Mic'ing choirs or drums

(Video transcript) Hi. Paul Donovan here from AVTechnician.ca Thanks for watching my channel. This is the channel where we're giving tips and tricks to AV technicians and those who would like to be an AV Technician.

Today we are going talk about mic'ing the choir or acoustical instruments such as drums. Here's the challenge. You've got a choir, say 50 voice, that you want to mic them up because they are going to be performing somewhere. If you are lucky you are a performance hall such as a large theatre that acoustically suited to have a choir sing with almost no microphones. Other times you are not so lucky and might be in a gymnasium or a banquet hall or ballroom where the sounds it's not as well for dealing with the sounds of a choir, so you do need to microphone them up. We are going to talk about the different kinds of microphones and some of the techniques that you need to think about when you are mic'ing a choir.

One of the types of microphones that you will see is the hanging microphone. This is a specially designed microphone that is used primarily to mic choirs. You'll notice that it's very small. The cable running to it is very thin and it attached to a standard XLR jack. These are usually condenser mics that require phantom power from your mixer. Sometimes the power is in the mic head itself or in the XLR jack attached to it.

Choir mics are condenser mics that use the cardiod or the super cardiod polar pattern. What this means that this is a microphone that gather the sound from a large window. Some of them are setup in what's called the 100 degree window. This means they have a window of capture that a little bit... I can't get my hands that way. 100 degrees, a little bit more than the 90 degree, a little bit wider, they capture sound right out that way. This makes a very effective microphone the quality sound it captures right out to the edges is usually pretty equal.

The hanging choir mic is often used in more permanent such as in churches and performance halls, places where the choir might always be standing or sitting. Not so much used in hall where you are moving choirs around and things are changing a lot so its primarily used in places like churches.

You'll notice, if you look this picture of the mic there's a little metal piece wrapped around it. This metal piece is what helps keep the microphone angled up and it helps control the twisting and swaying in the wind, assuming there is any wind, in the facility where you are at. These microphones are quite subject to a swing. Sometimes people will also attach a very thin filament up to the wall to keep them from swaying back and forth too much. Also as the wire gets older it tends to sag a little more and sometimes these will twist. All you have to do is go back on that metal and twist the mic back into place. It is a little tricky, but that's we use them in a more permanent installation where choirs tend to be in the same space.

Another type of microphone you might use is the type in this picture, the type that sits on a stand. In this case, this is the same microphone as the hanging microphone but its attached on a very long flexible boom attached to a stand. This is more portable and movable as you are putting together a choir that may be temporary for a performance, or even choirs that tend to have a variation in the numbers of people locations of people and things like that. This is not usually used with a regular dynamic microphone, this is still used with the same cardiod or super cardiod type micrphone that still has the wide capture zone. These can still be, like I said, these are just the same as the hanging microphone, but it is attached to a stand. Anything that is attached to a stand you do have to watch out for residual noises such as (banging on the table) as people are walking this can be transmitted through the thing. Generally when the microphone is active people are standing still in the choir while they are doing their performances.

The placement of the microphone is also critical when working with these types of microphones. Remember they have that 100 degree capture zone. Just about the entire swoop is able to capture sound. That is why when trying these microphones you and to place them at what we call the equal distance. It's not exactly equal distance to the various levels. Many choirs are often grouped up into various levels from a two or three layers, or rows, of people. You want to have the bottom end of the, like it shows in the photo here, the bottom end of the 100 degrees, the bottom end of that where it's going to get voice from person(s) and the top of it will also capture the voice of the person(s) in the top row as well. It's important that we look at the distance and try to measure and be sure that the voices do capture and are captured equally.

Sometimes you're going to have smaller choirs say a choral or something, say 10-15 people, who are singing, this time you want to think about how many microphones am I going to need for that. When you have the bigger group you often set things up with as many as 20 people you will have microphone setup equally spaced out for the performance. But now you're down in the 12-15 zone. What do you now? Do you still space them out? A lot of technicians will say you just place two microphones on the stands, if you are using these proper choir mics, cardiod or super cardiod microphones, and you just space them out so they are more or less equal. Now each microphone does pick up a little bit of the crossover of the voices. If you are careful with spacing you'll find that you won't have any pattern or looping that sometimes happens when .... phase variance, is the word I'm looking for. You won't have any phase variance where the sound of the two microphones is processing the same sound twice.

When you're group gets even smaller, when your choral group is down to say a quartet or quintet. Maybe that time is when you might want to consider giving each person a their own individual microphone. I'm talking about choral work where the people will put a microphone on a stand cuz they don't want to be holding a microphone. A lot of people don't know how to hold a microphone properly. You put it on a stand, for a smaller group of people you'll have a stand for each person. Then make sure the stand is placed at a distance that works to capture the voice of the person who is standing at that microphone. You know that each microphone still catches a little bit off the side. In that case you'll probably use a standard dynamic microphone that has a narrower cone of capture, so you won't have as much spill-over as you would have if you had the wider zone cardiod style. When mic'ing a small group individually a lot in your production. If you are recording you have the record each microphone on a separate channel, if your software (and hardware) permits.

You have everything from the big 50 voice choir all the way down to the little quartet and trio. And you have mic'ing plans. Always that there's a big difference between two groups, and bear in mind that the unique cardiod shape of these choir microphones captures sound much broader and much more equal. When you are working with the smaller group you can use dynamic microphones and of course you get the performing type of quartets where everybody knows how to do it, they hold the microphone themselves say the gospel quartets and stuff like that. People who know how to hold the microphone the correct way then they handhold the microphone as they move about.

The other thing that happens is a lot of times you'll see bands, talking rock-and-roll bands and so on who have monitors facing them. When you have a large choir it is hoped that you don't have to have a stage monitor to help the choir hear what is happening. If there's an orchestra or an acoustical sound for the music often times you don't need to have a monitor for the choir because the acoustic sound of orchestra or the choral (band) makes it possible to hear the music that is needed to sing properly. But what happens if the music is coming from a backing track and the choir needs to hear that backing track? In that case you need to have a speaker that is actually pointing at them. One of the dangers with that speaker is that the sound is going to bounce off the bodies of the choir and into the microphones. Often times it will create a feedback on the microphones that is hard to get rid or. Really bad if you're trying to record what is going on. Where possible try to avoid blasting the sound from the monitor out to the choir. Let them have just enough volume so that they can hear what they need to hear so they sing as needed. Other than that please try to keep the stage monitors off. Or minimalized so you don't have a lot of feedback issues.

Next question that comes is, is there a difference of mic'ing a choir in a live performance, vs if you are in a studio where you're doing a studio record. The simple answer is yes. You can still use the same type of microphones, but in a studio you have control of extraneous noises. Therefore the room noises are diminished. There's no audience laughing, chuckling, talking, coughing. In a studio you have more control. I have seen a choir up to 40 people, microphoned off of one hanging micophone placed about 15-20 feet from the choir in a studio. This is possible because in the studio you have control of extraneous noises. The choirmaster will also be trying to get everybody to blend together so that you don't have a lot of mixture so the total sound coming from the choir is balanced out as they listen to each other. One of the dangers of having a microphone so far away is that it's going to start to pick up noises that reverberate in the room. This can be fans, air conditioning, cooling systems, mechanical devices. In a good studio those things are controlled so you don't get them blowing on you and making noises and it helps. If that is the case then you need to move the microphone closer. If you move it too close you might need a couple of microphones to be sure you catch the audience (oops, choir).

We have been talking about choirs, but I also want to talk about mic'ing drum kits. Mic'ing drums is often a challenge because drums make a lot of noise. And it's very hard to isolate the sounds of a specific drum without the other drums coming into the microphone. In fact I believe it's virtually impossible, at least acoustically. One of the things you want to look at is a drum (microphone) kit. A typical kit has 5 or more microphones that are designed to work with specific types of instruments. You have the larger microphone, which is often used on the kick drum. You have a little more pinpoint microphones that usually used on things like the tom-toms. Or possibly the snare drum. Some technicians will put a microphone on the top and the bottom of the snare drum. Some will put microphones hanging over top of the kit facing off of the cymbals. A lot depends of the nature of what they are trying record (capture) and how much precision of the sounds of the individual instruments is required.

The form of mounting these microphones, primarily we mount the microphones in some form of a stand. Similar to a voice microphone stand. Sometimes they are short stands and sometimes they are tall with booms. Often the tom-tom drum mics are often mounted right on the drum itself. The type of microphone that's used tends to capture the sound sound of the hitting of the drum head, but it doesn't take notice of the noise being translated through the connector (mount) itself. I'm not sure exactly why, but tom-tom's tend to be done that way. That's not saying you can't do it the other way.

Since drums make so much noise, there is one sure way to control each individual drum separately. That's if you can get a drummer to play on a digital drum kit. Yes a digital drum kit where every single drum has it's own connection and you can control the volume of each one, and you can capture every sound, you can even change the sound from one style of drum to another. The difficult part to this is that a lot of drummers, especially the big rock-and-roll ones, don't like digital drums. It doesn't give them the right feel and the right texture and there's the whole dramatic thing of the banging of the cymbals that's just not there. When you use a digital drum kit often times your drummer might not be very happy using it.

I happen to come from a church background and I've attended a lot of churches where I've noticed the drums are wrapped in plastic. Well not exactly wrapped in plastic. They are surrounded by a plexiglass wall. This is done because a lot of churches even though some are large, but most are small, or small venues, the drum can overwhelm the sound (in the room), way beyond what you want to hear. As such they put these plexiglass walls to try to contain the noise so it doesn't blast out into the room and blast through all of the other performers and overwhelm the sound on every microphone in the room. You often see these plexiglass things like you see in these pictures where the panels help control the volume of sound some of these church groups also put pillows inside the kick drum (bass drum). This is sort of funny cuz I'm thinking that is there just in case they need a nap, no it's also because the kick drum is quite loud and the pillow will absorb an awful lot of the kick noise. This is handy too when you're putting a kick drum microphone you try to put it inside the drum box and the box and the pillow are absorbing sound but your microphone in there is still catching the sound of the hammer hitting the face of the kick drum.

Here I've got a typical, well not so typical, this is more microphones than I would ever use. This is a set of microphones for drum kits. The person who has put this together has really loaded it up with a lot of microphone. I would probably not do that. I'd probably put one microphone on the kick drum, as close to the head inside the drum as possible. I'd have two high-top tom-tom's and the tom-tom each with their mounted mic. I'd put another microphone on the snare drum. I'd let the cymbals survive on their own just in the room.

If you also have a drummer who is also a performer, singing, then you need to put a microphone over top on a big boom hanging down in front of their mouth. Those are unique people. Those who can sing and drum at the same time. I can't figure that out. Both hands busy. Both feet are busy. And they are singing. Those are talented people.

There you have it. I talked about how to microphone a choir and also how to microphone drums. Very challenging opportunities in the AV Technician world. Normally for AV Technicians we don't do that very often because that's more in the concerts and performance in bands and so on we're usually doing conferences and events, and we don't often have to microphone drums. But we do occasionally have to microphone a choir. Often times we don't have the beautiful microphones that are needed for choir. There you have it.

This is Paul Donovan from avtechnician.ca Please check out our website at www.avtechnician.ca. Subscribe to this channel to keep up with what's happening in the world of AV technicians. Thank you for watching.

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