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Old March 15th, 2008, 08:29 AM   #1
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Recording Choir in Africa

Hi,

I will be traveling to Malawi in Africa in June 2008. I will be filming a doco there, and while I'm there I am working with one of the large churches to record their choir. The goal being to use the recording of several of their songs to produce a basic CD that could be sold for a small amount to raise funds etc. The music would also be used in some areas of the DVD Documentary as background music.

The choir would perform songs that are both accompanied by music or without music. Size of choir could be between 20-40 people.

As far as equipment goes, I currently am looking to buy the necessary equipment for this task.

I am also wondering what would be the best way to record them. We won't have access to any sound recording studios etc, so I will be improvising almost. It will probably be in a hall that is missing some walls or something!

I will have my macbookpro with me, so if there is some compact mixing board that can be opearted via USB or something would be excellent. I will also be recording through HDV video camera (Z7).

Budget for equipment would be between $500 and $1000 and can't be too heavy as I need to take over there with my luggage and will also be taking all my video gear plus laptop.

Any advice would be appreciated for this project as it will be a new learning experience for me and I want to ensure I am as prepared as possible.

Thanks,
Matt
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Old March 15th, 2008, 09:10 PM   #2
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What do you have for suitable mics or would you purchase those, too?

Will you have power available on location or do you need something to run off batteries?
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Old March 16th, 2008, 06:55 AM   #3
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Hey Doug, thanks for the reply.

I will potentially have to buy mics. I only really have shot guns or a SM58.

Not too sure about power. I'd rather not have to rely on it too much incase I'm in an area where I have to rely on batteries. I will have access to recharge batteries ok.

Thanks.
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Old March 16th, 2008, 09:14 AM   #4
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I almost can't believe that I'm saying this but - If I was doing it and I did not have an M/S or crossed pair with me, I would try and get the Sony PCM D50 in the right place and use that. Take a mini tripod. A thread adapter to fit a mic stand would help as rigging it in position is critical. Especially in a church where there might be a lot of space. If it was up in the air and well placed with adequate wind shielding then it could do the job for you. I'm still loving mine.

Ideally of course there are better solutions such as a Schoeps M/S pair or Nuemann KMi crossed pair or three spaced mic's across the front of stage.

Walls missing means good wind shields for mic's.

Your budget is very small. An alternative would be two or three NT1a's with the laptop and an interface. OK realistically two NT1a's and a stereo usb interface. Take a stereo bar for the mic's and hope to find a mic stand. Those mics are big though. I would not want my macbookpro out in the field though.
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Old March 17th, 2008, 03:28 AM   #5
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since your budget is pretty small and you want to keep it lightweight, you might want to buy the best matched pair of condenser mics you can afford, and consider recording direct to the camera (assuming it has phantom power).
i know the better option would be recording to the laptop with a firewire powered interface with decent mic pres into a program like protools LE, but this is more cash and if you aren't that familiar with recording, it introduces more things that can go wrong...
maybe keep it simple, find the best spot for the mics in an xy cross (so you don't have phase problems) and make sure the levels don't peak. also, listen very closely through a good set of headphones for the best mic placement and for unwanted noise. you can bring the recording into a program later, and if you captured the sound well, you have the luxury to learn and experiment without pressure.
i know i've captured some decent sound direct to my XH-A1, and when brought into pro tools after for compression, eq, effects etc., i've been very happy with the results.
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Old March 17th, 2008, 05:04 AM   #6
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Which model camera is it? The HDV one I used beforer sounded very poor so watch out for that.
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Old March 17th, 2008, 05:37 AM   #7
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500 to a grand isnt just a whole lot to spend on an audio setup...

That said, I am consistantly blown away by my roland r-09. Its about the size of an ipod, records 24bit audio and has a pair of built in microphones that have absolutely astonished me several times.

Clearly, a pair of pro mics and a killer preamp and a multitrack recorder can yield better results. However, even though I own the more expensive gear, I often whip out the r-09 for its sheer simplicity and convenience. Point it, set your levels, hit record and viola, you have a really low noise stereo recording that sounds exactly like the area where you placed it. I've used my r-09 as a plant mic, interview mic, protection audio for "straight to camera" setups, you name it. Slap a lavalier on it and slip it in a pocket and you have protection audio for critical interviews.

Its around $400, which could be really high or really cheap depending on your perspective. I personally think its a bargain and no matter what video i'm working on, I'll always drag it along.

Anyways, its a bit out of the box, but may be useful as a different direction for you to consider. No matter which option you go with, $400 is pretty cheap for a second/backup system.

just a thought,
-a
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Old March 17th, 2008, 06:17 AM   #8
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I had assumed the device Jimmy referred to was a pcm mic. I did a search after I posted and saw that it was sony's new handheld recorder.

Featurewise, it blows my r-09 away, and the guys at taperssection appear to have given it a thumbs up audio-wise, which is no small accomplishment.

So, if my post inspired you to consider the r-09, then let me suggest you look at the pcm-d50. Its bigger than the r-09, but everything else about it seems to blow away all the other handheld recorders.

Dammit. now i want one.
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Old March 17th, 2008, 07:00 AM   #9
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Thanks for the replies. I will look into those suggestions.

If need be I may have to extend my budget in this area to ensure I have the correct gear.

I also wasn't sure of USB powered inputs, such as the ones offered by m-audio, does anyone have any experience with them?
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Old March 17th, 2008, 11:16 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrew Dean View Post
Its bigger than the r-09, but everything else about it seems to blow away all the other handheld recorders.
.
Yes it is a bit chunky but sounds very good.

I would like to check the R-9 out. I thought about it but saw this Sony was coming out. Someone here at DVi I think was on about it.
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Old March 17th, 2008, 08:38 PM   #11
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I recently purchased the Sony PCM D50. It's a great unit!

My boys have a choir rehearsal this evening. One of them is ill, so I need to record anyway. (Can't get behind in this group!) I'll post a segment for you later if you are interested in the quality of the D50 for choirs.
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Old March 17th, 2008, 10:57 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Doug Lange View Post
I recently purchased the Sony PCM D50. It's a great unit!

My boys have a choir rehearsal this evening. One of them is ill, so I need to record anyway. (Can't get behind in this group!) I'll post a segment for you later if you are interested in the quality of the D50 for choirs.
I would like to hear it. Thanks!
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Old March 18th, 2008, 09:56 PM   #13
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Here is one sample of a choir rehearsal recorded with the Sony PCM D50 portable recorder. The unit was placed on a tripod about 78 inches off the floor and about 12 feet in front of the choir. The recording was made in a church sanctuary, which is a wooden structure A frame. The choir stood on a hardwood flooring, which is evident in the recording. You will be able to hear the ventilation in the recording. Its just the sound of staying warm in Alaska;-)

The mics were in the 90 configuration. Although the limiter was on, the recording level was only at about 3.5. In this way, I was able to casually test the low level recording capabilities of the D50.

I didn't process the audio in any way other than creating an mp3. The .wav file is about 4.7 MB, while the mp3 is 500KB.

http://web.mac.com/dlange/
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Last edited by Doug Lange; March 18th, 2008 at 11:16 PM.
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Old March 19th, 2008, 01:33 AM   #14
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Some lovely voices in there Doug.

Matt, for your budget and the choir, IMO get a Sony HI-MD minidisc recorder and an Audio Technica AT822 stereo mic, total cost around $A400. If you can afford it get a safety set.

You also need a mic boom that'll go up to about 9-10 feet and a good pair of closed headphones.

Check the venue As Soon As Possible and if it's unsuitable ask to see another, but the most comfortable one for a choir is usually where they rehearse. Ideally you want a medium reverberant hall, with the choir in the middle, balancing any percussion will be a job.

Check for possible noises that might intrude from outside, generators, trucks, aircraft etc.

If you've got a good ear, listen carefully to them in sections and politely ask the conductor to ask the tuneless to step down. A gig like this gets the chiefs relatives thinking they can sing, be very careful. Be prepared to let the conductor hear the good takes. Record everything, rehearsals the lot.

A suitable CD is about 30-40mins and a choir like this usually needs about 2 sessions. Follow the conductor he'll know when they've had enough.

Take boxes of cheap Biro pens that click, they love 'em. I took some from IGA.

Cheers.
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Old March 19th, 2008, 03:02 AM   #15
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I'm a little curious...
Who is the 'they' that 'love' the pens that 'click'?
Christians? Choir singers? the relatives of 'chiefs'??? 'AFRICANS'??????

i think asking anyone to 'step down' would be in poor taste. If someone really is tone deaf, get creative with their positioning. I'd rather work a little harder to get a good recording than hurt anyone's feelings... i would think the point is to capture however they sing as best as you can, and leave the musical decisions to the musicians... i'm glad that some producer somewhere 'allowed' Bob Dylan to 'sing'... (ok, that's an extreme example...)
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