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29 Days to Diva: Day 6 — Recordings: Bring the noise! (#29daystodiva)

February 6, 2012

The audio cassette greatly increased the distr...

This ain't your grandma's audition recording...

Fact of the day: An audition committee is not going to try to imagine how good you are—they need to hear it. Therefore, it is crucial to have a bevy of sound recordings at your disposal. Just like résumés and bios, audition panels wade through thousands of recordings every audition season. Often they will listen to all of those recordings just to offer live auditions. Sound recordings offer just one more way for you to put your best foot forward and demonstrate your impeccable technique and dazzling musicianship.
Your 29 Days to Diva: Day 6 challenge is to bring the noise — on your audition recordings, that is.

Singers fall victim to all sorts of recording blunders. Stories of wayward external noises like a crying baby; mysterious events like loud thumps twenty times louder than the voice; even improper mic placement – seemingly somewhere off behind a large comforter abound. Audition panels weeding through recordings at a prestissimo pace are not going to wait to the end of the disc for you to figure it out. Do not become a humorous dinner break story. Commit yourself to a respectable and worthy sound recording.

Program

When deciding what to record start with an honest evaluation of what you sing best. Think of this as the blind auditions in the popular TV show “The Voice.” You are trying to get your judges to turn their chairs around after the first two notes. When putting a recording together weigh your options when it comes to time period, range, languages, tempi, and style to show your versatility.

Plan to record your best five arias. If you do not already have a Mozart aria in the mix you may consider adding one because many competitions/programs will ask for it. Make sure to have a diverse selection of languages and styles.

If you would like to be considered for oratorio or orchestral work, you should also record two or three oratorio arias in different styles (fast and slow, for example.)

To make best use of your time with the requisite members of a recording session you may also want to prepare a handful of art songs in different languages, something that shows off extended techniques for new music, and/or one or two musical theatre selections.

Some recording guidelines are very specific. It would serve you well to get as many pieces recorded at the height of your preparation with the piece so that you have options when sending in recordings.

Technical

Recording studios are not ideal for operatic recordings. They are usually very dry and that requires that the reverb be added later. Your best option is to use a sound engineer and record in a location that is already conducive to warm tone and clean/clear coloratura – particularly when that is your specialty.

If you are making your own recordings follow a few rules of thumb from Andrew Bove a freelance musician, music producer, and Audio Engineer:

What kind of recording equipment would you recommend for students who are making their own audition recording?

Firstly, I would encourage students to make their own recordings, rather than hire someone to help them. If you regularly record your practice sessions, rehearsals, and concerts, making recordings will quickly become second nature. The lessons you can learn as a musician by recording yourself are incredibly valuable and your listening and analytical skills will increase immeasurably through this process. That said, I’d recommend a portable recorder that records onto solid state media—either an internal hard drive or flash memory. This is so that you can easily transfer the files to your computer. Even the simplest recorder will work pretty well. Although if you’re interested in learning how these things work, you can get a higher quality sound with a more advanced unit and a higher quality external microphone.

Can you tell us about a few options?

With audio equipment, try to avoid “gimmicky” sounding products. The best equipment is simple, durable, well designed, and gets the job done. Purchasing used equipment (especially microphones) is a great way to save money. Professional microphones will retain their value for years. A good microphone is like a good musical instrument—you’ll be able to use it for many years, repair it if it breaks or needs a tune-up, and even sell it someday if you don’t need it anymore. You may even make a profit. Digital recorders and computers are not as good of an investment. Put your money into microphones, not recorders.

There are so many recorders and microphones on the market, it is difficult to specifically recommend any in particular. I’ve listed a few products to consider with a variety of price ranges and capabilities.

Recorders you might consider:

$90—Zoom H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder
This recorder is cheap and easy to use. An inexpensive choice to get started recording. Easy to operate. If you have one, keep it in your case all the time and use it when you practice!

$300—Zoom H4n Handy Portable Digital Recorder
There are many “mid-range” audio recorders. Most, like this one, provide inputs for connection of external microphones via XLR connectors. You’ll want a recorder with microphone inputs if you think you’ll upgrade to a pro microphone sometime in the future.

$1900—Sound Devices 702 Digital Audio Recorder
This is the most basic model of Sound Devices’ line of professional audio recorders. These rugged recorders are a standard in mobile recording, and have as good of a sound quality as you would find in a stand-alone audio recorder.

Microphones you might consider:

$70—Giant Squid Audio Lab—Omnidirectional Stereo Microphone
This is a nice and inexpensive microphone that will provide an upgrade to the “built in” microphones on recorders.

$400—Shure KSM 141/SL Dual-pattern End-Address Condenser Microphone
You’ll need two to record in stereo, but great audition recordings can be made in mono!

$900—Sennheiser MD 441-U dynamic super-cardioid Microphone
This is one of the finest “dynamic” microphones available. Dynamic microphones do not require phantom power, so they will not drain the batteries of the recorder. Useful to use with recorders that don’t have enough phantom power to properly power a high-end condenser
microphone. You’ll need two to record in stereo.

$1200—Sennheiser MKH-8040 Compact Cardioid Condenser Microphone
This microphone has accurate sound quality, and is excellent for classical music. You’ll need two to record in stereo.

Tips & Pointers

  • Unless specifically requested, do not add any spoken announcements to the recording.
  • Listen to your recording, yes, the whole thing – before sending it out to anyone!
  • Add a neatly printed program with your header from the résumé and bio for continuity. Unless you are specifically asked not to, add a label to the CD with your name and program. Keep it simple. Basic design and formatting wins here.
  • Leave plenty of time to ship your recordings – do not rely on overnight shipping.
  • Do slate each take (i.e. “Donde lieta uscì ” take one.) Then, edit these out for the final cut.
  • Remember to make the very beginning of your recording the very best. You may only get a few minutes with your listener.
  • Make sure that your disc can be played on different equipment. It must be able to play in a regular CD player.
  • Bonus points for having your audition recordings peer-reviewed before sending it out. You may get the best advice from this simple act alone.
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