Epic Recording Story: Recording the Purduettes for the Mitch Daniels farewell video. Mixer Mixer reminder. (Originally sent 1/23/23)

Hey everyone,

I hope you had a great time over the holidays with friends and family. I also hope that you are having a great start to 2023 and look forward to progressing in producing your art this year. We look forward to hearing it! I do want to remind you that we have a Mixer Mixer tomorrow, January 24th, 730pm at Rec Room Recording studio at The Arts Federation, 638 North St, Lafayette. The word is that there may be a snowstorm coming but it should be later in the evening. We will start the Mixer Mixer and if we need to cut out early so everyone can get home then we will.

Last meeting we went over a really cool project that our studio crew produced for Purdue Marketing. We recorded and produced the audio for the farewell to Mitch Daniels video. It features the Purduettes singing "For Good" from the musical Wicked, while footage of Mitch and the highlights of his presidency played. We were really honored to be asked and everybody seems happy so I guess we did a good job! LOL.

There were some challenges to the production however. I thought they would be interesting and instructive to discuss so I summarized them and tried to play some audio samples but unfortunately we had a buzz in our monitoring system when I tried plugging in my laptop. How embarrassing! LOL. Somebody needs to fix that. (That would be me. LOL)

Anyway, I thought it would be great to go over our process and the challenges involved of remote recording the Purduettes and making the mix happen.

 

Planning the Recording

When we got the call to record the Purduettes for this project we were hoping to be able to record the ladies at the Arts Federation in the hall upstairs. The reverb in that room is absolutely divine! Unfortunately, the ladies had what I think were mid term exams and other events and it was decided that the best thing for us to do was record the Purduettes in their rehearsal space. Ethan and I headed down to Bailey Hall on campus to scope out the room. It is always a great idea to scope out the room you will be recording in at least a day in advance so that you can plan the session and be sure that you have the right equipment to do the job.

The rehearsal space was kind of like a small gym with a little acoustic treatment on the walls. So it was kinda boomy, if that makes sense. The band instruments were placed in locations that made the most sense for a rehearsal. They were definitely not in the location that they needed to be in for a recording. The risers where the Purduettes would sing from were against the back wall. So me and Ethan's first job was to plan the setup of the room that would best help us get a great recording.

For recording a group in a room, placement of the artists in the room is critical. Way more critical than they would be in a concert. For example, when the Purduettes play in a concert hall, often the band is positioned on the edge of the stage to the left. That way they can see the conductor but be off to the side as they are supporting the Purduettes. The Purduettes are the stars of the show. The location of the band doesn't matter acoustically because they're all going through a big PA system which centers their sound. And it sounds great. For a recording we are not using a PA system so we could not place the band to the left of the Purduettes as then they would be to the extreme left in the stereo image which, as you could imagine, would sound goofy and unbalanced.

There was also a solo singer in the recording as well which added a further wrinkle. Why? Because the soloist in a Purduette show would typically emerge from the choir and head towards the solo mic and back into the choir again and the noise of her movements and the movements of choir members letting her through would be recorded as well. So we decided that it would be best for the soloist to sing in place in the choir, holding a wireless microphone. Ethan came up with that idea. Genius!

When planning the stereo image for a recording the soloist would logically be in the center of the stereo image. The Purduettes, being a decent sized choir, would sound amazing spanning from left to right on the stereo image. The band, we decided would be roughly in the center. The main sound would be covered with room microphones with spot microphones to add clarity as required.

For the main stereo pair, we were going to use a pair of small diaphragm cardioid condenser microphones placed in front of the Purduettes to capture their sound. I positioned them using the ORTF technique developed by Radio France way back in the day. It is my favorite stereo recording technique but is no means a secret. Check it out on this wikipedia article: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ORTF_stereo_technique

The mics are placed together on one stand with the front of the mics 17cm away from each other and angled 110 degrees from each other as shown in the diagram below. I point the mics to the outer left and right of whatever I'm recording, in this case the choir.

ORTF technique

Then, behind the conductor, we would place a pair of ribbon mics. My ribbon mics have a figure eight pickup pattern. This means that the mics pick up sound in front of and behind the microphone equally in a pattern that looks like a figure eight. We positioned the ribbon microphones on one microphone stand using the Blumlein stereo technique, again, well described in Wikipedia and also in an article, with sound samples, by ribbon microphone manufacturers AEA. I would've pasted a diagram but I thought they were more confusing than helpful. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blumlein_pair

https://www.aearibbonmics.com/what-is-blumlein-technique/

We decided to place the Blumlein pair behind the conductor where they would be able to pick up a beautiful stereo image of the entire room. I find that the combination of the ORTF and Blumlein setups really does it for me when recording small to medium sized ensembles. I just love the stereo imaging. This microphone combination is what I use when I record ATLYS as well as the sound for Rec Room Live videos. So it's very versatile.

Additionally we added spot microphones for the instruments. These tracks could be blended into the mix to add detail for the specific instruments they were recording.

I was in Los Angeles at a conference the day we were to record so Ethan and Hans headed down and set up the system and tracked the song. Things went very well. The Purduettes are an absolute pleasure to work with! Just great! They ALWAYS are! In all, twelve tracks were recorded in three takes. The Purduettes nailed the third take.

However, Ethan expressed a little concerned about bleed from the band. The tracks were passed over to me to mix once I got back from LA.

I'm not going to lie. When I did first hear the tracks I got a little panicked because the recordings just didn't have the volume and clarity of sound required from the Purduettes to make the project sound good. Here's how the stereo ORTF mics sounded:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/ac1o7nb7rx99ixm/Purduettes_ForGood_RawChoirMics.wav?dl=0

The ORTF mics picked up the drums loud and clear even though they were behind the mics and they were prominently featured across the stereo image. Oye!! The only thing I thought of that could save the day on this track was some AI program that could isolate the choir in those tracks. I already had two such programs but frankly, they don't work that well as they generate artifacts or remnants of the subtracted sounds that would be unacceptable for a project such as this.

I had read an article some time back in British recording magazine Sound On Sound about a piece of software that used AI to break apart components of a recording that they considered the state of the art. So I searched through their archives and found the software. It's by a British software company called Hit n Mix and the program is called RipX. I'm so glad I read this British magazine as they review a lot of software from small companies in Europe that I would never have heard about. I searched through their articles and found the review. Here's a link:

https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/hitnmix-ripx-deepaudio

I went to the Hit n Mix website and was stunned to see that the program was about $70. LOL. Normally companies with this kind of tech make you pay!! So I bought the program. RipX is very easy to use. You just drag the track into the program and it spits out what it thinks are the components instruments, vocals, whatever. Here's the raw file it generated for the Purduettes:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/l31k4cuy0pgm6lj/Purduettes_ForGood_RawRipX.wav?dl=0

Give it a listen! Remember how this file originally sounded above. RipX did a really decent job of isolating the vocals. There were some artifacts but it was definitely usable. The thing is, I wasn't going to replace the choir mics with the RipX tracks. Instead I mixed the RipX tracks with the choir mics enough that the Purduettes were up front yet low enough that you could not hear the RipX artifacts in the mix. Success!!

We are all so proud of how this project turned out. It was a real team effort and it was a pleasure working with both Purdue Marketing and the Purduettes. Here's a link to the video for your viewing pleasure.

https://youtu.be/4TRSgs0tQbA

I hope to see you at the Mixer Mixer!! Bring some mixes to share. Don't hesitate to email me if you have any questions.

All the best,

Neil



 

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