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Recording Tips: Recording Clapping separately

Dear Choralist!


Last week I asked about recording a clap track. That is, we have a
recording session this weekend, and one of our piece includes
clapping, and we were wondering if it's better to record the clapping
while we sing, or to sing clappless and dub in the claps later.

I have received a cornucopia of impressive answers, all from voices
of experience. Here they are! Many thanks to all. What I think
we'll do in the spirit of science! is try both approaches.
We'll record with clapping, and also record a track without clapping
and see if we need it.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = I sang with Robert Shaw when he recorded the 24 hymns and spirituals
on Telarc called AMAZING GRACE. We attempted, unsuccessfully, to
record all the clapping for some of those selections at the same time
as the singing. It never worked. I have no idea why it was sloppy,
but I know we were much better singers than clappers! It was finally
dubbed in in the studio later!
Lynda Boltz
Raleigh NC

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = As an old hand of recording on both sides of the mike, it is better
to do it all at the same time if possible. Just remember the
clapping should be more controlled and use less of the hollow of the
hand and more of a flat hand.
If for some reason it doesn't work out then record the "clap track" separately.
Peter T. Kiefer, Coordinator
Fred Waring's America Collection

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = My recommendation is to record a clap track after you've sung the
pieces. It will be easier to balance things in the mix, rather than
having to re-record because the clapping is too loud or soft.
Mike Molloy

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = You should record the clapping on a separate track; however, you may
wish to do this AFTER the vocals have been recorded. You will be much
happier with the result as the singing will not sound stilted and the
"attack" of the claps will be much more uniform.
Barbara E. Pinto-Choate

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = My experience in this regard was with a various percussion parts that
we added to selections on a CD we were producing. We added the
percussion tracks in a separate recording session. Because they were
on separate tracks, we were able to balance them perfectly with the
choral parts. The final product was great. I was a little nervous
about doing it that way but would never hesitate again.
Best wishes,
Robert de Frece
University of Alberta

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = It may work better if you overdub the claps. Often it is difficult
to achieve the right balance with the claps since they tend to
overpower the vocals or come off stronger in the microphones. In a
live performance the balance may okay, but with a recording the
acoustics and the natural percussiveness of the handclaps shoot right
out there. That's why they usually isolate the percussion players
either in a booth or within a conclave of baffles.
Just my 2 cents worth for what's it's worth.
Joe Jennings, Chanticleer

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = Of course, it is better if they can sing and clap at the same time
unless some folk are not coordinated enough to do both. (These same
folk would probably also have difficulty walking and chewing gum at
the same time.) Coordination is sometimes a problem for middle aged
adults, but usually not for high school and college students. The
only reason to record the clapping and singing separately would be if
both parts are too complex to do at the same time, and most clapping
is not that complex. Of course, techies tend to suggest such things
simply because they like to play with the technology, but it's
certainly not as efficient or authentic as recording both the
clapping and the singing at the same time.
Bill Weinmann

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = Your best bet is to be prepared to do it either way, then ask the
engineer. He/she should have the best answer.
Robert C. Fullerton
The Master's School

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = Our church has been in the recording studio before, and I would have
to say that your students are, in my opinion, correct.
When recording, claps will interfere with the recording of the voices.
It would be much wiser to record the voices first and then go back
and out the claps on a separate track. That way the claps can be
mixed in at a level that will not overpower the vocal tracks.
If you're concerned about the authenticity of the performance, you
could have the students do what I call "silent" claps - two fingers
against the palm. This gives you rhythm without overdriving the
Hope this helps.
Kenny Stultz
Vinson Middle School, WV

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = I've both recorded a few pieces with clapping and "produced" a few
from the booth with colleagues. I've always recorded the clapping
while singing, so I can't answer the high-tech question of doing in
separate sessions (although it may be easier to control quality of
sound and balance).
One of the problems we found was always that clapping (or any
percussion for that matter) always came through too strongly on the
recording the mics being particularly sensitive to percussive
Our solution was to put those clapping (or percussion instruments) in
the back of the group, farthest from the mics.
At the same time, it was better, even if the whole group clapped in a
regular performance, to have only a small group clap for the
recording (this also meant I could choose those who were most
rhythmically accurate for that task).
Richard Sparks
Choral Arts (Seattle), Pro Coro Canada (Edmonton)

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = You should do the clapping along with the performance. Don't get
into the habit of overdubbing. It wastes time and is expensive.
If you or a student is doing the tech work, set your mics far enough
back that the clapping will not peak your meters. If you are using a
professional studio tech, just warn him ahead of time about the
clapping so he can take the appropriate measures with his mic scheme.
Daniel Craig
University of Southern Indiana

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = If you want to make sure it's clean, I would do the claps separately.
Many an excellent vocal take has been spoiled with an errant clap.
Ross C. Bernhardt, D.M.A.
Lambuth University

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = I've produced quite a few choral recording projects, and this issue
comes up from time to time. Overdubbing the clapping will work, but
in my opinion and experience you'll need to provide the choir with a
headphone mix (i.e. headphones for each singer) so they can hear the
underlying track as they lay in the clap track - this is easy to do
in a recording studio, but more complicated on location - which is
why I have rarely used overdubbing.
I'd suggest just clapping live with the singing, or using a dedicated
group of clappers on a separate mic if you find that it is hard for
some singers to sing and clap at the same time - overdubbing may not
be necessary, or
worth the trouble.
John Helgen

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = I am a conductor with thirty plus years of experience in recording
voices in the studio. Here is the trade-off. Speed vs. control. It
will be faster to record while the students are clapping, but you
lose control of balancing the volumes of the claps with the voices.
In order to record the claps separately, which I would definitely
advise, you must have the studio and engineer aware of your plans and
provide enough headphones (preferably one each, but at least one for
every other person). Additionally, you will probably like the sound
of multi-tracking the claps, which means that you would record them a
second time, adding an additional layer. If the studio and engineer
expect this to happen, it should not add much time to the process.
Good luck
Robert Bowker, The Lakeside Singers

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = As one with a whole lot of experience with this going back to my days
as a commercial composer and producer, depending on who is recording
you and how, this may or may not be possible as a separate track. Lot
of questions for you (and your engineer and producerare you working
with a producer, I hope?).
1. To overdub a clap track, you must be recording in multichannel
audio. If you are going direct to stereo you are out of luck and must
do it all at once.
2. If you are recording in multichannel audio, make sure that your
engineer has extra available tracks for you to overdub the stereo
3. You must tell your engineer *now,* as he/she must be able to play
back your track somehow so that you and your chorus hear it to clap
along with it. That is not standard policy for a remote recording. If
you are going into a studio, they should be equipped for it if warned
about it far enough in advance. The best way would be for all
clappers to have a headphone feed (called "cue"), because playing
back the chorus into the room via speakers will also feed the
playback sound into the recording mics. It must be played back at a
volume high enough to hear, but low enough and off axis enough not to
get in the way of the original track. It would be good if you at
least had a headphone feed of the original music track, if the chorus
4. How large is your chorus? Can they all clap well in rhythm?
Sometimes it is better to take the best clappers and only use them.
If it is a small clapping group, you may need to "mult" (do a second
or third overdub) the clap track to get enough body into it. Make
sure you have enough tracks to mult if you need to.
5. How steady is your tempo and the chorus's? If it is not rock
steady, you may have a lot of mis-claps. You may have them anyway,
just because it is hard to clap even in tempo. Typically you would
lay down a click track in advance with a count off (so you are
starting in the same place each time), then everyone would have
headphones and hear the click track (and ideally synchronize with it
;-D) when they sing the music. Then when you go back to do the
clapping overdub(s), your tempo is the same each time. I assume that
this technique is not available to you, however.
6. How much time do you have allotted to add the clapping? It may
take a number of passes to get the claps synchronized properly.
Typically, you'll go along adding the claps until someone messes up
badly enough; you'll stop, roll back to a good point prior to the
mess up, the clap along with the track, and the engineer will "punch
in" at a point prior to the mess up and you proceed to the next mess
7. Remember that now that you are recording multichannel, you will
need to mixdown all multichannel pieces to stereo at a time separate
from the recording sessions. That means extra time and expense for
8. Another possibility would be to have available to you at the
session a sampled "clap" track prerecorded, that can be triggered by
a synthesizer or keyboard. A separate musician could trigger it right
along as you conduct and record the music, and the engineer would mix
it in at a level that you preapprove. Of course, all the claps will
sound the same, unless you have a number of different samples to use.
You could also overdub the sampled claps lateryou could even
trigger the sample yourself. But again, once you're in
multichannel-land, you will have to mix the added tracks down to
9. My experienced advice: record them all at once, but you need to
practice the "microphone" clap technique. Microphones, especially
sensitive ones that would be used for choral recording, are notorious
for not being able to handle direct clapping without overloading or
having the clap sound louder than the music. The microphone clap is
done low, in front of the stomach or even lower. Practice that style,
or you may be unpleasantly surprised at the backwards balance at the
Steve Barnett
Barnett Music Productions

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = The real question here is whether you are recording straight to
2-track stereo, in which case you're better off clapping live (but it
will take some experimentation to figure out where to clap in
relation to the mics, and how loud to clap), or recording to
multi-tracks, in which case you're going to need a post-production
mixdown session (and its associated costs) in any case. In the
latter case, I would definitely recommend a separate PAIR of clap
tracks. The recording engineer will then have the clapping on a
clean pair of tracks and can EQ and balance it to your taste. S/he
might even decide to use a different, specialized mic for the
clapping. If you're using piano or any other accompaniment, it's a
very good idea to have it on separate tracks, even though there's
some spillover, so you can control the balance and EQ during mixdown.

>My guess is that it will be more together if we do everything at the
>same time. But I'm not sure. Also I think doing everything at once
>is a more authentic reproduction of how we perform the piece
>though I don't know if that matters.

Coordinating shouldn't be a problem. Your engineer will play back
the vocal tracks at a low volume level and use directional mics to
keep from picking that up on the clap tracks.

As to your last statement, I learned a very long time ago that studio
recording is NOT just an archival reproduction of what you do in a
live performance. They are two different art forms. In the studio
you have much more control over the sound, and can literally improve
your performance beyond your live presentation, and come closer to
what you would LIKE to sound like in performance. Of course you
might not share that feeling, and that's fine, too. But archival
albums went out of style starting with "Sgt. Pepper" in about 1967!
Live performance venues are NOISY!

You probably know this, but expect your studio recording to eat up 8
to 10 times more time than the finished product will run. Every
playback takes time (but of course also allows the voices to rest).
You need to decide whether you will function as conductor or
producer, and if you need to conduct you may want to have someone
whose ears you implicitly trust act as producer and decide when a
take is worth listening to and when it isn't. If you have to do both
jobs yourself, you WILL eat up studio time listening to every
playback. Steve Barnett has been the producer for Chanticleer while
our son was in the group, and the results he achieves are magnificent.

Oh, and while I think of it, I got my best stereo choral sound using
the simplest of means. My singers (22 of them) stood in a semicircle
with sopranos at one end and basses at the other, my engineer set up
two mics each 45 degrees off axis (and so at a 90 degree angle from
each other) with the capsules almost touching, and the result was a
clean, natural stereo image without having to do any electronic
manipulation. Your normal choir riser placement is not the ideal for
recording, but of course it's what your kids are used to.

Don't go overboard on reverberation, but don't settle for a dry sound
either. Picture the ideal performance venuegenerally a large
church for choral musicand try to duplicate that ambience. You
don't have to worry about how; that's your engineer's department. But
make sure your engineer has some experience recording classical
music, not just rock, rap, or bluegrass!

And finally, I never expected anything we recorded at the very
beginning of a session to be useable. It takes between 30 and 40
minutes for everyone to settle down, start using their ears, and
start really listening to each other. THAT is when letting them hear
playbacks can pay off. Once they've settled into "studio mode," you
can get consistently good takes almost without stopping until the
voices start to get tired. Then it's time for a pizza break!!
John Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
I forwarded all=of-the-above to our engineer, who replies:

>Like almost everything in the recording process, there's many ways
>to do something, and their all right- As long as the finished
>product is what you want.
>I've always preferred recording questionable things to a separate
>track. Then, later, I have complete control over it.
>Do it both ways, if you can- One with claps, and one without. I have
>some gear that will limit the claps velocity right on the spot as to
>not over power the voices. But if we need to add the claps later,
>we'll have to do it 3 performers at a time because they'll need to
>wear headphones and squeeze into the sound booth.

Of course, my immediate thought on that is that I can have our best
clappers clap a few times! We only have about a third of the choir
clapping in any case.

What an interesting set of ideas and reasons! This is a long-term
recording project, so the final product won't appear for a few years,
but I'll post some tracks online when they're ready.

Again, many thanks to all.

Nina Gilbert

| Nina Gilbert
| gilbertn(a)
| Director of Choral Activities, Lafayette College
| Easton, Pennsylvania 18042-1768
| phone 610-330-5677
| fax 610-330-5058
| Choir tour snapshots:
| -