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Live Sessions: Enhancing Portable & Board Recordings

Simple methods for capturing quality results with portable recorders

I know what many of you are thinking: “I love doing live sound but I’m really not that interested in recording.” Or, “Clients are asking for it, but I’m a little uncertain on how to get quality results.”

Not to worry, I was there once upon a time before making a transition to the world of recording. If you know how to pass a clean signal, you can make a great recording. It will take a little extra time and thought, especially in the beginning, but before you know it, recording can become second nature.

The simplest way to record a live show is with a stereo flash recorder like a Zoom H4n Pro, Tascam DR-44WL, and the like. There are three ways to use these units: connected directly to the console outputs to make a board recording, placement out in the audience, or a combination of the two.

Audience Placement
Let’s assume that you’re only using the built-in microphone on the recorder. What you’re trying to achieve is a balance between what’s coming out of the house system and what’s coming off stage, the exception being if everything on stage is either being taken direct or really quiet (like with acoustic instruments), in which case a board mix might do just fine.

Position the recorder about 12 to 15 feet back from the house loudspeakers, but more on the edge of the cabinets, aimed towards the stage (Figure 1). This will give you the best balance between the vocal heavy PA and the instruments on the stage.

Figure 1: Place recorders about 12 – 15 feet from the house loudspeaker(s), but more on the edge of the cabinet(s).

Keep in mind that you’ll have to experiment a bit to find the exact spot where the balance is right, since the balance depends upon the room, volume of the band, volume of the house system, and how large and boisterous the audience is. Also make sure that the mic is placed at least 3 feet above the audience.

The higher the recorder is placed above the audience, the better, but if there’s a low ceiling in a club, you’re better off with placement closer to the audience since the reflections from the ceiling can make for some real unnatural sounds (Figure 2). If the stage is high, aim for the belt-buckle of one of the players.

Figure 2: Audience microphone height placement.

Be sure to set the recorder’s gain or sensitivity fairly low on so it doesn’t overload the input and distort the recording (this means not allowing the red “over” indicators to light ever).

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