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.
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)
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!