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Recording Tips: Recording your choir

Chuck Biewer wrote in message <9kK62.143$Uw.1115@newsfeed.slurp.net>...
Hi,
I put together a "first" recording of my local church choir last Easter,
with a mackie 1202 and an old fostex R8. I tried my darndest to get a
good
sound, but had an awful time mic'ing the ensemble. Can anyone recommend
good reading material for a rookie who wishes to learn more about choral
recording techniques. I can really use some tips from the pros.

//////////////////////////

Pam Wilt wrote in message ...

Some amateur advice: (stuff you may already be doing anyway - please
forgive redundancy if so.)

I have a Mackie 1202 also and love it - it's so clean and quiet! Is your
Fostex a cassette recorder? Four-track? If so, it's analog (noisy/hissy)
and I would suggest trying to get the Mackie's signal to a digital
recording
system - ideally 1) a DAT, 2) hard disk recorder (I'm hoping for the Roland
VS880 some day) or 3) (the cheapest and the format I use for such things) a
mini-disk recorder.
Next question, how big is the choir, how many mikes did you use to pick
them up and what kind of mikes are they? I'm not an expert but believe you
need good omni-directionals for choir - if you have uni-dirs. they don't
pick up a general enough sound.
Finally, what accompaniment are you using? It needs to be fed into the
mixer as well, independently of the vocals. A piano is easy, just one mike
can cover it. Same for keyboard or electronic organ, they are sent by
direct line-in. But add a drum set or fuller orchestration and yikes you
need a couple more Mackies! :)

//////////////////////////

Chuck Biewer wrote:

My Fostex R8 is a Reel 2 Reel (15ips) 8 track, with Dolby C noise reduction.
It's a sweet old piece of machinery, and I paid only $152US for it. I'd
love to get some modern digital stuff. Think it's possible to find that
nicer new stuff at such low prices?

The choir is about 35 voices large, although the part distribution is fairly
typical: heavy SA, slim TB. The sound is distributed unevenly, because we
don't have risers, so all the men are in the back 2 pews, and all ladies
from the first pew to the 4th, something like this:

M1 M2

P1 XXXXXSSS
P2 AAAASSSS
P3 AAAASSSS M3
P4 AAAAATTTT
P5 BBBBBBBB

M4 M5

If North is UP and South is DOWN, our choir sings in the direction of
Northeast.

The M's are mics, the X's are empty seats. the organ banks (2 of them) are
to the due south and to the East-Southeast. It's a weird chamber, and not
at all fun to mic.

The mics we used are:
M1,2,4,5: Shure SM-58
M3: Peavey PVM22

All are dynamics, are they good omni's? I'm not sure.

The accompaniment is organ (Mics 4 & 5), but the organ gets picked up in
every mic, hard to avoid.

I also tried using an ART ProVerb for reverb, and I'm getting better at
that.

What I tried to do was mic Soprano LEFT, Alto RIGHT, and men in the middle,
using pan adjustment on the mackie. The REAL trouble I have is with M3,
because it's the only place I can put a mic to pick up the male voices,
because the ceiling is a semi-circle, leaving no room for overhead mic on
the West side. But, since M3 is so close to the lead tenor, he just got too
prominently picked up.

//////////////////////////

Date: Wed, 25 Nov 98 18:57:37
From: biggles@argonet.co.uk ( Terry Cordery)
To: choraltalk@lists.colorado.edu
Subject: Re: Just learning how to record

I frequently record my school choir using a multitrack machine ...usually a 16 track open reel using 1 inch tape. I lay out a pattern of pzm style mics to get the warmth from the room sound and reverb. I will use about four of these at the corners of the square line up for the choir. I then use spot mics. for the soloists ie. very narrow pattern pick up characteristics and then some cardioids for the various vocal sections. I balance it all up and tweek as necessary to achieve the desired sound for mix down onto CD or cassette...not too much though as it has to be a true representation of the choir.


Date: Thu, 26 Nov 1998 19:17:58 GMT
From: "Pam Wilt"
To: choraltalk@lists.colorado.edu
Subject: Re: Just learning how to record

Sony makes a mini-disk recorder that I like very much: digital quality
recording to little disks that resemble mini-CD's in a cartridge at an
affordable $5 each, vs. about twenty bucks each for digital multitracker
disks. The unit itself is about $300, a drawback is that you can't
duplicate disks without a second unit. (I'm kicking myself for not getting
the package that includes the "walk-man" size unit.) I got mine at Best Buy
and have seen them at Circuit City, etc. It's such a nice feature to be
able to call up a track digitally like a CD, vs. searching tape. I used it
for a seminar I gave a couple weeks ago on Stephen Sondheim musicals -
recorded bits of him speaking on various topics to mini-disk and could via
remote, call up the sections I wanted at any time and let him "speak for
himself." Ah, technology! :)

It was fun studying your recording diagram. Again, I'm NOT an expert on
such things but here is a gut reaction.
1) The mixer has plenty of room for a couple more inputs, I think it
would be good to give each organ bank a dedicated mike and pan them slightly
left/right. Sure, you'll also have bleed-through from your vocal mikes, but
you can still achieve a better balance of accompaniment by enhancing and
diddling their levels.

2) I think the Shure SM58 (though a great mike!) is designed as more of a
hand-mike for a vocalist than for recording a choir. A condenser mike is
often used for concerts (they look like a thin tube vs. the ball-on-the-end)
and I'd recommend switching to them if they're available. I can't tell you
much about pick-up patterns except that cardioid mikes are the least
omni-directional. If you use them, place them knowing you're not picking
up much side (figure-eights and omni-directionals do that.) The more mass
a mike has the less high frequencies it picks up, so for recording some
technicians remove the foam windscreen and unscrew and remove the metal
one - BOTH if it has both.

3) Looking at your diagram I'm guessing in playback you can't hear much of
the altos. The northern ones might be heard from M1 but not the southerns.
I'm assuming M4 is pointing north, perhaps put it on a long boom stand and
get it pretty high up aimed Northwest? Actually, all the mikes should have
loft - can't remember if you said they were on plain stands or booms. But I
think the fine tuning of pointing the mikes is whatever sounds best to you
and your headphones (use good ones for monitoring - some of the ones from
the local mall don't have enough response to give you a true picture of what
you're getting on tape! So it sounds completely different when you play the
tape in the car or on a different system.) You might try two mikes on the
organ banks and three mikes pointing (SW) head-on in the direction of the
singers (who are singing NE?) instead of going from the side.

4) Sometimes I've had good results asking everyone to just shove their
chairs as close together as they can in a great big pile/mass, vs. losing
space by keeping the pretty rows. Having youth, you can imagine how much
they hated that! :) Best of luck!

//////////////////////////

Date: Thu, 26 Nov 1998 08:38:07 -0500
From: Jack Frost
To: choraltalk@lists.colorado.edu
Subject: Re: Just learning how to record

I think if you are limited to the equipment you have, you'll have to
scrap the choir arrangment alltogether. You have 5 mikes? get your
choir somewhere else (down in the main pews?) and position each group
separately (ie S's and A's and T's and B's). Have each group stand in a
semicircle round their own mike. Position the 5th mike nearer the
organ.

Then you'll have to play a lot listening with headphones (good cushion
ones) to the sound coming in, for example moving the loud S's further
away from their mike, or if you can, changing the volume in on each
mike.

If you want to record live using what you have, then you ain't gonna get
a good sound.

//////////////////////////

Date: Wed, 25 Nov 1998 18:25:37 -0800 (PST)
From: romain@icp.siemens.com (Romain Kang)
To: "Chuck Biewer"
Cc: choraltalk@lists.colorado.edu
Subject: Re: Just learning how to record

I'm no expert at this, but in many ways, audio recording is like
photography -- someone who understands the principles can often get
better results with disposable cameras than an ape like me using a
fine SLR.

For choirs, most folks start by finding a place in the room where
things sound optimal. (You can often do this by walking around the
room with one ear plugged while the choir is singing). I'd start with
a stereo pair there, then perhaps add mics to bring out parts that need
it. However, if the fundamental sound is wrong, the effort will be
uphill all the way.

The FAQ for the USENET group rec.audio.pro is a good starting point if
you want to learn more about the process. Section X is an introductory
section for recording techniques:
http://www.josephson.com/audiofaq

Once you've done some experimentation, you might ask for advice
from rec.audio.pro, though you need to be as specific as possible
when you ask. What is it that you find unsatisfactory about the
recording you've made? Is it tonal balance, balance between the
different performers, stereo imaging, noise, or something else?
If there's a pro audio shop in your area, there's probably
local folks who will be happy to talk your ear off about these
matters.

Your recorder sounds like fundamentally fine equipment, though the
great disadvantage with analog is that there's lots of tweaking that
has to be done (e.g., calibrating the equipment to work well with the
tape batch you have), just as there's lots more fussing that you have
to do listening to LPs compared with CDs. For a beginner, I'd almost
say go with a home MD deck (about $300) unless you're an aspiring
professional audio engineer. You can learn more from analog about
electronics and techniques like razor blade editing, but I suspect
that's not your goal.

I would guess the mics you're using (Shure SM-58, Peavey PVM22) are
most likely cardioid mics, and probably best applied for close vocals
rather than area mic'ing. The cardioid pattern is probably not so much
an issue as is the off-axis coloration -- when you rotate cardioids
into different directions, not only does the loudness change, but the
tone often changes quite dramatically as well. However, the
photography analogy holds -- someone who's knowledgeable may be able
to work around these such shortcomings.

Romain Kang
romain@icp.siemens.com Siemens Information & Computing Products, San Jose, Ca
romain@kzsu.stanford.edu http://www-kzsu.stanford.edu/~romain/mixed_up.html

//////////////////////////

Date: Fri, 27 Nov 1998 18:27:58 +0000
From: Peter Hill
To: choraltalk@lists.colorado.edu
Subject: Re: Just learning how to record

In article <9kK62.143$Uw.1115@newsfeed.slurp.net>, Chuck Biewer
>Can anyone recommend
>good reading material for a rookie who wishes to learn more about choral
>recording techniques. I can really use some tips from the pros.

Not from a pro, Chuck, but amongst the good suggestions others have
contributed, I didn't see an answer to your reading material query. A
good general text I have seen (tho' it may not be available over there)
is:
Recording Production Techniques (for the Recording Musician), by Paul
White. ISBN 0-9522195-0-6 Publishers SOS Publications Ltd.
Not specifically choral, it nevertheless covers the basics to the extent
that you should be much nearer a good set-up before the inevitable
adjustments after a first take.

//////////////////////////

Date: Sat, 28 Nov 1998 00:18:08 -0500
From: "Chuck Biewer"
To: choraltalk@lists.colorado.edu
Subject: Re: Just learning how to record

I had a feeling the mics were not optimal for choral. Wish I could just
rent or borrow good mics. Low-budget man here.
I'd love to get a mini-disc- wish I had dough for that. Do MD's record
direct from analog?

//////////////////////////

Date: Sat, 28 Nov 1998 06:20:26 GMT
From: "Pam Wilt"
To: choraltalk@lists.colorado.edu
Subject: Re: Just learning how to record - (MINI DISK)

Gee, it's like real-time talking tonight. :) Folks, I thought about
answering Chuck privately but since I'm getting the sense from other
newsgroups that the Sony Mini-Disk unit is going to be a very hot item in
our industry this holiday season, I decided to post it here.

Chuck Biewer wrote in message ...
>I had a feeling the mics were not optimal for choral. Wish I could just
>rent or borrow good mics. Low-budget man here.

Perhaps try that unscrewing/removing the windscreen. BTW, I read that one
in Electronic Musician or Keyboard magazine. I don't have enough experience
to figure it out myself! :)

>I'd love to get a mini-disc- wish I had dough for that. Do MD's record
>direct from analog?

Yes, MD's can copy from analog or just about any other direct source as
they have RCA inputs/outputs in the back, as well as the digital connectors.
(or is it optical - have never used that format.) So you could make a copy
from your reel to reel or cassette (but it would be adding that noise to
your recording.)

The drawback of having one MD unit is that you can't make a duplicate or
backup disk. I work with a community theatre and we record sound cues to
MD - it would be great to be able to make backups without having to lug my
deck over to connect with their deck. Sony now packages the main deck with
a "walk-man" size unit for close to what I paid for just the former. Wish
I'd gotten that one!

On another note, the teenage son of a friend of mine has an MD on his
Christmas wish list because Sony has new TV commercials out targeting
teens, telling them how cool it is to record their favorite CD tracks to MD
compilations. I grinch-ily had to give her the opinion that for a teen, it
is probably not a practical format to get into (yet.) He wants it mainly
because it won't "skip" like a CD. However, choice and availability of
pre-recorded MD's is limited (compared to CD's) and I didn't think he'd
really record enough of his own stuff to make it worthwhile.

But for teaching, rehearsing, recording live music and as show soundtracks
and a bazillion other uses, I think this is a really exciting unit. By the
way - I have no affiliation with Sony or any company - I guess I really
sound like a commercial though! And to all a good night! :)
Best, Pam

//////////////////////////

Date: 28 Nov 1998 15:35:12 GMT
From: "Bob Moors"
To: choraltalk@lists.colorado.edu
Subject: Re: Just learning how to record

I've been using a Sony MDX4 four track Mini Disc Recorder for our choir.
I have been very pleased. I use Rode NT1 Large Studio Condensor Mics.
The mics are then fed into a preamp with phantom power ( the MDX4 does have
2 XLR inputs but no 48v power for Condesor mics.

The mics come from the preamp into a compressor which will limit the loud
sounds and keep from over loading the recording which will distort if it
gets too much signal.

Mic placement is important. Our choir is 50 voices I have the best results
placing the mics 16' in the air and about 20' to the front. The problem
is to record during service is it looks bad to have the mic stand in the
middle of the aisle. I use one stand and mount both mics on it. The mics
are unidirectional picking up sound to the front and rejecting sound to the
rear (which help keep the congregation noise down) The mics are aimed at
45^ angles inward to each other, in other word there is center overlap
between the mics.

Once I have the recording I am able to play the recording into my pc and
capture it there as a wave file. I take the wave file and burn a CDROM.

I will send you a copy of my latest recording if you are interested. I'll
charge you $10.00 bucks for the copy.

//////////////////////////

Date: Sat, 28 Nov 1998 16:46:31 GMT
From: "Pam Wilt"
To: choraltalk@lists.colorado.edu
Subject: Re: Just learning how to record

Bob Moors wrote in message <73p57g$li1@bgtnsc01.worldnet.att.net>...
>I've been using a Sony MDX4 four track Mini Disc Recorder for our choir.
>I have been very pleased. I use Rode NT1 Large Studio Condensor Mics.

The MDX4 is a digital multi-tracker (about a thousand bucks.) I'm hoping
to acquire one myself (or one of its cousins - the Roland VS880 or 840.)
However I need to point out that it might be more unit than church groups
would make practical use of (or it might not!) Another big factor would be
that to multi-track you need 140MB disks at a whopping $22 a pop (for 37
minutes.) A standard audio mini-disk gives you 74 minutes for $5 per disk.

It's my understanding that the MDX4 will accept both disk formats which
would be important to me (four tracks on MBs, 2 tracks on MDs.) Bob please
correct me if I'm wrong.

Thank you ChoralList folk for the tolerance and latitude of this topic
here - you've been very kind. I do believe mini-disk recorders are
something that could be of related interest to people in our field.

//////////////////////////

Date: 28 Nov 1998 18:32:04 GMT
From: "Bob Moors"
To: choraltalk@lists.colorado.edu
Subject: Re: Just learning how to record

The sony MDX4 will record 37 minutes of four trak on a DATA disc
or 74 minutes on a standard disc. The important note is that they are
reusable. Once I move the tracks to the pc I can reuse the disc. The Sony
MDX4 is now $700.00 I highly recommend it. If you want just stereo you
could go to MDSJ820 for about $350.00 . That is if you still include using
an external mic pre amp. You could bring line level signals from the pre
amp to the deck.

//////////////////////////

Date: Sat, 28 Nov 1998 15:19:54 -0800 (PST)
From: ian
To: choraltalk@lists.colorado.edu
Subject: Re: Just learning how to record(minidisk stuff)

Hi Chuck and all,
All this talk of mini disk recording has been quite interesting. I
use a hard disk recording system (Roland VS-880) with a CD burner and am
very happy with its recording/editing capabilities. No one has brought up
the subject of data compression, and as it relates directly to sound
quality, perhaps it bears mentioning. As I understand it, many digital
recorders drop every n-th bit of data to allow a limited amount of storage
space to go farther (more time/more tracks.) This is called data
compression. The Roland has several quality/recording time settings and I
can notice a difference between the uncompressed (highest quality) and most
compressed (lowest quality.) Mini disk recorder users please correct me if
I am wrong, but the Mini disk format always compresses. That is why CD
manufactures allowed a cheap consumer version of a digital recorder to
exist: it doesn't sound as good as the CD's. conspiracy based evidence, just ask yourself why DAT tapes are so darn
expensive! Not that data compressed digital audio sounds bad, but you would
notice the difference if you A-B'd an uncompressed CD with a recording you
made on a Mini disk recorder.
All this must of course be put into the context of budget and
purpose. If your goal is to have a great CD to sell on tour and around the
country, you should invest in something like an ADAT or a Fostex 8track hard
disk VSF-9something (can't remember) or a Roland VS-1680 (or VS-880.) All
these machines can produce uncompressed recordings, and the Fostex and
Roland units can edit the material. If you just want reference recordings,
a Mini disk system might be just what you are looking for. You may also
want to look into computer based recorders (if you own a computer.) Or, and
I just thought of this, why not buy a DATman portable DAT recorder. They
are just a little more expensive than the mini disk recorders, and the sound
quality is better. Above all, definitely get some condenser microphones.
Shure makes some good, cheap mics in their beta green series that use
batteries for phantom power. The 5.1 comes to mind (about $140.)

//////////////////////////

Date: Sun, 29 Nov 1998 14:44:43 +0100
From: "Uli"
To: choraltalk@lists.colorado.edu
Subject: Re: Just learning how to record(minidisk stuff)

I am a quite well ear-trained professional musician and have compared both,
DAT and MD (both Sony) directly and found no difference.


///////////////////////////

Date: Mon, 30 Nov 1998 01:46:48 GMT
From: "Pam Wilt"
To: choraltalk@lists.colorado.edu
Subject: Re: Just learning how to record(minidisk stuff)

How funny - compression questions. Here is a forward of a message posted
today (not from me) to another newsgroup regarding compression on
mini-disks.

>>>Don't feel bad about being confused. These are two different kinds of
compression. The kind that people are telling you about is most likely
the kind that is sold (usually) in a rack mountable box and is
generally used on acoustic instruments (including voice) to
modify the dynamic range, among other things. If you are 100% MIDI
then it may not be quite as useful to you.

The second type (the kind of compression in an MD) is completely
different. Think of it as the same kind of compression that's used in
a ZIP file, except that a bunch of data is thrown away. Obviously,
when you unzip a computer file, you expect it to be an exact replica
of the file before it was zipped. The idea is to make the file much
smaller so that it takes up much less room on the hard drive and is
faster to download, etc. Well, the same is true for the compression on
your MD. Some brainy nerds somewhere (Sony?)
came up with a scheme to dump tons of data that the human ear wouldn't
be able to hear anyway. At least in theory. Unlike a Zip file, the
file is made smaller by trashing tons of digital data. MPG audio works
very much the same way. That's why you can take a CD quality (44.1k,
16bit) WAV file that's say, 100 megs and reduce it to 10megs and still
keep lots of quality. There IS an audible difference, but it's still
an amazingly cool and useful technology.

////////////////////


Date: Mon, 30 Nov 1998 15:16:00 -0500
From: "Chuck Biewer"
To: choraltalk@lists.colorado.edu
Subject: Re: Just learning how to record

>Mic placement is important. Our choir is 50 voices I have the best
results
>placing the mics 16' in the air and about 20' to the front. The problem
>is to record during service is it looks bad to have the mic stand in the
>middle of the aisle. I use one stand and mount both mics on it. The mics
>are unidirectional picking up sound to the front and rejecting sound to the
>rear (which help keep the congregation noise down) The mics are aimed at
>45^ angles inward to each other, in other word there is center overlap
>between the mics.


So, the mics being on one stand, look something like this:

L R
-------
\ | /
|
|
|
|
|
--

where the \ and / are the NT-1's at 45degree angle inwards.

Correct? Does that give a pleasing, balanced stereo effect then? Of
course, for $10, I could find out, right?

/////////////////////////

Date: Mon, 30 Nov 1998 17:42:23 -0500
From: "Dan Gawthrop"
To:
Subject: RE: Just learning how to record(minidisk stuff)

> I am a quite well ear-trained professional musician and have
> compared both,
> DAT and MD (both Sony) directly and found no difference.

Perhaps the musically trained ear has different priorities than the
professional recordist's ear, but I can tell you that in the broadcasting
field we would never use the compressed format (unless there was simply no
other option) as there is a difference which we find we can easily hear.

Much depends, of course, on the program content--perhaps you got lucky.

If you have plans to release a CD or offer a recording for broadcast, then
you should definitely avoid any compressed format.

Dan Gawthrop
Announcer/Producer
WETA-FM, Washington, D.C.

//////////////////////////

Date: Wed, 12 Nov 1997 12:05:06 +0100
From: jrhale@bow.intnet.bj (Jeff R. Hale)
To: choralist@lists.colorado.edu
Subject: Compilation:Request tape recorder & mics suggestions

My thanks to all who responded to this inquiry. Your insights have been a
big help!
These reponses came from members of Choralist and Afrimuse. The compilation
will be posted to both lists.
************************************************************************
I would suggest using a mini-disc recorder for doing field digital
recordings.
They aren't too expensive ($399) and you can get up to 70 minutes of stereo
or 140 minutes of mono on one disc. I think discs are about $4 apiece ($5
at
the most). There is some data compression involved, so the sound quality
isn't as good as Digital Audio Tape (which would cost about $700 for a
recorder), but it is much better than a cassette recorder.
-Wixon, Steve R.
************************************************************************
Marantz makes several different models of portable cassette recorders.

Were I doing field recording of music, I would want at least stereo, and
if I could afford it at all, I'd want DAT. TASCAM makes a very good DAT
recorder which is portable. I have the DA P-1 model which is smaller
than a notebook computer and can run on a battery. It has its own mic
power supply [P-48] and mic preamps. It also has a limiter on the
machine. I use this machine almost exclusively any more for my choral
and chamber recording.

Neumann makes a very, very, very good small diaphragm condenser mic
called the KM-184 which retails for $699.00 each and can be had at a
discount-check sources for best deal.

If that is too rich for your purposes, you might try an Audio Technica
condenser mic. I also have a pair of those which are also very, very
good.

If you get a DAT machine or a cassette machine with mic pre's built into
it, you'll cut down on the gear you must schlep about.

Sources for some of this gear are:

Sweetwater Sound, Indiana
Washington Music Center-Wheaton, MD
Boynton Studio-upstate New York.
-John R. Hall
**********************************************************************
I use a Sony TC-D5M for field recordings. Sometimes with a PZM
microphone (a very good one is available from Radio Shack) and sometimes
with a Shure SM58 or some other standard cardioid/vocal mic. The D5 uses
4 "D" batteries, and runs for about 6 hours on one set of battieries.
-Todd Denton
*********************************************************************
I have passed your question on to Neil Fried of RailRoad Earth
(arts/multimedia services). His audio team can most likely help with
your question, advising on a very rugged device for travel and use in
outdoor situations.
-Mark Gresham
*********************************************************************
Take a look at the Marantz CP430 . This is a stereo , 3 head machine with
battery, mains or NiCad rechargeable power source. It uses 3 D cells which
give it about 5 hours continual use. A microphone is not included in the UK
price of