A long time ago, in a galaxy that preceded Facebook Live, audio quality was a big deal. Standard practice for professional jazz and classical recording involved careful consideration of the methods and equipment used to capture performances. For over 10 years MSU Recording Services has been steadily building a modest yet professional inventory of audio tools for recording departmental events at the highest quality possible.
Prior to the hanging of microphones in the Performing Arts Hall, MSU Recording Services selected microphones and mic positions specifically for each recital. This approach resulted in better recordings, but involved a LOT of work. Eventually, as the floor-based microphone stands were deemed aesthetically displeasing, it was requested that we hang microphones. So we did. This current arrangement makes recording audio in PAH very efficient (and arguably more attractive).
The audio quality of the microphones hanging in PAH isn’t bad. It certainly meets our needs in terms of documenting student performances. However, for sessions such as The Holidays at Murray State (or any other production that is intended for broadcast or CD duplication), we bring in equipment that can be tailored to specific instruments, voices, and ensembles. Faculty are encouraged to contact us in advance of any event for which they wish to explore “better than archival” options in either the Performing Arts Hall or Farrell Recital Hall. The Calendar of Events on the official Murray State University Department of Music website functions as our master list for recitals to be recorded. If your event does not show up here, odds are we don’t know about it.
We do a small amount of “audio sweetening” for almost every event we record. Sometimes this involves making sure the audio levels are high enough compared to other recordings. Sometimes the highs and lows need to be balanced in a more pleasing manner. Of course high priority projects, such as departmental CD pressings (e.g. the MSU Jazz Orchestra CDs or the Slide Advantage CD), involve a great deal more time and attention during both the recording session(s) and the mixing session(s).
Audio for Video
The nature of digital video – combined with the number of projects Recording Services juggles each semester – makes video a significant challenge. While it is possible to use our best audio equipment (and mixing capabilities) in conjuction with a video project, doing so is extremely time consuming. If video is the desired medium for a recital, the audio will typically need to be of the lower, “archival” quality (i.e. hanging PAH mics straight into the video camera’s stock/low end mic preamps). We try to encourage an audio-only approach so we can focus getting the best possible sound – because sound is what professional musicians have spent their lives perfecting.
Facebook Live currently offers poor audio quality (comparatively) but we do try to make the best of it by using an external stereo condenser microphone that plugs into the Lightning port of either an iPhone or iPad. With this set up we are able to stream concerts live on the department FB page with minimal effort and “higher-than-onboard-microphone” quality. Live streaming is usually by special request only and requires prior approval as it will show up not only on our official FB page but also the official MSU website.
Equipment List (abbreviated)
Please find below a few of the options available to the MSU Department of Music for making professional audio recordings. We hope this provides some insight into the decision-making process of finding the best possible marriage between a performance and the technology used to record it.
Neumann KM-184: Founded in Berlin in 1928, Neumann is one of the most respected names in microphones. The KM-184 is an industry standard for stereo ensemble recording. These small diaphragm condenser mics are not particularly forgiving, but provide impeccable detail and clarity for the musician with nothing to hide.
sE Electronics RN17: These are Rupert Neve designed small diaphragm condenser mics that are warm, forgiving and softer-sounding in comparison to the KM-184. A nice compliment to a bright recital hall.
AEA R88: Privately owned stereo ribbon microphone. By nature of it’s design, a traditional ribbon mic is darker and thicker-sounding than a condenser.
AKG 414: This large diaphragm condenser microphone is a high-quality option for spot mic’ing instrumental or vocal soloists that are part of a larger ensemble performance.
Cascade Ribbon: These ribbon mics are great for spot mic’ing strings or sopranos as they soften the highs and thicken the lows.
Millennia HV3D: This 4-channel mic preamp is an industry standard known for a neutral (true) sound. The LA Philharmonic, Skywalker Sound, and Prarie Home Companion are all actively using this same piece of equipment.
Buzz Audio: This 2-channel mic preamp has a little more bass and a little less high end than the Millennia. It is a subtle difference, but I consider it more forgiving, though a little less detailed.
Audient: These preamps are mostly neutral with a subtle analog color. Good for most everything.
Focusrite: This 1-channel preamp/eq/compressor is great for jazz vocals and solos, slightly hyping both the lows and highs.
Lovett Auditorium: In some ways, Lovett is the best place to record audio on campus. That is, if the performer can overcome making music on a dead-sounding stage. It is the lack of sound wave reflections that make the stage fairly dead acoustically, and why recordings in Lovett sound cleaner than any other venue. We have samples of ambience from some of the best recital halls in the U.S. and Europe. These “reverbs” can be placed on sources in a very believable manner, especially when there is little to no natural ambience present in the original recording. This is what Lovett delivers.
Performing Arts Hall:
PAH is a bright hall with very little ambient “bloom” and very little bottom end. It’s great for OcTUBAfest. Not bad for a Steinway D. Not so great for things that already lean toward the bright and/or harsh side. However, PAH’s ambience, while more prominent than Lovett’s, is short. This means that there is still some room to tailor the sound of a recording in post production.
Farrell Recital Hall:
Farrell is the opposite of PAH. It has a very long reverb, is very warm-sounding, and would be very muddy if a bunch of tubas were playing in there. This makes it a very forgiving space for novice musicians. Farrell is the one space where we usually try to capture the natural ambience in a flattering manner.