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Thread: Recording live band's audio with a 4-track recorder

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    Senior Member geekd's Avatar
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    Default Recording live band's audio with a 4-track recorder

    Hello. I'm fairly new to the video world, however, I've been a performing musician for over 20 years. I often record bands live at local clubs. I have used everything from cheap 1980's style cassette 4 tracks to state of the art (for the 1990's) Alesis ADATs. Recent advances in digital recording technology have made getting a quality live recording easier and cheaper than ever.

    I started shooting bands with my Sony camcorder when I got it in 2006. I was disapointed with the sound from it's onboard microphone. I knew I could do better.

    In this article I'm going to tell you how *I* do it. There are many reasons this method works best for me. First and foremost is the situation that I am usually in. I record loud punk & metal bands in small, seedy dive bars, or at parties, which is even worse. The bands often have 15 minutes or less to set up and start playing. The stage is often very small. The sound guy, when there is one, doesn't want to bother with me. I need a system I can set up fast, that stays out of the way, and that requires as little help from the sound guy as possible.

    Several companies make all-in-one hard drive based multi-track recorders. I use a Fostex MR8-HD. It can record on 4 tracks at once, has XLR balanced, 1/4" unbalanced and 1/4" line level inputs. It's super portable, and surprisingly durable. I don't think twice about bringing it into skanky clubs, where I would never bring my laptop. They are $399 new, but I got mine used on ebay for $250.



    Here's the quick version:

    1) Condenser mics left and right to get the guitars, bass and drums.
    2) Dynamic mic (Shure 57) on the kick drum.
    3) PA feed for the vocals.
    4) Mix down afterwards (next day when your ears recover)
    5) Stereo wav file into your computer via USB.
    6) Sync with the video in your editor or choice.

    Here's the more in-depth version:

    1) Put 2 condenser mics on straight stands.

    Cheap stands are fine, but condenser mics can get very expensive. You often get what you pay for. I have 2 Oktava MK012a mics that I got for $50 each "back in the day" (that means at some time in the past 20 years, and I don't remember when). I looked online just now and they are almost $200 each! I guess I got a good deal. However, a good microphone will last you a very long time.

    A straight stand, and minimum extension (as short as it goes) is the best height. Higher and it gets too much cymbal and snare drum. Lower and it doesn't get enough. At this height it's usually pointing directly into the guitar amps.


    Put them left and right on the stage, a few feet out from the drums, pointing at the back row of guitar/bass amps. We're trying to get a good balance of amp and drums in these mics. Put them about even with the drums - not in front or behind them, but at the sides.

    Plug these into channels 1 and 2 on the Fostex. Note: We are using XLR cables for all of our mics.



    2) We want to get a dynamic mic into the hole of the kick drum. (also known as the bass drum). You can either just reach in and put in on the pillow that most drummers have in there (careful not to leave it touching any part of the drum) or you can put it on a boom stand and angle it so the head of the mic is just inside the hole. This way is better, but the boom stand will take up some room that a small stage might not be able to spare.

    If the drummer doesn't have a hole in his outside kick drum head, quietly mutter to yourself about drummers and how flaky, dumb, and un-reliable they are. Then, use a boom stand to get the head of the mic as close as you can without touching to the drum head. Leave some room for the head to flex. 1/4 to 1/2 an inch is good.

    Plug this mic into track 3 on the Fostex.

    You can use a dedicated kick drum mic for this, or the old workhorse, a Shure SM-57.


    3) Beg the sound guy to get you a PA feed. You'll need a instrument cable for this. Most clubs I record at are small, so the only thing in the PA is the vocals. The guitars / bass / drum sounds just comes from the amps on stage.

    Plug this into track 4. (all the tracks on the Fostex take XLR or 1/4" inputs - only track 1 takes line level, but you probably won't need it)


    Ok, we're all mic-ed up. Now we need some levels. We're on the Fostex for these next few steps.

    4) Turn the trim all the way down on all 4 tracks. Trim is the little knob on each track below the mic input. Please supply your own "trim" jokes.

    Set up your song (Read the manual. It's easy). The whole set will be 1 "song" to the Fostex. Hopefully they will play less than 99 minutes. The bands I record seldom go more than 30. Bring the mixer sliders for tracks 1-4 up to the shaded range (toward the top, but not all the way). Press the little square button on each of tracks 1-4, so it turns red. This means this track is record-enabled. Press record and play at the same time, and you are rolling!

    Then you will probably need to wait until they start to get a real level from the stage. You can ask them to give you a test level, but it won't be nearly as loud as when they play for real, especially the drummer. See my drummer comments, above.

    While you're fiddling with the audio levels, you missing the video on the first song. Got a helper?

    Once they do start: Starting with track 1, slowly turn the trim up until the level on the LCD screen for this track is between -12 and 0. DO NOT LET IT GO OVER 0. EVER. Plan for the band to turn up after the first song. They always do. Repeat this for the rest of the tracks.

    5) Shoot video of the band. Use whatever on-camera mic you have. One time, the guitar player moved my recording mic on his side of the stage. This resulted in the levels for his guitar to be too low. I was able to, in FCP, mix the camera audio in a little with the 4-track audio, and get some of his volume back. Also, the camera audio can add more ambience when it's mixed together (and much lower) with the 4-track audio.

    6) The next day (your ears are shot from standing 3 feet from punk band all night - let them rest): Mix the 4-track audio right on the Fostex. Then bring the final stereo wav file into your computer.

    or

    Bring each of the 4 mono tracks into your computer and mix in Logic or Sonar or your audio editor of choice.

    7) Sync with the video. Put the video, with the camera-mic audio, in your timeline. Then, watch the drummer, especially at the start of a song. Find a place where he hits a drum or a cymbal. Mark an in point at the exact frame he hits it. In your 4-track audio clip, in the viewer, find that spot. A nice loud snare or cymbal hit should be easy to spot on the audio waveform. Set an in point at that spot, and overwrite edit it to your timeline. This will leave some part of the start of the video with no 4-track audio. With the select tool just drag the edge of the 4-track audio back to the start of the video. There should be plenty of room, since you probably started the audio recording before the video. If not, just drag it back as far as it will go.

    To really get a perfect match, listen to both the 4 track audio and the camera audio. Does it sound like it has an echo? A very slight one? Move the 4-track audio plus or minus 1 frame. Does it sound better or worse? Keep tweaking until there's no echo at all - you've got a perfect match.

    I usually use both the 4-track audio and the camera audio, but I adjust the camera audio to be at a much lower level.

    Well, that's it. Here's an example I did using this technique. (YouTube squashes the audio a bit)

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=hId4bQWWCH8

    This was shot with my Sony DCR DVD105, a cheap point and shooter. I just got my HV20 last week (after frustration with the Sony's low light performance). I have 2 bands scheduled to shoot with it later this month. Like I said, I'm new to this video thing. This example is of my band, so obviously I didn't do the camera work. I'm the one in the middle with the hair.

    Good luck, and please post any questions!

    -geekd

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    Senior Member geekd's Avatar
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    Ok, lame to reply to my own post. but.

    I posted another video that shows an example of this recording method. On Vimeo, who don't mess up the sound like YouTube does.

    I got some better mics since I posted this, and they make a huge difference.



    it's here:

    http://www.vimeo.com/763930

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    Great stuff here geekd. sure would like to know the settings on your hv20 though.
    Last edited by ballardgw; 2008 April 11th at 03:47.

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    Geekd,

    Are you still around?

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    Senior Member geekd's Avatar
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    Sorry, I was on vacation.


    I put the HV20 mic settings on auto attenuation. Lately, I've not been using the HV20 mic at all, except for syncing in my editor.

    I've also been mixing the 4 tracks in Logic Audio on Mac. I get much better sound with some compression and EQ on each track.

    -geekd

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    Great setup.
    Did you edit the audio file on the computer afterwards?

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    Senior Member geekd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kafeero View Post
    Great setup.
    Did you edit the audio file on the computer afterwards?
    I didn't used to, but I am these days. The vimeo link I posted, "Functioning Member" was mixed in Final Cut, which is level mixing only, no compression or EQ.

    My most recent project I mixed in Logic, with EQ and compression on each track, and it helps a lot. I should have some stuff from that shoot posted in a few weeks.

    -geekd

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    geekd,

    Glad you're back. When I asked about the HV20 settings I meant the video ones not the audio.

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    Senior Member geekd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ballardgw View Post
    geekd,

    Glad you're back. When I asked about the HV20 settings I meant the video ones not the audio.

    I'm usually shooting in the dark.

    I use HD, 24p and cinema mode. I point the camera at the stage, let it pick a setting automatically, then use the exposure lock to lock that setting in.

    The camera seems to be better than me at choosing the right setting, but you don't want that setting to change during shooting, so I lock it in.

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    Wow, geekd! Your band really rocks. Your music is tight and energetic. Your bass playing is deadly. Is that original stuff you're doing? But what's really amazing is your creative talent and interests have spread into audio recording and video production and have come up with creative ways to record great sounding music with minimal equipment. That's a rare trait among musicians (and especially people who like to hang out with musicians - like drummers, lol). Plus, you are willing to share that wealth of knowledge with the rest of the world. You're fast becoming a geekd god in my books. Anyway, do you have any problems with the music and video tracks going out of sync in the latter part of the final mixed track? Or do they stay synced right through?
    Last edited by flyingdust; 2009 February 24th at 03:13.

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    Senior Member geekd's Avatar
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    Thanks for the kinds words. The songs my band does are original, written by one or both of the guitar players.

    I have read posts where people say their audio gets out of sync after 10 or 15 minutes. I don't usually go that long. Usually I'm just using a song or 2 from a set. Or in the case of that 12Cent CD Release Party video, I got the whole set, but I dropped a few songs that were not as good, and cut some time between songs where they were tuning up or whatever. In that case I have to re-sync at the "restart". So I've not run into a problem with audio getting off sync, but then I don't usually go more than 7 or 10 minutes without a cut.

    Lately I've been loading the recorded tracks from the Fostex into Pro Tools or Logic and mixing there. I can get a much better sound that way, but it is more work. The sound on "Sunlight" was done that way.

    Or, in the case of the West Of Memphis videos, I was recording audio direct in Pro Tools on my laptop for them, on 9 tracks. I took my video camera as an afterthought, but I got video of 2 songs, and they turned out great.

    If a band sounds good on stage, it makes it much easier to make them sound good in the recording.

    Be sure and post your vids when you make some. I recommend vimeo.com, they seem to have the best audio and video quality.

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    What could be easier, cleaner or faster than tapping into the audio L/R tape outs on the soundboard, then running uncut into a small digital recorder like Zoom. Feed a room centered wireless mic into your HV for ambient audience sound and acoustics and match/mix levels in post. Add a Juiced Link for more mic placements if you want.

    That also puts the onus of the actual music mix where it belongs. On the sound guy who should be doing it best using the right equipment like compressors, room acoustics control, etc. At least that way if the sound is "iffy" they can't blame it on you.

    JM2C for keeping it clean and simple.
    Last edited by previdman; 2009 February 25th at 00:25.
    I know enough to know what works ... at least until it blows up. Then I know it don't.

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    Thanks, geekd. I learned a lot from your article and videos. I bookmarked your page on vimeo.com and will be tuning in from time to time, looking for your future videos. I'll also be tuning into this fine forum, too, absorbing like a sponge.

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    Senior Member geekd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by previdman View Post
    What could be easier, cleaner or faster than tapping into the audio L/R tape outs on the soundboard, then running uncut into a small digital recorder like Zoom. Feed a room centered wireless mic into your HV for ambient audience sound and acoustics and match/mix levels in post. Add a Juiced Link for more mic placements if you want.
    I will use a similar method if putting mics on the stage won't work. However, in the smaller bars I shoot at, the only thing going into the PA is vocals, the rest is coming off the stage. And the "sound guy" is us. So then you'd get a direct vocal feed, and the music from the room mics. This can sound hollow and odd.

    Also, in some clubs where there is a sound guy, and they do mic everything, the loud bands that I shoot will still have very little guitar in the PA mix. (because the guitar player is so loud on stage) Sure, I can get some of it back from the room mic, but it sounds better when the mic is closer, as in my "on stage" method. "Why can't you just ask the guitar player to turn down?" you ask. Dude, I have. They don't take kindly to the suggestion.

    However, in this video, [ame="http://www.vimeo.com/714554"]12Cent Live 10-24-2007 on Vimeo[/ame] I used a method similar to what you said. I got a left/right PA feed into 2 tracks, and 2 mics in the back of the room in the other 2 tracks. When you do that, though, you are at the mercy of the sound guy. In this case it worked out.


    Quote Originally Posted by previdman View Post
    That also puts the onus of the actual music mix where it belongs. On the sound guy who should be doing it best using the right equipment like compressors, room acoustics control, etc. At least that way if the sound is "iffy" they can't blame it on you.

    JM2C for keeping it clean and simple.
    I've been burned by bad sound guys too many times. In my method, I can control the mix in post. And in "they can't blame it on you" the "they" and the "you" are the same - me. I've find the more control I have, and the less I have to rely on someone else, the better the end result. That does, however, mean more work for me. Which really sucks when I'm trying to get everything set up, the tape rolling, and then I jump on stage to play and find I forgot to tune up.

    Your method would work great in many situations. In my situation, however, with small clubs, unruly audiences and very loud bands, this method works best for me.

    With music that's not as loud (which would be just about any other kind of music) and with audiences that are not prone to knocking over anything not on the stage (which would be just about any other kind of audience) your method would give great results. Unfortunately, that's not the show I'm shooting.

    It's pretty specialized situation I'm in. The fast band turnover means I need fast setup time. The sheer volume of the bands and the unruliness of the audience pose unique challenges. The small clubs and their lack of budget for sound and sound guys means I can't rely on the PA feed. This is the world of local rock / punk / metal. I've been living in it for 15 years, and thankfully the advance of technology has made the tools for documenting it cheaper and more available. Thank god, because it's just a matter of time before someone spills beer all over my gear.

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    Forum Mogul Terfyn's Avatar
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    Just out of interest? Have you fed the HV20 from the headphone output of the MR-8? The HV 20 will take a Line Input with care.

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    Senior Member geekd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Terfyn View Post
    Just out of interest? Have you fed the HV20 from the headphone output of the MR-8? The HV 20 will take a Line Input with care.

    I haven't. I assume you mean while shooting. I tend to move around a lot with the camera, so I don't like having cables hooked up to it.

    Also, when my band is playing, I give the camera to someone else to shoot (after I get the audio running, and the camera exposure locked, etc) so I try to keep it simple for them.

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    The problem with recording from the tape/auxiliary out is that you'll be be stuck with a mix optimized for the live production. After all, that's what the front-of-house guy is there for. You won't be able to adjust levels, EQ and effects individually in post.

    I did notice some vocals clipping on that first vid and, presumably, the mic levels needed to be high to get over the drums, guitar and bass or the audience wouldn't be able to hear. A desirable recording level of -12db would not be an option for the sound guy. So when you record from the desk you get whatever worked on the night, which is never going to be desirable for anything else.

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