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Mixing A Live Recording | Media

By Sam Inglis

This page accompanies Sam Inglis's article Live Aid: Mixing A Live Recording, which appears in SOS July 2013 (/sos/jul13/articles/mixing-live-recording.htm).

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Two excellent bands who have performed for The Beach Sessions in Waterbeach, near Cambridge, have very kindly given us permission to share recordings from those gigs.

The Slow Show (www.facebook.com/theslowshow) will already be familiar to quite a few readers from their appearances at festivals and on programmes such as Radio 2's Dermot O'Leary Show. They recently signed to Rough Trade Publishing and are working on a debut album, to be released later this year. In December 2012 they played a sold-out show at the 200-capacity Waterbeach Baptist Chapel, and at the last minute, we decided to record it to my trusty Zoom R16 digital multitracker. Although it was a great show in a lovely space, the recordings were quite problematic, not least because 15 desk channels were in use and the R16 can only record eight tracks at once! As a result, there were no ambient mics or tom mics, one of the two overheads were not recorded, and all the drum close mics, percussion and sampler tracks had to be bounced to a single track using an aux send on the desk. A further problem was that the insert outputs from the desk were too hot for the R16's line inputs, so clipping occurred in a number of places.

Straw Bear (www.strawbear.com), meanwhile, sent us one of the best CDs we've ever heard for the Playback column, and have since gone on to bigger and better things, including a session for Tom Robinson's radio show, so I was very excited to get the chance to do live sound for them. This gig, in March 2013, was recorded to an Allen & Heath ICE16, which meant that every track could be captured, and this time there were no problems with clipping. However, this venue was not a beautiful Victorian chapel but an upstairs room at a pub, with a cramped stage, muddy acoustics and a very low ceiling (and nowhere to set up room mics in any case). Singer Ian Ray also had a heavy cold!

Full mixes

At the end of The Slow Show's 'Testing' and 'Lullaby' you can hear applause; as there was no audience mic, this had to be recovered from the trumpet and backing vocal mics. Since these were pointing away from the audience and onto the stage, a certain amount of EQ was necessary! Most of the ambience you can hear in this recording is actually artificial, since there was no room mic, but the reverb setting was chosen to match the acoustics of the chapel as much as possible.

Straw Bear's 'Quartermaster' illustrates some other issues that can arise in live recordings. The solo guitar phrase at the start was played along to stick clicks from the drummer, but a mistake meant that timing correction was needed. As all the open mics had picked up the stick clicks, this correction was only made possible by, in effect, soloing the guitar, which rather undermines the sense of a live performance. The violin was recorded using a Beyer M201 mic and a piezo pickup, but bad-sounding spill on the tiny stage rendered the mic signal useless. To try to make the pickup signal work in the mix, I've EQ'ed it and routed it through the Flux IRCAM Tools Spat spatialisation plug-in. Finally, you can hear how, as the song builds in volume, the overall tonality becomes harsher, primarily because of reflections from the low ceiling. I have dealt with this to the best of my ability using automated EQ on the overheads and master bus, but the effect can't be eliminated altogether.

SB_violin & SB_acoustic

These 'before and after' files illustrate the processing I applied to make DI'd acoustic guitar and violin tracks work within the Straw Bear mixes. Note how the acoustic guitar comes with an added helping of distortion, either from a flat battery or because it was overloading the DI box. These things happen in live recordings, unfortunately.

TSS_bass & SB_bass

You'll often find yourself having to work with DI'd bass guitar tracks, and these 'before and after' files illustrate two bass sounds captured in this way. The Slow Show's massive Ampeg bass rig sounded amazing in the hall, and its DI output, as recorded here, is a decent reflection of the sound of the amp. Making it work in a mix was mainly a matter of evening out the low end, though this was not trivial with so much sub-bass flying about.

Straw Bear, by contrast, were using a small Ashdown combo, and the DI output sounds positively weedy, with little substance or authority, and an annoying over-emphasis on transient note attacks.

Fairly radical processing was required, this time incorporating distortion, heavy compression and EQ.

SB_gtr

The dimensions of the stage meant that Straw Bear lead guitarist Chris Gray had to place his amp right next to drummer Paz. The result is that even though the amp was miked right up against the grille, there was still quite a bit of annoying drum spill. This example shows how effective FabFilter's Pro-DS de-esser can be at getting rid of such spill, albeit at the cost of some air and liveliness in the guitar sound. In the context of the mix as a whole, this was a price worth paying.

TSS_drums

These files illustrate the more dramatic fixes that were necessary to try to salvage a drum sound from the Slow Show recordings. This was not the fault of the drummer or his kit, both of which were excellent, but of the hastily arranged recording. Once everything else had been given its own track, I was left with two spare recorder tracks to capture not only the drum kit but also a percussion mic and the output of a sampler. I used one of these tracks to record one of the drum overheads, while I used a spare aux on the desk to route the sampler, percussion, kick and snare mics to the second track. There was no time to set a proper balance of these and, as you can hear, the percussion mic was much louder than the others.

As you can hear from the raw recordings, the overhead signal was very brash, with a lot of cymbal wash, while the other track sounds murky and ill-defined. I used transient shaping plug-ins to try to bring out the kick and snare, and EQ to try to coax the contrasting sounds of the two tracks to a point where they would gel into something resembling a drum sound. It's a long way from being a proper drum sound, but I hope it gets far enough to make the recordings listenable.

The Slow Show play Wilderness Festival on August 11th, Green Man Festival on August 17th and Bestival on September 6th.  

Published July 2013