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Recording Live Shows: Grabbing The Most Accurate Snapshot Possible
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Personally enjoying analogies using automobiles and audio, I look at the studio engineer as stretch limousine driver, while a live audio engineer drives a monster truck.

The differences between the two are so defined that the exact personality traits that make a person great for the studio tend to make them less-than-stellar live engineers. How can someone that is hyper-aware of every flaw stay clear-headed and merrily afloat in an ocean of flaws? How far will a limo driver take his stretch down the Baja 500 before getting stuck?

All that said, it’s kind of funny after all these years spent refining my skills as a live engineer to be drafted back into the recording world, sort of.

Having multi-track recorded a majority live performances while live mixing for over a decade now, the theory I follow toward the live recording a rock band is to grab the most accurate snapshot possible of the live performance with minimal or no alteration. You can always add a compressor or effect later at the studio, but it’s really hard to take one away.

Recording the microphone outputs directly is the way to go, with perhaps some limiters set to prevent a screamer from overloading a mic preamp. Unlike the recording studio where silence is available, at the live show there is no need to set mic preamp gains as high since the constant roar or murmur of the audience will usually mask any equipment noise floor.

To accomplish this, I’ve employed several live recording setups over the years. It started on a Rage Against the Machine tour where every show was tracked to three ADAT machines. Just dealing with the trunk of blank and recorded tapes that needed to be formatted, labeled, stored, and transported was a major chore.

With the Peppers, we started up on Tascam DA88-style machines, and that at least reduced the tape size and increased reliability a bit. A few years later, we switched to a Mac Dual Core with 8 GB of RAM running Pro Tools HD2. This package was cool, much as I am remiss to admit, and was set up to deal with multiple configurations.

Every show was recorded to five separate machines:

1. Front of house mix plus audience mix recorded to stereo CD.

2. Front of house mix plus audience mix recorded to stereo DAT.

3. 26 stage inputs plus 4 audience mix plus a 2-track Pro Tools sub mix recorded to the 32-channel Pro Tools rig.

4. The 2-track Pro Tools sub mix also recorded to a separate CD burner.

5. An additional 2-track mix to CD from the monitor board as a backup.

When configured for show archiving, the Pro Tools rig and FOH console shared a common mic preamp. We started the tour using Midas H3000 preamps, driving the recording from the console channel line outputs.

As the tour progressed, though, we migrated over to some studio-quality mic preamps. Initially, these ToneLux preamps were primarily for what I call “contracted recordings—the shows where the band agreed to be recorded for TV, radio or Internet.

Not one to embrace fancy-shmancy esoteric studio stuff, I put them through their paces, including running side-by-side vocal channels with one on the Midas and the other on the ToneLux, alternating between them in real-time. You know what? There was a difference, darn it!

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