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Author Topic: Recording an acapella group  (Read 373 times)

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Offline prepschoolalumniblues

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Recording an acapella group
« on: August 21, 2019, 04:33:55 PM »
I have the opportunity to record an acapella group this week and I was curious about how others might handle taping this performance. I’ve never recorded a concert that doesn’t have any instruments and I’m not sure how that variation will change my understanding of standard recording setups to use.

There are a few older threads on this topic (https://taperssection.com/index.php?topic=31372.0, http://taperssection.com/index.php?topic=97009.0) but they’re over a decade old and focus on specific mics. Most of the Gearslutz threads focus on studio recording or a significant number of microphones in a multitrack arrangement.

My question is slightly different from those mentioned above: if you were limited to a stereo pair of either cards or omnis (which I am)... how might you approach recording a small unaccompanied choral group? Would you lean towards something directional or not? What kind of height, spacing, and angle would you consider?

I’m excited for the chance to record a very different sonic situation than I’m used to and would value any input you might have.
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Offline voltronic

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Re: Recording an acapella group
« Reply #1 on: August 21, 2019, 08:18:46 PM »
Are you "taping" in the sense of recording a PA system like any other amplified show, or are you recording them acoustic, and up close on / near stage? 

In other words, is this a pop-style a cappella group where everyone is individually mic'd up through a PA, or it is an a cappella choir that performs without PA reinforcement?

If it's the first situation, there are many people here who can advise you on the best setup for that.  If it's the second, I can help you.  I am a choral singer and conductor, and recording choirs (without amplification) is what I do all the time.

Other helpful information to get you the best answer would be the size and setup of the group, the types of music being performed, the performance space, and what kind of access you will be granted for placing your recording equipment.
« Last Edit: August 21, 2019, 08:21:29 PM by voltronic »
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Offline prepschoolalumniblues

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Re: Recording an acapella group
« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2019, 12:05:36 AM »
Thank you for your detailed questions!


...is this a pop-style a cappella group where everyone is individually mic'd up through a PA, or it is an a cappella choir that performs without PA reinforcement?

...Other helpful information to get you the best answer would be the size and setup of the group, the types of music being performed, the performance space, and what kind of access you will be granted for placing your recording equipment.


The group is roughly a dozen men and women who will be performing covers of pop songs. My understanding is that they’ll use a microphone (on a stand but can be hand-held) for the soloist but the rest of the group (two rows of sixish performers standing behind the soloist in a bit of an arc-shape) won’t have additional microphones. They’ll also occasionally do a little bit of moving around on stage (not full-on dancing but more than just hand movements).

The performance will take place in a small hall (think town hall, grange hall, church basement kind of space) with a very low stage and folding chairs for the audience. Beer and wine will be for sale so I’m not sure what the audience noise level will be like.

My understanding is that I’ll be able to set up my equipment anywhere as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the performers or audience. I’ve been asked to arrive about an hour before doors open to the public so I’ll have plenty of time to set things up properly. I believe they’re fine with my gear on or near the stage. Ultimately, while they’d love to capture this moment on tape, their primarily priority is to provide a live show, so I’d like to probably err on the side of unobtrusive.

If it’s helpful, here’s a recent video of the group: https://youtu.be/mkX53mFjYWI
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Offline voltronic

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Re: Recording an acapella group
« Reply #3 on: August 22, 2019, 06:42:09 AM »
OK, those details (and especially the video) are very helpful.

So, if they are only using the one mic for the soloist, I would record them them as though they are a regular choir that doesn't use any PA.  You will get the proper soloist vs. ensemble balance just by proximity.  The best way would be up on a high stand behind the typical conductor position, but because of the low ceiling and the desire to do a video, I would modify that.

I have had good results in these restricted situations with a pair of cardioids in ORTF, DIN, or NOS array (depending on distance and width) mounted to a low stand right in front of the stage, and angled up so that the mics are aimed at the singers in the rear.  If the room is really dead sounding, I would go with NOS as it will get you a bit less of the room than ORTF (although where you would be setup would minimize the room sound to some extent anyway).  You do not want to use omnis in this situation - your AT's are the way to go.

Hopefully the soloist remains centered, as you do not want either mic pointing directly at him / her.  This is how you will maintain the right balance.  You also should be close enough so that the PA speakers are out into the house area past your setup.  It's OK that your rig will capture some of the PA, but your typical "point-at-stacks" taper setup out in the house would be a poor choice here unless each member of the group is mic'd and there is a competent FOH engineer balancing them.  For what you are doing, you need to control the balance.

I'll see if I can find some old recordings of a concert I recorded this way to give you an idea what it sounds like.  Good luck!
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Offline prepschoolalumniblues

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Re: Recording an acapella group
« Reply #4 on: August 22, 2019, 07:22:41 AM »
This is so helpful — thank you so much for taking the time to not only suggest strategies but also explain the principles behind them. I’m excited to experiment.
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Offline Gutbucket

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Re: Recording an acapella group
« Reply #5 on: August 22, 2019, 11:11:58 AM »
I have had good results in these restricted situations with a pair of cardioids in ORTF, DIN, or NOS array (depending on distance and width) mounted to a low stand right in front of the stage, and angled up so that the mics are aimed at the singers in the rear.

I concur with voltronic.  If the singers are setup as in the video linked above, I'd try and place the mic-stand a few feet directly in front of (down-stage from) the soloist PA microphone.  In other words, between the soloist PA mic and the audience, and lower than the solo PA mic somewhere between floor and waist level.  This should be simple to setup, and with both mic stands inline with each other and your stereo pair relatively low, should not be overly intrusive with respect to audience sight-lines.
« Last Edit: August 22, 2019, 11:21:10 AM by Gutbucket »
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Offline prepschoolalumniblues

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Re: Recording an acapella group
« Reply #6 on: August 22, 2019, 11:30:21 PM »
Sounds like a plan!

Earlier this week, I recorded my first-ever open-taping show with a mic stand and got nice results from a vaguely ORTF setup (I brought a ruler...) so I'd feel comfortable approaching that piece in a similar way.

Based on what I've read about onstage/stage lip recording, I was thinking that somewhere below waist height might be desirable — but since that is a kind of unintuitive and unsettling visual for someone new to recording, I appreciate the confirmation on my thinking.
Mics
Cardioids: Audio-Technica ATU853, Church Audio CA-14 Cardioids

Omnis: Church Audio CA-14 Omnis

Recorders
Marantz PMD620MKII, Marantz PMD-706

 

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