Launched in 2015, the National Youth Choir Fellowship Programme aims to create the most highly skilled and multi-talented choral singers in the UK. Each year, 4 singers aged 22-25 are selected from an intensive three round audition process to benefit from a comprehensive, remunerated training programme which develops outstanding skills in performance, education and leadership.

Freddie Crowley, Photo: Ben Tomlin

7 October 2020

NYCGB Fellow Freddie Crowley takes us through the process of making a virtual recording of Sir Karl Jenkins’ ‘Locus Iste’, for the Stay at Home Choir and The Sixteen’s Sounds Sublime Festival

In the last blog post, Ella talked about some of the virtual recording projects we worked on back at the start of the lockdown. I’ve been asked to write about our next recording which was in collaboration with the Stay at Home Choir (SAHC), run by NYCGB alumni Jamie Wright and Tori Longdon.

We were invited to record Sir Karl Jenkins’ setting of ‘Locus Iste’, as part of SAHC’s project to record movements from his mass ‘The Armed Man’. As with all the thousands of virtual recordings made around the world over the last 6 months, this involved each Fellow recording their own part in isolation, singing along to a clicktrack. This is obviously a completely different process to a normal choral recording, with all its own unique challenges and some benefits too. It was my job to edit and mix the audio, and so I’m going to write a bit about the process of making a virtual recording like this.

My main tools were two brilliant pieces of software: Logic Pro X and Melodyne. Logic is a ‘digital audio workstation’ (DAW) — similar to other well-known DAWs like GarageBand, Pro Tools, Audacity or Reaper — and Melodyne is a very powerful graphic note-by-note editing software.

Starting in Logic, the first step was to collate all the various recorded clips for each singer, splicing the takes together into seamless lines. After cutting background noise (pots, pans, cars, planes, birds, profanities), I balanced up the voices to bring out a full, but at this stage quite messy, rendition of the piece.

Tuning and rhythmic precision are probably the hardest things about recording virtually like this. No matter how rigorously you stick to the clicktrack, the minutiae of togetherness in terms of timing and tuning are impossible to achieve when recording parts separately. This is where Melodyne comes in, which allows you to adjust each individual note’s tuning, timing, level, length, vibrato, attack, and more… using Melodyne, I carefully tuned every chord and lined up all the individual consonants in the piece, which immediately turns the scrappy and individualistic combination of recordings into a cohesive choral sound.

Next is the mixing, where the clinical, acoustically-dry sound is warmed up, smoothed out, and made to sound as if it’s in a real life space. This involves various processes, but the key ones are compression, equalisation (EQ), and spatial effects. Compression evens out the dynamics by essentially making quiet things louder and loud things quieter; EQ allows you to boost or reduce certain frequencies of someone’s voice to warm up the tone and improve the blend; spatial effects can be created by panning some voices to the left and some to the right, and also by adding delays (like echos) and reverbs (reverberation). In the case of our ‘Locus Iste’ recording, I created a large, long, warm space to give the impression of a church acoustic — in keeping with the text of the piece: “This place was made by God…”

Once the audio was ready, each of us was able to film our video segments, in which we mimed along to the recording whilst standing (or kneeling, no one will ever know) in front of the nicest wall we could find. Milette Riis then took charge of the video, putting our heads on a starry background and making sure all the clips were correctly lip-synced.

The finished video was premiered as part of The Sixteen’s Sounds Sublime Online festival on 18th July, and then it was also featured in SAHC’s screening of their ‘Armed Man’ project, which was streamed on 6th September.

Lots of people have been asking whether this process is the future of recording, and it’s a really interesting question. There are lots of great advantages to recording virtually like this: no studio hire fees, no need to travel, no pressure to find a time when everyone is free, as well as the huge opportunities for detailed editing, error correction, tuning, etc… and it’s also such a powerful way of connecting people around the world, and allowing choral music-making to be so accessible, with organisations like SAHC — but there is a certain spark that comes out of singing together in a real group of real people in a real room that just can’t ever be achieved when you record separately like this. It’s in the cohesiveness of the sound, the shared objectives in performance, the emotion of delivery, and just the unbeatable feeling of making music with other people in the moment.

It’s been a lot of fun to work on these virtual recording projects over the summer, and a fascinating experience especially for those of us involved in the production side of things. But I think all the Fellows are looking forward to getting together in a London studio this month (with a hefty set of covid precautions) to record together again in the flesh! 

Click to view Stay at Home Choir's recording of The Global Armed Man here featuring NYCGB Fellows' performance of Sir Karl Jenkins' Locus Iste with introduction by NYCGB Artistic Director Ben Parry (21:08). 

The NYCGB Fellowship Programme is supported by Principal Programme Supporter ABRSM with additional generous support from the Ofenheim Trust, and by programme partners Making Music and AOTOS (Association of Teachers of Singing).