Live Music Recording Equipment vs. Live Performance Equipment

You can spend a fortune on equipment. There’s analog, digital, combinations of digital and analog, and interfaces for computers. Live music recording equipment is not in short supply. What it really comes down to is what you really want to accomplish. One of those goals is to be asked to do the next project. One place we all know where equipment is important is in the live performance.

Photo by chuttersnap

When it comes to a live performance, there are a few things you want to consider.

First, this is not an attempt to sell you any kind of sound or recording equipment. In fact, this is probably aimed more toward the individual or individuals who have never done live recordings while engineering a live performance and are looking for a little insight. First, you have to decide how you’re going to make the recording. More often than not, that recording would be sent off to a studio that tweaks mixes and masters. But if you’re like me, and you can’t afford the professional services, it’s up to you, hence, what do I need to know in order to get a nice finished product on my own, and with that, do I have the equipment necessary to make this happen?

Balanced for the Venue

Whatever you do, do not neglect your live audience. Do what you do best, send them home smiling and wanting more. Just understand that whatever you’re doing in the venue whether it’s indoor or outdoor, it won’t necessarily translate well to a good recording. In fact, you may be quite disappointed when you first listen to it. But don’t fret, if you’ve captured it with adequate equipment, you can take it home, tweak it, and give it life again.

So what live music recording equipment should I use to capture the live performance? Ideally, you want an interface that will capture as many live non-processed, (or raw) channel signals as possible. In this way, when you get back to the studio you will be able to reconfigure the balance to meet the needs of the multi-track recording so you can fix whatever caused your initial disappointment (when you listened to your live recording), and make it sound much like it was live without all the drawbacks that have now become obvious to you in your live recording.

Analog or Digital

Photo by Tom Pottiger

There is not necessarily a right or wrong answer here, depending upon what you want to accomplish. Each format has its advantages and disadvantages. Most probably, however, you will be using a digital format. DAT (Digital Audio Tape) and ADAT 8 channel analog recorders are not as popular as they once were, but they are not very expensive either, (unless you cannot find the tapes anymore). You are of course generally limited to eight channels, which with a drum kit you can use most all those depending on the kit, and not to mention, the analogs I am most familiar with are limited to 16-bit and 48 kHz.

In the digital world, you have the advantage of DAW  (Digital Audio Workstation) interfaces which, depending upon your need, can be very inexpensive or very pricey. Many DAW interfaces are limited in the number of I/O choices, however, there are still options but if you go that route plan on spending a little coin. The end result here is to be able to produce and then manipulate as many tracks as possible.

The Crowd Pleaser

The goal, of course, is to bring the live concert to the masses. Particularly for those who attended the concert and want to enjoy reliving it, along with those who were unable to attend. Your hope is to reproduce the passion, emotion, and excitement that was present live and bring it to the digital recording.

Photo by Jo Jo

This, of course, is where the work begins. Again it depends upon what kind of equipment you’re using to accomplish this task. As the engineer, you will have to work with what you received. Unlike a studio recording, there are no second takes. You have to work with what you have. So getting it right, in the beginning, makes a rather significant difference in the end.

Where it is within your ability to control the initial set up for the live performance, this is also the place where you can maximize the quality of the recording you’ll capture. Everyone’s different on what they prefer with regard to recording, and you will find this out for yourself on a case-by-case basis. You will ask yourself, do I want DI (Direct In) or, will I Mic amplifiers? Will the drum kit be in a sound box? Will you be dealing with a grand piano? How you answer these questions and then address them will determine how good the quality of the recording per channel will be at the outset.

Mixing to Mastering

Because it’s live, and the likeliness that you will have many open mics, means you will be dealing with “bleed”. Where mics are concerned, choosing the kind of mic that best suits the situation, of course, should be taken into consideration. In today’s market, the kinds of microphones one might consider are vast and they do many things to help out in life situations versus studio situations.

If you’re limited on what you have available to you then you must work with what you have. When you get back to the studio and begin working on the project you may find this initially quite frustrating, but it is important to remember that you are dealing with a live performance. To keep the sound and feel you will want to be careful and not go overboard with the tweaking while trying to clean up each channel. Too much manipulating can ruin what you were going for which again, is capturing the live performance with all its ambiance.

Photo by OLEG PLIASUNOV

The DAW or analog tools available to you will be of a great help. It is important to remember to use each with a great deal of control. Compression, equalization, reverb, and any other audio effects will be the kind of enhancements you will need to bring your otherwise lifeless performance back to the living or conversely, become your worst nightmare. You need to remember that as you are working on the project to be cognizant of how it should sound when you’re all done.

There are many things to remember about sound reproduction. A little trick I learned along the way was never to rely solely upon the studio equipment whether it be the studio quality headphones or studio quality monitors, but rather, the kind of devices your sound reproduction will be played upon. Essentially, making a demo to be played on the various types of media the production might be used with is a good way to help you decide on how much or the kind of tweaking you really need.

Learning from the lessons of those who have gone before us can also be very valuable in saving time and energy. Consider the efforts of Fletcher-Munson in their book “Loudness, its definition, measurement, and calculation” in which they taught us an important concept we might want to keep at the forefront of our mind as we’re working. Essentially low listening volumes enhance mid-range frequencies while conversely, high-volume enhances lows and highs. Now that’s a simple explanation to perhaps a more complex problem, but nonetheless invaluable in reproducing quality recordings. You need to be aware of it while you’re in the studio because it impacts how you hear it and tweak it in the production. You will need to be aware of this concept in terms of reproduction for the listener. In what manner will the consumer likely be listening to this recording and how will that impact the tweaking?

Is it Live?

Now that’s the question I want to hear when someone is listening to a recording project that I produced. Of course the

Photo by Nick Karvounis

equipment that it is being played back on will have a lot to do with how it really sounds, but nonetheless, if it were played in a large venue through a playback device over some decent equipment then the goal is, can a blindfolded person tell the difference? For the most part, your effort will be to produce the best quality playback recording to impress the masses and make them want more. The equipment used to produce the project as well as the equipment it’s being rendered on will have an impact. Afterall, you want it viable on as many media as possible as the ultimate goal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *