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Live & Dangerous

Leader By Paul White
Published November 2011

Making a live recording of a band is something many of us want to do from time to time, which is why we're covering this subject in this month's Sound On Sound. While recording a live band presents challenges often way above and beyond those of studio recordings, it also provides an opportunity to catch the spark and energy of a live performance that can be missing, or at least diluted, in the more clinical surroundings of the studio. Even if you end up replacing some of the parts and tidying it up in the studio at a later date, at least you'll capture the vibe of a live performance spurred on by a (hopefully) appreciative audience.

I'll let you read the article to see what approaches are possible, but having done a few live recordings in my time, the best advice I can give is to be prepared for the worst and then expect even worse to happen! It usually does. From coughing audience members to crackling cables (the Who Live At Leeds anyone?), Sod's Law seems to go into overdrive when you're recording a live gig. For example, if you don't have access to mic splitters, you might instead choose to fix up a second vocal mic alongside the main one. The singer will say he's perfectly happy to leave the mic on the stand, but no matter what he tells you, be prepared for him to rip the mic off the stand and then dance up and down the stage, stomping on the rest of your mics and cables in the process. And while a kick mic and a single overhead may take care of the drums, the drummer is bound to hit at least one of them, while the singer kicks the other. Oh yes, and any boom stands will suddenly develop a case of the droops — it's the law!

On paper, live recording might look pretty straightforward, but if you're serious about giving it a try, do read the article, as it points out both the joys and the pitfalls. My experience is that anything that can get trodden on will be, your XLR cables will always be one metre too short and the band will be at least 10dB louder than they were in the soundcheck. Your computer will buzz like mad unless you put it on battery power, in which case it will power down halfway through the first set. Ground-loop hums will sprout like weeds, and there will be nowhere to set up, so you'll spend the whole night crouched behind the drum kit staring into a laptop and wearing headphones with a towel wrapped around your head to keep the noise out!

Despite all that, live recording can be both rewarding and great fun, and the calibre of the performance often more than makes up for the challenges you have in recording it.

Paul White Editor In Chief  

Published November 2011