Recording your choir – Part 1: Planning a recording

Recording your choir has many benefits. It’s great fun, it offers an alternative to a performance, it gives singers the opportunity to own a keepsake of the choir with a CD or download, and it inspires team spirit as people work together to create the best sound possible for the recording.

If you would like to record your choir, here are some considerations:

Where and when

The main decision to make when planning a recording is where it will take place. There are two options for this. Either you go to a professional recording studio or you can hire a sound engineer to come to you at your venue and record the choir. Part of this decision may be determined by the size of your choir. A smaller choir might fit easily into a studio, whereas it can be much harder to find a local studio that can accommodate a large choir. If you have a larger choir, it may be easier and more cost effective to stay put and have an engineer come to you. Perhaps there are other local choirs who have done a recording and could suggest a sound engineer or crew.

If you decide to go to a studio make sure you visit it first, have a look at the space and facilities and check it’s suitable for your choir. Recording can be a lengthy process so you will need to think about aspects such as seating and refreshments.

Discuss your venue choice with your sound engineer. Is it a good space for recording? Does the room have a good acoustic and will it accommodate the choir and all the recording equipment? You may like to invite your engineer for a look around beforehand.

Once you’ve decided on a location you will need to think about when you will record. A studio may be cheaper on a weekday, but will this mean some of your singers can’t attend? Try to choose a time which will give everyone the opportunity to take part. If many of your singers work, you may have to schedule the recording for an evening or weekend.

Cost

There are several costs attached to recording. Firstly, you have the venue hire or studio hire. A studio hire will probably include a crew. If you hire an engineer to come to you, you’ll obviously have to find that cost on top of the venue hire. Depending on the location of any studio you visit, you may need to consider hiring a coach or mini bus which you will need to factor into the price.

Other costings to consider include music and accompaniment. Unless you’ll be in a studio where headphones are provided for each singer, using backing tracks may not be ideal. They have to be played very softly so as not to be picked up in the vocal mics, which can mean singers struggle to hear and stay in tune. Having an accompanist or band behind you is a much easier when you’re capturing a ‘live’ recording. You could, of course, also sing a capella.

Finally, you’ll need to factor in the cost of producing the final recording, whether on CD or for download, and getting the appropriate licence in your jurisdiction if you’re recording music that’s under copyright.

Repertoire

It’s important to plan repertoire for a recording very carefully. The first consideration is time. How long do you want the recording to last? If you are happy to record all day then you can attempt a longer set. If you only want singers to be recording for a couple of hours then something more like an EP with four songs might be better. As an approximation allow 30-40 minutes to record a standard length pop song.

When choosing repertoire, think about creating a balance between upbeat and slower numbers. What will your choir members enjoy learning, singing and listening to afterwards? You don’t necessarily need to pick the most technically difficult pieces. Your singers may already feel a little out of their comfort zone with the recording experience so music that they can sing confidently may yield better results.

Depending on rehearsal time for the recording, you could choose a mix of new and existing repertoire. Perhaps get your singers to vote for their two favourite existing songs so they have a say. Remember, if you purchase new repertoire, that needs to be factored into costings.

In my next article, I’ll look at issues surrounding the recording session.

Comments on Recording your choir – Part 1: Planning a recording

  1. It is also worth considering choir recordings on location which are not in a studio. The vast majority of recording studios are not set up for choirs.

    You make a valid point about the use of backing tracks and I agree the text book solution is to give everyone a set of headphones. However, we have made this work on location without the use of headphones and no one has ever noticed a difference.

    More importantly if your choir is recording with a piano or other ‘live’ accompaniment this is often better done in a much larger space. Generally I have recorded choirs either in their rehearsal space or one where they give concerts. Churches and Community Halls can be ideal for this purpose.

    Also for the choirs this reduces the cost of travel! By using a mobile recording company there is no cost of travel, no hire of a studio, no upfront cost and no issues which might result from putting your choir in an unfamiliar environment.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks for this Jules, sounds like you’ve had a lot of experience recording choirs. We too have recorded outside of studio spaces witha sound engineer coming to us. My choir is quite large and it’s worked well. As you say it’s also handy as you don’t need to factor travel into the equation!

  2. Avatar Dee Gee says:

    A proper CD is like a full concert in terms of cost etc. Recoup cost by CD sales instead of tickets. Can you sell enough?
    Discount option https://www.makingmusic.org.uk/resource/discounts-recording-your-music

    Or use decent digital recorder to record a normal concert. Much cheaper to do but best for simp!e event without so!lists or heavy instruments. Place recorder typically on a pole about 8ft above conductor to record what conductor is hearing. Works quite well if audience is not cough-prone!

  3. Avatar Daniel says:

    You could also consider recording on a video camera or high quality microphones/mixer and take the vocal off and import into an audio editor like Audacity. You can then edit it and save to a CD. All my weekly church recordings/practice sessions are recorded onto an Olympus digital voice recorder. The vocal quality depends on which model you purchase.

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      That’s a good tip Daniel, although from experience, the audio quality you get from a camera can be pretty ropey.

  4. Avatar Dr. David W. Roe says:

    Can you be more specific about obtaining a licence for copyrighted pieces? Address of PRS. What constitutes a copyrighted piece. Does it depend on the number of recordings you want to make?

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Hi David. I’m no copyright expert, but as far as I know, copyright applies in the UK to any composition or arrangement created in the composer’s lifetime plus 70 years. Other jurisdictions vary. PRS for Music are very helpful if you give them a ring. Just google the name and you’ll find them easily. From memory, yes it does depend on the number of copies you intend to make. I assume that there are similar organisations in most countries.

  5. Avatar Valerie says:

    Hallo Victoria,

    Several of my choir members have suggested a recording and after reading your superb article, I now have some facts and considerations for them to think about.Thank you a zillion.

  6. Avatar Annette says:

    What are the copyright considerations about recording a choir and distributing copies? Is it permissible to sell copies of the recording, or ask for a donation, or just give them away?

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Hi Annette. In the UK, you need a licence to record and distribute works that are under copyright. You can get the licence from PRS for Music. It’s a pretty simple procedure from what I remember. With the recording we’ve just done with our choir, the sound engineer is doing a whole package for us that includes the licence.

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