On January 13th 2012 I was asked to do a live recording of a performance that will later be synchronized to video. We did this as a test to see how we could enhance the sound quality to video. I have done live performance recordings before but they were always at the mercy of whoever was running the sound. This led to its own set of problems.
Sound guys priorities
When someone is doing live sound, they have three priorities;
- Is the band satisfied with the sound from the monitors?
- Is the audience satisfied with the sound from the speakers?
- Don’t blow up the gear!
Whoever is doing sound that night typically has plenty to deal with and the last thing that he/she wants to do is figure out a way for you to record the band by jacking into his board further adding to his list of potential problems. What usually ends up happening is that you are faced with the following less than ideal options.
Using the insert send as a line out
The advantage with this option is that you are able to get an output from all of the channels that are being used allowing for multi-track recording.
The disadvantage to this is that your input levels are at the mercy of whatever the sound guy sets the preamp to. Some signals could end up being quite loud and others very quiet. Another disadvantage is that the inserts are typically located post EQ leaving you with a signal that has been EQed to fit the room and could require some creative mixing in order to get it to sound acceptable later.
This option is only possible if the inserts are not being used. If you were to try this with the inserts in use, you would have to daisy chain your recording I/O’s into the channel insert chain which leaves the sound tech to rely 100% on your computer to NOT CRASH!!!! No sound tech will ever agree to that.
Using the auxiliary outs
This option is pretty quick and easy provided that there are one or two aux outs that are not being used, but this option comes with some steep limitations. Most of the time you will get one aux made available to you giving you a mono mix. You will have to set the volume levels of that mix by adjusting the individual channel aux sends while trying to monitor the signal through a pair of headphones. Unfortunately with this option, whatever the levels are that you have recorded is pretty much all that you get. You will be able to EQ, compress and add reverb to the entire track later but you will not have the ability to adjust or treat any of the individual instruments later.
Using the buss system
Some consoles have a buss system and many live sound techs use them to group instruments together such as drums, guitars, vocals, etc… You can use the buss outs to record these groups. With this option you are recording the signal post EQ and inserts but unlike the auxiliary out option you will have the ability to EQ, compress and add reverb to the instrument groups instead of the whole track later.
Using the direct outs
This option is similar to using the channel insert sends the difference being that the direct outs are located at the end of the channel’ signal chain as opposed to the insert send which is located after the EQ. The difference is that the direct out signal is subject to changes in fader levels. Some live sound techs take a “set it and forget it” approach which is great for the recording but not necessarily the best for the audience and some get right into it and ride the faders which is great for the audience and can be a great benefit to you if he does it well. If it is not done well you will be left with a lot of volume corrections to make when you go to mix.
So after many situations of dealing with this issue in all it’ forms and challenges, when I was asked to record a performance at the Edgewater Casino I had an easy, common sense plan to get a great recording.
When you do this kind of recording there are two significant unknown factors;
What kind of console are they using?
How knowledgeable is the sound tech with that console?
In this case the sound tech was very knowledgeable but the casino just bought a digital console that he had never used and we literally took it out of the box while setting up for the sound check and this was his first experience with a digital console.
Because of these factor, I figure that the first and most important thing that I had to do was to make sure that I inconvenience the live sound tech as little as possible and what could be better than not having to connect to or rely on their system at all?! Therefore, the most important part of my set up was a pair of 8 channel microphone splitters. These splitters basically receive 8 microphone inputs each and output 8 transformer isolated mic outs (iso’s) and 8 direct outs. The 8 iso’s then go to the channel mic ins of the house console and the direct outs go to the inputs of my recording rig leaving me and the house engineer to handle our input signals independently and separately. From that point on I treat everything as if it were a multi-track studio recording leaving me the freedom to process everything however I please.
Whenever you are involved in a project you should strive to get the best quality that you can and if it involves or affects others then strive to make your involvement as unobtrusive or better yet, as beneficial to their performance as possible. I had a great time doing it and I look forward to working with those guys again in the future.