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Recording a vocal ensemble

26 Feb 03 - 10:40 AM (#899125)
Subject: Recording a vocal ensemble
From: pattyClink

Need advice from people who make good-enough-to-play-in-public-but-not-for-sale recordings. A local museum would like an audio tape or disc of my song about the whale dig we did last year. It's to play on a continuous loop, apparently along with a slide show.

I've got a men's chorus of 25-30 guys interested in singing it. It's a whaling song with 7 verses and a big booming chorus which will be done in 4 part harmony. The verses will probably be done by one big lead voice and soft chord-humming underneath.

Anyway. I used to use a portatone to make my own rough recordings but I don't have one anymore and apparently used ones are hard to find. What I really need is somebody with portable equipment who can come do a demo-quality field recording of these guys in a church hall or whatever.

What do I say to track down this person/equipment? Any buzzwords I should use?   Should I see if the museum can get a 'real' studio involved in a donate-time capacity or is that going to be more grief than it's worth?

26 Feb 03 - 10:54 AM (#899142)
Subject: RE: Recording a vocal ensemble
From: George Seto -

I use a Sony Mini-Disc Recorder, the model with Microphone input. (Check that, as a number of them are inexpensive without that). You MIGHT want to (for the size group) have a mixer to combine 2 or three microphones. Place them in HIGH facing the group. I am assuming the group is standing together in rows, with each row behind a bit higher than the one in front of them?

26 Feb 03 - 11:31 AM (#899172)
Subject: RE: Recording a vocal ensemble
From: pattyClink

Yes, they normally use risers or steps.

I didn't think of using a mixer to feed into a little teeny minidisc recorder? Hmmmm.... I do have some decent microphones.

26 Feb 03 - 12:18 PM (#899198)
Subject: RE: Recording a vocal ensemble
From: NicoleC

I'd either:

a) Stereo mic from above (about a 30-45 degree angle up depending on the room) with a pair of matched cardiod mics. A pair of U-87's would be my first choice, but C414's or even the newer AKG condensors (C-1000?) would work fine. Thusfar I am not impressed with the mics they sell for mini-discs with an 1/8" jack.
b) in a room with nice slightly lively acoustics like a church or theater
c) either into a mixer and out to digital media (minidisc, etc.) or straight to DAT/CDR/pro minidisc tape if you are very careful about levels. It may take a couple of takes, but it will be cheaper and easier. I suggest a pro unit to avoid losing quality by adapting down from the XLR plugs to the little 1/8" jack on the minidisc recorders.

Or do all the same in a studio and add room reverb to your taste later. Personally, if the chorus is really good and the room is really good, I think option #1 will sound better (and will be cheaper) than fake reverb later. (And good choruses somehow sing to the room...)

26 Feb 03 - 12:19 PM (#899200)
Subject: RE: Recording a vocal ensemble
From: NicoleC

BTW, I'm not seriously suggesting renting U-87's for this project. Lord help you if you drop them. But if it were MY project, that's what I'd want :)

26 Feb 03 - 01:54 PM (#899275)
Subject: RE: Recording a vocal ensemble
From: treewind

I's use my Neumann KM184's because I have them, or possibly the AKG bluelines because they will work with a 12 volt battery box I built for them... but for "good-enough-to-play-in-public-but-not-for-sale recordings" to quote from the original message the Sony stereo mic designed to go with minidisc recorders is more than good enough, and it will continue to be a useful workhorse on-location mic if you ever want to do it again.

And minidisc is the only sensible option for recording media, and possibly for playback too, either that or CD.

As for mixers....

The traditional old technique for stereo with 3 omnidirectional mics placed and panned left centre and right with a mixer could produce a wonderful sound with a big choir. You'd need to experiment with mic positions and you need a room with a good acustic because that setup will pick up the whole lot.

... but realistically I'd stick to a stereo mic or crossed pair on a boom stand as high as it will go. That should do it. Still experiment with mic position - it makes a lot of difference.


26 Feb 03 - 02:32 PM (#899322)
Subject: RE: Recording a vocal ensemble
From: SeanM

If you can find someone with a portable mixer, you can get decent effects (I did a demo recording a few years back with a band, friend of ours had a digital 4track). Moreso if your chorus is comfortable singing parts without having everyone else singing behind them, or if you have monitor headsets enough for all in any given part.

"Live" recording is good, if you're on and the venue is good acoustically. But it's also a question of what you're recording for. If it's for a 'pro' release, you would probably want to investigate the possibility of doing a mixable tracked session as opposed to the live.

Note that this does not mean that parts cannot be done that way - just, in my experience, harmonies can be a bitch to get right, and being able to track and mix goes a long way to making the process a bit less stressful.

Again, though - a lot of this is "what is the recording for?". If it's for "souvenier" recordings or the like, you probably would be better served with the "live" angle. If it's for a demo, promotional materials or non-directly supported sales, you may want to consider a bit more advanced of a setup.


26 Feb 03 - 02:44 PM (#899329)
Subject: RE: Recording a vocal ensemble
From: SeanM

Err... shoulda read the entire post first.

For the loop you're talking about, you probably want digital. It'll last longer, and you can make copies at the same quality level as the original. Plus, for the museum, the copy won't wear out quickly.

Talk to the museum - there may be a local college or trade school they can hook you up with.


26 Feb 03 - 03:09 PM (#899344)
Subject: RE: Recording a vocal ensemble
From: Naemanson

We recorded our CD in a church hall using two 180 degree mikes poised one over the other and at right angles to each other. The lead singer was positioned so s/he sang into both mikes and the rest of the crew were arrayed in a semi circle to either side. There are only six of us though. Anyway, it became our for-sale CD and worked out very well.

27 Feb 03 - 11:05 AM (#899644)
Subject: RE: Recording a vocal ensemble
From: pattyClink

Lots of good information posted here, I am grateful. You 'cats are amazing!