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Live recordings have a dynamic that can't be replicated in a studio. Each show is a unique combination of your band's performance, audience response, room acoustics, and that spark of magic that only comes when you're in the moment. With the flurry of digital audio and video recorders joining the market, there's never been a better time for recording your gigs.
With so many choices, it's necessary to assess your goals first, then study the benefits of different recording options and how they will further those goals. What is your objective? Will recordings be mostly for your ears only, as a way to self-evaluate and improve your act? Or, do you want to distribute recorded gigs as demos to promote your band, or even as albums to sell at shows?
If you just want a pair of ears to capture your performance and the audience vibe on performance night, a simple hand-held field recorder is the solution. Most record to inexpensive SD cards and come with two onboard cardioid mics placed in an X/Y combination. The angle between the mics is typically fixed at 90 degrees but can sometimes be adjusted to 120 degrees to accommodate a wider sound source or to approach your band more closely.
Some recorders, such as theand the , feature a dual recording mode. This allows you to capture two independent stereo tracks at once: one with the built-in mics and a second from either a pair of external mics or direct inputs from your mixing board. Two stereo tracks mean more control over the finished sound and even the possibility of surround-type mixes.
The main difficulty with hand-held recorders is finding a strategic place to position them. Where the best balance is onstage may not be convenient, and setting up the recorder among the audience leaves you vulnerable to loud conversations.
Taking advantage of battery power, you can use the well-tested trick of hanging your recorder above and in front of the stage. This is usually possible at venues and clubs where lighting racks are suspended that you can hook onto. Most hand-held recorders are threaded to fit on camera stands, so it's easy to make a hanger with a quick trip to the hardware store. Some hand-helds come with a remote control, which is ideal for this purpose.
Though hand-held recorders yield results that can be downright fantastic, they still cannot compete with the flexibility of live multitrack recordings. In order to produce a professional live demo or album let's consider three setups that make use of a mixing console that also doubles as your live mixing board.
Setup 1: Mixer => A/D interface => Laptop
If you already own a live mixer with direct outs and enough channels to record your whole band, here's a setup that puts your investment to good use. It involves using a rackmount audio interface going into a laptop computer with an external hard drive. Theoffers two FireWire ports with 8 channels of conversion and can be daisy-chained with other FP10s for additional inputs and outputs. Echo, MOTU, and RME make similar FireWire interfaces. When you're taking direct outs from your mixer you really don't need preamps. The is a great choice in this case with 12 channels of line inputs, or 24 when daisy-chained.
Setup 2: Mixer with FireWire => Laptop
Several manufacturers make mixers that provide separate front of house and monitor mix capabilities while routing all of the signals pre-fader through a built-in FireWire port. Theand the new offer 8- and 12- mic preamps respectively with the addition of line-in stereo inputs. Both brands offer larger mixers of the same type if more channels are desired.
The StudioLive series from Presonus has the added advantage of built-in effects and comes with three software programs that facilitate live mixing, live recording, and studio remixing. Connected to a laptop and an external hard drive, any of these mixers will allow you to record your band live with the added benefit of being able to refine the balance at home. Don't forget to add a stereo mic above the mixing board to capture the sound of the room and audience.
Setup 3: Mixer with built-in recorder
Few machines are truly intended for this. Don't be fooled into thinking that any digital recording workstation is capable of providing separate mixes for the house and monitors while recording all of the individual tracks at unity gain. Thehowever is a 16-channel live mixer with built-in hard disc recorder designed just for this job.
Video is another way to record your gig. Theand the both provide good video and excellent audio recordings. If you have only one camera, it should be set on a tripod or hung from the ceiling in a strategic place for both sound and video as previously described. In the latter case the video might be upside down but can be flipped easily in Windows Moviemaker or iMovie.
It's better of course to have two or three cameras, preferably of the same model: a fixed main camera, as mentioned above, and some hand-helds that can travel around, getting close to singers and soloists. Go over the set list with some friends, planning camera shots and angles. Start the cameras at the same time, focused on a clapperboard, to help you sync things in production. While filming, keep all cameras running the whole set or series of songs you want to record. Later, in your video editor, line up the video and audio between all cameras around the smack of the clapperboard. Once lined up, you'll be able to cut back and forth among the different angles, using the audio from the main (fixed) camera as your music track.
Far down the road, when your best gigs are behind you, you'll thank yourself for preserving whatever live recordings you make. Nothing brings back memories of enjoyable moments more than listening to the soundtrack that accompanied them way back when …