Thanks to social media, it’s never been easier for bands to reach a huge audience by dropping studio-polished tracks on online platforms. That said, sounding good in the studio is one thing – sounding just as good or even better on stage is another. Stunning live performances are exactly what sets good bands apart from the rest, which raises the question: how do you make the perfect live recording of a gig? Well, read on and learn!

How to Make Awesome Live Recordings

An Ever-Useful Tool

Live recordings aren’t just treats for your fans but can prove incredibly useful, which is why band-coaches always recommend listening back to yourself. Ask yourself how many times have you played a blistering solo then realised it was just a poor bit of improvisation when you heard it back? Live takes lay bare the timing and tightness of your performance and can be combined with video recordings for critical analysis and stage performance assessment, giving you the tools needed to work out the details or touch up problem areas.

Be Discerning

Not every gig lends itself to a solid live recording, particularly because slight imperfections such as excessive noise and feedback are difficult to eradicate from the mix later on. That’s why it’s always important to look at whether a venue does or doesn’t meet the requirements for clean recordings beforehand. As a rule of thumb, never pick a location that has a limited fixed audio rig or where you’re forced to play without some kind of monitoring system. Large spaces and mostly empty rooms also tend to result in poor recordings as a result of poor acoustics. The best setting for live recordings are the venues that have invested in a professional PA system. Make sure to pick a place where you have enough time to set up your recording gear and discuss your plans with the sound tech.

Choose Your Method

The easiest way to record your live performance is with the help of a video camera equipped with a built-in microphone. These microphones are often capable of handling a relatively high sound pressure level and feature an integrated limiter to counter peaks. The benefit here is that the single push of a button is enough to get started, and uploading the content afterwards is almost just as simple. That being said, the result usually comes with sub-optimal mono audio, so a solid field recorder would be the better alternative here. Field recorders are usually armed with two or more microphones that, by default, are better equipped and positioned to ensure natural stereo audio. Not only that, the internal preamps and converters of professional field recorders boast superior performance and are cut out to capture acoustic sets or other low to average volume levels. Also, keep in mind that when using a field recorder in combination with a video camera, having the camera capture the audio can ease the synchronisation process during the editing phase. The same can be achieved using a laptop and a basic two-channel audio interface, which is more difficult and expensive to set up but does provide more options when it comes to picking out the right microphones. Here, it’s a matter of figuring out the optimum angle and configuration while making efficient use of the acoustics of the room and the dimensions of the stage.

Go Loud or Go Home?

Despite sound safety protocols, many bands and sound techs refuse to settle for anything less than loud during gigs and, while proper hearing protection makes sure you yourself have nothing to worry about, the extreme sound pressure levels can cause microphones to distort, leaving a devastating effect on the live recording. In this case, you’re better off recording yourself from the room rather than the stage or by possibly using the audio signals processed by the sound tech’s mixer if you’re fully mic’d up. The way the separate tracks are tapped mainly depends on the sound crew’s gear and your own. If your options are limited to a two-channel interface or a small field recorder, see if you can get your hands on the stereo track of the master channel but bear in mind that it’ll have the sound tech’s signature all over it and that the balance and any added effects can’t be tweaked afterwards. It’s also important to remember that live mixes are very different from studio mixes since the acoustics of the room and factors such as the audience play a large role in the decision-making process of the sound tech on site.

Working With Groups

If your recording interface features multiple channels, it means you get to enjoy the luxury of being able to record several or perhaps even all instruments separately. This gives you more control as the final mix can then be tweaked to taste in the studio. While not every mixer comes with direct outputs per channel, most professional consoles do, meaning sound techs get to bundle tracks of choice into groups before sending the groups to the line inputs of an audio interface in mono. Needless to say, clear ground rules need to be established prior since any erroneous grouping can prove detrimental to the final mix. With that in mind, always try to find optimal combinations. Usually, the kick and snare are placed in the same group while the overheads are dropped in a second or third group. Backing tracks and multi guitar micros are also often sent to one and the same track. Here, it goes without saying that having access to a larger number of interface inputs reduces the need for creative solutions. For the average band, an 8-channel set-up is all that’s needed for fuss-free tracking.

Forming Combos

A combination of all of the above would be the ideal. After all, what’s a live mix without the sound of the audience clapping and cheering? If you have an extra microphone and mic input available, it’s definitely worth setting it up to record the ambiance to a separate track. Any microphone will do, though a condenser microphone is usually preferred. You could also decide to capture your crowd using the built-in microphone of your video camera. The track can be loaded into the final mix where, by cutting the music and adding fades at just the right moments, you can create superb complementary effects. Even when it comes to multi-track recordings, any excess of inputs can be used to track the stereo track of the master. “More is more” isn’t the crede of many-a sound engineer for nothing. But since the sound tech has a different approach to live mixes compared to your studio-based approach, we can only advise you to trust them. Try letting a warm-sounding compressor (fast attack, large ratio) go to town on the stereo track and carefully mix in the results with your multi-track recording. This is one of the tools you can use to turn a timid, dry mix into a lively one and, just like setting up extra microphones across the room would, can sound surprisingly enriching.

A Win-Win Situation

When you’re recording live for the first time, chances are that due to lack of experience and stress, mistakes will happen. If you’re part of the band yourself, you’re also tasked with the burden of having to do a double sound check. That’s why it can be a good idea to ask bands that are scheduled to play before you for permission to record them. This way, you have enough time to check your settings and verify that all tracks are running fine. Make sure to let the band know that you’re still in the learning phase if you’re not sure about the results, but if the first recordings actually sound bang on, you’re all set to greenlight the tracks. Few bands will refuse the free service, so take advantage whenever you can!


Bleed is the term for the seeping of sound from one instrument into the microphone of another instrument. This phenomenon is the reason why many engineers usually record each instrument separately. While it’s not an option when it comes to live recordings, it’s worth remembering because you don’t want to position the singer(s) too close to the drum kit. It’s best to capture the bass amplifier via a direct-out and, if your band doesn’t play using in-ears, it’s also important to keep the volume of the monitors limited; a guitar ripping through the drummer’s monitors will no doubt result in a slurry of guitar sounds in the recording of the overheads.

Pre/Post Fader?

Many professional mixing consoles have the option to send a signal before or after the fader. When a pre-fader signal is output, this will be the dry signal only. The equalisation, effects and volume used by the engineer will not be output, which is interesting to note for advanced sound-mixers since it means that you get to do whatever you want with the tracks later. That said, this takes a lot away from the live feel, even more so when the band uses specific effects. ‘Post-fader’ mixing is a lot less time consuming and requires recording the tracks as the engineer mixes them in real time during the show, but that does not mean there’s nothing for you to mix yourself. Only more outspoken effects like reverb and compression are impossible to erase from such recordings, which is also worth keeping in mind!

Good luck out there and leave a comment below if you have any questions!

See Also

» Microphones
» Audio Interfaces
» Audio Cables
» DAW Software
» Portable Recorders
» Mixers
» All Studio & Recording Equipment

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1 response
  1. Tim Millea says:

    There are different techniques when the performance is ‘ambient’, i.e. does not rely upon sound reinforcement, but rather the natural sound of the performers in the space being recorded. For example this can be a choir, a jazz or brass band or a purely acoustic folk band recording in a location with great acoustics like a church or large hall. The performers should know how to naturally balance their sound. Then it is just a question of capturing it with the correction ratio of source-to-room by careful microphone placement. For stereo this is usually a co-incident pair of cardioids (‘XY’) if mono-compatibility is required, but far better is a pair of spaced omnis (‘AB’). The omni is the purest mic with essentially a flat and natural response throughout the audio spectrum. There are variations of both of course. EQ tweaks can be made in post to filter out any traffic rumble or add a little sparkle etc. but less is usually more.

    The unpredictability of live recording often makes the recordist turn the recording levels well-down just in case to avoid clipping or excessive limiting. This increases recorded noise from pre-amps, cables, etc..

    A 32-bit field recorder with two good quality spaced omnis, ideally on a wide bar and correctly positioned to create the correct ‘mix’ solves most known issues.

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