Live sound Recorder

May 4, 2016
A live sound recorder

Recording A Live ShowRecording gigs can be challenging, particularly given the constraints imposed by typical small and medium venues. But capturing a great performance, complete with all the atmosphere of the night, can be a hugely rewarding experience.

Matt Houghton

Recording a gig presents a unique set of challenges. You may be a dab hand at studio recording, but it doesn't follow that you'll have an easy time recording a gig. You can't ask the band to run through it one more time! It might be similarly challenging for a front-of-house (FOH) engineer, or someone who's in a band and wants to record their gigs. Sure, such people will be familiar with the pressure of a one-chance-to-get-it-right live event, but they'll be less acquainted with the intricacies of recording, and with the threshold of acceptability: a fleeting moment of preamp distortion or feedback might annoy an FOH engineer, but it's not something most listeners will notice (never mind remember), so it's no show-stopper. Yet this sort of thing can spoil a recording.

Whether your background is in studio or live sound, or you're a gigging musician, this article aims to take you through the key issues to consider if you want to start recording live performances. I'll explore a number of options, from the simplest stereo recording to an ambitious multitrack recording that can be edited and enhanced in a post-production stage. I'll mention some post-production processes, but that's a huge subject, the details of which we'll cover another time.

The recording side of things is similarly vast, so I've had to set some boundaries and make assumptions. I'll focus on gigs in typical small-to-medium venues of the sort you'll find in a city like London, simply because, firstly, larger venues already tend to have recording facilities, and the bands that play there will probably have their own, experienced engineers; secondly, large-venue and festival FOH sound generally requires everything to go through the PA, making it very different from the sort of venue in which you're likely to start out your live-recording career, where the focus is more on 'reinforcing' the sound of the quieter instruments; and thirdly, such small and medium venues happen to be the sort I have most experience of.

Solid-state 24-bit stereo recorders make it relatively easy to set recording levels, but even with backlit screens they can be hard to adjust in a dark venue — and the gig is often louder than the soundcheck, so leave plenty of headroom! Many instruments will already be running through the front-of-house console, so it makes sense to record signals from a mixer's direct outputs where possible... ...but an alternative approach is to use a splitter, such as this ART S8, to take the FOH mic signals to your own preamps. The drum kit will often be the loudest acoustic sound on stage, and front-of-house levels in smaller venues will be balanced against it. That means that the drum kit won't always be miked up in its entirety, so you may need to think about using dedicated recording mics.
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