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Case Study | “Messiah” - FSU Chamber Choir

Updated: Jan 21

Back in December 2022, I had the opportunity of a lifetime - recording a full performance of Handel's "Messiah," performed by the FSU Chamber Choir. This is one of my favorite recordings, and is still one of the largest projects I've gone completely solo on. One of the things I started doing around that time was logging my setup details as closely as possible, so I thought it would be cool to write a blog post about the setup, recording, and editing for future reference. For those of you who might roll your eyes at high prices for audio-video recordings, hopefully this case study gives you a better idea of everything that goes into it.

 

The Setup (2 hrs)

Audio - 7 mics

- 2x DPA 4006TL (Room) | 12ft

- 2x AKG 414 XLS (Orchestra) | 6ft

- 2x AKG C3000 (Choir LR) | 8 ft (to account for standing vs. sitting)

- 1x AKG C3000 (Soloist) | 5.25ft (avg mouth height)

- 50-foot snake running through the first pew into a side stairwell.

- Focusrite Clarett 8Pre

- Recording with Adobe Audition (24-bit/48kHz)

- audio levels only peaked once (when Marques Ruff was melting everyone's faces), which I quickly adjusted.


Video - 3 cams (Sony a6600 | 4K/30fps)

- Sony 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 in the balcony

- Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 on the left

- Sigma 30mm F1.4 on the soloist

- replacing batteries during intermission

Figure 1: Microphone Position Reference (Photo Credit: Claire Timm Photography)


Dress Rehearsal | including setup (5 hrs)

Performance | including teardown (4 hrs)

Importing audio/video (1.3 hrs)

- 315GB of video

- 8.6GB of audio

 

Audio Editing (3 hrs, 45 min)

- Sifting through the mix with the program in hand to label each movement & soloist


Mixing | Adobe Audition

- DPAs panned hard LR

- Strings LR 75

- Choir LR 75

- Soloist right down the middle

Figure 2: Messiah – Multitrack Timeline in Adobe Audition


- Adjusting levels of the Solo mic for each mvt (some need more than others depending on the dynamic range of the mvt/soloist)

- Ducking the soloist mic completely for movements without solos - thickens/solidifies the mix, reduces the muddiness

- Stereo Mixdown to .wav file | 24-bit/48kHz

- Noise Reduction in Adobe Audition (it was unbearably loud in there, but I was able to get a solid enough noise print that it was virtually unnoticeable).

- I also had to do this twice | 1 for the beginning, and another for everything after the spot where I adjusted the soloist mic.

- I usually implement a hard limiter of -3 to -9 dB and Normalize the recording to bring up the lower amplitudes, but in this situation I didn't because it would have exposed the amount of noise reduction processing. Thankfully, the dynamic range of the recording was the perfect width to avoid this.

- Normalized the recording to 90% | ensures that the recording will not clip/peak when played on most (like 99%) sound devices.

Figure 3: List of various mixdowns of Messiah (to backup all changes made)


Mastering | Izotope Ozone 9

- Was very careful with this, so as to not negatively affecting the clarity of the mix. I was able to implement Dynamic EQ to bring out the mid-range clarity after using the master assistant in several different spots, then bought the threshold of the maximizer down by 3dB to maintain the dynamic range of the recording.

Figure 4: Messiah | Mastering in Izotope Ozone 9


- Final export from Adobe Audition, then sent for review.

- After receiving confirmation that the mix was on point, I imported everything into Premiere Pro to start the video editing process.

Figure 5: Final Stereo Mixdown of Messiah (post-processing)

 

Video Editing (16 hrs)

- Color-coding & Syncing all 3 cams + audio (15 min)

- Color Corrections & Masking (3 hrs)

- Adj. Layer 1 | Exposure, Saturation, Sharpness

- Adj. Layer 2 | Masking the vents at the back of the church (allowing me to zoom in without seeing them wiggle the entire time)

- Adj. Layer 3 | Increasing Saturation of the yello fixtures up top, and adjusting the greenish tint of the walls to be more blue.

- Adj. Layer 4 | Desaturating a spot in which a ceiling spot light made a few background singer's faces look orange.

- Rendering & replacing each cam with color correction changes to allow faster editing (1 hr)

- Camera angle changes on appropriate phrases endings throughout the entire 2hr performance (3.5 hrs)

- Adding slow zooms and pans to every single clip (1.5 hrs)

- Inserting Lower Thirds for all 15 soloists (using audio markers), cross-referencing the physical program for any potential spelling errors. (45 min)

- Inserting Title at Beginning & List of Performers at the end (20 minutes)

- Slow fade in/out at beginning & end. (5min)

- Render & Export (1.2 hrs)

Figure 6: Messiah – Timeline in Premiere Pro


- Upload to frame.io (15 min)

- Review entire performance, insert comments/changes where needed. (2 hrs)

- Back to Premiere Pro, make changes, render, export, reupload (1.5 hrs)

- Send for Final Review

- Final Review confirms the "first" draft is nails!!!

 

This project took close over 30 hrs to complete, & was delivered within 7 days of the performance.


Handel’s “Messiah” | Florida State University Chamber Choir


Recorded Dec 2nd, 2023 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Tallahassee, FL


Justin Ball | August 8, 2023

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