Location recording of non-live events has its pros and cons. On the pro side are natural acoustics, a unique sonic character that can give the recording a distinctive sound, prestige from the name of the facility, and sometimes lower rental costs. On the con side are external noises, little or no control over the early reflections and reverberation, difficulty isolating musical elements, and less than ideal control room monitoring conditions.
If the cons can be overcome, or ways to successfully deal with them found, good recordings can be made. These recordings do not have to be limited to just classical recordings, which typically are recorded in natural acoustics, or “live performance” environments. As an example, a 40-voice choir backed by piano, bass, and drums singing contemporary jazz-influenced music can be successfully recorded in a natural ambience.
The choir sound that one would naturally pick up in a church or concert hall using mic techniques associated with classical choral recording would have a significant amount of ambience and depth, suitable for that style of music, but not with the sort of warmth and presence that is associated with a contemporary “pop” sound. A good hall acoustic has a life and character that only the best studios can emulate, and so it is often worth finding a way to capture this sound.
Close-miking the choir would defeat the advantage of the hall by suppressing its natural attractive acoustic. Even the best cardioid pattern mics have significant colourations resulting from their uneven off-axis response, and these often do not compliment the room acoustics. A carefully-placed array of three or four omni mics over the choir can produce a natural-sounding pickup.
Make sure that choir members are as equally distant from the mics as possible, with the lower voices singing directly on-axis to the mic, and the higher voices projecting slightly below the 0-degree axis of the mics. The distance between the mic array and the choir will also depend on the ratio of direct to early reflection balance that sounds best. Use two additional omni mics placed behind the choir to pick up the warmth of the choir, and give additional boost to lower male voices, which tend to be more omni-directional.
Earl McCluskie is a producer/engineer and Owner of Chestnut Hall Music, a music production company based in the Waterloo region of Ontario. The company specializes in location CD recording, both live and session. Recent projects have included Vancouver-based composer Timothy Corlis with the DaCapo Chamber Singers and the Guelph Symphony Orchestra.