Dealing with the unexpected

Dealing with the unexpected

When a school calls to arrange for us to come and record their next album, we normally try to get a few details about the songs they want to perform and the musicians involved.

 Having an understanding of what we are to record helps us plan for the setup which we might use.

That said, as far as possible we always try to second guess what else the customer might want.  For us, a ‘standard’ school recording would typically be a couple of songs per class or year group followed by a whole school song.  Most of the time the songs will be accompanied by backing tracks which are played through whatever sound system the school might possess.  Alternatively the accompaniment might be on a school piano or digital keyboard.

Making the right connection

Already we have a mindful of things to consider.   If we take the example of singing to a backing track, there is no standard solution for this.   When we record in a school we are typically in the school hall and usually there will be some sort of sound system available.  However, exactly what sort of sound system and what sort of connections it might have is anyones guess. Therefore we have to go prepared for every possible option.

To make things a bit easier for ourselves, when we specified our mobile recording rig, one of the key criteria was its ability to take a whole variety of different inputs and output audio in a number of ways, thus covering most situations we might find out on location.

Sometimes in schools we get lucky and find that the school have installed a decent quality sound system connected to a mixing desk.  In such instances all we need are a few jack cables and we can connect to an output on the mixer and take a feed of whatever is played directly into our recording rig.  If we are really lucky there will also be a spare input which means we can then play the sound back through the school sound system too.  Whilst we carry our own solutions for play back, where time is limited it is far easier and quicker to connect up a couple of jack leads to the school system than it is to setup our own play back speakers.

The challenge is that all sound systems are slightly different. We often come across systems where there is only one output and it is already being used.   In such cases we have to start being a bit clever with cables and adaptors or adding our own mixing desk.

So far we have never been defeated by a sound system.  But nevertheless, as you would expect, we always have a plan B and carry our own PA system which is big enough for most school Halls and will play back from almost any media as well as connecting into our systems.

Things which can be Blown, Scraped or Hit

Sometimes in addition to or instead of backing tracks, schools will use other instruments as accompaniment.  Again there are an enormous range of possibilities but in the main we find ourselves dealing with one or more of the following:

  • Acoustic Pianos
  • Digital Pianos
  • Electric and Acoustic Guitars
  • Drum Kits and Beat Boxes
  • Recorders and other wind instruments
  • Violins

The list is almost endless and each instrument will provide its own challenge for being recorded.  First up the more instruments we are confronted with the more recording channels we will need.   Our standard location rig has 32 inputs so generally speaking we are covered in terms of inputs. This is an important consideration particularly when you start adding a few instruments and drums to a choir recording.

For example, a school choir with lets say a couple of soloists will need at least 8 microphones just to capture the choir.  If the accompaniment is digital piano, with a couple of electric guitars and a drum kit then that will take up at least 8 further inputs.   So already with a fairly basic setup 16 channel inputs have been used.


The key to a successful location recording is firstly understanding as much as possible about the job before you arrive and secondly making sure you carry enough kit to deal with any situation which might arise during the course of the recording session.   Record my School have many years of experience working on location and as such as we have come across most situations and always found a suitable solution.  We have even recorded outside next to a large pool of water in a location which had no electricity.

As the scouts would say the key is to be prepared.  If you would like to challenge us to come and record in your school then please give us a call on 01225 302143 or click here to email us.

About the author

Jules Addison administrator

Jules Addison is a Director of Record My School and also runs a number of Community Choirs in Wiltshire.

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