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Old April 29th, 2011, 01:31 PM   #1
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Concert Advice

I'll be videoing a solo pianist who will also be singing. I normally do lower end dance recitals where I just record the ambient coming from the speakers in the auditorium. mic on a boom stand. I'm be meeting with the performer and stage manager next week and just wanted to be sure of the optimal way to record. Apparently he will want the footage to promote his tour and wants it done right. I was thinking wireless lav and table mic on piano or letting stage manager set up the audio and plug into his board recording the ambient to one channel and the board to the other and mix it post.
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Old April 29th, 2011, 02:18 PM   #2
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Re: Concert Advice

I'm assuming this is a grand piano. I would advise you to put the lid on half stick (unless the singer has a really weak voice). Then place a stereo pair of mics, about five feet away from the opening, at a height midway between the top of the piano body and the lid, aimed horizontally or slightly downward into the "curve" of the piano, toward the strings. That should give you a reasonable piano pickup. Not sure what you mean by "table mic" but any sort of desk stand sitting on the piano will pick up all sorts of unwanted vibrations and thumps from the mechanism.

You will want another good mic, on a boom, for the vocal mic. Unless you have an exceptionally good lav, it will not do as well as a large diaphragm condenser for the vocals. Be sure you have adequate wind/pop protection on the mic. Also, run it wired, as that will give you cleaner audio than any wireless will. Position of this mic will depend on the style of singing. If the singer is classical/operatic and can really project, you can back the mic off a foot or 18" and probably get good pickup (just watch out for too much bleed from the piano). If it's a "lounge" type of singer who's used to swallowing a cheap vocal mic like an SM58, you may have to deal with that differently.

Mixing in some ambience might help, depending on your desired effect. Again, it's partly a question of what sort of music this is. If the performer normally works in an auditorium setting with little or no amplification, then the clients will probably expect to hear some reverb in the recording. If the performer normally works in a more intimate setting like a lounge, the client may expect a more intimate, dryer sound.

If possible take some reasonable speakers, or at least a set of really good phones, and let the performer and stage manager listen to a few trial takes. You will save yourself a lot of grief and possibly a re-recording session, if everyone can agree on the sound from the get-go.
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Old April 29th, 2011, 03:17 PM   #3
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Re: Concert Advice

The performance is described as "features nine original piano compositions, along with a spoken narrative". The lapel mic might be needed if he gets up and walks around. Thx Greg
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Old April 29th, 2011, 03:20 PM   #4
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Re: Concert Advice

There are 101 ways (and counting!) to mic a grand piano. It's not an easy instrument to record because of the quick percussive attack and the potential for getting a lot of mechanical noise - also the physical size of the instrument presents some problems/opportunities. A lot of commercial recordings tend to spread the stereo image out (ie bass to the left treble to the right, which is how the pianist would hear it,) but I've never liked that effect. Piano can put a lot of demands on your recording equipment - I've often heard "ringing" when using lower end gear.

What Greg recommended is a good starting point, but I think it will take some (a lot) of experimentation to get the sound you (the artist/client) want.

I sometimes find that even on half stick some pianos (especially a 9 foot concert grand) will overwhelm a vocal or a violinist. Also, some pianos don't even have a half stick, just low and high. Heck I've sometimes had to make up some felt covered wooden spacers when even low stick was too much for the soloist. And the lower the lid, the harder it is to get the mic's aimed right.

I usually try to cover both soloist and piano with a single stereo pair IF I can fid a spot that makes it work. Getting an additional mic on the singer/pianist can be problematic because they tend to move around a lot while playing. But it all depends on the genre - more movement for classical, but less likely that a classical pianist will be singing. (Unless it was Glenn Gould singing along with Bach!) Club performers are probably used to singing into a mic while playing and can restrict their movement accordingly.

I sometimes find that having the stereo pair fairly high (ie above what might be the sweet spot "looking in" to the piano) can work OK - you may have to decide whether the vocal or the piano sound take precedence and position accordingly.

My wife was once a concert pianist and still performs occasionally so this is a subject near and dear to my heart. She ALWAYS has an opinion about the recording and her concept of how it should sound is not always the same as my concept. But the performer ALWAYS wins! Be forewarned!!!!!

And have fun!
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Old April 29th, 2011, 03:32 PM   #5
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Re: Concert Advice

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Originally Posted by Jim Andrada View Post
I usually try to cover both soloist and piano with a single stereo pair IF I can fid a spot that makes it work.
Jim, that has to be tough! If you mic from the usual position (curved side) the soloist (at the keyboard) will end up pretty hard to the left channel. That might, indeed, be what the audience would hear, but I'd bet the soloist wouldn't like that.

It makes my head spin, just thinking about this one.
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Old April 29th, 2011, 04:00 PM   #6
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Re: Concert Advice

I'm wondering if you couldn't go with a wired lav into a little Zoom for the vocals. Seems to me you want the vocals as separate from the piano as possible, so you can really tweak levels independently and pan either to your heart's content.

If it were me I'd go strictly mono for the final mix, but as you all know I know nothing about sound...
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Old April 29th, 2011, 04:22 PM   #7
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Re: Concert Advice

A wired lav is omni pattern, and will pick up everything.

This video below doesn't show the performance, but will give you an idea of the sound I got with the following mic placement. For a person sitting at the piano singing I used a large diaphragm condenser right in front of their mouth(must have pop filter or foam), and set to "cardioid" to reject the piano. It was a baby grand, and I put a simple Rode NT-4 stereo mic inside with the top up, and pointing at the strings from about 1.5 -- 2 feet up. Simple. If you don't have a stereo mc you'll need to rig up 2 mics in the piano.

YouTube - Dragonfly Estate


There may be better ways, but this is simple, and if the piano is in good shape it will sound nice without too many squeaks.
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Old April 29th, 2011, 04:26 PM   #8
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Re: Concert Advice

If you search "Piano recording techniques" on youtube you'll get lots of ideas.

YouTube - Audio Recording Techniques : How to Mic a Piano
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Old April 29th, 2011, 04:43 PM   #9
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Re: Concert Advice

Not all of them good :-)

EDIT
Chad: yes that link is good - sorry to appear negative; however when I did a YouTube search as suggested a lot of other stuff came up as well which was of rather uneven quality. But that's what you get with YouTube I suppose.

Last edited by Colin McDonald; April 30th, 2011 at 02:53 AM. Reason: Clarifying unhelpful comment
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Old April 29th, 2011, 05:32 PM   #10
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Re: Concert Advice

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pete Cofrancesco View Post
The performance is described as "features nine original piano compositions, along with a spoken narrative". The lapel mic might be needed if he gets up and walks around. Thx Greg
Exert a little control over the situation if you can -- don't let the guy walk around!

Lavs are not a first choice, they are instead a last resort. Lavs usually don't sound right for singing because of the position on the chest and the distance from the mouth. This is one of the reasons it's usually a PITA to intercut lavs with boom mics for dialog. It's even worse for singing.
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Old April 29th, 2011, 06:49 PM   #11
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Re: Concert Advice

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Originally Posted by Adam Gold View Post
I'm wondering if you couldn't go with a wired lav into a little Zoom for the vocals.
Aside from the other reasons for not using a lav, this one scares me. The lav will surely pick up some bleed from the piano. If the lav is recorded on a Zoom, the sample rate will be slightly different from the sample rate for the piano's recorder. It will be a real challenge to fix that when you mix down. You will have to keep the piano in phase between the two recorders, and that is a much smaller tolerance than just keeping two different recorders in tolerable lip sync. If the recorders wander around in time, it could cause flanging which wanders around too... not pretty.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Gold View Post
If it were me I'd go strictly mono for the final mix, but as you all know I know nothing about sound...
Out of curiosity, why? I'd think the piano would sound a lot more open and realistic in stereo.
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Old April 29th, 2011, 06:58 PM   #12
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Re: Concert Advice

@Greg

Sorry, I need to describe it better. Have to run to rehearsal now, I'll have a shot at it later when I get back.
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Old April 29th, 2011, 07:05 PM   #13
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Re: Concert Advice

See, I told you I didn't really know anything. Seems to me the Zoom could be a variety of sampling rates so there's no reason you couldn't match it to whatever other recording devices you have. And I'd go mono because, frankly, that's how most audience members would hear it if they were there. Really a single point of sound from the stage. Not like an orchestra. Silly in my mind to have the lower keys in one ear and the higher ones in another, as the audience never sits on the bench with the performer.

But again, what do I know? Except I do know there are cardioid lavs and for a spoken narrative are likely to be just fine.

With all due respect to the audio experts who clearly know much more than I do, talking about phase and flanging issues in situations like this is like saying the Titanic needs a new coat of paint. It may well, but that really isn't your biggest problem right now.
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Old April 29th, 2011, 07:41 PM   #14
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Re: Concert Advice

I like hearing all your opinions although I'm some what constrained by my budget and my equipment. I don't own a large diaphragm + accessories or a stereo pair. I have an Octava MK12 for ambient, AudioTechnica wired/wireless lavs, table mic, and H4N recorder. I can imagine using H4N for the piano and using the board's feed from the singer's dynamic mic. Wireless lav might be good form of backup that I can turn up on a separate channel on my mixer for the narrative sections. In my mind his voice should be the priority but I'll defer to the performers preference. Having him listen to test sample of rehearsal to avoid surprises sounds like a good plan.

I imagine the stage manager will only have dynamic mics, one for the voice and the other for the piano.
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Old April 29th, 2011, 09:22 PM   #15
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Re: Concert Advice

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Originally Posted by Adam Gold View Post
Seems to me the Zoom could be a variety of sampling rates so there's no reason you couldn't match it to whatever other recording devices you have.
It's much more complicated that that. Assume that you have two recorders, each one set to a 48kHz sampling rate. Each recorder derives that rate from an internal crystal oscillator. But no two crystal oscillators are exactly the same. (That's why a camera and a recorder will "walk out of sync" over a period of 10, 15, 20 minutes.) One recorder might actually be running at 48,002Hz; the other one at 47,997Hz.

I've often seen it said that some recorders walk out of sync by 1 frame (roughly 1/30 second) in 15 minutes of running time. OK, let's assume that 3 minutes is a reasonable length for one song. That is 1/5 of the above stated 15 minutes; so the sync error would be roughly 1/5 of 1/30 second, or 1/150 second. In terms of lip sync, that's not noticeable. But in terms of mixing music tracks from two different recorders, when the sync difference is that great, it's serious. 1/150 second is half a cycle at 75Hz, so you will have complete cancellation at 75Hz, and at 225Hz, 375Hz, 525Hz, etc... a fairly significant comb filter on up through the audio band. And, since the error is different at different points in that 3-minute take, these filtered frequencies will be changing continuously. You really don't want to create that problem.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Gold View Post
And I'd go mono because, frankly, that's how most audience members would hear it if they were there. Really a single point of sound from the stage.
With all due respect, I wholeheartedly disagree. That's like saying a 3-dimensional object looks the same whether you look at it with one eye or two. You'd be surprised (apparently) at how much stereo information your ears will perceive in that situation. Not only stereo information about the piano and soloist, but even moreso about the reverberation in the room. Go to a concert hall with good acoustics, have someone play a piano center stage. Stand 15' away, listen with both ears, then plug one ear with your finger and listen for a while; switch back and forth. You will hear a huge difference. Or play a good solo piano CD on a good stereo, and flip the mode switch between mono and stereo... please try this, I think you will find it to be very educational.

Unless you know the final product will be played only in mono, you should definitely mic and mix in stereo.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Gold View Post
Silly in my mind to have the lower keys in one ear and the higher ones in another, as the audience never sits on the bench with the performer.
I agree with you there. If you use the mic technique I described (or Jim Andrada, etc.) you will not hear the lower keys in one ear and higher keys in the other. You will get a fairly accurate representation of what a listener would hear if he were located near (or a little farther away from) the mic position.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Gold View Post
talking about phase and flanging issues in situations like this is like saying the Titanic needs a new coat of paint. It may well, but that really isn't your biggest problem right now.
That's a cute saying, but I don't think it's a valid analogy. In the Titanic example, you already have insurmountable problems, and you are talking about something (paint) that will have no effect on the problems.

In the point under discussion, we have no problems so far. We are trying to lay out some suggestions and procedure that will avoid problems. (We are not talking about the color of the paint on the piano, we are talking about recording the sound of the piano.)

Phase and flanging are not a problem at all right now! So let's not adopt a technique -- using two separate recorders with two separate time bases -- that will introduce this new problem.

--

All of the above is based on Pete's original description that the pianist is also singing. If that is not the case -- if he plays for a while, then stops playing and talks for a while, etc. -- then using a lapel mic with a separate recorder would work OK. But it will create a huge mess if the musician is playing and singing at the same time.
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