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Recording a choir to a backing track?

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Recording a choir to a backing track?

Postby GlynB » Fri May 04, 2012 12:31 pm

I have a variation on the other thread about recording a choir with an organ present...
http://www.soundonsound.com/forum/showf ... art=1&vc=1

We have manged to enlist a local choir to sing on one of our recordings. I have not recorded a choir previously, so would appreciate any additional advice on the best way to do it to a backing track.

Our band have already recorded the drums, bass, keys, guitars and a scratch lead vocal, the idea now is that the choir will now add their part to this.

Obviously with three or four vocalists I'd simply rig up a set of headphones for each and away we go, but how about a choir of 100, that's a lot of cans!

if i play the track in the room (probably a church) the track will inevitably be picked up by the mic's on the choir's tracks and make mixing a tad messy. Or is it a case of playing it and keeping the volume quite low so that little of the track is captured, but the choir can just about hear it and keep in tune and time?

One idea i had was for only the conductor to have headphones and rely on him to keep the rest on the ball, but what about them keeping the choir in tune with the track?

Any views on the best technique to use?
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Re: Recording a choir to a backing track?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri May 04, 2012 12:44 pm

Conductor on headphones, along with several key section leaders in the choir...

You probably can use some low-level foldback on speakers if you place them carefully with respect to the mics and avoid too high a level that excites the room reverb too much.

I've put monitor wedges behind the back row of the choir quite sucessfully before now, relying on their bodies to soak up the backing track before it reached the mics at any appreciable level. The other way I've worked -- which is a standard TV studio solution -- is to rig some foldback speakers alongside the mics and use fig-8 patterns on the mics.

A bit of backing track spill won't matter because it's all going to be mixed togather anyway -- although time or arrival delays could be an issue.

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Re: Recording a choir to a backing track?

Postby turtles » Sat May 05, 2012 11:21 pm

Wot Hugh said.
Depends how good the choir is, too. I've done the following successfully when adding 'scratch' first-timers choral /group singing to a solo vocal and band recording.
-X/Y config for the choir, about 4m from the front row, about 3m high.
-Two monitor wedges down by the base of the mic stand, pointing toward the front row.
-Create a new mix for the monitors: reduce the main vocal level a bit, and take the top out of the snare and cymbals.
-Moderate volume of this through the monitors will give the choir enough to sing over- and it's important they can hear it well, because otherwise they'll bottle it and not give their best performance to you.

There's always a bit of the mix that bleeds back into the mics: I've found that taking the 'clicky' stuff out of the monitor mix (snare, cymbals) significantly reduces any hassle re: arrival delays or smearing.

your mileage may vary :-)
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Re: Recording a choir to a backing track?

Postby shufflebeat » Sat May 05, 2012 11:46 pm

'Out of phase' monitors anyone?
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Re: Recording a choir to a backing track?

Postby LRS » Sun May 06, 2012 10:21 pm

shufflebeat wrote:'Out of phase' monitors anyone?

Not sure this would work on a stereo recording? Would be okay with a single mic setup but multiple mics receiving monitor signals from different directions and time would probably counter the out of phase monitors.
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Re: Recording a choir to a backing track?

Postby shufflebeat » Sun May 06, 2012 10:41 pm

It's not something I've had much experience of but I'm thinking two mics, two monitors outside those (in phase), one between the mics (phase flipped). To clarify, three monitors in total.

Level of the centre speaker could be adjusted by ear, overall level would need to be low enough to avoid room reverb spoiling the effect. Maybe monitors at or above head height to avoid spraying sound around.

Got to be worth a try.
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Re: Recording a choir to a backing track?

Postby Exalted Wombat » Mon May 07, 2012 12:06 am

A prime requirement for a good performance is that all choir members should be able to hear the backing track. Prepare a version that contains what they need to hear to keep in time and in tune, but no more. And mix it dry, no reverb at all.

Try very hard not to do this in a church acoustic. Last time I had to do something similar was with a school choir. One step inside the big hall and it was obvious the job would be impossible. We crammed them all into the staff room (carpets and furniture) and got a reasonable result.

You won't get a good recording in a bad acoustic. Period.
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Re: Recording a choir to a backing track?

Postby Airfix » Mon May 07, 2012 1:57 am

Much as the the eminent heads have advised how to go about such a thing - I have to say this is a hideous way to go about a choir.
Tempo the choir - as Hugh suggested by conduct. They 'the singers', do not have to hear the 'backing track' at all. - then paste it in.
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Re: Recording a choir to a backing track?

Postby shufflebeat » Mon May 07, 2012 4:15 am

Airfix wrote:I have to say this is a hideous way to go about a choir.

You're right of course, just feeling a little experimental. I'll try that in my own time.
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Re: Recording a choir to a backing track?

Postby narcoman » Mon May 07, 2012 9:09 am

Depends how tight it has to be. If it has lots of staccato "tutti" moments then every one will need cans. It's just not tight enough. Tuning - choirs drift (as do orchestra).... so again, it depends how much that bothers you.

So... what sort of music and what are the "parts" like?
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Re: Recording a choir to a backing track?

Postby Exalted Wombat » Mon May 07, 2012 9:18 am

Airfix wrote:Much as the the eminent heads have advised how to go about such a thing - I have to say this is a hideous way to go about a choir.
Tempo the choir - as Hugh suggested by conduct. They 'the singers', do not have to hear the 'backing track' at all. - then paste it in.

I suppose it's just possible they might hold pitch, if you record in short sections. And there's always Autotune :-)

As we've just had demonstrated in another thread, unless there is a good performance, all talk of recording technique, microphone placement, mixing technique etc. is futile. You won't get a good performance from this choir by forcing them to perform in a thoroughly artificial and unmusical way.
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Re: Recording a choir to a backing track?

Postby GlynB » Tue May 08, 2012 12:11 pm

Thank you all for you helpful replies, very kind. Like Jesus' blood, this forum has never failed me yet... :-)

"You won't get a good performance from this choir by forcing them to perform in a thoroughly artificial and unmusical way."

Yes that was my worry from the performance side, apart from the previously stated technical worry about bleed!

I'm thinking to go with the speakers positioned behind the choir on the floor so their bodies soak up the sound, fairly low volume, the singers at the rear will keep the others in pitch (hopefully!).

"Depends how tight it has to be. If it has lots of staccato "tutti" moments then every one will need cans. It's just not tight enough. Tuning - choirs drift (as do orchestra).... so again, it depends how much that bothers you.

So... what sort of music and what are the "parts" like?"

There are two sections for them, a belted out almost 'shout' of the words 'Not guilty' in the chorus, which shouldn't prove a problem, but them there's a repeated section of "Aaah's" in harmony which will need to be spot on.

I could certainly supply headphones to the conductor and a couple of key players in the choir too, belt n braces eh?

Hmmm, different views here on the advisability of going for the church as opposed to the dead practice room? I must admit I was unsure about that... choirs can sound amazing in a church setting picking up the natural reverb ...but then again if it sounds wrong in context afterwards, ya can't get rid of it... and this choir needs to be mixed in with a band sound, not on its own...hmmmm.
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Re: Recording a choir to a backing track?

Postby Exalted Wombat » Tue May 08, 2012 1:38 pm

GlynB wrote:Hmmm, different views here on the advisability of going for the church as opposed to the dead practice room? I must admit I was unsure about that... choirs can sound amazing in a church setting picking up the natural reverb ...but then again if it sounds wrong in context afterwards, ya can't get rid of it... and this choir needs to be mixed in with a band sound, not on its own...hmmmm.

You can add reverb. You can't take it away.

This really isn't a big problem. I've done it many times when preparing tracks for shows (I'd much rather they sang live, but that's another topic!).

Point some speakers at the choir. Point some mics at them as well, but aim them away from the speakers. Record in as dry an acoustic as possible. Prepare a version of the backing track with the minimum necessary information to keep everything together and in tune, and with NO REVERB!

It'll mix OK. A bit of reverb will glue it all together. Which is why you don't want any in the tracks! Be open to re-balancing the backing track mix - it can't really be locked down until ALL the elements are present.
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Re: Recording a choir to a backing track?

Postby GlynB » Wed May 09, 2012 11:18 am

Thanks again all.

We're meeting with the choir's main man tomorrow, so will discuss the techniques then. So dead room, with speakers facing the choir using a basic mix with no reverb... got it.

Actually I might try a couple of takes, one using the 'conductor only has headphones' technique in addition as a backup.

When the song's finished I'll post a link back here, so those interested can hear how it turned out....though that's likely to be late summer at current rate of progress!
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