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All Things Audio
Everything Audio, from acquisition to postproduction.

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Old January 5th, 2007, 04:10 PM   #1
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Join Date: Jan 2007
Location: SLC, UT
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Live Recording

Here's my problem. I have the task of shooting all the plays and musical performances at my school. I'm then supposed to take that footage, edit it, and slap it onto a DVD, which then becomes the master for copying about 50. It just doesn't cut it for me. I need the process to become more streamlined.

The setup: 3 DV 3-CCD cameras which have shotgun mics attached to each, but most of the audio is pulled from mine, since I have the best mic. Nothing to do with audio, but we were thinking of getting a digital vision mixer to streamline the video process. That isn't where the huge problem lies though...

The problem: The theater has a soundboard with which we tried hooking up a computer to its line out. It was outputting from the master track, so we had stage audio and music. We plug in the line out cable to the line in on the Mac mini. On the Mac mini I had installed Audacity, and hooked up an external hard drive. From previous tests, I gathered the Audacity would not stop recording unless it ran out of disk space. I was wrong.

I had noticed Audacity did not run as smoothly as it did when recording on a Mac than it did on Windows. This might have something to do with why it stopped recording about 1 hour into the performance (performance was 3 hours)! I tried restarting it again at intermission, but it still stopped shortly thereafter.

Also, I don't know if it can be calibrated to a tooth, but Audacity has such high recording levels, and the mic sensitivity slider doesn't seem to work too well. So most of what we did get was blown out at times.

The question: How in the world can I record the master audio track from the soundboard, clearly and painlessly, without spending any money? Or if money, not more than 250 dollars?
Zack Helmintoller is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 5th, 2007, 11:06 PM   #2
Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: Scottsdale, AZ 85260
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Some thoughs from someone who's been there.


Recording audio at school events is IMHO one of the hardest and most annoying tasks on the planet. It's not thankless - LOTS of people will thank you effusively for your efforts. But it's also difficult by nature. I spent years in radio broadcasting and decades recording audio - have a studio full of equiment, and my son's school had much better than average gear. With all that going, I still struggled to get good audio recordings. His soon to be high school, hearing that I knew something about audio called me in to consult on a revamp - we ended up with 15 wireless rigs and an audio que sheet that ended up looking like the dead sea scrolls. A "mini" version of a broadway approach of bodypacks and lavs on EVERYONE.

You typically have bunches of subjects. (most school plays specialize in giving EVERY kid a speaking role, often with individual and small groups of voices popping up all over the physical stage. In the typical school, you'll likely have a couple of pre-war AT "choir-mic" condensors hanging from the fly loft. Pray that the fly crew doesn't mistake their cue and pull time 50 feet up during scene 1. Oh, and probably a couple of stand mounted SM58's on stage. And count on the fact that when little Jenny with the soft voice is speaking she'll be 42 feet from the nearest pickup element - while foghorn Johnny will EAT the stand mike and SHOUT his lines.

Your next challenge is that if you patch from the house mixer, that will be mixed for the house. Not for your recording. They may decide they need MORE piano support for the audience, while your camera feed already has TOO MUCH piano. And on and on and on.

If quality is your goal, try to keep your recording rig separate from house sound and as simple as possible.

If you really want any control in post, you need to record to multi-track keeping as many separate channels as possible. ISO the piano or music source. ISO the narrator/narrators, star, or anyone else critical with wireless lavs. Then take the best pair of mics you can find, Omni's if the crowd is old enough to stay quiet, cardiods or short shotguns (aligned so the null diminishes the crowd if it's full of noisy kids) - to cover the general stage for all the misc dialog from the minor characters.

Six tracks is about the minimum you'll need if you want to do it like this. The more the better.

The other approach is to just use a coincident pair or X-Y stereo pair and hope for the best.

Note: "choir" mics evenly spaced overhead will pretty much guarantee that soloists Mikey and Helen will perform in the precise locations that induce the worst possible comb filtering - kinda a Murphys law of stage audio.

The problem is that you simply can't EVER beat the physics of sound. And that starts and ends with the inverse square principal. Unless you get your mics CLOSE to the actors, you'll NEVER get real quality sound.

THIS is why Broadway uses multiple isolated lavs. 20 actors feed the board with consistent levels and a decent signal to noise ratio, virtually impossible to get with mics placed yards away - and someone with a brain is responsible for mixing it properly.

Bottom line: This is a challenge of mic TECHNIQUE - not really of what hardware you use to record stuff.

Bless you for your efforts. You'll learn a LOT if you keep at it. And like I noted above, you'll earn lots of kudos from everyone if you get them decent results.
Bill Davis is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 5th, 2007, 11:20 PM   #3
Join Date: Jan 2004
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On review, I never really answered your question.

The cheapest way to do this is to use XLR "Y" splitter cables. They turn one feed into two. Use one side of the split to replace the original house PA feed, and run the other to your camera location.

At your camera you'll probably need to pad the signal down to mic level from line level unless your camcorder already has XLR mic inputs. Companies like Beachtek and Studio One make cool little units that take XLR balanced in and feed a stereo unbalanced padded signal right to your camcorders mic input.

Or you can use a cheaper inline "line to mic level pad" and XLR to mini adapters.

But remember, you'll be recording something mixed for the crowd. Not mixed for your recording. Good luck.
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Old January 5th, 2007, 11:44 PM   #4
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Zack -I did this recently and got decent results.. I'm not 1/100th, if that, of the expert that these guys are, but here's what I did (this was 2 live performances at my kids shows).

- Mono feed from mixer board.. line out (1/4 from an aux. send) into a passive direct box which sent XLR out which I fed to my cam..manual gain control on the cam.

- Set up my own mikes, studio projects B1s (large diaphram condenser mikes) ( ).. 1 in the center stage, and 1 each on the left and right of stage where we had bleachers for the other kids (chorus). Mixed these down to 2 channels and recorded in a CF recorder. The mikes were ~100 each and for little money I thought were very good.

- the other channel on my cam was a shotgun, but probably the wrong mike, and I didn't end up using it.

I used a combination of the sound board feed and my 2 channels for the sound, and it sounds decent. The only wrinkle which I have to figure out is what may be some type of phase cancellation or other effect between the mikes connected to the sound board and my mikes which gives a barely noticable but odd sine wave type of attenuation to audience noise (or maybe b/c it's from the rear of the cardiod mikes..not sure yet).

If you only have a little bit to spend, maybe you pick up 2 mikes and feed one each into one of the channels in one of your cams up front and use those in post, and then figure out your sound board problems, either fix the PC approach, or buy an inexpensive direct box and feed one channel (or two) on one of your cams.

This might work and also might be in your approx. budget.

Maybe more of the experts can chime in on this approach.

Good luck!
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