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Recording Live Sound

Capturing the audio of live performances can be a profitable, worthwhile endeavor. Here, we feature three examples of professionals who make the most of our modern live and studio audio convergence.

It wasn’t until Alive!, the band’s fourth album, that Kiss broke through to superstardom, spurring the music industry to a reexamination of the live album as a potential big seller. Not surprisingly, the band followed up with Alive II, Alive III, Alive IV, Alive: the Millennium Concert.

The world of 2009 is markedly different from that band/corporation’s glory days, but the live-performance release lives on, now distributed via CD or download, or synced to video and offered on DVD or online. With the drastic devaluation of prerecorded music in the wake of file sharing, creating a document of a performance can be a profitable endeavor — for artist and recordist alike — or serve as valuable promotion. And with digital recording gear smaller and less costly than ever before, a live recording can be both quick and easy.

Engineer Scott “Scoobie” ScherbanScott “Scoobie” Scherban records the Black Crowes’ live shows for upload to, where they can be purchased as MP3 or FLAC files.

Though physical unit sales have been falling for almost a decade, some artists are making up the shortfall with live recordings. Scott “Scoobie” Scherban, front-of-house engineer for the Black Crowes, recorded all the band’s concerts on the 2008 tour in support of Warpaint, its first studio release in seven years. All shows are uploaded to www.liveblackcrowes. com, where they are available in MP3 or FLAC format.

“Since we started doing that at the beginning of last year,” Scherban reports, “the sales have been phenomenal. Threequarters of the people that go to a Black Crowes show download the show. Pretty good.”

With a dramatically reduced FOH footprint, thanks to a digital console and its ample onboard effects, Scherban has plenty of space for a rack consisting of a Marantz PMD670 Professional Solid State Recorder, featuring a PC card slot compatible with type II compact flash cards, and an Edirol R-4 4-channel recorder.

In addition to the mix on his Yamaha PM5D console, a pair of AKG condenser mics captures audience and ambiance. “I matrix it out so I have two channels going to the first two tracks of the R-4, just console left and right,” Scherban explains. “The other two channels are the microphones, left and right. With the Marantz, I take a blend of all that.”

Scherban transfers files from the Marantz and Edirol to a laptop, and uploads to the Black Crowes’ server. “That way,” he says, “the guy at the other end would have a choice of which tracks or blends he wants, when he starts tracking the board tape down. With that band being as loud as they are, if we’re in a club, the board mix might not have as much guitar as you would think. At least he has the microphones to help blend that in.”

The 2008 tour’s recordings are now supplemented with archived concerts dating to the mid-1990s, an ongoing process that serves the band’s rabid fans. The Crowes maintain a longstanding taper-friendly policy, welcoming portable, self-contained, and powered audio equipment at their shows. “Theirs probably turn out pretty good,” says Scherban. “I’ve heard a couple of them. The only difference is, they don’t have the option of hearing a dry board mix where you actually get the effects properly. It’s a higher quality.”

Given the logistics of an international tour that hits venues of varying size, Scherban’s recording rig is optimized for efficiency and speed. “It’s all about load-out, getting out as fast as you can,” he says. “I can take those things and, at my leisure, plug them into and suck them onto my laptop. I have a terabyte drive that has a whole year of shows on it. When I get to the hotel or on a day off, I start uploading and go to dinner. It’s allowed me more freedom than if I had a whole rack of hard drives and stuff, which would mean more stuff at FOH, which I really don’t want. This was the best bet in all circumstances: size-wise, flexibility of my time, flexibility of load-in and load-out time, and keeping the rig to a scaled-down minimum.”

Engineer Greg Duffin and Assistant Engineer Chris RussellIn addition to FOH duties for Regina Spektor, Greg Duffin takes a remote recording rig to venues in and around New York City.

Based in New York, engineer Greg Duffin and assistant engineer Chris Russell operate a portable, Digital Performer-and Pro Tools-based location recording rig that has been employed at settings from clubs to churches and Off-Broadway theaters. The system is based around a MOTU 896 interface, which is now supplemented by Focusrite ISA 828 and 428 preamplifiers. The 828 has the optional 8-channel 192 kHz A/D card, so those tracks go to the 896 via Lightpipe. Duffin and Russell use an Apple MacBook Pro and MacBook, respectively.

Recordings are mixed either “in the box” in a home studio or through analog equipment at an affiliated commercial studio (depending on client request and budget). In either case, artists can record a live album for CD or online distribution at reasonable cost.

“It’s really sounding good,” Duffin, who handles FOH mixing for Regina Spektor, observes, “and it’s condensed with the addition of the Focusrite stuff, because we don’t have to take as much. The Focusrites are definitely a step up from the 896 by itself. The Lightpipe saves so much in cabling as well.”

The rig also includes a Furman power conditioner, a splitter, a complement of microphones — many of them Audio-Technica — and a Telefunken V-71 DI for bass. Depending on the venue, Duffin and Russell split some channels going to the FOH console. “The last thing I did with the remote rig was a play,” Duffin says. “I split off the console and also put up room mics — audience mics, and a stereo pair down in front to catch all the dialog. It was a cast recording, but not ‘studio’ cast, just real and live, the way the show is presented.”

Many of the remote gigs are at New York’s intimate Lakeside Lounge, which features live music every night. “For the Lakeside,” says Duffin, “we split off the vocals. They don’t mic the guitar amps or drums, so everything is independent of the PA.

“Depending on who’s recording or going to be mixing,” Duffin adds, “sometimes we use Earthworks [mics] as overheads, sometimes [Audio-Technica] 4041s. For the play, I used the Earthworks as my main left/right in the front row. The Earthworks are great mics. They sound great for some things, but are probably too good for some things.”

Over time, this rig has evolved to its present state, which allows easy transport, setup and breakdown. “We used to do a more full-blown rig with extra mic pres and gear,” Duffin recalls, “which made a big pile of stuff. Getting around New York, you have to either call a car service or take the train. It makes sense to have it as compact as possible.”

Engineer Owen McCarthy of Trash Bar in Brooklyn, New YorkOwen McCarthy mixes the bands at Trash Bar in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. For a nominal fee, he records a band’s set to a Sony RCD W5000 standalone CD recorder.

In the music-centric Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, the popular Trash Bar offers live recording to the mostly indie artists that play there. The cozy FOH engineer’s setup allows little room for additional gear, but soundman Owen McCarthy reports very good results with the equipment at hand.

Here, recordings are highly dependent on the sound reinforcement gear, and Trash Bar has equipped itself with somewhat better than typical fare, including a Shure Beta 52 on kick drum, AKG D112 on bass cabinet, and a Sennheiser e835 for the lead vocalist. (Additional vocal mics are Shure SM 58s, and Shure SM 57s capture guitar amplifiers and the snare.) The FOH system also includes dbx and Lexicon effects processors and Alesis compressors.

The e835, McCarthy feels, “is pretty good. It’s warmer, and the highs are crispier. I’d love to have a stereo condenser” for ambience, he adds. “Unfortunately, I don’t. [I have] a single e835 at the back, for crowd response and some of the guitars that might be missed because they’re too loud onstage, or whatever the case may be. Apart from that, it’s just two tracks coming from the Allen & Heath [GL2400] board.” The GL2400’s stereo outs and ambience mic go to a Sony RCD W5000 standalone CD burner.

Here, too, artists are taking advantage of low-cost live recording options — Trash Bar charges $20 to record a set — for their sales and promotional efforts. “I think it has a lot to do with the band’s mix onstage,” McCarthy says of capturing the best-possible quality, “and I often request that, if we’re going to record, they take the guitar volumes down a little bit, even though I sort of let it slide and move the mix a little louder to compensate. But if we’re recording, I generally tell them to even it out as close to their rehearsal [volume] as possible. Some people suggest that they put it on their MySpace page, or make a CD for promotional reasons or whatever it might be. I think it’s a pretty good idea.”

Christopher Walsh is the recording editor for Pro Sound News and the associate editor of Pro Audio Review.