Earlier this year, we recorded a CD with the Tonbridge Grammar School Motet Choir in Brasted Church. The choir sounded absolutely fantastic under the expert direction of Adrian Pitts and we were delighted to have the opportunity to record such an outstanding school choir.
It therefore came as little surprise when a few months later we were called back to help record the choir again. This time, however, instead of recording a CD we were there to record the choir for the purpose of them entering a couple of competitions.
The Recording Session
We were based in the same location as before – Brasted Church. This has a very pleasing acoustic for the choir and a fairly good upright piano. Given the regulations about ‘reverb and post production’ (see below) it was important to choose a venue which suited the sound of the choir.
Recording Choirs for competition entry
As you would expect there are some quite strict rules about recordings which are being used to gain entry to competitions. On the one hand choirs are expected to produce a good quality sound recording for their entry, but in doing so should not enhance their sound in any way. The entry requirements are very specific and state:
Choirs should not use the following production practices and techniques:
- Dynamics Processing – the choir should be recorded without dynamics processing, i.e. compressors, limiters, expanders, gates. The judges do judge dynamics, and therefore need to hear the true dynamic range of the choir.
- Auto-tuners should be avoided. Again, the choir is being judged on tuning.
- Tracking/layering voices should be avoided. This is where individual voice parts are recorded, so a sound engineer can manually balance them. This also includes a technique known as ‘double-tracking’, where a choir records multiple times to give a warmer, smoother, fuller sound. If you are a choir of 20, and sound like 200 voices on the recording because of production techniques, how will that be achieved live?
- Recordings should be unedited. By all means edit out noises before or after the recording, but editing individual phrases to make it sound as though the choir is coming in and cutting off together will not work in the choir’s favour.
- Sound effects – e.g., reverb etc. should be avoided. We are keen to hear the choir’s natural vocal sound and reverb can mask this; other sound effects (delays, etc.) should also be avoided.
Having been involved in choir competitions before we were aware of the limitations. As a location recording company our aim is always to record the choirs ‘as live’ and essentially recreate the sound of the choir in performance. Now that’s not to say we don’t use auto tune or have never enhanced choirs.
Nevertheless, on this occasion, we were strictly bound by the above regulations and it was important, both for our reputation and indeed that of Tonbridge Grammar School, that we adhered to the requirements.
The singing of the choir was outstanding. However, in order to comply with regulations we will not be sharing any of the audio files at this stage. We wish TGS Motet Choir the very best of luck with their competition entries and we look forward to sharing the tracks with you at some point in the New Year!
Tonbridge Grammar School
TGS was opened in 1905 and is situated in 14 acres in Deakin Leas, Tonbridge. It is a well resourced school with modern facilities. The Hands Building was opened in 2009 and offers state-of-the-art classrooms, a drama and dance studio and a sports hall. A number of the Science laboratories were refurbished after having been awarded a grant from the Wolfson Foundation in 2012. The IBarn, a dedicated sixth form study centre, was opened in September 2015.
You can find out more about the school by visiting their website.