Q. How can I record my band with limited space and equipment?

Published in SOS December 2012
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I'm in a band and we're hoping to record ourselves live in our tiny rehearsal space using the limited equipment we have. My plan so far is to have drum overheads, snare, and kick mics going into channels one to four of my Alesis Multimix 8. Everything else (vocals, guitars and bass) will be miked into the PA system, then I'll go out of that into channels five and six on my Alesis and record a stereo mix into Reaper (on my laptop) via USB from there. I figure that if I get the EQ and panning right first, that should give a reasonable representation of how we sound, but am I missing something? I'm worried that the PA speakers will feed too much into the drum mics; for space reasons, the PA speakers are just behind and to the sides of the drums. But if I unplug the PA speakers, we won't all hear the vocal. If you have any words of wisdom then I'd be most grateful. We have two regular dynamic mics, two small-diaphragm condensers, and five dynamic drum mics.

With affordable stand-alone multitrack recorders, such as the Zoom R16, offering eight-channel simultaneous recording, musicians on a budget have the tools to create surprisingly respectable small-scale live-band recordings.With affordable stand-alone multitrack recorders, such as the Zoom R16, offering eight-channel simultaneous recording, musicians on a budget have the tools to create surprisingly respectable small-scale live-band recordings.

Via SOS web site

SOS contributor Mike Senior replies: Given the cramped conditions, I'd recommend turning off the PA speakers first of all, and living with the compromise that the other players won't hear the vocals. In practice it shouldn't really matter as long as everyone can see each other well, and everyone's fairly clear on the structure of the song. Beyond that, though, your general miking/routing plan seems feasible, and here are a few tips you might find handy.

Firstly, I'd try to catch as full a drum sound as possible through the overheads. That usually means not sticking them right above the cymbals; either side of the drummer's head is often a better starting point balance-wise. Given the inevitable resonance-mode problems in small rehearsal rooms, you'll almost certainly want to roll out quite a bit of low end using the Alesis Lo-EQ controls on the overhead channels, but otherwise try to get the best sound you can from the drums by repositioning the mics. Remember that cardioid mics tend to give their brightest sound for whatever they're pointing most directly at.

As far as the snare is concerned, try not to get the mic so close to the drum that all you get is 'donk'. Whatever you end up with, though, hopefully your overheads should supply enough snare sound that you don't have to use the close mic much. Try to baffle the kick mic in some way (or put it inside the kick drum) so that you don't get masses of bass spill and low guitar woolliness on it, especially since you've got no facility to gate it. The one thing you're really missing on the Alesis mixer is any phase/polarity control, so if you have any phase-inversion XLR leads (leads that swap the hot and cold XLR pins), then have those handy in case combining the snare or kick with the overheads sucks the heart out of your drum sound.

Given that spill is going to be a fact of life here, I'd be tempted to grasp the bull by the horns and make the best of the situation in that respect. In other words, I'd actually not try to separate the guitars and bass from the drums especially, but rather put them as close as they'd be on stage so that you get more of the benefit of a live-style performance situation (albeit without vocals). If you mic the guitars close, spill from the drums should still be fairly low in level if the instruments are well-balanced in the room, and it may actually improve the overall drum sound. If not, then try moving/rotating the whole 'guitar plus close mic' setup a little to get a better result, or try another polarity-flip XLR cable. Again, you'll probably want to roll quite a bit of low end out of the guitar close mics, given the spill situation and the likely strength of the proximity-effect bass boost.

With the bass, I have to say that, again because of the inevitable room-resonance problems, I'd record his DI rather than his amp if at all possible (through something like a Bass Pod if an amped sound is really important), even if he still has the amp live in the room for performance purposes. I'd have the vocalist out the front of the drums facing the drummer, and then put duvets or something behind him/her to soak up some of the spill. If you have something like an SE Electronics Reflexion filter you can put up around the mic, then that'd help the spill issue too, but be careful not to interfere with sight lines between the players. Once more, low cut on the vocals will probably help stop the overall mix sounding muddy.

Setting all this up without the luxury of a separate monitoring room will be a challenge, but the best way (if a little time-consuming) is to do quick test recordings as you go, so you can judge the sounds without the spill from the room putting you off. You can make life easier for yourself in this respect if you do your best to get the sound in the room as close to the sound you're after on record as you can. In practice, I'd expect it to take two or three hours of experimentation to get a reasonable sound going in this way, not including the time taken to set up the instruments and plug up and test the mic lines, so my final advice would be just to allow yourselves enough time, and warn the other band members that they might need a bit of patience!

If you were able to lay hands on an eight-channel interface of some kind (or even a small eight-track multitrack recorder: the Zoom R16 is ridiculously affordable, for instance) then that would afford you a lot of scope for improvements in a separate mixing stage. It'd also take some of the pressure off you in terms of judging the best phase/polarity relationships between the different mics right there on the session, so I'd seriously consider making that investment.  .


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