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Recording a singing, foot-tapping pianist.

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Recording a singing, foot-tapping pianist.

Postby claz » Mon Oct 05, 2020 6:56 pm

I've read on SOS "recording a singing guitarist" (refs. 1, 6), and various articles on recording piano (refs. 2-5) -- but haven't found anything on recording a singing pianist!

My interest is not purely theoretical; I am looking to develop a home studio, with attendant room-treatment and purchases. I would like to nail the sound and balance at the source, as much as possible.

With that preamble, my basic question is, how does the play-and-sing aspect influence which microphone placements, patterns, and technologies I should consider, compared to the canonical approaches for each independently?

Details

My room is nothing special (~ 20'L 12'W 8'H, wood floors, slight metallic ring to loud vocal notes) so I'll be aiming for a close-miked setup. While I plan to treat the room, perhaps this is less necessary given close miking (he said hopefully)? I am happy to provided snippets of voice/piano in the raw space, if useful.

For pianos, I'll be using both a grand (mid-sized) and an upright. Primarily the upright for now, which is a Steinway model 100 that, perhaps usefully, has sound holes facing the pianist to the sides of the music stand, as well as the usual top that opens.

As an idea of the price/quality compromise I'm hoping to achieve, I'm considering a pair of Rode TF-5. Expressed in other terms, I'm hoping to hit the inflection point before diminishing returns set in. The TF-5 are candidates since, per the review, they sound like they'd be appropriate for piano while vocal bleed would be inoffensive. I don't have a front-runner for voice yet.

As for workflow, I plan to record into a MixPre ii so that I can keep as much of the production out of the computer as possible. I'm going for immediacy and simplicity. To be clear, I'm aiming for releaseable-quality recordings, and I don't mind putting in the work; it's just that I'd like that work to be front-loaded into getting it right at the source.

Microphones and positions

I tried my Zoom H4n to capture the stereo scene holistically, but the room intruded. Up close (to the side) the voice and piano each dominated a channel, with colored spill in the other. So, thanking the Zoom for many years of adequate service, I'm ready to move a step beyond what its mics and preamps can offer.

My first thought is a cardioid X/Y (above the upright's open lid), and another cardioid for the voice, placed where the music stand would go. My concerns here would be phase issues and colored spill. X/Y figure 8's with nulls at the voice might be good, too, but I'd guess would be more likely to imbalance part of the piano range due to a narrow pattern.

Going simpler, I can also imagine the merits of a single, high-quality omni or figure-8 mic, placed where the music stand would go. Gross balance would be set through fine adjustments toward the strings or voice; vocal control and mic technique would be required for anything further. The advantage is simplicity, avoidance of phase issues, and obviously mono compatibility -- but stereo would need to be faked post-facto, and there's no potential to rebalance.

Going more complex, I read about the flexibility of an MSM array in the "singing guitarist" article, but it seems like it would be more difficult to pull off usefully with a singing pianist. Perhaps a variation, with the MSM array at the position of the music stand would have the advantages of the single-omni approach above, but with more flexibility? Similarly, I wonder if a spatial mic would offer advantages here -- though then it would have to be equally suitable for piano and voice.

In a completely different direction, I could DI the piano through Pianoteq or a keyboard. This is opposite my inclinations, but I feel compelled to include it in case those with more experiece feel strongly that the difficulties of the acoustic route with detract from the final product. Ultimately, I want to spend as much time music-making as possible, going directly to finished products with minimal fiddling. I'll remain open to all approaches.

The foot-tapping issue

When the material is pop/jazz, I'm often playing against a beat I maintain with my foot. Rather than minimize this, I'd like it to be an integral part the recording. I've considered quietly mixing in contact mics on various materials, but haven't tried this. just a thought.

---

So, having written too much, I'd be grateful for suggestions ranging from techniques to specific gear. While I would love to try out all the options above, and with every combination of mics, I itch even more to get to straight to the music. I don't need a perfect set up, but I do want to do this once, and get it is right as possible, and in the absence of my own experience, I'll impose upon yours!

Many thanks,
Claz


References:
(1) https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques ... -guitarist
(2) https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/piano-recording
(3) https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques ... rand-piano
(4) https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques ... ight-piano
(5) https://www.soundonsound.com/sound-advi ... ight-piano
(6) https://www.soundonsound.com/forum/view ... 15&t=58943
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Re: Recording a singing, foot-tapping pianist.

Postby MOF » Mon Oct 05, 2020 8:24 pm

If the room is bad then hang and clamp a duvet or two over a couple of microphone stands against one or two walls. A bad room acoustic is very hard to remove afterwards.
I’d use a spaced pair over the piano, experiment with acoustic tiles to shield them from the vocal and use a figure of 8 mic’ for the vocal with the null point facing the piano.
Experiment with mic’ing the foot tapping.
You don’t say which ii version of recorder you’re using, the original looks to be a two microphone recorder, the latest versions vary in specification. I presume it’s the latest. If so then each microphone will have its own track and you can adjust delay and levels to avoid comb filtering.
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Re: Recording a singing, foot-tapping pianist.

Postby Sam Spoons » Mon Oct 05, 2020 9:15 pm

You mention treating the room, do this first then mic position can be purely to achieve the best sound.
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Re: Recording a singing, foot-tapping pianist.

Postby claz » Tue Oct 06, 2020 2:25 am

Thanks for the responses, and apologies if I was unclear: the room will indeed be treated, and adjustments/experiments will be done to find best final positions.

But given that, I'm interested at a macro scale in canonical approaches to close miking a singing pianist. It's to that end that I listed a few of my ideas, hoping for guidance much as the "singing guitarist" article pointed out the MSM array as a flexible approach folks may not have considered.

Re: comb filtering, good point about using levels to avoid -- however, I'll also be using the levels to balance the piano and voice, so I do feel the need to be able to keep these concerns separate.

Finally, while I appreciate the spirit of experimentation, I can't perform the experiments in advance, because I don't have the gear! I'm hoping that this discussion will help me narrow down the field to sensible initial purchases and placements.

I undoubtedly wrote too much initially, leading to some red herrings!

PS: A note to the moderators: I'm unable to edit my original post. If you wouldn't mind just bolding (for clarity, or tl;dr reasons) the "my basic question is..." sentence, about 3 paragraphs in, I'd appreciate it. If that's a pain, no worries.
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Re: Recording a singing, foot-tapping pianist.

Postby blinddrew » Tue Oct 06, 2020 9:07 am

Hi claz,
It's not something I've done, but hypothetically there are a couple of approaches I'd try.
Firstly using a pair of omni SDCs behind the piano and a cardiod on the vocal. The piano itself will block the sound of the singer from the stereo piano mics and you'll have to rely on the pick-up pattern of the vocal mic rejecting the piano. You would be capturing a lot of off-axis piano noise in the vocal mic so choosing something that handles that well would be important.
Second option might be to try an M/S array above and just in front of the top of the piano with the mid mic angled towards the singer. I'd be tempted to have the mid mic be an omni to get the full depth of the piano and just rely on the fact that they all become a bit directional higher up the range anyway.
The first approach will give you a bit of separation for level control, but at the cost of off-axis bleed and potentially some phase issues.
The second will remove any phase or off-axis issues but will rely solely on mic/singer position to manage the relative levels. If you move around a lot when you sing this will upset that balance and you won't be able to fix it easily in the mix.
Assuming it's a hard floor I wouldn't worry about the foot tapping - I reckon that will come through regardless.

But I refer you back to my opening statement...
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Re: Recording a singing, foot-tapping pianist.

Postby MOF » Tue Oct 06, 2020 1:13 pm

The piano itself will block the sound of the singer from the stereo piano mics
Blinddrew the upright is open at the top and front but not the back, hence my suggestion of some sound absorbing panels between the microphones and the singer (I did read a SOS article that showed a piece of foam panel behind a snare mic to cut hi-hat spill) plus the figure of eight vocal microphone.
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Re: Recording a singing, foot-tapping pianist.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Oct 06, 2020 1:39 pm

There are too many unknowns and variables here to offer much specific advice, I'm afraid.

Obviously, the optimum mic techniques required for a grand piano are inherently different to those for an upright, and different instruments of each type usually require slightly different solutions too -- especially for uprights. More importantly, the acoustics of the room itself will affect the optimum miking approach even more...

Given the nature of the described performance, and assuming a good-sounding room, my first approach would undoubtedly be to capture the whole thing as an ensemble with a stereo pair, placing the array as needed to achieve the optimum balance of voice, piano, foot-tapping, and room acoustic.

If there is some reason to go for close miking (such as a bad-sounding room, or a need to process the voice in isolation etc), then the specifics will depend enormously on the instrument and what levels of spill are acceptable. In that situation, I'd almost certainly prefer an overdubbing approach, recording the piano separately to the vocals/foot tapping.

If you want to record piano, voice, and feet in one pass, then you may well have to arrange some form of acoustic screening to minimise piano spill on the vocal mic, such as wrapping the piano in heavy drapes or a padded cover, and using contact or boundary-layer mics inside the piano... with all the sound quality compromises associated with that.

Also, be aware of potential acoustic reflections of the voice back into the vocal mic from the instrument itself too -- especially in the case of an upright. Placing a large foam sheet behind the mic is a common solution.

Regarding the equipment, the better gear you have the better the recording quality will be, up to a point. The MixPre recorder and TF-5s mics are both very high quality products, obviously, and easily capable of making 'release-quality' recordings... but only if the room, the instrument, and the performer make release-quality noises in the first place, and if the mics are placed appropriately and mixed and processed adequately.
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Re: Recording a singing, foot-tapping pianist.

Postby claz » Tue Oct 06, 2020 7:25 pm

Thanks for these ideas. Based on the range of suggestions, it sounds like the best way forward is to iterate: record, treat, record, treat until the sound is there. That's fair, if time consuming.

I'm okay with spill, as long as it's not detrimentally colored, hence my attraction to the Rode TF5. I'm not looking for complete, independent manipulability of voice and piano post-facto, just the ability to gently rebalance if necessary.

One thing I'm still unclear on is whether the MSM array would find application in this scenario. In the singing-guitarist model, the voice and guitar emanate from fairly well defined areas, so one can point mics at each.

In the singing-pianist scenario, the piano is radiating from a much larger area. Perhaps a MSM array from behind or above the piano, where I sing over the top, and the other mic points toward the back or inside of the upright? I do like the built-in mono compatibility of coincident arrays and the adjustability of MSM, hence my curiosity about this technique.

I do acknowledge that the specifics will come down to the room and the instrument, so I suppose it's time to make the leap, make some initial orders and treatments, and take it from there!

Cheers all,
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Re: Recording a singing, foot-tapping pianist.

Postby blinddrew » Tue Oct 06, 2020 9:23 pm

You could try a couple of horizontally mounted figure of 8s. Above your head height with one pointing down to your mouth (with the null pointing at the piano) and vice versa?
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Re: Recording a singing, foot-tapping pianist.

Postby DC-Choppah » Wed Oct 07, 2020 2:29 am

I am a foot tapping piano player. Don't make me stop.

For recording, I have found it helpful to wear thick wool socks, no shoes.
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