By Scott Konrad
To the casual listener, our growing catalog of weekly choral offerings sound as though they were recorded ‘live’ in a beautiful performance space. But it’s just an aural illusion, since our ensemble, like nearly all, physically disbanded in March, with the onset of COVID-19.
What you’ve heard most recently is made possible through digital multitrack recording technology — the same medium the world’s major recording studios use. Our choir starts with an accompaniment, which Darlene records onto her smartphone and circulates to those of us participating in a given week. Primitive as it sounds — and is, in the world of professional recording — our choristers listen to Darlene’s backing track through headphones or earbuds, typically on one device, while recording their own parts on their smartphones or computers. Then they send the unvarnished solo recordings to me…and the fun starts.
Using a combination of a multitrack recording rig with up to 24 inputs and a digital audio workstation (“DAW”) running Apple’s Logic X software, I import all of the parts into a common project. Then I meticulously edit the individual tracks, eliminating stray noises and trimming up the actual music to sync with the companion parts. Once so far, I’ve added an orchestral string part, improvised on my digital keyboard (which is identical to St. John’s own).
Once all the parts are aligned beat-for-beat and measure-for-measure, I balance the volume levels to strike the right overall ‘blend,’ judiciously applying effects such as frequency equalization, compression, and reverb to sweeten the final sound, usually simulating an empty large-venue acoustical space.
Since we have only an accompaniment ‘guide’ track but no conductor, the trickiest aspect of recording by ourselves is to start and end musical phrases together, counting exactly the same number of beats and applying the same consonants precisely in lockstep.
A skilled audio editor could achieve a better result — but we are, after all, a volunteer choir and not hired guns with dazzling audio production. We make our music to glorify God.
Most artists say they prefer live performance to studio work because they feed off each other’s energy and spontaneity to achieve their creative results. It’s certainly been challenging for our choristers — whether singing in the solitude of our homes, offices, only to ourselves or to the family dog — and most of us shudder at the raw solo output from our phones and recording devices. But for me, as the one who stitches it all together in a sonic palette, it’s almost magical to hear a performance unfold and take shape ensemble. Even in recording, we’re not alone but in community.
We hope you enjoy our remote offerings!