Recording A Live Music Gig
When asked recently to record a live show for an artist whose album I had produced, I knew I had to be as prepared as possible to avoid any pitfalls that may present themselves. I’ve been a music producer in London for nearly 15 years, but recording a gig presents a unique set of challenges.
These challenges arise given the limitations imposed by typical small-to-medium music venues. With that said, it can be a hugely rewarding experience if you are able to capture a great performance.
If you’re a music producer, you may be a dab hand at studio recording and music production, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have an easy time recording a gig. There are some key differences. You can’t ask the artist to run through it one more time, for instance.
One of the first questions you have to ask yourself is why you’re recording the gig in the first place. This will dictate the outcome you need, and in turn the tools and techniques used. From there, you can figure out what is achievable in the chosen venue.
Stereo Simplicity or Multitrack?
If the purpose of the recording is for the band or artist to analyse their performance, all you really need is a stereo recording in which all of the parts can be clearly heard. While this might sound straight forward, it isn’t without its hurdles. Having a friend stand in the crowd and record to a stereo hand held recorder will give you a sense of the performance, but you could end up with more crowd than music. It’s also tricky keeping the recording position static. It’s easy to screw up input levels too. The key is to know your recording device inside out so that tweaking settings when needed becomes second nature.
Another way to capture a stereo recording is to ask the engineer to feed your recorder from the desk. This way you’ll get the mix they feed to the PA. Whilst this approach is tempting, we’re dealing with amplified music in a smallish place, which means everything will be running through the desk or PA.
A more viable approach may be to place the recorder quite high above the desk pointing towards the stage. After all, this is where the engineer is making most of the mix balance judgements.
When you hear a major band or artist on TV, DVD or radio, you’re usually listening to the result of complex multitracked recordings. Whilst the live broadcasts might be basic EQ, compression and panning, the artists DVD will usually have been edited and enhanced, to the extent that you might not be even hearing the guitar performance from that nights show, but instead one from a different night on the same tour.
To achieve professional results, you’ll more than likely want to do some post production. That means you’ll need to capture a decent multitrack recording. So how can you achieve this?
Be prepared. Find out in advance what you can about the venue and the people running the night. Visit the venue when a similar gig is on. You’ll be able to tell more about the acoustics with a crowd in than at the soundcheck on the night. You’ll also be able to tell if there’s an obvious place out of the way to set up your gear. Ask yourself if the place actually sounds good. Do you really want to make a recording there?
With a little planning you can easily overcome most issues. In fact there are some very switched on promoters and venue owners out there who welcome recordists with open arms. The reason I mention potential hurdles is because you must be absolutely prepared to deal with any of them. Otherwise you could end up with a stressful experience and a disappointing recording.
Jonathan Essex Music | Music Producer London