Recommendations for Choral Recording Sessions

Steve Barnett

The following set of suggestions will help prepare you for the upcoming choral recording sessions. They will give you an idea of what is expected of you, and also what to expect from me at the sessions. Not every suggestion will be applicable to your special situation, but I hope that you will find them helpful and informative.

1. Please warm up vocally before every recording session. There will only be a minimal amount of time taken to warm up chorally at the session. We must maximize the limited amount of time we have for recording.

2. Please come to the sessions at least 15 minutes before they are scheduled to begin, or at the designated 'call' time. If you are chronically late, please don't be for the sessions. The rest of the choir, the conductor and the recording team will be waiting impatiently for you.

3. Make sure to number EVERY measure in each piece of music. Producer's and conductor's notes will be given quickly by measure number and you must be able to get to any bar immediately. Numbering the beginning of each system is not acceptable. Please number each and every bar.

4. Prepare your music in advance so that it will lay flat in your folder (and please use choral folders rather than separate pieces of music), and allow you to turn pages with a minimum of effort and NO NOISE. Page turns are one of the banes of recordings; please practice doing them while making no noise. If you can turn at a slightly different time than everybody else (and still not make noise) that may help as well. Even if you have memorized your music, you will still need the music with you at the session for the take notes following each take.

5. Please remove (or don't wear in the first place) any noisemaking accessory: jewelry, bangles, earrings, watch chains, loose change, etc.

6. You will be standing close to your neighbor. Please avoid overdosing on the perfume, cologne or after-shave. Your neighbor's taste may not match yours, and they have to breathe too.

7. Wear quiet, non-squeaking, soft-soled shoes to sessions. Otherwise you may wish to remove your shoes.

8. If you would like to bring water, it must be in a container that can be closed tightly. It should not be in the recording area where it can be inadvertently kicked during the session.

9. Please forgive the following request, but it's important: please make a trip to the restroom immediately prior to the sessions.

10. Please know your music. Sessions are not the time to learn notes and/or the text. Know your music so well that you can actually watch the conductor. It will help-honest.

11. Please concentrate fully on the music and recording during the times that we are together. Every take must sound as fresh and exciting as the first take. A consistency of performance and intensity allows for smooth editing of takes and the ultimate ideal result as if the piece were recorded in one single perfect performance.

12. You will have a list of the music being recorded each session. Please have that music only in the pockets of your folder. A pencil should only be kept in the pencil slot in your folder; otherwise, it may be inadvertently dropped and spoil a take.

13. The first half-hour or more of the initial session will be taken up with fine-tuning the recording balance to the approval of the engineer, producer and conductor. Microphones 'hear' differently than human ears; we may need to move you around to achieve a more uniform blend and balance. Please be patient. If you know in advance that you have a timbre that protrudes, or a wider or slower or faster vibrato than the norm, please make every effort to adjust and blend. We don't want inadvertent soloists in a choral piece.

14. Each piece or movement, or section of a movement, will be recorded in its entirety at least two times completely, allowing the producer a choice for editing. Usually one of the takes is designated a 'master' take, and any later shorter pick-up takes are inserted into the master take. Sometimes a third or even fourth complete take may be necessary in order to have a master quality take before any pickup takes are recorded. Often, after a single complete take is recorded, the piece will be divided up into shorter sections, sometimes with overlaps into the next section, sometimes with 'clean ends and clean starts.'

15. Before each take, the producer will 'slate' the take over the talkback speaker. The producer will usually give a take number, the name of the piece, and where the take is to begin and end. After the producer's slate, the conductor and engineer will need a few seconds of ABSOLUTE SILENCE if the take starts at the beginning of the piece, or after a full stop or pause in the music. If it is an internal pickup take, then the conductor can start the immediately after the slate. Please keep going beyond the announced stopping point, just in case the producer feels he needs a bit more music to effect the edit, or that if the take is going so well, it may be better than the master take. Wait for the producer to stop the take over the talkback.

16. The first take of each new piece may be a playback take (if so desired) for the music director, accompanist, instrumentalists, soloists, and section leaders only. The music director will decide who will listen in advance. If time becomes an issue once the basic balance is approved, the number of playback takes may be minimized.

17. If we are recording an internal pickup take, try to get back 'into' the music style, spirit, volume, and intensity right away-the sooner the better for smooth editing, as you are usually starting just a few bars before the edit is to take place.

18. At the start of all takes that include the beginnings of pieces, the conductor needs to leave about three seconds of COMPLETE SILENCE before giving the downbeat after the producer's slate. At the end of any takes that include the ends of pieces or movements, or silences or sections with a 'clean ending,' DO NOT MOVE OR BREATHE until the producer releases you via the talkback speaker (usually three to five seconds after the last notes die out). For the internal pickup takes, the producer will usually say where you need to stop, but as noted above, always GO ON past that point until the producer or conductor stops you-sometimes having a choice of edit points will help make an 'impossible' edit possible.

19. Between takes, the producer and the conductor will have notes for you. Please listen to all notes, even if they are not addressing you specifically. There may be something said that would apply to your part as well.

20. In a church venue, if you are near to a pew, frontal, or kneeler, don't touch or lean on it during a take. They make noise.

21. If you make a mistake during a take, let it go. Don't dwell on it, go right on as if nothing happened. We're human. Just do it right the next time. If you feel the producer should be made aware of an error or omission (in the situation that it may not have been covered by a previous take and the producer seems to be moving on), please call his attention to it. Otherwise assume that it has been or will be covered by another take.

22. If you need to cough, sneeze, or get a frog in your throat during a take-I know this sounds cruel-please hold it if at all possible. Stop singing until the take is over if you have to. If you cannot, we understand; there is always another chance.

23. Microphones are very sensitive creatures. If there is anything you don't wish to be recorded for posterity, including off-color commentary, please just don't say it. Also, please be careful when in the proximity of a mic stand and cable. If you inadvertently bump a mic stand, please inform the producer or engineer immediately. And please avoid stepping on any mic cables.

24. Clarity of text is just as important as clarity of music. Please enunciate clearly. If you are not sure of a vowel sound, ask your section leader or the conductor before the session starts. Uniformity of vowels leads to a good blend and good intonation. Uniformity of consonants and their proper rhythmic placement leads to a crisp, intelligible performance that is rhythmically tight.

25. There will be brief moments of actual respite during the sessions-at the discretion of the music director and during any playback takes where you are not involved. Please be ready to sing immediately when these breaks are over. There will also be one 'major' break of about 15 to 20 minutes around the middle of the session. Please get back into place as quickly as possible when the 'places' call is made.

26. After all of this, please have fun. You have a rare opportunity to perform and record great music with wonderful colleagues and award-winning professionals. This is a privilege that only a very few people may have in their lifetimes. Please enjoy it and do your best. It will be a wonderful experience and the end result will be performances that you will be proud of for years to come.


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