Newbie with a question... recording choir live...

Discussion in 'Vocals' started by GuitarTim, Feb 26, 2005.

  1. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    Hi - I'm a newbie here, this is my first post in this forum, and I hope I'm in the right place. I'll apologize in advance, as I am also very new to recording in general, and its technology and terminology as well, so I hope answers can be kept very basic. When I describe my setup, you'll probably understand a bit more where I'm coming from....

    Here's the scenario: our church choir has really been making progress in the past couple of years, and we're now doing some really ambitious music, and doing not badly at it for a bunch of old geezers, very few of whom have any musical training at all. Instrumentation is sparse: myself on guitar, a baby grand piano (Yamaha) and a flute. Yes, that's it. We have about 30 voices at the moment.

    A few years ago, the church made a huge investment in sound equipment, so we now have 3 very sensitive mics hanging over the choir, going into a Mackie board. I don't know what kind of mics these are, but they're small, bud-like things, and just hang by their cords over the choir. The piano is mic'ed into the board as well, and my guitar (Takamine with saddle pickup) is also plugged in. At Christmas, I recorded the choir into my TEAC analog tape deck using a pair of cheap mics on a tall pole, but now I'm experimenting with recording off the Mackie, so I have my TEAC deck plugged into the "Tape Out" jacks.

    Each week, I lug my tape machine to church and set up, record each song, and then listen to it later. Each week I get different results. Each week as I set up, I make changes to the settings on the Mackie based on the sounds I'm hearing on the recordings, but I don't feel I'm getting a whole lot closer. Some weeks it sounds pretty good, but other weeks it's horrible. Keep in mind, this is also the live sound going out into the church. I keep getting compliments on the sound of the choir, but my tapes tell me otherwise. I'm hoping I'll be able to learn this well enough to get a decent recording at Easter, which will (hopefully) be used as the basis for a CD to be sold to the parishoners. I'm starting to lose hope, tho.


    1. The piano has a REALLY crappy sound - very heavy on the low end, with no high end to speak of. Very muffled-and-muddy sounding. The mic (only one) is placed inside the piano near the high strings - there's really no other way to place it - not enough room. If I thought it would improve things, I'd consider bringing it OUT of the piano and positioning it above, but I'm not sure that would help. Plus, the main purpose for the mic is to feed the sound out through the amp...

    2. I'm finding it REALLY hard to get a good balance between the instruments and the voices. At the moment, the instruments (guitar and piano) are overpowering the voices. What I'm planning to try tomorrow is to bring DOWN the levels on the instruments somewhat, and increase the master volume a bit. I'm thinking that will give a bit of a relative boost to the vox, while keeping the overall level reasonable. One challenge here is that some songs I fingerpick, and others I strum. I control the volume between the two from my guitar.

    3. I've also been experimenting with the "equalizer" on my guitar - initial recordings sounded thin so I boosted the lower levels, but now I'm going to back off on that a bit as it sounds too overpowering.

    I've also made some adjustments using the Pan controls on the Mackie. The choir mics are each positioned in the center of the row, with one in the front (soprano), one in the middle row (alto/tenor) and one in the back (basses). I have them panned as Front/Right, Center/Center and Rear/Left (but not all the way in either direction - about halfway left or right). The guitar is panned to the left a bit and the piano to the right a bit. I have attempted to "fix" the piano sound using the EQ settings on the Mackie - so far I've cut the low end almost entirely, left the mid-range mostly alone, and boosted the high-end almost entirely. It's made some improvement, but there's still a problem there...

    Any advice/discussion will be most welcome. Thanks!
  2. Newton

    Newton Guest

    The best way I've found to record our church's choir and band, was to use an 8 track (or 4 track in your case) recorder. You can use either tape or digital based. Then take your outputs from the mackie board and feed them into your recorder, and mix it to your liking later to 2-track tape. You can use either aux outs or the inserts as your signal sources from the Mackie. Then your live mix can be independent of your recording mix.
  3. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    Thanks, Paul. I have been considering renting a digital recording device for recording the "important" events like Easter. Meantime, what I'm trying to do is experiment to see if I can get a decent mix. I like your approach - I'll have to find out how much the rental would be on such a beast, and then talk to our director...
  4. MasonMedia

    MasonMedia Guest

    Hi Tim,


    The goal of recording and providing reinforcement (PA) from the same console at the same time is often a compromise. I would also recommend setting up the recording on a pair of aux sends. This way you can create a separate mix that is tailored for the recording.

    From your description, it sounds like the piano's lid is closed. This can make the sound very boxy-boomy unless care is taken to locate the best spot. It's not easy to do. The quality of the microphone will affect the sound as well. It's always better to have the lid open, at least on short stick if possible.

    Since the piano over-powers the choir, is there any reason to put the piano into the PA? You might try dropping it out of the PA.

  5. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    Thanks, Peter. The piano lid is open, but not very far. The mic is on a boom, with the mic positioned near the hammers - actually, that might be a lie... I'll have to check. Probably somewhere back of the hammers, towards the middle of the sound board, but I'll check. Can someone please explain to me what is meant by "short stick" and "long stick"? Not clear on that - does it describe the mic stand/boom?

    I'll examine the board today to see if I can discover alternatives for hooking up the recording device. I just downloaded the owner's manual, so I'll be studying that for tips. I'll let you know how it goes...

  6. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    Short stick and long stick describes the device inside of the piano that holds the lid up at two different heights. It's actually a piece of wood, hence the term "stick".

    In many cases, it's one smaller piece of wood nested inside the other, with a little hinge to let you select either height; the short stick for keeping the lid barely open, and the longer/bigger stick for the full open lid. The lid itself may have a second divot as well, allowing for a third (or fourth) height adjustment, but generally, there are two; commonly reffered to as "short stick" and "long stick'.

    Short stick is often used for smaller, quieter sound, and/orwhen the pianist is accompanying a soloist, etc.

    Long stick gives the most sound, usually for solo recitals, and "piano vs. orchestra" contests. :twisted:

  7. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Jan 9, 2005
    Brisbane, Australia
    Home Page:
    There is sometimes even a "tiny" stick, even smaller than short stick, for just cracking the lid.

    I seem to remember seeing a video where the GOD of piano, Sjatoslav Richter, was playing chamber music with some friends, Leonard Kagan etc and came up to the piano, pushed the short or tiny stick outside the boundary of the instrument and hung his jacket on it.

    Each indentation in the lid is only ever intended for use with one stick, the outer indentation is for the short stick ONLY and the one 9 inches or so in is for the long stick. The reason is that when the stick is placed into the correct slot, the supporting stick is perfectly perpendicular to the lid, and hence there is zero force sideways on the stick, ie the stick is taking pure compression, no sideways force to slide the stick out causing a catastrophe.

    I smile, when I see engineers setting up a piano and putting the stick in the wrong hole. This is a misunderstanding of basic physics. I notice Yamaha, Steinway, and Kawai now have to put deep slots in the lids so that some legal case cannot be brought against them when ignorance reigns. But the older instruments had a beautiful little spherical surface into which the curved surface of the stick would sit perfectly.

    Mix magazine once had a cover shot of some 10 bazillion dollar studio, wood parquetry floor and the obligatory grand piano with the lid up on full stick in the outermost hole. Made me smile.
  8. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    Btw., Tim; Welcome to the world of recording "Acoustic" Music. You have good instincts and good intentions, I think you'll do fine.

    You're halfway there to making some listenable recordings, and you have the right mindset; you're inquisitive and keep trying to get it better each time out. (Regular Sunday services sure help that too! You have a new chance each week to go at it again.)

    You didn't say what model of the Mackie you have, but I'm guessing it's at least a 1402 or 1604...something with more than four mic pre's? All of them have insert jacks for each channel (and we'll get to them in a bit.)

    For the sake of time and space, let's avoid the analog tape deck (fine in their day, and I remember them well - cut my teeth on them, actually but) since you said you may want to make a CD someday. That means you're going to get into the digital domain sooner or later.

    You have three ways to go about this:

    1. Mix via the aux outs to CDr (You can get a stand-alone CD recorder for about $500 USD these days, and then you can simply rip the tracks right into your computer for editing.)

    2. Use the insert jacks from each channel of the board to send to a laptop computer with an interface to capture everything on digital multitrack and mix it all later. Sounds like you can probably squeeze it all into 8 tracks comfortably.

    3. Pick up a new or used multitrack digital recorder; a Tascam DA-38 (digital tape) comes to mind, or even a Mackie HD (hard disc) recorder, or Fostex, or Tascam. These get pricey though, and you'll probably still end up mixing in a computer anyway - after you've transferred your tracks.

    But to start at the beginning: If your live mixes sound good to everyone, then they ARE good. Leave 'em alone (or keep your tweaks at a minimum). Remember that mixing "Live" (right next to, or as a part of) the sound will be almost "Mix-minus". You are using the PA system to reinforce the weak stuff; the "Natural" sound carries just fine on its own. Your audience is hearing that sound blended naturally. (Hopefully, your sound company has done a good job of blending natural and amplified sound.)

    So if you just use the board mix to make a can more than imagine what you're getting: just the amplified stuff. SO, DO NOT go nuts trying to just mix for the recording. That's counter productive, and if I were the music director, I'd have to come over there and smack you (gently) upside the head for messing up their live sound at the expense of your recording. :lol:

    There are a few ways around this.

    One is to use the Aux sends to do an entirely independent mix. (Dunno which Mackie you have, but most of them assign Aux 1 to Pre-Fader. Don't want that! Find out which ones are post fader. (probably Aux sends 3 & 4 are post-fader on your Mackie if you have that many) Remember, you need 2 sends; make them L&R assigned. For Mono or center imaging, you'll want to have both sends per channel set at the same levels. You will probably be post-EQ with this, so be aware of that as well.

    Another way is to use the sub outs, (if you have a 4 bus board like the 1604, etc. which will definitely be post-EQ) but the only way
    to turn off/on a channel is the latching switch near each fader. Your mix will be the same as the house, but if you need to take something out of the sub mix entirely, these switches will do that.
    I use the sub outs for CDr mixes when I want to shadow the main mix, and see/hear what I've done live.

    The "sub outs mix" have another use: You can use more inputs than you need for the live mix; perhaps hang or place two mics out in the sanctuary to capture "Live" amdient sound, audience, er..."congregation" response, sing-alongs, etc. and if your mixer has enough input channels, you can bring these mics back into the mixer. Assign the mic's ONLY to the sub outs you're recording with, but NOT the main outputs. (That way, the ambient mics are going to your recording, but NOT out to the house/sanctuary.)

    But the main way to go, assuming you can find the $$ for an interface (and maybe use an existing laptop from somewhere?) is the direct outs for each channel. The Mackie manual (available online, if you can't find yours) should describe this in detail. Macke suggests a "half-insert" for the insert jacks, letting you take signal out, without interrupting the signal. I have never trusted this to work perfectly every time, so I came up with an alternative.

    Radio Shack sells a great adapter (#274-365 in their catalog). It's a stereo-to-mono adapter - a 1/4" male plug that comes out to a MONO, Female RCA jack. You can insert these ALL the way into the "insert" jacks on each channel, and voila; no interruptions of your signal path, but a perfect place to take a pick-off for the signal to send to your recorder. (Note: We're not talking stereo here, it's actually using the tip/ring as the send/return. The "Mono" adapter part just automatically re-links the send/return functions so there's no interrupt at the insert point on the jack) It's still mono, remember, and it's ALSO unbalanced. (Keep your runs short, and away from trasnformers, light dimmers, etc. - you COULD add noise here.)

    So, this way, you can now mix independently (and after the fact) via your multitrack recorder - a laptop, stand-alone MDM, or whatever.

    You mentioned a pair of cheap mics that didn't sound good. Who knows? For now, they may sound OK when used with a spare pair of channels in the Mackie, and MAYBE you could use them as ambient mics (as described above) out in the sanctuary.

    Hope that makes some sense and gets you started. Feel free to email me privately if you've got more questions on this method (esp with the Mackie), or post more here.

    Good luck making the Easter recording, too!
  9. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    Wow! Joe & David, thanks for taking the time to reply, and for being so detailed, as well. One thing... I never suspected how much there was to learn with this stuff!

    A bit about me: I'm 49, been doing the 'church guitarist' thing pretty much all my life (since 13), and I'm starting to get into music and recording a bit more seriously now. I've got Cubase SL 2 on my computer at home (along with an interface called Steinberg MI4), so I've been using that to re-record the analog tape into the computer and master it. With the Christmas recording I had to do a LOT of EQ and compression in order to make it listenable, and I'm hoping to avoid that with the Easter recording.

    Yes, we have the Mackie 1402, and as I said, I now have the owner's manual, so I'll be able to learn a lot more about it. I didn't bring my TEAC to church today, but I was regretting it, because I made some changes to the levels (brought down the inst. levels and brought up the voices, then upped the master), and from what I could hear, the mix was much better, so I wish I had some tape to verify. Oh well... next week.

    Yes, the piano is short-stick (thanks for the explanation), mainly because the director likes to use the piano for shelf space (!). Also, I think if the lid was open more, the pianist might have trouble seeing the director. I'll check on that, and ask if we can try long-stick one or two weeks. See how it sounds.

    I'm definitely gonna have to investigate what it would cost to rent a multitrack recorder. Sounds like using the aux outs is the way to go... then I can mix it in the digital domain, and produce the best recording possible. That would be fantastic - I'd really impress "the folks at home". I'll check on the budget. We spent (I'm told) about $10,000 on the sound system a few years ago... I bet we could scrape together a few hundred now...
  10. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    I've discovered I can rent a Fostex VF160EX for a week for about $60, so that's what I'm planning to do for Easter - I'll pick it up on, for instance, Tuesday before Easter, which will not only give me time to become familiar with it, but I'll also be able to make recordings on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Saturday night (Easter Vigil) and Easter Sunday, which should give me LOTS of material to go onto a CD for the parish. I'll hook up the aux sends on the Mackie into the inputs in the Fostex, so I'll be able to mix it after-the-fact for the best mix. This sounds like a plan! (finally!)
  11. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    Tim, I hope you mean the direct outs for this (or maybe a combination of both?)

    If you've got 6 mics going into the 1402, then by all means use the direct outs with the insert-to-RCA patch point. For anything going into the four stereo line inputs (channels 7-8, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14) you can do aux-send submixes. (You'll probably need about $25-30 worth of adapters and cables, but then you're DONE with it, you'll be able to use 'em all the time.)

    I don't know much about that machine its abilities, but it sure sounds like you're off to a good start. Even if you have to mix within the box itself (or if you're able to transfer it to a real workstation/DAW), you'll still get much better results than trying to do it on the fly the old way.

    Good luck with all this, and please keep us informed on your progress.
  12. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    Not sure if it's a "real" DAW (I'm sure most here would not call it that...) but I do have Cubase SL2 on my home computer (purchased as Cubase System 4, with the Steinberg MI4 audio interface), so I do at least have a rudimentary DAW for mastering...
  13. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    Yes, of course I meant the direct outs. I'm still studying the owner's manual for the Mackie, and still learning about it. Last evening, from what I was reading, I was worried it didn't actually HAVE direct-outs like this, but of course upon review this morning, I now realize it does, and I'm beginning to get an idea of how to hook this up. This should be good!

    We have 5 mics going into the Mackie on channels 1-5, all of which are using balanced inputs. Channel 6 is my guitar, which is a Takamine with saddle pickup, so I'm plugged in directly also. The VF-160EX has 8 1/4" inputs, so this will definitely do the trick. I'll just need 6 regular low-noise cables with 1/4" phone jacks to make the connections. Shouldn't cost too much. The other nice thing I'm pleased to learn is that the direct outs on the Mackie are post trim and low-cut, but pre-fader, so I don't have to worry about modifying the live mix for the recording - I'll be able to mix later and have the best of both worlds. Can't wait to try it!
  14. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    Sounds like you're moving quickly, there, Tim! The only thing I'd add would be some ambient mics, but I think you're out of usuable inputs with the Tascam...? EVen so, you may only be able to record up to 8 tracks at a time anyway, so you're fine for now.

    Make recordings, work on the mixes, and see where it leads you. You're gonna get hooked on this, I can tell... :cool:
  15. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    Oops... too late! I bought the Cubase System 4 just about a month ago or so, and I can't leave it alone. Since then I've also acquired a copy of Reason 2.5. I'm recording music at home, plus working on the Church Choir project. Just wait till I start collecting sample CD's and mic's and other gear... my wife is gonna be pi$$ed when she realizes just how expensive this new hobby will be... :wink: but hopefully I can make it self-financing... :D

    I've always had a "dream" of being able to record my own stuff, but never dreamed how affordable it could be. Of course, the entry level is just the beginning... and you're right, once you get a taste, it's hard to keep the brakes on...
  16. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    That's geat, Tim!

    I hope your wife understands this is a very healthy for you, and you'll stay out of trouble in other aspects of life by spending all your free (non-spousal) time lugging mics and gear around, editing recordings, designing CD labels, editing still MORE recordings, and then doing it all over again for the next job. And, you can do 50% of this right there at home! (Sure beats hanging out at the go-go bars, or racking up gambling debts! ;-)

    I had a funny thought: There could be a lot of folks out there complaining that they've had trouble with their spouses over someone they met "on the internet." In our cases, this puts a whole new spin on things. Heheheh :twisted:

    (don't anyone tell him about Samplitude yet, ok? Shhhhhhhh....)
  17. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    You bugger! You obviously knew I wore bifocals... :roll:

    Again, too late. Anyway, my shopping list is set for the next while...

    1. A 120-gig hard drive
    2. A decent mic for recording vocals/accoustic guitar
    3. A decent pair of studio monitors
    4. A MIDI keyboard to use as a controller
    5. Reason 3.0
    6. A really good orchestral sample disk set, like GPO...

    by then, I might start to feel the need for a serious upgrade... :!:
  18. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    Well, now I'm starting to get excited. I'll be picking up the rental multitrack this evening - a Fostex VF160 (16 track, 8 inputs). This will allow me to begin refining my technique this Sunday, so I can make any adjustments I need to before the "big event" later next week. Last night at practice I set the levels on the Mackie, and the choir sounded awesome.

    A short description of our sound setup:

    A Mackie 1402 board

    3 "button-type" condenser mics hanging above the choir - one in front (micing the sopranos), one in the middle (alto/tenor) and one in the back (basses). Not really sure just how to describe these mics, except to say that they are small and round, about the size of a walnut, and they run on phantom power off the Mackie

    Condenser mic on the (baby grand) piano (short-stick)

    Condensor mic for the announcer/cantor (this will also be picking up some ambience, which I may mix in or leave out, depending...

    My guitar (Takamine accoustic-electric), plugged into the Mackie

    Not an ideal setup, to be sure, but the best I've got. I'll be connecting channels 1-6 from the mackie outs into the Fostex multitrack. That way I'll be getting each channel individually, and I can mix later on my PC (using Cubase).

    I'll be recording each mass we do, starting this Sunday, and we're doing Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil (Saturday) and Easter Sunday morning. Out of all that, I'm certain to get enough good material for a CD we can sell to the congregation (yes, we'll be buying mechanical licenses for all copyrighted work).

    So I'll have the multitrack for 10 days, and I should be able to get used to it fairly quickly, I hope. The final product won't be nearly up to the standards most of you apply, but it'll be light-years ahead of my previous efforts, so this is exciting!
  19. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    Sounds GREAT, Tim; you're going to have a lot of fun with this.

    Keep us posted on how it all works out, and enjoy!
  20. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    Thanks, Joe, I will. Even better, I am within probably about 2 weeks of buying my first "proper" vocal mic! Currently considering Studio Projects B3 or Apex 460 (both in the $250-$275 CDN price range)...
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