have some other equipment recommendations.

    I know it is asking a bit much to find a formula in regard to microphone placement in a highly reverberant space such as a cathedral, but I would appreciate it if you would give some guidance. Here are the general parameters of a typical space.
    • • Rectangular in shape.
      • Eighty choir members in four ranks.
      • Choir in the front of the cathedral.
      • Highly reverberant space with long decay time.
    My current thinking is that the microphones should be placed roughly 1/3 of the way between the choir and the back wall of the space and each mic roughly 1/3 of the width of the space from the nearest wall and "pointed" toward the sides of the choir.

    A performance CD will be produced for the choir members and the church's internal use, and we would like it to be the highest quality possible within our equipment budget of $1,000 to $2,000. Although it would be nice, we do not expect to produce professional quality recordings, but neither do we want to produce a poor quality CD which would embarrass the choir. Our goal is to produce a CD that when people will listen to it will think, "That's a church choir, and it was recorded by a bunch of amateurs? Wow!"



    P.S. Not to pressure you, but I need your input yesterday!
  2. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Well-Known Member

    Apr 19, 2006
    Home Page:
    Hi Bob,

    There are two or three of us on these forums who probably between us have recorded choirs and orchestras in most of the major British cathedrals and churches. I've been doing it in various forms since 1967, but still manage to hit new problems with each new venue.

    The first point is that you can't simply walk in with recording gear and mic stands and push the red button when the music starts. You have to negotiate the right to record with the relevant church authorities in advance. Some places are relaxed about it, some are unbelievably picky, and will try to put all sorts of restrictions on what you can and can't do. The really nice churches are where there are already wires strung across at useful distances from the performing area, and you simply have to shin up a ladder, hang the mics and tape your cables to the wire. Many places object to microphone stands in the line of sight, especially as you would need to get to 12 feet or more to get a reasonable recording from a choir of the size you talk about.

    The second point is that there is so much acoustic variation between venues that no one set of microphones or positions is going to cover everything. You might want to consider a single stereo microphone such as the Rode NT4, being less obtrusive and easier to suspend than a pair of SDCs. The NT4 can also run off its own internal battery, meaning that you are not relying on phantom power from the recorder. The variation between buildings means that there are no fixed rules about how far to place the mics away from the performers, and it will also depend on whether the performers are arranged in concentric semicircles or tiered in straight rows. For the latter case, you may want to consider outrigger mics to supplement the main pair, which implies a 4-track recorder.

    There are many 2-track solid state recorders to choose from, most of which are adequate quality for the sort of purpose you outline. I haven't used the MicroTrack, but I have used an Edirol with acceptable results. The noise levels from the internal pre-amps in all these units are not the lowest, and you may want to think about higher-quality external pre-amps, unless you are determined to be independent of a mains supply.

    What are you going to do after each performance? You need to plan for dumping the solid-state memory to something more permanent so that you can start with an empty memory for the next day. That means usually having to have a recorder that you can plug into a laptop and burn a CD or audio DVD after each performance.

    Anyway, it sounds an interesting and ambitious project. Let us know your itinerary nearer the date, and we maybe can arrange to meet up at one of the venues.

    Good luck!
  3. photowriters

    photowriters Active Member

    Jun 28, 2007
    Great! I know that you and the others will be a great resource as our planning and execution goes forward.

    Fortunately, this is not our first singing tour of England, and we have run through these sort of problems before. Our choir director is very savvy, and he is aware of most of the problems involved with this sort of activity. Nevertheless I will make sure that recording permission is taken into account. In the past, the permission issue has seemed to center on the ultimate use of the recordings. If they are for internal church use, permission has not been much of a problem. Recording for commercial release, however, is fraught with hurdles to overcome.

    That's good information. Thanks! We will crank this into our negotiations with the various venues. In regards to shinnying up a ladder, great idea, but the documentation team will be very limited in regards to setup time in advance because we will arrive on the bus with the choir.

    I understand that it is impossible to identify the ideal microphone location in any given venue without testing, but we will not have that luxury. The constraints of time and transportation necessitates minimal setup time that precludes any testing or much analysis of the space. I based my theoretical microphone positions based on where the best seating positions are in the prototypical rectangular concert hall, i.e., in the center of the hall 1/3 to 1/2 the way back from the front.

    If possible the choir will be arranged tiered, concentric semicircles, but that really depends on the space. We will not have risers unless they happen to be already in place. With one exception, St. Giles in Edinburgh, the concerts will be almost impromptu in nature. They will be on the church's calanders, but it they will not be as grandiose as a performance of the BBC Symphony Orchestra would be for any given venue.

    Simplicity is the key, and an external pre-amp that needs external power would be a problem. That said, without the pre-amps, what sort of noise floor are you talking about?

    Our documentation plan calls for dumping the raw audio to my laptop and burning a CD or DVD as soon as possible after the performance. We will base our operations at a college in central England for most of our trip, and the documentation team's "down time" will be filled with downloading audio and digital images.

    I will certainly keep you in the loop! Somewhere in my pile of papers concerning the trip I have our proposed itinerary. When I find it, I'll either send you a message or put it up on the forum here.

    Thanks again for your input!

  4. photowriters

    photowriters Active Member

    Jun 28, 2007
    With a little research, I found a battery powered microphone pre-amp the DXA-6 made by BeachTek. Can anyone who has used it tell me how well it works?

    Do you know of any other battery powered pre-amps of the same or better quality?


    Bob Wilson
  5. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Apr 4, 2006
    Blacksburg, VA
    I know you didn't ask about this, but if you don't have one, you might consider upgrading you video mic to give yourself an audio backup. I bought a Rode stereo video mic for my consumer camcorder and by recording 16 bit audio, I can get very respectable sound.

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