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Capturing The Energy Of Live Shows

Several microphone techniques for capturing audience response to enhance live recordings.

What makes a live recording sound live? The audience, of course.

A live recording is all about the energy of the event, and that energy comes from the crowd, so some real thought has to be given as to how it’s captured. Just setting up some microphones haphazardly usually produces less-than-desired results.

To avoid that scenario, let’s have a look at some proven mic techniques for live recording.

First, it can be tempting to use approaches that engineers recording classical music deploy, such as spaced pairs, X/Y, ORTF and Blumlien.

What they’re trying to do is capture the ambience of the environment and a “perfect” stereo image, but our primary concern is capturing the audience. Note that these are two different beasts and have to be handled that way.

Figure 1: Center hall position.

Sure, capturing some of the ambience is essential to a great sounding live recording, but it will come as a byproduct of a well-mic’ed audience, so it’s not important to worry about it until the primary mission is accomplished.

Audience mic’ing is a situation for omnidirectional mics if you have any, but never underestimate the value of a couple of short-scale shotgun mics.

These are especially useful because they help to attenuate the intimate conversations from the crowd that happen around where the mic is placed.

In you don’t have the option of either an omni or short shotgun, make sure that the mics that you do utilize are identical models. Also, don’t forget to engage the low-frequency rolloff switch if the mic has one.

Simple Methods

More often than we would like, we need to record some audience tracks but don’t have anything special in the way of mics or any time to experiment.

Figure 2: Mono center hall position.

Here are some quick ways to get you in the ballpark in smaller venues like clubs. Keep in mind that the larger the venue, the more care and mic coverage is required.

Simple method 1: Place a pair of identical mics at about the halfway point between the edge of the stage and the back wall of the venue. Make sure that the mics are placed at least 3 feet above the audience.

The higher the mics reside over the audience, the better, but if it’s a club with a low ceiling, it’s better to seek placement closer to the audience to avoid ceiling reflections that can impact quality.

Start with the mics facing directly at one another across the audience as in Figure 1, then aim them both down towards – but not exactly at – the middle of the audience.

Figure 3: Omnidirectional mics hung from ceiling.

Simple method 2: For mono tracks, splay the mics off access, as shown in Figure 2. This configuration produces fuller sound in mono, but will result in a stereo track that’s off balance because one mic is pointed more toward the stage and house system than the other.

Simple method 3: At about the middle of the venue, fly a couple of mics from the ceiling, pointing directly down and hanging by their connectors, as shown in Figure 3. Many clubs use this for more permanent audience mic placement, but it works temporarily as well, assuming flying the mics isn’t too complicated.

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Be sure to hang each mic the same distance from the stage as the other to keep the stereo image balanced. This approach is where omnidirectional mics can come in handy.

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