Several methods of recording musical demonstrations exist at the University of Washington. This document is an attempt to outline and explain these various techniques and their applications, as well as point out some potential problems that may arise when using them. As such, it is broken into two general sections: one for larger ensembles (Chamber Singers, UW Concert Band, Jazz Combos) and one for small ensembles (Undergraduate Vocal Jazz Ensemble, Jazz Lab Bands). While each section has a specific focus, the information contained in both should be useful to those looking to record smaller-scale music as well.
This document is meant as a general guide and does not claim to be all-inclusive. There may be additional microphones or mixers not included here, and there may exist alternative uses for some of the equipment mentioned herein.
The goal of this document is to provide a resource by which any department member who wishes to record a musical demonstration can get an idea of what is available and how specific pieces of equipment work. As such, the most relevant information regarding each piece of equipment is included; extraneous information (in particular, owner’s manuals) has been omitted.
Microphone Setups for Ensembles
OVERVIEW: The UW Music Department makes several types of microphones available for ensembles to use when recording their concerts. Microphones are available both in the Music Building and at Meany Hall.
It is important to recognize that there are many ways to place microphones when recording an ensemble, and that no single place or number of mics will work for all possible arrangements. What follows are four types of microphone setups commonly used by the UW Department, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The purpose of this document is to provide a resource for those interested in recording an ensemble; while we cannot recommend one particular setup over another, we hope that the explanations and illustrations included here will put users on the right track.
LARGE ENSEMBLES: SECTIONAL MIC SETUP (WITHOUT OVERHEADS)
In this setup, a single dynamic cardioid microphone is used to pick up each individual section of an ensemble. This technique requires that the ensemble be divided into sections which play at different times from one another. When done correctly, this allows for each section to have its own isolated recording track. The primary advantage of this setup is that it allows for a very clear recording of each individual section with minimal leakage from other sections. The primary disadvantage is that when done without overhead microphones, the recording can lack sonic depth and contrast between soloists and accompaniment. This method is most commonly used by the UW Concert Band when recording its concerts.
Before going into detail about how this setup works, it is worth mentioning a few items which have been addressed in previous versions of this document. At one point, there was a “choke” cable connected from the microphone to the mixer–the purpose of this cable being to cut any signal sent through it. In theory, this would allow for only the section with the microphone to be heard on the recording. In practice, this didn’t always work as expected, and was eventually removed. When used carefully (i.e., not making sudden changes in dynamics), muting is no longer necessary, as the cardioid dynamic microphone will pick up only the section directly in front of it; if an ensemble is playing very loudly in comparison to the other sections, it may be necessary to turn down the level on that microphone.
HEADSET MICROPHONES: SECTIONS WITHOUT CHORUS
When recording UW Chamber Singers or Jazz Combos without a choir or rhythm section behind them, “headset” microphones are used. For each ensemble, six cardioid condenser microphones are placed around the ensemble and pointed towards one another. The six mics all feed into a mixer which is, in turn, connected to a single stereo channel on the portable recorder.
The main advantage of this setup is that it is extremely flexible and can be used to record a number of different ensemble types. The main disadvantage is the tendency for the stereo image to sound strange when played back on headphones or small speakers (i.e., the directional nature of cardioid mics makes it difficult to accurately reproduce where each instrument is in the stereo field).