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Thread: Recording A Capella Groups Question

  1. #1
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    Recording A Capella Groups Question

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    I have a question for anyone that has experience recording a capella ensembles,

    Why do they only record one voice at a time, and then sync it in post? I school I worked for has placed in/won several international a capella competitions, and recorded several albums with studios that have worked with famous groups like pentatonix, etc.

    From a performer and director standpoint, recording everyone individually on separate days sounds like it would have disastrous consequences in blend, timing, and tuning. We spend SO much time in ensembles learning to feel each other's pulse and be able to match vowels, pitch, and shift in dynamics to make the song become a performance, why would that not want to end up on the recording?

    From an engineer standpoint, wouldn't aligning everything and processing everything individually take way more time and work, when most of that is done for you by a tight ensemble? Even using directional Mics and having some space between the singers would be far better in my opinion than making the group sound right in post.

    So yea, just some thoughts, if anyone has experience in this area, I would love to know why the industry standard is the way it is.

  2. #2
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    Ranelagh Tasmania
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    I'm not sure that there is an industry standard for recording a capella groups. I expect the method chosen will depend on the wishes of the group, the producer, and the capabilities of the group.

    I've recorded a capella groups and used both methods. For example, one was highly rehearsed and were very tight, and recording them 'live in the studio' was a breeze.

    On the other hand, there was another who were not so secure. Their phrasing wasn't quite exact, and there were a few pitching issues. In this case, it was more efficient to track each part separately, sung to a guide track, and fix up issues in post.

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    If you are working with a good multitrack system, there's no "syncing" work to be done. Each person would track to the same point, be it a click track, a scratch vocal or a single starting voice. It would be no different that when I do a song with 3 or 4 part harmonies, with only me on the track. All the tracks will automatically be in sync.

    Depending on how good the performers are, there are things that can be adjusted with voices on individual tracks. They can be placed in the soundfield in different places, do pitch correction, or just fix a flub with a single punch-in. Someone would also have the option to change a single person's harmony line, if something doesn't sound just right.

    Recording a 5 piece group would be infinitely easier than when Paul McCartney did his solo album, played all the instruments and he and Linda did all the vocals. Queen would routinely layer tracks, using over 100 overdubs on Bohemian Rhapsody.

    By contrast, a lot of the Beach Boy harmonies were done as a group. They might have to do 10 takes to get one that Brian approved of, but they did them together.

    Its just a means to an end.

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    So much depends on circumstances. 12 excellent singers, 4 mics, loads of half on headphones, and a decent room.

    The facts, though, are simple. For the singers, singing individually robs the piece of timing and subtlety - because this needs interaction. In the video, watch the guy who conducts - not the usual conductor arm waving, but his hands guide them through the pushes and pulls, and they just see this out of the corners of their eyes.

    Record individually and you need a proper track to sing and importantly, pitch to, and perhaps even a click for the start at least. You might also need to include guide parts for them to 'lock' to as lots of people will all sing differently - usually timing, where the syllables and the phrases drift without other people, and also when they stop holding a note. Some people use a video conductor, others don't. So much depends on the musical ability of the people. The voices singers have a few videos. Search them out and see the common techniques. This technique fails miserably when just one singer messes the balance up. The mics give balance between sections, and perhaps a little EQ possibilities, but that's it. Mics tend to be chosen for the side lobes where there are nulls and you put the other singers in the nulls as far as possible.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by hmchristian7020 View Post
    if anyone has experience in this area, I would love to know why the industry standard is the way it is
    Whether it is industry standard I don't know, but if it is being done, the primary reason would be "because it can." It could be a combination of convenience and an underlying arrogance that "this is the way it's done now and we know best." Who knows ? Having recorded vocalists both ways, I have to say, I prefer it when everyone is in the room together, rubbing off against each other, following, holding, listening, pitching. Sure, it takes work and sometimes exposes inefficiencies but I like the overall effect.
    Having said that though, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't also like the "one at a time" way of doing it. For us as home recorders it often will be the only way to get a mass of singers down and while that also takes work and can expose inefficiencies, it's also quite good fun doing all the mixing, matching and manipulating. From an engineering point of view.

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