Phil Maves is the lead singer of The Actors. He has a lot of experience with recording live shows. He was kind enough to share some his knowledge here with you today.
Q: What do bands need to know if they want to start recording their shows?
A: First of all, they need to ask themselves why they’re recording a show. Is it just for their own personal use, to critique performance and maybe have a recording to listen to on occasion? Is it a promotional tool to demonstrate the live show to bookers? Is it intended for a full commercial release? Once an artist has that answer, then there are a few different approaches, in terms of equipment. For the purposes of this conversation, I’m going to try to cover some of these topics as though a band or artist is operating with minimal cash to invest, and not working with either a major label budget or their parents’ trust fund…
Q: So what if a live recording is just going to be for personal use, so the band can improve their live show?
A: For personal use, it’s a good idea to not only have an audio recording, but video as well – that way, you can gauge both your musical performance and your stage presence, whatever style your music is. Usually a Flip camera (retails for under $150) or a decent camcorder does the trick – you have a basic video of the show AND you can strip out the audio track to provide a “live room” sound of the event. Sometimes the audio quality is even good enough for your Myspace player.
Q: If it’s a recording that’s meant for bookers or a give-away to the fans, does this get pretty expensive?
A: Honestly, most bands at the local stage shouldn’t have to spend much money to get a usable live recording that they can pass on to their audience as a “thank you,” or submit to bookers to show off their live muscle. This is a borderline area in terms of sound quality – again, you can just film your show with a decent camcorder and slap that on YouTube for bookers, and that’ll be enough for most clubs. But really, the next step up would be to record your show with inexpensive equipment. Roland’s Edirol series has pretty good sound and clarity for a single-mic recorder, and usually runs under $400. I know a few bands that use this gear, and they’ve sent the recordings out to their mailing list and fans as exclusive live tracks, i.e. they’re pretty releasable.
Q: OK, what if you want to record your live shows and put them out for sale? That’s got to be expensive…
A: Well, it depends on who you’re working with. If you want something more professional, (i.e. a multi-channel recording with instrument separation), find out if a club you’re scheduled to play has a regular sound person that also records the shows. For example, Kimo’s sometimes has worked with Eric from Renegade Sound who records the shows while he does the live mix, and he then emails the bands the live sound board recording. Nice guy, too. Usually at these venues, the sound person takes his or her usual per-show cut, so they’re already paid and it costs the bands nothing to get the recording. In some cases, I’ve heard of sound guys asking for a minimal recording fee on top of their usual live sound fee, but we’ve yet to run into this in the Bay Area.
Another approach is to get yourself set up with a live radio session and use those recordings. Two great examples are Pirate Cat Radio and KZSU 90.1 FM (Stanford) — both host live radio shows with bands, and they’ll give you the recording to do with as you please following the broadcast. Do a Google search or ask a few bands you know in town if they’ve done these sessions, and you’ll find the info you need to make your radio performance happen.
Q: What about mixing? I know bands are always concerned about getting the right balance of instruments and vocals in their recordings – is this a challenge with live recording?
A: Yeah, the only caution I’d give with some of the “free” live recording sessions above is that although they’re professionally recorded, there usually isn’t time or means to control the final mix you get. If your band’s instrumentation is pretty minimal or typical (either the vocals-guitar-bass-drums combo, or vocals with programming, keyboards and other direct input gear), then you shouldn’t have to worry too much about an imbalanced mix.
If you really want to go all out, you could ask a live sound engineer or record producer with live sound experience to record your show remote, but frankly that is often as expensive as booking studio time. Your best bet is to seek out recording engineers in the city who host events with the sole purpose of recording bands live, and showing off their wares. One that I can think of off the top of my head is Tardon Feathered from Mr. Toad’s. He recently started booking bands to record live audio & video sessions in his studio. Bands can record as a closed session, or invite an audience and suddenly you’ve got an instant live show party atmosphere. He already snagged Loquat for a session a few months back, and the results can be seen here:
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