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Q. How should I record a choir?

I have to record a 30-strong mixed choir that will be performing on a small stage in a packed village hall. In one of his books, Paul White offers several methods, but I'm unsure which might be the correct solution for this situation. I have several SM58s and AKG C1000s, but would be willing to invest modestly in alternative mics if necessary. What would you suggest?

Ian Williams

Recording a choir in a small village hall.Editor In Chief Paul White replies: If you don't want to spend too much money, I'd suggest you invest in a pair of small-diaphragm condenser mics, where models like the SE Electronics SE1 start out at under £80 each in the UK. Although the AKG C1000 is a small-diaphragm condenser (albeit a back-electret design), it's really designed for close-miking in the studio or on stage and won't be sensitive enough to make a good job of this kind of recording. There's quite a variety of small-diaphragm mics priced at £150 and under, and I'd suggest also looking at what's on offer from manufacturers like Behringer, MXL, Samson and Red5 Audio. When buying budget mics for stereo recording, it's probably wise to buy a boxed pair, as they are likely to be much more closely matched than two models purchased separately.

I'd set the two mics up as a spaced stereo pair. As Hugh Robjohns explained in last month's Q&A (SOS February 2004), coincident stereo arrays are marginally more demanding in terms of the frequency response and polar-pattern matching they require in the two mics used, so you may well have more joy with a spaced pair. Set the mics up around 10 feet in front of the choir and six to eight feet apart (as a rule of thumb don't space them wider than half the width of the choir) and also a little above their head height if you can. This way you can angle mics downwards slightly, and thereby get a better balance between the voices at the front and back of the choir. If you have to work closer because of space, that should be OK, but you may not get such an even balance. In this case, try to have the loudest singers at the back, if you can.

Monitor the signal via headphones while you're setting up the mics, and adjust their distance from the choir accordingly. If there's too little room ambience, move the mics away from the choir, and if there's too much, move closer. Also, and I speak from experience, try to find a place for the mic stands where they won't be kicked or knocked by members of the audience or choir. If you can rig a wire or clothes line to suspend the mics from, it may make positioning a little easier in a cramped environment.