A few weeks ago we received a call from LIVES in Lincoln. LIVES is the Lincolnshire charity that supports 700+ highly trained and dedicated volunteers who get to their neighbours fast to deliver vital care in those first critical moments of a medical emergency before handing over to the ambulance service.
Their original enquiry related to a fundraising concert that LIVES are organising for 3 December 2018. The idea was for us to come and record the concert live in Lincoln Cathedral.
Recording Live Concerts
Over the years we have recorded a number of live events which have ranged from Wedding services, Funeral services and the occasional live concert performance by choirs or schools. Sometimes recording live is the only practical solution – for example if it is a church service or similar event a ‘second’ go simply isn’t option. In these case we always try to scope out the venue in advance to work out how we can safely put up microphones and run cables. Firstly we need to ensure the space is safe for the other people involved. Cables need to be secured either under mats or using tape where possible. In the case of church services or live concert events we also need to ensure that our kit is not ‘disrupting’ the view of proceedings. This can be tricky when we need to put up a selection of microphone stands around the stage /performance area. There is a fine balance to be had between keeping an acceptable ‘line of sight’ for the audience versus putting the microphones in the correct place for achieving a good recorded sound.
Setting up in Lincoln Cathedral
We do not often record in Cathedrals, although have done this on a few occasions now. However, as an organist I have played the organ in a number of Cathedrals all over the UK and also performed with choirs at services and other concerts. As such, I have a good idea of how Cathedrals work and fully appreciate they are not set up for recording companies to simply turn up and record a concert.
As a result we decide that instead of recording the concert live on 3 December we would in fact come along in November and record the rehearsal instead. This has a number of advantages. Firstly we don’t have to contend with audience members and the extra noise they might make – coughing, clapping etc! But mostly it is about having more flexibility to put the microphones where they are needed for the recording as described above.
Of course Cathedrals do not just close because someone wants to record in there – at least not unless it’s Gary Cole recording the Cathedral Choir. But they had agreed to us recording in there for a couple of hours during one afternoon.
As it happened there was some staging already in the Nave of the Cathedral ready for a different concert and the vergers had taped off an area around the staging which we could use for the recording.
Whilst the Cathedral had afforded us permission to record during the afternoon and allocated us sufficient space, it was ultimately business as usual for them. Services were continuing in the normal pattern and there were only small windows of opportunity to set up and record before we had to clear out of the way. The plan was to arrive at 10am, which we did. There was then an hour or so to get all our kit inside and set up within the designated area. In addition we also had to find somewhere to park our van as all the roads around the Cathedral were limited to 2 hours. This is one advantage of there being two of us on location as a car park could be found for the van whilst Shelly continued to set things up.
By 11.30am we had everything ready. The recording session was scheduled to start promptly at 1pm and we had been allowed until 4.00pm. However, with there being a service at 12 noon, we were required to vacate the recording are and so decamped to the coffee shop in order to work on the CD artwork. Getting the artwork done whilst on location is something we have been doing lots of this year in a bid to be even more efficient and stick to our principles of #nofaffing.
The Recording Session
Just before 1pm the school children started to filter in and before too long we were ready to get started. The first group of children processed onto the staged area by the microphones and the teacher presented me with an iPhone, on which was apparently their backing track. However, this being a newish iPhone, it didnt have a headphone jack and as such there was no easy way of connecting it into our recording rig. Coupled with that the song was on Apple Music and therefore not easily downloadable onto a different device.
The song in question was Away in a Manger and on further investigation it turned out the backing track was in fact nothing more than a slightly terrible electronic version of the accompaniment. Since there was a Steinway sat just a few feet away, which I had already mic’d up earlier I decided rather than faff about with backing tracks I would simply play the accompaniment myself from memory and we would get on with the recording!
Of course as soon as I started to play the piano, this set a precedent and every school which followed decided they would have me playing the piano for them. This was of course no problem at all – I actually rather like playing the piano and again with there being two of us it was quite easy to record and play without any disruption. Quite frankly if it meant the session running smoother and it being easier for everyone then I will do whatever it takes.
Before too long we had recorded all the school songs. The highlight for me was a school who sang Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. This is by far the most popular song we get to record at Christmas as about 90% of all school christmas CDs we record feature Rudolph somewhere. This, however, was the first time I had actually got to play the piano to accompany a Rudolph!
After the schools were finished, the final element of the album was a couple of soloists. We finished the session by recording a soloist singing a couple of carols. Both soloists had beautiful voices which really worked well in the acoustic of the Cathedral. In an ideal world we would have preferred more separation between the voice and piano but the space was limited and also our time was rapidly running out.
We therefore positioned the soloist where he could have good eye contact with his accompanist – I wasn’t playing the piano for this one! And in just a couple of takes we had the album recorded and everything ‘in the can’. Moments later the clock struck 4pm and our session was done.
Without any faffing we swiftly packed away. The van was returned from the car park and we left seamlessly without any fuss in approximately 30 minutes from pressing stop on the DAW.
We had a great time recording in Lincoln Cathedral. Even if we didn’t get to record the organ, we at least got to hear it being played when we first arrived. Once we had reloaded our van, Shelly and I returned to the Cathedral to attend evensong.
The album is currently in production and will be delivered to LIVES before the end of the month and well in time for them to sell at their fundraising concert in December. Not only was recording the rehearsal a lot less complicated than recording the live concert, it is probably better for the charity. This way they will have actual CDs to sell on the night of the concert. As I understand it around 900 people will be attending the concert so there is great scope to sell lots of CDs on the night. We thoroughly enjoyed working with LIVES and the Lincolnshire Primary Schools and we hope the album is a great success for them.