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Recording live sound

Postby Humf » Tue Dec 08, 2020 11:33 pm

Please can I run our scenario past you...

I’m assisting some 6th form students with some coursework and will contact the exam board for further clarification but wondered if I’m missing something basic.

The requirement of the brief is to capture the essence of a live gig in a multitrack recording of the event. The students are also required to plan and setup the PA, minimum of 8 tracks recorded, minimum of 4 instruments/vocals. We will include live drums so no problem hitting the track count with the 3 minute song they’ve chosen. The other parts are lead vocal, backing vox, keys, e guitar, bass. All very straightforward so far.

So I checked submission requirements with the exam board sometime ago and they simply need to send a stereo bounce of the mix. No expectation for any post mix, editing or mastering (I personally find this odd and perhaps not typical of a real-life ‘live’ recording?). But in the brief they do mention use of a DAW, for example such as needing to evidencing any ‘changes to the desk or DAW’ during the live recording process.

We have an old Soundcraft analogue mixer which we use FOH, students are very familiar with it and have trialled using the inserts to send a signal from each channel into Logic via a decent sized interface. This works ok but obviously takes the inserts out of action for other processing (we have some external compressors/reverb/FX that might’ve been good to use). Today they also tried the ‘one click’ method of plugging a TS lead into the insert halfway (one click) and taking a feed of the input without killing the channel strip. That seemed to work too but to be honest doesn’t feel secure. The connection seemed fairly specific/ sensitive.

Sadly the desk doesn’t have direct outs.

However, unless I’m missing something, any recording method using inserts or direct outs will never capture any of the ‘live’ ambience of the performance?! Other than a bit from drum overheads? From our quick trial, the resulting audio stems are all pre-channel EQ/pan/fader and (apart from some overheads on the drums) all instruments are either close mic’d or DI, so inevitably the captured audio is dry and not balanced according to the ‘live mix’ done during the performance via the desk faders.

So then I go down the route of thinking.... let’s run a simple stereo feed from the desk, capturing all the live balancing / processing, straight into Logic as a stereo track. This is fine but... (a) doesn’t give us a nice set of instrument stems to either sort out any cockups or play around with for fun/mixing experience afterwards (separate to the exam task...) and (b) won’t allow us to run a couple of ambient room mics into the mix because these would then need to be included in the FOH mix to be captured on the stereo out? Or is there some clever routing I could consider here?

The third option (which just feels crap) would be to stick a stereo pair of mics in the middle of the hall and simply capture an ambient recording of the performance, bypassing the desk altogether. The advantage here feels like at least the balancing will be correct eg. we might end up not using a great deal of the drums through the PA so any capture via the feed from our mixer is likely to be unbalanced compared to the overall sound heard in the hall.

It might be that the fancy world of digital desks would serve all my needs ... but I’m really not keen to put a couple of 6th formers onto an unknown digital desk at this stage. Analogue is great for them as they can better understand the signal pathway and (IMO) get a better grounding in the basics. Also we just don’t have time to go through the learning process of a new desk. And then there’s the expense too... so I’m ruling out that option.

Other than speaking to the exam board tomorrow, am I missing something obvious?

Thanks in advance


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Re: Recording live sound

Postby blinddrew » Tue Dec 08, 2020 11:57 pm

Do your room mics have to go through the desk or could they go direct to whatever interface you're plugging the insert-outs into?
That way you can capture your close mics, and your room sound, and the stereo out from the desk.
How many inputs does your AI have?
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Re: Recording live sound

Postby Sam Spoons » Wed Dec 09, 2020 12:03 am

Great minds.... :D I've just typed :-

Have you got enough inputs to record all of these things*? And can you make up some special leads with a split from the insert send to the AI and the normal send and return to use the outboard?

* X drum mics, 2 or 3 vox, bass, guitar and keys (stereo?), a 16 input interface would allow you to get everything into the DAW.
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Re: Recording live sound

Postby Mike Stranks » Wed Dec 09, 2020 12:06 am

It's a both/and situation not either/or...

What I used to do was record each source to an individual track and also have a stereo pair to two other tracks. The stereo pair varied, but was usually two fairly widely spaced omnis.

In the mix you then mix the discrete sources but mix in enough of the stereo pair to give it that 'recorded live' feel.

And as for recording via Inserts - that's common practice, but more securely done with sniffer leads - A TRS plug with T and R linked feeds to a TS plug which is used for the recording. As long as the leads are reasonably short it shouldn't be a problem that they're unbalanced. If you don't fancy making them, Thomann sell 'em...
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Re: Recording live sound

Postby Humf » Wed Dec 09, 2020 12:12 am

blinddrew wrote:Do your room mics have to go through the desk or could they go direct to whatever interface you're plugging the insert-outs into?
That way you can capture your close mics, and your room sound, and the stereo out from the desk.
How many inputs does your AI have?
We’re using a Focusrite interface with 8in/8out (from memory) so we’d be running short.

I guess one option along those lines, would be to take a stereo feed from the desk into Logic (two inputs taken) plus 2 or 3 additional room mics straight into the interface?

But ... and this is why the phonecall is needed... the exam board seem to be really discouraging any mix happening in post. And this approach would certainly need some, even if minimal. So it would seem to me that unless we just go for room mics only, then they’re asking for the impossible?


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Re: Recording live sound

Postby James Perrett » Wed Dec 09, 2020 12:13 am

If you want to recreate an old style professional environment you'll need microphone splitters to send the microphone signals to both the desk and the recording hardware. If you want to re-create a modern professional environment you'll use a digital desk and either record directly on the desk or connect a computer.

If you want to use what you've got (which probably bears little relation to what your students will need to use in future) then use sniffer leads. These are leads with a TRS connector on one end and whatever connector your recording hardware needs on the other. The tip and ring of the TRS connector are linked together and the signal cable is also connected to the linked pins with the screen of the cable connected to the sleeve.

For the ambience you'll need another pair of microphones connected, either directly to the recording hardware, or through a pair of mixer channels that aren't sent to FOH. I like to place these mics fairly close to the FOH speakers but probably just behind them facing the audience which means that you don't need to worry about the timing of the ambience channels.

Another approach that I have used is to have someone in the audience record the ambience separately and then match up the two recordings later. This will take a bit of skill though so recording everything on the same recorder is preferable with inexperienced students.
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Re: Recording live sound

Postby Humf » Wed Dec 09, 2020 12:14 am

Sam Spoons wrote:Great minds.... :D I've just typed :-

Have you got enough inputs to record all of these things*? And can you make up some special leads with a split from the insert send to the AI and the normal send and return to use the outboard?

* X drum mics, 2 or 3 vox, bass, guitar and keys (stereo?), a 16 input interface would allow you to get everything into the DAW.
I’m not quite following your idea with making up some splitters. Can you go more slowly for me? Although might not be relevant as we have 8in/out only...


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Re: Recording live sound

Postby Humf » Wed Dec 09, 2020 12:16 am

Mike Stranks wrote:It's a both/and situation not either/or...

What I used to do was record each source to an individual track and also have a stereo pair to two other tracks. The stereo pair varied, but was usually two fairly widely spaced omnis.

In the mix you then mix the discrete sources but mix in enough of the stereo pair to give it that 'recorded live' feel.

And as for recording via Inserts - that's common practice, but more securely done with sniffer leads - A TRS plug with T and R linked feeds to a TS plug which is used for the recording. As long as the leads are reasonably short it shouldn't be a problem that they're unbalanced. If you don't fancy making them, Thomann sell 'em...
Good. So I have the right idea then.

Sniffer leads... new on me. I’ll take a look on Thomann and try to get my head around it. Is this basically a more secure way of doing the one-click trick but with two clicks?!


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Re: Recording live sound

Postby James Perrett » Wed Dec 09, 2020 12:18 am

Humf wrote:But ... and this is why the phonecall is needed... the exam board seem to be really discouraging any mix happening in post. And this approach would certainly need some, even if minimal. So it would seem to me that unless we just go for room mics only, then they’re asking for the impossible?

I think you may be misunderstanding the process - I would have thought that a stereo mix is a standard deliverable but the audio goes through the usual mix process. However, it is possible that they don't want any editing or overdubs.

It may be worth waiting until someone like MarkPAMan sees this as he works in education and is probably very familiar with the requirements.
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Re: Recording live sound

Postby James Perrett » Wed Dec 09, 2020 12:23 am

Humf wrote:Sniffer leads... new on me. I’ll take a look on Thomann and try to get my head around it. Is this basically a more secure way of doing the one-click trick but with two clicks?!

You may well need to DIY - which is a vital skill in this business. If you really don't want to DIY then you are probably looking at a company who can make up custom cables - possibly like Orchid Electronics?
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Re: Recording live sound

Postby Humf » Wed Dec 09, 2020 12:26 am

Thanks James and for your previous post.

You’re right. I’m not fully understanding the brief. I’ve read fairly extensively on the topic (there’s a good SOS article by Matt Houghton) so can see how it would be done given free reign. Feels like that stereo mix needs to be done there and then, so probably beyond the capabilities of the desk we have.


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Re: Recording live sound

Postby Humf » Wed Dec 09, 2020 12:48 am

Are sniffer leads the same as Y splitter insert leads? This is what we’ve been using to practice with and it works fine.

I’m not finding much info out there on leads using that name. Used more commonly for xlr testers?

However, I did like the look of the mic splitter rack on the Orchid E website! At £200 odd quid it’s probably not our best solution though..


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Re: Recording live sound

Postby AlecSp » Wed Dec 09, 2020 1:24 am

These days, I'd always just record multitrack from a digital desk and then mix for recording in a DAW - hugely easy, and can produce a great result. There really is nothing "fancy" about using a digital desk these days, and you might be doing the students a disservice by suggesting they'd find the analog world easier - it could be quite the opposite.

My alternative technique, which I used to use in analog world was to record stereo straight from the desk, but with appropriate reverb on vox and drums, mainly, but also a tad on some other instruments if required. Lots of headphone monitoring, as what's needed for a recording is very different from what you hear in the room. No need for ambient mics unless you want to capture audience sound.

It sounds like the examiners are after the latter approach.
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Re: Recording live sound

Postby Humf » Wed Dec 09, 2020 1:38 am

Point taken re. digital desks. I suppose my main concern would be them getting to know the desk as well as the Soundcraft in a short space of time. They’ve used this mixer since they’ve been at school so everything feels under their fingertips. They have used large digital mixers when supervised doing large school productions and we hire in something like the x32 or a Yamaha but we also hire bodies to lead / supervise and this just isn’t the case here. I do think for future year groups coming up through the school a digital mixer would be a wise investment.

Thanks for your analogue suggestion. I’ll check with the board tomorrow what they have in mind.

Quick question on this ... if, like you say, a recorded stereo feed differs significantly to what the mix required in the room might need, how do you reconcile the two? Ie. there’s only one mix being offered by the mixer, both with balance / EQ/ processing ‘printed’ (or audible in the case of FOH) so how is this managed in terms of achieving both simultaneously ?


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Re: Recording live sound

Postby James Perrett » Wed Dec 09, 2020 2:22 am

Humf wrote:Quick question on this ... if, like you say, a recorded stereo feed differs significantly to what the mix required in the room might need, how do you reconcile the two? Ie. there’s only one mix being offered by the mixer, both with balance / EQ/ processing ‘printed’ (or audible in the case of FOH) so how is this managed in terms of achieving both simultaneously ?

If you really only have the stereo mix from the desk available then I'd have someone with a handheld recorder (or even just a phone) record the ambient sound as well. Combining the two can work surprisingly well as the handheld recorder can pick up all the things like guitar amps and cymbals that will normally be low in the PA.

However, most desks offer multiple busses so you could use a group output or aux output for recording.
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