Live recording of music is a unique, sometimes daunting, challenge. There’s an energy that occurs when musicians are performing for an audience, and when they can feel that energy and respond to it, some real magic can happen. Capturing that magic is the goal of recording a live performance. But before the magic can start, there can be lots of obstacles to manage, such as bad wiring, acoustical problems, HVAC system noise and air being pumped into microphones, and the fact that usually there is no opportunity for a second chance.
But the same basic audio recording principals apply in both studio and live recording. Great microphones and great mic pre-amps result in a great sounding recording. If you want a superior audio recording of your live performance, work with a professional recording engineer who has the gear, the skills, and experience to capture the best audio possible.
Live Recording Preparation
Getting ready for a live recording is just like getting ready for a studio session. Lots of rehearsals will get the musicians ready to perform at their best. If they do 6 or more shows per month as a group, this won’t be too difficult – unless new material is going to be performed. New material would require more rehearsal time. If the group performs sporadically, more practices might be necessary.
Everybody’s gear needs to be in its best condition as well. New drumheads, new strings on any stringed instruments, and spares on hand for anything that might break. It would be best to put the new strings on the night before so they can stretch out overnight. We’re about to put some amazing sounding mics (connected to some killer mic pre-amps,) in front of, or next to, your instruments. You don’t want to end up with an incredibly accurate recording of a bad sounding instrument.
While we’re at it, make sure everybody is rested, and as stress-free as possible. Don’t schedule a live recording on a Tuesday night when one musician has to slip out of work early and battle rush hour traffic to barely make it to the gig on time. An ideal situation would be to perform at the same venue on consecutive days/nights. You can get multiple versions of each song with near identical sounds, providing the best opportunity for easy editing.
Microphones for Live Recording
All recordings start with the microphone. The better the mic, the better the recording. But the best mic to use in a studio is not always the best microphone for a live recording. Large diaphragm condensor mics that excel for vocals in a studio just don’t work well on stage. But the good news is – there are high quality mics for vocals and instruments that will create an outstanding live recording while still work great for the performance audio. I have a serious collection of amazing sounding (expensive) microphones that cover both studio and live recording situations. My mic box is better than many studios, and definitely better than the mic collection of any band or club. Hire me, use my mics, skills, and experience, and get a better sounding recording.
Mic Pre-amps for Live Recording
Many modern digital live-mixing consoles offer the option of producing a multi-track recording of a performance with the touch of a button. Very handy, very easy, but far from ideal. The mic pre-amps in these consoles are NOT studio quality. Do the math: divide the cost of the console by 3 (thinking that the manufacturer spent 1/3 of the production cost of a mixer on the mic pre’s) then divide it by the number of mic inputs. A popular live-mixing console currently available (made by company “B”) includes 32 mic inputs for $2000. That means each mic pre-amp costs less that $21. TWENTY ONE DOLLARS! The mic cable costs more than the pre-amp. You won’t see anybody using one of these consoles in a professional recording studio.
Most of my mic pre-amp’s cost between between $400 – $600 per channel. And the superior audio quality of these mic-pre’s is instantly apparent. Listen to the punch and clarity of a recording I did of The Nighthawks performing live at The Barns at Wolf Trap.
Live Recording of Chaise Lounge
The Atlas Performing Arts Center in northeast Washington DC was where I recorded the Chaise Lounge concert CD titled “Symphony Lounge.” The band performed their material, backed by the Capital City Symphony. The first clip is an original piece titled “Dude, She’s Waiting.”
I mixed this CD in my home studio, and when Big Round Records released it, they included bonus materials such as the original scores, viewable on your computer. The second excerpt is titled “In Walked Mo.”
I also recorded “Live At The Atlas” by Laura Tsaggaris. Clips of this show can be found on my Recording Projects page.
Dude, She’s Waiting
In Walked Mo
Live Choir Recording - The Choir of Christ Church, Georgetown
Michael Lindstrom conducted the Choir of Christ Church, Georgetown, for this recording. He chose to do the recording at the National City Christian Church in Washington, DC. The ambience is long and rich in this spacious sanctuary, and I took full advantage of it, using my Royer R-122 ribbon mics.
We recorded for three days at the church. On the final day, we had to work around multiple motorcade sirens. Dignitaries were arriving for a major international meeting the following day. Just another factor to manage while doing location recording in a major city.
O quam gloriosum est regnum
Holy is the True Light
Live Recording of Steven Gellman at The Hill Center
I recorded Steven Gellman‘s CD “Songs of Winter’s Cheer” at The Hill Chapel in New Market, Maryland. With Doug Poplin on cello and Margaret Wolfe on vocals, percussion and harmonica, it was one show, one take, in front of a full house. I mixed the CD in my office mixing suite. This live recording is unique in the fact that the Hill Chapel is quite small. So small, in fact, that the performers just use the room acoustics – there is no PA system.
Christmas For Cowboys