The choir recording session with a lifetime lesson

The choir recording session with a lifetime lesson

Something I didn't expect had a major influence on an important recording session

I’m an audio engineer recording different kinds of music, but I especially specialize in recording choirs. Early in my career, I was hired to record 5 songs for one of my country’s top choirs. Extremely talented, meticulous and well-rehearsed. It was a fairly big choir with about 30 singers, which required some planning to get everyone in the room at the same time. The recording took place in a church with great acoustic. Their repertoire was mainly classical, so there were no overdubs, stitching together takes or anything like that. Everything was recorded live, one song in one take.

I live in a country where the weather can be quite bad - especially during the winter months, where both rain and high winds are very common. The day of the recording was one of those days. Because of its generality, I didn’t think too much about it as I drove to the church. I arrived at the studio and began setting up my best gear, getting to know the acoustics of the room by singing, clapping etc. to best place the choir when they arrived. Mind you, this was early in my career, and I was a bit nervous and focused to do my absolute best job for this high-level choir.

The choir arrived, and everything was going smoothly. It sounded great! Both in the church and in my recordings. Relief settled in me as the main part of my job was secure - getting a great sound. Now the choir had to perform, and I only had to press record, monitor, and make sure everything kept sounding great. Though I had to turn the gain up on all microphones, as the choir was as loud as I had anticipated.

After recording the first song and listening back to it, I heard something that made my heart sink. You could clearly hear the wind and rain outside the church on the recordings - and not just when the choir wasn’t singing. The storm sounds infected everything - A high church tower and roof connected to a big stone-based room can really enhance the sound of the storm outside. Like almost cartoonish wind howls. This was a big problem! 30 people from one of my country’s best choirs had aligned their calendar to be here to record. And now every song would have wind howls on them. My palms were sweaty, but I knew I had to do something now.

I immediately had a talk with the choir leader and conductor. We listened through the recordings a couple of times, accessing the damage and talking about solutions. As you could imagine, I was pretty nervous at this point, but there wasn’t much I could do about the weather. We decided to push on and get the best of it. I monitored intensely and notified the conductor if certain parts were too noisy, so we could re-take. I did my best in post-production to minimize the noise when possible. It ended out okay, but you could definitely hear wind howls and rain-noise here and there.

I still don’t know how I didn’t discover the problem while setting up my gear. I think it was a combination of me being nervous and focused with the storm gaining strength through the session. But in the end, it turned out fine. The choir didn’t use all of the songs, but some of them made it onto one of their compilation CDs, and I recorded the choir multiple times since. Now I always look at the weather report beforehand. You live, and you learn. I now check the weather forecast before doing choir recording sessions in older places.

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