Space & Time
As with any instrument that derives from a spacious environment, it is integral that you consider the most appropriate space before recording begins. There are many options, but ultimately it depends on the purpose of the recording as well as the budget, facilities and resources at your disposal for the project.
For large ensembles, 90% of the recording quality is in microphone placement and appropriate acoustics. The material a room is built out of has a major effect on the tone of the recording, for example the coloration of the dissipating reverb tail and the actual quality of a vocal performance. Churches are a natural workspace for a choir for a number of reasons. The stone structure of the church, the large dimensions and the often curved and angled roofs favor a strong but dissipating reverb texture which is perfect for choirs. Have you ever considered why vocalists enjoy singing within a reverberated space so much?
Vocalists use reverb for two things, the first being phrasing and the second being pitch control. The reverb generated in a large space is hugely helpful to a vocal ensemble because the tail allows them to phrase their music efficiently and to breathe more appropriately between sections. The dissipating tail glues the parts together giving the appearance of a connected melodic phrase. If you are trying to get that live cathedral-esque sound, then the best bet is to choose that setting for the recording. Ultimately it is about getting the best performance and if that requires keeping the singers in their most natural surrounding, then so be it.
Alternatively, if you have no major space available to you, then consider the tone and quality of the space you do have. Is it up to the level you want sonically? Does the room’s resonance negatively affect the overall sound? Does the room need to be isolated and removed? Experimenting with both performer positioning and acoustic baffling is very important and the next step in solving acoustical issues before physical recording begins. Trying to solve an acoustical error in post can be difficult and troublesome, pushing you into the realm of noise removal, mid side processing, de-verbing an other digital surgical remedies. As with all audio, solving the issue at source will ultimately save you a lot of time.
Many recording studios have both a live space and a dead space. If you are committed to emulating a better space digitally in the mix, then focus on isolating the singers from the room. Placing singers in the section of the live room with the least reflections is one way to mitigate the effects of the room.
Part 3 to come.
Denis Kilty is an Irish music producer, songwriter and composer for commercial and game music, based in Dublin City. – www.deniskilty.com