Most bands I record are surprised that recording can be so educational. By listening to their recording, the band members can hear their performance very clearly. That helps them play better.

 

As one musician told me, “We’re playing a lot tighter since we recorded our CD.”

 

A recording holds up a mirror to your performance. Is the group tight? Is the rhythm backup working? Is the arrangement too busy? The recording will tell you.

 

It’s easier to evaluate your performance when you’re just listening to a recording of it, without playing your instrument. Then you can take steps to improve.

 

I’ll describe how to record your rehearsals with simple methods, so that the technology doesn’t get in the way as you’re playing. Once you settle on a recording style that works for you, it can become a standard part of your rehearsals.

 

Recorder with a Built-in Mic

 

This is the easiest way to record, and it might work fine for you. Get a handheld digital recorder or boom box with a built-in microphone. In your practice room, walk around as the band is playing and find a spot where you hear a good mix of the instruments and PA vocals.

 

Put the recorder there, on a table or on the floor—whatever gives the best-sounding recordings.

 

Many portable recorders have an automatic record-level feature.  If yours doesn’t, set the record level so that the recorder’s meter peaks as high as possible without going into the red.

 

Listen to the playback.  If it sounds distorted—even though the recording level was correct—chances are that the mic preamp in the recorder was overloaded by the loud sound of your band. Turn down the recorder’s gain switch and see if that solves the problem.

 

Computer and Separate Mic

 

If your recorder is a computer or iPad, you  need a separate mic that plugs into an audio interface.

 

What kind of microphone should you use? Almost anything will do the job. You might try a PZM or two on the floor. Or use a pair of cardioid microphones on stands, facing at the band and spread apart a few feet. The mic’s cardioid polar pattern will reduce pickup of muddy-sounding room acoustics.

 

Record in stereo if possible. Compared to mono, stereo makes it easier to hear what each band member is playing. That’s because each instrument is separated in space in the stereo playback.

 

Recording off Your Mixer

 

A drawback of recording your band with one or two mics is that they pick up a lot of room acoustics, which can muddy the sound.

 

You might prefer to record directly off your mixing board instead. If you mike all your instruments and vocals individually, and run the mic signals through the board, you’ll record a clean signal without room acoustics.

 

You don’t need elaborate drum miking to make practice tapes. Try one cardioid mic overhead and one in the kick.

 

Connecting to the mixing board is easy. Find a spare main output or two on your board, and connect it to your recorder line input(s) using a suitable cable. If your mixer has only one output that is connected to a power amp, plug a Y-cord into the output so that it will feed both the power amp and your recorder.

 

There you have some easy techniques to record rehearsals. By listening to the recordings you can hear how your band performs, then make things better.

 

Now you’re ready to record, here’s a step-by-step procedure.

 

1. Set your board’s master faders at design center (the shaded part of fader travel, about half or three quarters up).

 

2. As the band is playing a loud song, turn up each input-trim control until the clip light comes on, then turn down the input trim 6 to 10 dB to create some headroom.

 

3. Repeat for each input channel.

 

4. Set up a rough mix while keeping the board’s meters peaking around 0 maximum. You might try setting the mix while listening on headphones.

 

5. Record the mix and play back the recording.

 

6. If any instrument or vocal is too loud in the mix, turn it down a few dB on your mixer. Or turn up instruments/vocals that are too quiet. Repeat  until the recorded mix is okay.

 

If the recording is distorted, turn down the mixer master faders so that the mixer meters peak around –12 VU maximum.

 

– Bruce Bartlett is a recording engineer and microphone engineer (www.bartlettaudio.com). His latest books are “Practical Recording Techniques 6th edition” and “Recording Music On Location.”