KEY TAKEAWAYS

1) Performance is #1. Perform confidently. Don't rush.

2) Experiment. With whatever devices/gear you have or are able to budget for, do some practice recordings. Then put on headphones, close your eyes, and listen from start to finish. If you hear distortion, that means you need to lower your input recording settings or you may need to back up a bit from your mic.

3) Know your surroundings. If you’re able to perform in a dry space, that’s ideal. For example, wood floors or any reflective rooms are bad. Blankets, carpets, clothes are all sound-absorbing, which is good!

4) Remind yourself to smile and have fun with it all !

Here's an example of an entire Virtual Choir process from start to finish

1)   Director chooses a song, let’s go with “Hallelujah.” First, the director must create or find a “guide track” .mp3 or a “conductor video.” There are many different ways, here are some examples:

i. create a guide track or conductor video by using your phone to record yourself (or your pianist) playing the piano accompaniment.

ii. search online for an existing karaoke instrumental backing track.

iii. search online for an existing MIDI instrumental backing track.

 

2)   Let’s say the Director chooses to go with a conductor video. At the beginning you will want some sort of audible “click” or “beep” countdown. For example, you could use a metronome app on a phone that beeps. Or you could even countdown yourself, speaking, “3, 2, 1 ‘clap!” and then clap your hands. This is to assist the post production folks, for getting everything aligned. After you do the countdown, allow at least 10 seconds of blank space. Then begin playing the accompaniment. I recommend that no one sing along while filming the conductor video. Speaking rhythmically is usually fine. But we’ve found that if a conductor tries singing one part, or combining parts as they go, it ultimately becomes really confusing for singers as they are trying to sing along.

 

3)   In this conductor video, we can hear the “Hallelujah” piano accompaniment in the background, and we can see the director conducting. The director then creates a personal Google Drive called “Hallelujah” and within this drive, she creates a few folders: “Singer Submissions” and “Documents.” Within the “Documents” folder, she uploads the conductor video, and the .pdf sheet music for her singers.

 

4)   Next, she sends the Google Drive link to her singers and explains the folders. The singers can then get to work. Here’s a guide for the singers:

 

Programs/Apps for Recording

i. If you have an external microphone and are familiar recording with it, by all means go for it! It will result in higher quality audio files.

ii. If you don’t have an external mic, no worries. A smartphone is the next best option.

iii. If your final presentation will have videos in it, then you need to use video-recording programs or apps to capture your performance. E.g., QuickTime, PhotoBooth, Microsoft’s ‘Camera’ program, ‘Camera’ apps on smartphones. There are lots more available online for free, for both Windows and Mac.  *Do NOT use Zoom.us to record. It is poor recording quality.

iv. If your final presentation will be audio-only, then you can use audio-recording programs or apps to capture your performance. E.g., “Voice Record Pro (developer: BejBej Apps).  “Voice Recorder - Record Unlimited Audio (developer: Raytecnoto).”

 

Audio Settings

For whichever recording program app or program you end up using, see if you can access the audio settings. If you can, ideally you want:

i. Format .WAV.  If .WAV is not available, then .mp3 320kbps is the next best option

ii. Sample Rate 48kHz.  If 48kHz is not available, then 44.1 kHz is the next best option.

 

General Guidance

i. Stand about 2-3 feet away from your recording device.

ii. VERY IMPORTANT. Do a practice recording. It doesn’t need to be the entire song, but it should be focused towards any section where you have to sing loud. Then put on headphones, close your eyes, and listen back. If you hear distortion, that means you need to lower your input recording settings or you may need to back up a bit from your mic.

iii. The importance of that step is this: once you know you are a safe distance from your recording device, then you can let loose! You can smile, sing dynamically and tear it up! Without worrying about if you’re being too loud.

iv. Video - make sure you are as well-lit as circumstances permit. Avoid open windows in the background if possible. A window in front or to one side provides nice, even lighting as long as the sun is beaming in directly.

v. Audio - if you’re able to perform in a dry space, that’s ideal. For example, wood floors or any reflective rooms are bad. Blankets, carpets, clothes are all sound-absorbing, which is good!

 

Instructions for Recording

i. You will need 2 devices. One for playback of the conductor video. One for recording yourself sing.

ii. On device #1, download/save the conductor video. Get it ready to play, but don’t start it yet. And do NOT plug your headphones in yet.

iii. On device #2, position it and begin video-recording yourself.

iv. On device, #1, begin playback of the conductor video. You will hear a countdown beep or clap. After you’ve heard the countdown finish, then plug your headphones in.  (“Why are we doing this?” “It’s to help the post production team line up everyone’s files”)

v. Your headphones are now in, and you can sing along with the song! Hooray!

vi. After the song is done, stop the recording. Save the file and label it neatly. E.g,. Soprano_Jane.  Tenor_John.

vii. Upload your recording to the “Singer Submissions” folder within the Google Drive your director provides you.

 

5) Once all the submissions are in and the submission window is closed, the Audio Engineer and Videographer will get to work, and will be in communication with the Director. They’ll all communicate closely to ensure everyone is on the same page (e.g., the positioning/panning, reverb/space requests, video style requests, etc.).

 

6) The Audio Engineer will send mixes to the Director for approval. For example, let’s say I send mix v1 to the Director and she would like the Basses much louder. I’ll raise the basses a bit and then send the director a mix v2 for her approval. Repeat the process until the mix is matching the director’s vision and is finalized.

 

7) Then you’re pretty much done. The Audio Engineer sends the final Master high quality .wav to the Videographer. And lastly the Videographer exports the final video for sharing.

Miscellaneous Tips & Tricks

Singing

★ If you have an external mic (USB or via audio interface), then you can use it with a recording program such as Logic Pro, Pro Tools, Garageband, Audacity, etc.

★ If you are using your regular devices, iPhones capture audio well. If you don’t have an iPhone, experiment with your other devices and programs (e.g., Android recording apps, PhotoBooth, Quicktime, Windows Camera, etc.) to determine which sounds the best.

★ Unless you are recording via audio interface, do NOT use Zoom.us. Even with “original audio enabled,” the quality is poor and generates gargles and other weird noises.

★ Experiment. For example, find the loudest section in your song and sing 1 foot away from your mic. Then put on headphones, close your eyes, and listen for any distortion. If you hear distortion, that means you need to lower your input recording settings or you may need to back up a bit from your mic.

★ If your mic is too close, the resulting sound may be "boomy" or bass-heavy. If your mic is too far, the resulting sound may be "thin" or treble-heavy.

 

Guitars and Bass Guitar

★ The same notes in ‘Singing’ apply for recording guitars.

★ Acoustic Guitar: a good starting point is to position your mic about 1 foot away from your sound-hole. Then angle the mic to face the 12th fret. Always experiment to determine what sounds best to you.

★ Live electric guitar and bass guitar: you may want your mic as close as 1 inch from your amp speaker. Or 1 foot. It’s entirely up to you! The captured sound also varies based on whether the mic is facing the center of the speaker cone, or the side. Always experiment to determine what sounds best to you.

★ Direct-input electric guitar and bass guitar: you need an audio interface + a recording program (e.g., Logic, Pro Tools, Audacity, Garageband) + amp-simulator plugin (e.g., IK Multimedia Amplitube, NI Guitar Rig 5 Pro, Waves GTR3).

 

Drums

★ Live drums in your room/apartment: record in Stereo if possible. Some iPhones can record in Stereo. Ideally you’d want to do some research online for recording devices (e.g., Zoom H5 handheld recorder). Or if you have multiple external mics and an audio interface with multiple inputs, great! Go for it!

★ Live drums in your room/apartment: the Ride cymbal in particular can cause some harsh brightness/hiss sometimes. Like I’m reiterating over and over, be sure to do some practice recordings and listen back, then adjust settings or mic proximity to your set.

★ Electronic drumkit: You can capture the MIDI data for the kit as a whole, or separated into multiple tracks (e.g., kick, snare, tom1, tom2, ride, etc.). From there, you can apply your own sample libraries if you are comfortable, or work with your mixing engineer.

 

Piano

★ Live piano in your room/apartment: record in Stereo if possible. Some iPhones can record in Stereo. Ideally you’d want to do some research online for recording devices (e.g., Zoom H5 handheld recorder). Or if you have multiple external mics and an audio interface with multiple inputs, great! Go for it!

★ MIDI piano: you can capture the MIDI data and then apply your own sample libraries if you are comfortable, or work with your mixing engineer.

 

Other Instruments

★ Determine whether you'd like to record them in Mono or Stereo. If stereo, some iPhones can record in Stereo. Ideally you’d want to do some research online for recording devices (e.g., Zoom H5 handheld recorder). Or if you have multiple external mics and an audio interface with multiple inputs, great! Go for it!

★ Like I’m reiterating over and over, be sure to do some practice recordings and listen back, then adjust settings or mic proximity to your instrument. If your mic is too close, the resulting sound may be "boomy" or bass-heavy. If your mic is too far, the resulting sound may be too "thin" or treble-heavy.

 

Audio/Video discrepancies

Let’s say you and your friends all record using the same backing track .mp3. Then from your video recordings, you extract the audio files so that you can deliver them to your audio engineer. All of your extracted audio files should ideally align with each other, which is good!  BUT, 99% of the time, your extracted audio files will NOT align with the backing track .mp3. Why is that? It’s because video programs all have different codecs and frame rate calculation algorithms, so your audio file (captured in the video recording program) gets subtly stretched or shortened.

 

The important takeaway: make sure everyone records using the exact same backing track (or “conducting video” if a virtual choir).

 

Note that, if you plan to provide your audio engineer with the MIDI recordings you made for your backing track (to ultimately blend MIDI recordings + virtual performance recordings), those will likely NOT align with audio files that are extracted from your video performances.

 

Processing and Exporting

★ “Should I apply EQ and/or Compression directly on the original signal?" “Should I apply EQ and/or Compression on the file before sending it to the mixing engineer?” …it depends on your confidence. If you are fully confident and like how it sounds, go for it. Alternatively, you could send your audio engineer two versions of a file, one with no processing, and one with your processing.

★ “Should I send the audio engineer all instruments as separate tracks, or grouped together as ‘stems’ (e.g., drums, guitars, vocals, bass)?”  Communicate with your engineer. If they are doing a complete mix, they will likely want all individual tracks. If they are doing more of a mastering-mixing, then they might just want the stems.

 

Coordinating and Organizing everything

★ With your fellow performers, agree on an upload structure and process. For example, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.

★ If you’re recording using external mics (so that you'll have both audio and video recordings), create an Audio Files folder and a Video Files folder.

★ Label your files neatly! Super important. E.g., “Soprano_Jane” “Tenor_John” “GuitarElectric" "GuitarAcoustic"

★ If you’re recording using devices/phones/computers instead of external mics, determine who will be responsible for extracting the audio files from the video performances.

© Timothy Charles Fehling 2020