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Top 5 Tips for Recording a Live Gig

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

A disclaimer before I start: Do not record or bootleg shows without the explicit permission of the artist.

Don’t even attempt to beg forgiveness rather than seek permission because it won’t happen.

And they’ll be mad.

Anyway, back in 2015 my mate had this great idea to live record every stage at the first “A Day Of Clarity” festival in Adelaide. This was across 6 stages, 4 venues, and around 8 hours. This was my first foray into the recording world outside of a studio. Since then, we tracked a bunch of bands live across Adelaide, including capturing at least 1 stage at every A Day of Clarity festival since.

The following is what I’ve learned and picked up over the years of running around to Adelaide venues and capturing live sound. These tips are beyond simply making sure you have enough cables, and what types of mics, as if you’re actually running the sound that night then you should have a handle on all of it.

So this is what I did when recording music in Adelaide... but it should work anywhere.

1. Get a Zoom Recorder

Ideally, Get yourself a Zoom H4, or a similar equivalent. This way you can mount it somewhere safe near the mixing desk, and record both the room audio, and using two ¼ inch cables you can simultaneously record the desk audio. Honestly, I’ve used this method a LOT. Mostly because buying a bunch of multi input interfaces is expensive, not discrete, generally not battery operated, and doesn’t get you the room audio.

If you have fait that the desk mix will be great, then you can liven it up with the room mics and get yourself a solid live recording!

An example that you can hear is on the FIRST Rad Jams Exchange release of West Thebarton Brothel Party playing at the Exeter Beer Garden. This was also predominantly the room microphone recording, with the desk mix being used to bring the vocals out.

2. Know what DESK the venue has AHEAD of TIME

This can save you a lot of headaches and gives you the information you need to bring the relevant equipment. If they have an old analogue desk, then you’ll need some type of interface, like the aforementioned Zoom recorder.

If they have a digital desk like the Behringer X32, then you can install a free Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), like Reaper for example, and install the relevant drivers to a laptop. Then you only need a USB type B to A cable (these can be found attached to MIDI keyboards, or your parent’s printer), and you’ve got full multitrack audio with 32 inputs!

Or even better, the venue could have an Allen and Heath QU-16. Then all you need is a high speed USB or SSD formatted to FAT32, and you’re away! Of course, you can also use the previously mentioned method too.

With these last 2 options, I still HIGHLY recommend having a ZOOM capturing the master mix out of the desk and room audio as well. You never know when you might need it.

3. Get an 8 input recorder with BOTH XLR and ¼ inch inputs

In the event that you want to multitrack, but the venue only has an analogue desk, you’re going to need some more serious gear. Enter the Tascam Portastudio DP-24SD. While I didn’t actually have this early on (I instead shifted my studio recording rig and PC out to a venue once!), it has become one of the most flexible and useful pieces of gear for recording live.

There are many other options out on the market today, but whichever one you choose you want to ensure that it has both XLR and 1/4 inch inputs. This is because the desk may have either routed Auxiliary channels in the form of ¼ inch OR XLR, OR it may have a ¼ inch output for every input. This lets you pick and choose what mics to record or sum together.

The example of the first live 8 track recording I ever did was BAD//DREEMS on their Dogs At Bay tour, live at Fowlers.

4. Check your cables BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME

This is an embarrassing lesson that I had to learn the hard way.

Something that is easily avoidable with a few minutes of preparation.

Cables can have great longevity if looked after correctly, being rolled well and stored safely are keys to this. Regardless, they all do have a limited lifespan. If you’re using your cables regularly, it makes sense to test them. This can be done by plugging in a mic or instrument and moving the cable around a little at both plug ends and along the lead.

One time that I failed to do this was prior to recording the Archer’s farewell show, and it caused a headache in editing and mixing.

The ¼ inch cable that was capturing the kick drum signal became intermittent during the second song of the set and had to be replaced on the fly.

This caused an issue whereby there was no kick signal for about 45 seconds of the recording… and because it’s live there are no second takes. That audio is missing.

In the mixing stage, I then had to resample earlier and later kick sounds and place them in manually. I was able to pick these places by listening to other recorded mic tracks. It was tedious, but so worth it for the final product.

Check your cables!!

5. Ask to have ALL MICS gained, even if they’re NOT being put through the front of house

Mixers have this wonderful ability to have a live signal without it coming through the front of house. With the gain at the top of the mixer up, and the fader down, or muted, you can still capture that individual signal from a direct out. This also works when multitracking digitally to a laptop or USB.

In some cases, these extra mics may just be backing vocal mics that have been left on stage. In other cases, you may ask the audio engineer to set up a pair of small condenser mics on either side of the stage.

I used extra backing vocal microphones in the recording of Horror My Friend’s Live at Jive as drum room/overhead microphones. Without these I would have had a hard time creating a decent drum sound as there was only kick and snare mics. This was literally using distant Shure SM58s and some creative Equalisation and Compression... nothing a beginner mixing engineer can't handle.

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