Help with live recording

OK, please don’t laugh

Hey guys,

I need some adivce here. I am going to do a “live recording” for a bunch of friends who are in a band together. The group is two acoustic guitars, one banjo, one stand up bass, one or two vocals, and a simple drum set. I have pleanty of good mics (some 57s, some 58s and a couple of large-diaphram condenser mics) and a pretty good board. The only problem is I am only set up right now to record two channels, through my stereo line-in on my sound card. I know a lot of you will instantly recomment laying down $200 - $400 for a multi-channel in for the computer, but I just can’t spend that right now. And we really don’t have time to multi-track the group. This isn’t a live performance, so we can do each song several times to get good levels. My questions is, how can I make the most of this imperfect situation to get the best possible results?

Thanks for your input.

Matt

Spend enough time getting your stereo mix as best as you can, because you won’t be able to go back to fix it, unless you re-do everything.

Do a couple of takes on each song, unless you’re convinced you did an absolute best take.

Use a good mixer if you have access to one.

Make sure that you leave yourself plenty of time for the entire project. Do it over several days if you can.

Hope this helps.

LDCs in an XY or OSPF will work swell in a nice room. As Toker said, just make sure you have a good image before you start tracking.

Key here are two things, IMHO: the room you are in and mic placement. What kind of room will you be recording in? You might find, if it’s a good sounding room, that Bubbagump’s suggestion is the way to go. Simplicity! If the room is no good and you have to close mic, well, you have a handful of dynamics and two LD condensors. I’d put one LD on the bass, the other for vox. Everything else gets a 57 I guess - but you are going to have to mess with EQ and mic placement a lot with those on banjo and acoustic.

Whatever method you use, just two mics or multi, you will want to find out where the drums sound best first, I think. Move them around the room and try them in different spots, recording them and then comparing what you get. Try the corners. Do the same with bass after that - move it around and compare how it sounds with and without the drums - maybe move the drums around some more too, to see what happens. This is because bass build up is very irregular in rooms that are untreated, and can do very, very odd things to your recording. It’s harder to control than mid or high end problems. For the same reason, you need to be careful about how you monitor - putting the speakers in the wrong place can change the bass repsonse wildly, making mixing an impossible task.

A bunch of people here know more about this sort of thing that I do - if you tell us about the room, I bet someone could help you avoid some of the more obvious pitfalls.

I’ve done this sort of thing a fair amount, recording to just two tracks, in living rooms and basements, and the one thing that makes stuff better is spending a LOT of time on putting the sound sources in the best places, and messing around a LOT with mic placement. Don’t forget that couch pillows make nice deadening material for mid and high end stuff - so do packing blankets from U-Haul or whatever.

Oh, you can always rent microphones, too - perhaps a couple of SD condensors for the acoustic instruments.

Finally - remember that any processing you will be doing to individual sound sources will be at the board - go easy on reverb on the voice, a little light compression on the drums might help depending on the style of the music, ditto on other instruments. Plan on taking a LOT of time to do things. Otherwise you will end up with a recording that sounds like it was made on a cassette. :)

Anyway, that’s MHO, FWIW. :D

Hey guys, thanks for the advice.

I’m recording the group in a medium-large room that is used as a coffee house/concert venue on friday nites and a church on sunday mornings. It has a large stage with a curtian behind and a conceret floor. Should I have the guys on the stage or on the floor. Does it matter?

Matt

I gather you won’t have time to move the instruments around and see what sounds best where. At least it sounds like it’s a good sized room, which will help your cause immensely. If you put a carpet on the stage floor it might help. Can you do both close and room mics? Can you rent or borrow a couple more mics? Like two omni SD condensors for the room? Maybe there is an n-tracker in your area who could lend yousome?

you can go a couple of routes in your room. bring the musicians close together like a normal show for a Lively feel with lots of bleed and ambience, or if you have a big room like you say, you can spread the musicians out to get better separation in the mics, that way when you eq one, you’re not getting too much bleed from another instrument. Like they said, you’ll need to mix everything with your mixer before you record any of it. Make sure you bring some speakers to listen to a pre mix on, not just headphones. you’ll never get it right with headphones, but even some ok speakers will allow you to hear any phase problems from your placement.

Another alternative is if you have a guitar center or musiciansfriend type company near (or are willing to lose some money on shipping-are you doing this for free?) “Buy” a multitrack soundcard and return it when you’re done.

you can consider it an opportunity to test drive the equipment, and if you like it, you can keep it or return it and buy it again later when you have available money.

I used to buy a wireless guitar setup for my band when we had big shows, I’d just bring it back the next day-of course the floor manager there was a buddy of ours, but you know.

or you can simply rent one as well-if anyone in your area will do such a thing.

all in all, make sure you know how to mix, if you don’t, check out this first.
http://www.recordingeq.com/EQ/req0900/primer.htm
it’ll help you big time.

Like TomS said, go easy on reverb. Find what you think is just right… then turn it down a little bit. If you can, cut some of the low end from the reverb with a high pass, or low-cut eq. that’ll help clear up any mud. if you’ve got enough channels on your mixer, just run the reverb return into a stereo channel and cut the lows with the channel’s eq.

I’d start with the drums and bass then add the other instruments after those are taken care of.

good luck.

IMO. i would use just the 2 large condensors and get a nice stereo sound from the band. becuase its a larger room, reverb probably wont be needed much if at all.

one trick is to get them to play well together. like the drummer shouldnt drown out the banjo etc… since you only have two track, make them be the mixers.

most of my favorite mixes have NOT been multitrack recordings, but rather ‘thrown together’ 2 channel impromtu jams with just 2 mics. theres something about that live together sound that cant be recreated.

Quote (brentg @ Nov. 19 2004,08:57)
IMO. i would use just the 2 large condensors and get a nice stereo sound from the band. becuase its a larger room, reverb probably wont be needed much if at all.

one trick is to get them to play well together. like the drummer shouldnt drown out the banjo etc... since you only have two track, make them be the mixers.

most of my favorite mixes have NOT been multitrack recordings, but rather 'thrown together' 2 channel impromtu jams with just 2 mics. theres something about that live together sound that cant be recreated.

I would like to add something to this comment. To me it makes the most sense due to the type of instruments you will be recording. Putting different mics on different instruments is just going to complicate your recording. You ever heard of the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid)? I don't know if what you are recording is bluegrass, but by the types of instruments you listed it sounds like it. Many bluegrass groups get great onstage sound by just using one good condenser mic. When it is time for a instrument or vocal solo, that vocal or instrument steps up (not too close, but closer than everyone else) to the mic. This way of doing your recording does away with the need for monitoring also. The only thing I would do something about is the drums. Maybe put one of those plexi-shields around them. I have heard drummers that have a great ear and can blend rather than make it where you can't hear anyone else. Just my novice opinion. :)
"Buy" a multitrack soundcard and return it when you're done.


Careful, most places sell computer software and hardware as "if the package is opened, you own it permanently." You're playing with fire if you try this.

Thanks guys, the recording session is next monday. I’ll take a lot of this to heart as we make it happen.

Matt