Simple Recording/PA Techniques for Your Productions
By Jeff Samaha
Concerts and plays are some of the most difficult shows to mic for PA and /or recording of your
original play (take care not to record copyrighted material) with good audio and video quality -
audio especially. This article will touch on how to achieve both on a large scale in a 350 seat
auditorium. With today's excellent quality, standard and high definition video cameras create
excellent video, beating out the old days of VHS and Betamax. In those days you could not dub
copies without losing video/audio quality, but with today's digital recording equipment, your
original footage is excellent and you can copy to your heart's content. Your copies will be exactly
the same as the original. In fact, you can make a copy from a copy and the quality will be the same
as the original, again because it's digital.
Before getting off the track here, I want to talk specifically about the audio quality of theatrical performances in large venues with large casts, making it easier for the layman like me to understand. The following is how I get the sound I'm looking for both for PA and recording:
Invariably, your audio recorded in the camera will sound like it was recorded from the PA speakers which are there for the live audience. I'm sure you have experienced the sound as "airy" or "distant", with no presence and with extraneous noise coming from the audience area. This happens because the mic on the camera is far away from the auditorium speakers giving it a hollow sound. The way to overcome this is to record your audio directly from the sound board to the camera, assuming your camera has an audio in jack; this is a must in order to hook up to the camera. This technique will give you the mix that the sound person is putting out (assuming he/she is qualified) to the speakers, but the camera will receive that audio directly through the camera's line-in jack giving you superior audio from the stage. You must then monitor and adjust the sound received by the camera with a headset, or keeping an eye on the VU meter (reads the volume level on the camera). That said, what should one do about the sound of the orchestra in the pit or side of the hall to achieve good quality? Ideally you would want to mic each member of the orchestra, large or small... but only for recording purposes, not for amplification to the audience. What you want to achieve is getting the vocals over the band or orchestra which tend to be loud anyway especially if it's a rock score being played. The leads in the cast are miked with wireless lavaliers and the ensemble (upstage) is picked up with 5 overhead short shots as well as longer shot guns in the front at the apron of the stage (to pick up those down stage) . Another technique would be to use PZMs or flat floor mics in lieu of shotguns, (to pick up those who are not on lavaliers). However they tend to create feedback and are very omnidirectional (pick up from all sides) especially if you have monitors on the stage, mixed from the same board as the house PA. (We will talk about monitoring in another article). So overheads and shotgun mics in the front (very directional) should do the trick. In fact it's GREAT for recording, but a little less perfect for PA for the live audience.
If you don't have enough mics to record each instrument in the band, try using the inexpensive Zoom handheld recorder or any other similar brand. I happen to own the Zoom H2 Handy Recorder. I placed it somewhere equidistant to all the instruments, and since it is omnidirectional, if you want it to be (it's adjustable), it picked up every instrument around it with excellent quality. I happened to place it a bit too close to my loud drummer and trumpet player, thus having to EQ out (equalize or adjust treble, midrange and bass) some of the pops (overmodulation or distortion) in post, but otherwise it actually picked up the 20 piece orchestra very evenly. Given the chance to do it over, I would have hung two Zooms over the orchestra a third of the way in on both sides to make it less difficult to get the distant instruments evenly. Since the mic records to an SD card (latest popular recording media for audio and video), I was able to remove it from the recorder afterwards, put it in a card reader and transfer the contents to my video editor and making a wav file. It then syncs very well to the video without any locking device (such as genlock) as long as you keep both the camera and audio recorders playing continuously with no stops. If by chance you stop the camera or audio recorder, then you have to re-sync which is time-consuming; so try to keep everything rolling for good synchronization. You will find that lip sync stays for quite a while, if not for the entire hour or so of show. I would recommend editing the video, if need be, only after you sync the Zoom audio to the video in the editor's timeline. This way you won't have to chop up the video and the audio separately to make it match.
Jeff Samaha is a network television stage manager/director who also produces, directs and conducts orchestra for Community Theater and Chorus in Brooklyn, New York Good sound quality is a must for him and this article explains how he achieves the audio quality he wants for his productions. Feel free to email him with your production issues.
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