How to Record Multiple Tracks at Once for Live Recording


As a music producer, you will come across different clients with different needs. If you ever want to try and record a live show, keep in mind that it may be similar to home recording, but it is an entirely different ball game. Even if you do not have clients yet and record music as a hobby, recording a live show is another skill you may want to develop. Capturing the essence, the crowd, and the ambiance of a live show can be a great experience. It is not only about capturing the sound; it is more of capturing the whole experience so fans can relive the amazing experience.

There are several ways to record a live show. The method you choose will depend on some factors, such as the venue, the crowd, and the resources available. The first option is to use a stand-alone device with no microphones and mixers. Second, is by using a computer with an audio interface for direct input. Lastly, you can try using a device or computer with microphones, mixers, and microphones. The latter option is the most effective. However, you would have to purchase a lot more equipment than the previous options.

CAPTURING THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE

When recording live shows, you are not just capturing the audio and video. You are also capturing the whole experience, the crowd, the ambiance, and the moments that you cannot re-create. One of the significant differences between live and home recording is you only have one shot to perfection in live recording. You cannot redo anything, so it has to be perfectly planned and executed the first time. You should probably practice recording a band or performance that you do not like so much. You could also talk to a band and ask them if they want you to record their live performances for free.

You do not want to ask a performer for money when you have no experience doing something. Think of it as an internship. Where you do not get paid, but you do get a chance to practice and gain experience. Before starting to record a band perform live, make sure you have the right equipment, and know what you are doing.

It may seem as simple as bringing your computer to the venue, setting up a couple of mics here and there, but there are so many more nuisances and factors you must consider. You have to capture the band, know their set, know when to focus on crowd noise, and so on. You do not want to over-edit the post-production. You want to capture a clean recording, that still feels like a live show when you listen or re-watch the video. It does not have to be a video, some bands release a DVD for a live show, but they also release audio-only material like a live album.

WHY RECORD LIVE?

Some people want to record live shows because they want to relive the experience. Another reason is to experience it through listening or watching a live performance if the person was not available to make it to the show. When you watch a live performance on TV, you can hear great audio, because they have really experienced audio engineers. By practicing live recording, you can also practice your skills as a sound engineer. You can use these skills when you are back home in your music studio.

Some people also record live just to analyze a band’s performance. If that is the case, you do not need fancy equipment. All you need is a phone or a recorder. You can also use a laptop and a microphone, but for analysis purposes, you wouldn’t really bother. You can use a recorder such as this:

ZOOM H4N PRO DIGITAL MULTITRACK RECORDER

(Price: $220)

The ZOOM H4N is a four-channel standalone stereo recorder that can record up to 24-bit, 96 kHz with its built-in stereo microphones. That is enough to record reasonable quality live shows. It has enough headroom for post-production editing and adding effects to enhance and master the tracks. However, I would not suggest using a device like this if you want to release the tracks on streaming apps or an album. Using this device is recommended for analysis and personal purposes only. However, a device like this would probably be sufficient enough to capture an acoustic performance, considering you place it in the right spot between the audience, the singer, and the instrument. Since you might be recording for an hour or two, keep in mind that you need to conserve the battery power.

Key Features:

  • 2 XLR/TRS inputs
  • SD/SDHC memory card slot (up to 32GB)
  • 2.0 USB connection
  • 4-input/ 2-output audio interface
  • Compatible for Windows Vista and higher, and MAC OSX 10.6 and higher

STEREO RECORDING

For stereo recording, you will need a device like the ZOOM H4N. You have to position yourself somewhere between all the instruments are heard, and a little further from the crowd. You want to capture the crowd, but you want the music to be on top. The tricky thing about doing the simple stereo recording is clipping. Without a device to adjust the levels like multitrack recording, you might experience clipping if someone in the crowd screams loud enough, or someone in the band turns up their instrument volume.

Good thing that 24-bit solid-state recorders tend to leave a little space for clipping. These devices can set low noise recording with a bit of room if it gets louder. And trust me, for live shows, it will get loud. You can, however, ask the in-house audio engineer to feed you the live output from the PA; this way, it is much easier to mix and balance the tracks. A 24-bit recorder does not have a mixer, so you are going to have to trust the front-of-house audio tech on this one. As for crowd noises, the singer’s mic can pick them up, but not so much. You may want to have a separate mic or recorder to capture the crowd and the whole “live show” experience.

Here are some devices and microphones you could use to record a live show without a computer:

TASCAM DP-006 6-TRACK DIGITAL POCKET STUDIO MULTITRACK AUDIO RECORDER

(Price: $130)

With this device, you can record up to 6 tracks all at once. You do not need a host computer as this device is a stand-alone recorder. It can record two mono to stereo switchable tracks and two stereo tracks adding up to a total of 6 inputs. For recording a live show in a small venue, 4 to 6 separate tracks should be enough. It has knobs to pan and adjust the tracks that make a professional live recording. You can use your microphones, together with the device’s two built-in omnidirectional microphones.

RODE NTR PREMIUM ACTIVE RIBBON MICROPHONE

(Price: $560)

Rode is well-known for creating high-quality mics for music production. A lot of pro music studios use Rode products because of their name is always associated with the quality of their products. This ribbon microphone is suitable for recording vocals as well as acoustic instruments.

Key Features:

  • Figure 8 polar pattern
  • Velocity transducer
  • 20Hz to 20KHz frequency range
  • 3-Pin XLR output
  • Sleek design
  • Heavy-Duty Black matte finish
  • Perfect for recording acoustic instruments such as a classical grand or upright piano

NEUMANN U-87

(Price: $3,000)

This vintage style mic is an excellent mic that is worth the price. It is a large-diaphragm microphone that is suitable for capturing almost any vocal and acoustic instrument tracks. This mic is a classic studio microphone that has three directional characteristics, Omni, cardioid, and figure 8. The features give the mic more functions in a recording session. It has a vintage design that will automatically attract people whoever sets their eyes on this amazing product. Because it is way more expensive than the other mics on the market, I would not recommend that you buy this product unless you are certain that you want to choose this music producer path.

However, you can always sell pre-loved musical instruments. That is another good thing about investing in musical instruments, as long as you take care of them, you can sell them at a reasonable price that is not too low compared to the cost when you bought it.

AUDIO-TECHNICA AT2035 CARDIOID CONDENSER MICROPHONE

(Price: $150)

This product was designed with home music producers in mind. It has the perfect features for every home music or professional music producer’s needs. The wide dynamic range provides excellent versatility for recording vocals and acoustic instruments alike.

Key Features:

  • Handles high sound pressure levels
  • Cardioid polar pattern
  • Reliable performance
  • Large-diaphragm
  • Custom shock mounts for superior isolation
  • Switchable 80Hz high pass filter and a 10dB pad

MULTI-TRACK RECORDING

Multitrack recording is what you would usually hear when you watch a band performing on live television or a band’s DVD release. Some of these recordings will be tracked separately, just like you would do in a home studio setting. The tracks will then be digitally mastered and enhanced by the best sound engineers and producers.

You can achieve the same results if you know how to master and balance out each track you record at home. To start off with this process, you will need a multi-track recorder or audio interface. If you have a multitrack recorder, you do not need a separate computer. Audio interfaces, on the other hand, will need a computer and DAW where you can store and edit tracks. I prefer having a laptop so I can record and edit on the go.

Here are some stand-alone multitrack recorders that will do the trick without a computer or laptop:

CYMATIC AUDIO UTRACK24

(Price: $250)

This device is an example of a recorder that you can use to record up to 24 tracks at once. It has a balanced input and output for capturing a cleaner tone. It has a built-in recorder, player, and audio interface, which you can use with a laptop as well. You can also use this device to cue in backing tracks for live shows.

TASCAM DP-24SD 24-TRACK PORTABLE STUDIO

(Price: $500)

This device is like a portable studio that you can use to record tracks without the use of a laptop or computer. It has 24 inputs that you can use to capture every moment for live recording. It also has some built-in effects that you can use in real-time for live performances. All you will need are some microphones to place in the right spots. You can also ask the sound tech to feed you the output from the live performance and record it directly to this all-in-one powerful device.

If you do have a laptop or computer, you can opt for buying an audio interface with sufficient inputs. A two-input audio interface will not exactly do the trick if you want to capture the whole live show experience. Here are some selections you can choose from:

STEINBERG UR44

(Price: $299)

From the creators of another high-end DAW called Cubase, Steinberg is an excellent audio interface for professional recording. If you want to upgrade from a one-input audio interface to a four-input, go for the UR44. With more mic inputs, you can capture many sounds all at once. You can also record live recording sessions.

Specifications:

  • 24-bit audio
  • USB output
  • Four Class-A Mic preamps
  • Durable metal casing
  • Latency-free

This product is like a rack interface that professional producers use in larger studios. The size is small but has the power of those massive rack audio interfaces.

FOCUSRITE SCARLETT 18i8 (2nd GEN) USB AUIDO INTERFACE

(Price: $299)

If you have a Focusrite Scarlett Solo and don’t want to go for another brand like the UR44, that is not a problem. You can go for the same brand with upgraded inputs and power. Most professionals prefer numerous inputs for a more efficient workflow and better audio capturing.

The Scarlett 18i8 does not only have more inputs, but you also get the most out of your money with the added free software. You can get Pro Tools, Ableton Live Lite, and 2GB worth of free loops and samples. With more inputs, you can now use your bedroom music studio for recording for multi-instrument recording purposes.

Specifications:

  • Four microphone inputs with phantom power pre-amp
  • Two instrument inputs
  • Two headphone outputs
  • 24-bit sample rate

PRESONUS STUDIOLIVE 24R

(Price: $1,500)

If you have more money to spare, I say you should go for this device. It is not only excellent for live recording performances, but you could also use it in your home music studio. You can record multiple tracks at once, and you can also record a live studio performance in the comforts of your home. Considering you have a soundproofed room, with all the essential instruments, you can get a band to record a live studio performance. If you want to record a live performance, it is best If you can get a video team to do the video, while you can focus on getting high-quality audio.

            Specifications:

  • One ethernet control network port
  • 12 ¼-inch TRS FlexMix Outputs
  • Two stereo aux inputs
  • 24-channel XLR inputs
  • SD Card slot
  • USB port

POST-PRODUCTION

Now that you know the process of recording live music, it is time to move on to the post-production phase. Now, you are going to need to clean, master, and review the tracks at home. It is the same process of what you would usually do when you are producing a song. The only difference is that your audio tracks were recorded live.

You can use some mastering software, but do not overdo this process. You want to clean the tracks from extra noise but keep the essence of the live show. That is the good thing about using a multitrack recorder; it is a lot more easy filtering and adjusting the levels of each instrument. Sometimes, a single track would pick up another instrument. But because the mic you used to record that instrument is much closer to a particular amp, you can filter the noise by adjusting the EQ levels a bit.

SIZE OF THE VENUE

For this article, we will only talk about recording small to medium venues since large concerts and events will most likely already have a live recording unit around. You may get a chance to record or be a part of a live recording team on a significant event in the future. Larger venues have everything going through the house sound system, which makes it a lot easier to record. All you will need is to ask for the outputs and connect it to your device. Mics will already be set up for large venues such as outdoor music festivals.

It is always better to start small. You can begin with underground clubs up to medium-sized concerts in slightly larger venues. You should also think about which instruments will be used by the band you plan to record. Recording an acoustic set will be a lot less complicated than recording a full band with synths, guitars, drums, samples, vocals, and back-up vocals. Since you are going to mix a lot more tracks, it will be more complicated than recording and mixing a 4-piece rock band.

LIVE RECORDING TIPS        

  • Use the Front-house-mics as much as you can

If the venue where you are recording has a front house sound tech in charge, ask the person if they can feed you the live outputs. This way, you would not need to use all of your mics and position them. Usually, front of house mics is strategically placed so that they would capture each instrument. They would be positioned closer to each instrument and trust the sound person because they usually know what they are doing. You can, however, set up separate mics to capture the crowd and the other elements of the live show.

If the drums are not lined-in the PA mixer, you can either set-up a mic near the kick drum and an overhead mic to hear the cymbals and toms. Basically, the more mics are fundamentally better if you correctly position them without clashing.

  • Scout the venue beforehand

Another good thing to do is to scout the site before setting up. You can strategically plan your mic positioning as well as where you will set up base. You can also record a different band, but that is up to you. For me, I would experiment with microphones and positioning at home before going into battle. You could also scout if every amp and instrument is lined-in the PA, it makes your job more comfortable if they are connected.

  • Know the band you are recording

It is always better to know the routine of the bend you are planning to record live. Know their songs and know when the bass and guitar will get loud. It is better to learn about their dynamics and as well as their communication with the crowd.

  • Filter the unwanted reverb, delays, and modulation

As much as possible, do not add effects until post-production. A good band with a good sound tech should already sound great without the addition of live and real-time effects.

  • Applause

If you did not capture the applause and the crowd presence in the show, don’t worry, you can manufacture crowd noises in the post-production process. Make sure you get a believable crowd noise sample that is coherent with the band you are recording.

  • Use a noise gate to avoid clipping

In the events of overpitched crowd noises or hi-gain guitars and bass, you might experience audio clipping, in this case, make sure you use a noise gate on your DAW or multitrack recorder. It will set up the noise threshold, which gives you a lot more headroom.

  • Embrace the natural sound

If all else fails, embrace the natural sound. Overly produced tracks will not sound very good. It is better to capture the true essence of the show rather than producing a clean but unnatural performance.

RELATED QUESTIONS

  • What is a live studio recording?

Live studio recording is somewhat similar to recording a live show. However, in live studio recording, you can repeat the performance, and capture different video angles if you only have a limited number of cameras. If anyone of the musicians commits an error or is not satisfied with the performance, they can repeat or overdub some of the parts. A live studio recording with no audience is much easier to record.

Live studio recording is similar to recording a music video. However, in live recording, you want to capture a clean live performance, that is not too clean like the version on the record. It still has to sound live. An excellent way to mix these performances is to record each instrument individually by using a multitrack recorder. You will need direct inputs and outputs for each instrument, including the vocals coming in through a computer or device. Which later on, you can remix and adjust the levels to make all the instruments be heard.

  • Do you need to ask the band permission to record and publish their live shows?

If the video or audio is personal use, you might get away with recording the performance. However, you must always ask permission from the band, the manager, and the venue. You will work for hand in hand with the front-of-house audio technician if you want to have access to their line outputs. So, it is always better to ask for permission beforehand.

You want to ask permission before the show because it will take time to set up your recording equipment at the venue. You do not want to be in a rush setting up your equipment right before the show starts. You want to be in time before soundcheck so that you can get everything set up correctly. Who knows? If you do a great job, you might even gain some clients and get paid for another live recording gigs.

CONCLUSION

Live recording is a fun experience for you as an aspiring music producer. You get a chance to go out and experience a live show and record it for everyone else. Doing a great job can also open new doors for your recording career. You can network with people and get new clients. You may have to invest in additional gear and equipment, but the good thing is, it is an investment. You can always sell or make money out of the new materials you have. However, it is not always about money. You are recording music to fulfill a passion that money cannot buy.

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