And now for the professional techniques. What do you need to know? How do you take a live gig and…
turn it into a recording that will actually professionally represent your band’s sound? Here are three techniques you can use:
Record to multitrack off the board’s insert jacks
This method can sound really good, and you can edit and mix the multitrack recording. You’ll need a multitrack recorder: either hard drive, USB, or a multichannel audio interface connected to a computer or iPad. You’ll also need a cable snake about 8 feet long with connectors that mate with your PA mixer’s insert jacks and your recorder’s line-input jacks (or your audio interface’s line-in jacks).
Here’s the basic procedure:
1. Mike each instrument and vocal close up.
2. Mike the audience too so that the recording sounds “live”.
3. Connect a cable from each insert send jack to each multitrack recorder line input or audio interface line input (Figure 4 Button).
4. Record all the amplified mic signals (insert-send signals) with the multitrack recording system.
5. Edit and mix the tracks back in your studio.
The mic signals go to your PA mixer and are amplified up to line level. These amplified signals appear in the insert jacks on the back of high-end mixers — one insert per channel.
Before you can connect to your PA mixer, check its manual under Insert Jacks. They will be either:
(1) A separate insert-send jack and insert-return jack, both 1/4″ tip-sleeve connectors.
(2) A single insert send-return 1/4″ jack. Usually tip is send and ring is return. Sleeve is the common ground for both signals. Use a cable snake with TS connectors for (1) or TRS for (2). Some mixers, such as Mackie, let you plug a TS phone plug halfway into an insert jack to get a signal.
Once you are connected, set recording levels during the sound check with the PA mixer’s input gain-trim knobs. Aim for about -10 dBFS peak. The PA mixer’s fader settings won’t affect the recording levels because the inserts are pre-fader. Press Record when the gig starts and let it run non-stop for each set.
Tell the audience, “We’re making a live recording, and we’d love you to yell and clap! Here’s your chance to be on our CD!” If you play a song poorly, you might play it again in a later set and re-record it. Or record several gigs and pick the best performances to go on your CD.
PA mixer with USB or FireWire
Many newer PA mixers have a built-in USB or FireWire port. Some examples are the Midas Venice F series and the PreSonus StudioLive. The signal from each mic preamp is sent along the USB or FireWire connection to your computer, which is running multitrack recording software. The recording quality can be great with this method, and you can edit and mix the multitrack recording back in your studio.
The PreSonus StudioLive 16.4.2, an example of a mixer with a FireWire interface for multitrack live recording. Check out a video review of it’s big brother, the StudioLive 24.4.2 here.
1. Plug the mics into your PA mixer.
2. Connect the mixer to your computer via USB or FireWire.
3. In your recording software, set the input of each track to each mic’s signal.
4. Set the recording levels during sound check using the mixer’s gain trim controls.
If you don’t have enough channels to record the audience, record them with a portable stereo recorder. Import the audience tracks into your multitrack recordings, and sync the audience tracks with the music tracks.
Split the mic signals and record them to multitrack
This is the most professional method. The sound will be optimum and you can edit and mix the multitrack recording. You’ll need either a multitrack hard drive or USB recorder plus a separate recording mixer, or a multichannel audio interface connected to a computer. You also need an XLR Y-cable (one female XLR to two male XLRs), one per microphone. The Y cable splits each mic signal and sends it to two destinations: the PA mixer and the multitrack recording system.
At the PA-mixer end of the mic snake (the fanout), plug each XLR connector into an XLR Y-cable. Connect one leg of each Y cable to each PA mixer mic input. Connect the other leg of the Y cable to each mic input of your recording system (Figure 6). This system is either an audio interface connected to a computer, or a recording mixer connected to a multitrack recorder via the mixer’s insert jacks.
To prevent ground loops and hum, be sure to power the PA mixer and the recording system from the same AC outlet strip. Supply phantom power from only one mixer.
Set up a pair of audience mics at either end of the stage aiming at the audience, or at front of house. Once you are connected, set recording levels during the sound check with the input gain trim knobs in the audio interface or recording mixer. Aim for about -10 dBFS peak The PA mixer’s fader settings won’t affect the recording levels because you split the mic signals. Press Record when the gig starts. Finally, edit and mix the recording back in your home studio.
Preparing for a multitrack live recording
Make sure you have enough mics and direct boxes for every instrument and vocal. Write up a mic list and note which mic goes to which track. Also make a list of all the recording equipment and cables. Check off each item on the list as you pack it. After the gig, you can check the list to see whether you reclaimed all your gear.
If you don’t normally mike the drums for PA, you’ll need to buy, rent or borrow several mics to record the drum set. You might bring some mini mics to clamp onto drum rims, or use short mounts (Mic-Eze units at www.ac-cetera.com). They eliminate the weight and clutter of several mic stands. Recordists on a budget can use a single mic overhead and one in the kick.
Bring a couple of audience mics and stands too. Cardioid condenser “pencil” mics work well.
Check all your equipment and cables at home to make sure they work. Pack the gear into your car or van just before you go — don’t leave it in a cold car because equipment lubricants can become stiff and batteries can lose voltage.
Bring spare cables, AC outlet strips, AC extension cords, mic foam pop filters, headphones, flashlight, pen and notebook, gaffer’s tape, water and aspirin. You might want to use a rolling cart or hand truck to make moving equipment easier.
Do you have enough hard-drive or memory space for the duration of the gig? If you are recording at 24-bits/44.1 kHz, you’ll need this much hard-drive space for a 2-hour recording:
8 tracks: 7.1 GB
16 tracks: 14.2 GB
24 tracks: 21.4 GB
To reduce leakage and feedback, plan to mike close with cardioid, supercardioid or hypercardioid mics. Place each mic within a few inches of its instrument. Ask vocalists to sing with lips touching the mic’s foam pop filter. Use direct boxes and contact pickups where possible.
And of course, arrive at the gig a couple hours ahead of time for setting up and for fixing problems. They will happen!
Editing the multitrack recording
After you haul your gear back to the studio, it’s time for mixing and editing.
1. If necessary, copy all the tracks into your recording software’s multitrack template.
2. Select all the tracks, and split all the tracks at the same point — several seconds before and after each song.
3. Export only the tracks in each split section to separate song folders. That way you can mix each song separately by importing the tracks from each folder into a multitrack template. Another option: Copy the tracks in each split section, then paste them into new projects.
Alternatively, use volume envelopes or automation to mix all the songs, then export one long concert mix. If you want, you can import that stereo mix and split it into individual songs, saving only the best ones. Then overlap one song’s ending applause with the beginning of the next song.
Bring up the audience mics in the mix enough to add some magic “liveness,” but not enough to make the sound muddy. There’s your live gig recording!
Recording engineer Bruce Bartlett is the author of Recording Music On Location and Practical Recording Techniques 6th Edition. He’s also a microphone engineer at www.bartlettaudio.com.
Originally posted 2012-09-04 19:46:06.