Have you ever attempted to record live music? How did you do it and how did it turn out?

Have you ever attempted to record live music? How did you do it and how did it turn out?
Yes, here's my tale
48% (47 votes)
Sort of: I arrange/sample/mix music
5% (5 votes)
No, I prefer to listen
44% (43 votes)
3% (3 votes)
Total votes: 98

Whether it's the kid's first piano recital, or the neighborhood surf band, sometimes you've just got to record it yourself. But making that magical document of a live audio event is not nearly as easy as it would seem

Norm Strong's picture

My crowning achievement in live recording was a pair of all day Bach festivals. 10 1/2 hours straight of 2 events--and I wasn't even there!

Nicholas Fulford's picture

It has been a few years, and my budget was somewhat limited, so I had to rely on tried and true simple methods. With two Neumann KM-84's as the only microphones and a Revox B77; I concentrated on proper placement of microphones (to preserve phase integrity), and the you-are-there sense. This type of experience convinced me that microphone placement, minimalist techniques, and no processing between the mics and the master is the best way. If you want to post-processs -- fine, but keep the master as clinically clean as possible.

I.M.  Outthere's picture

I'm STILL waiting on the delivery of my MARCH issue. Does anyone in your subscription department give a damn?

Tony P., Washington, DC's picture

Yes, I've recorded myself and my band, but there is really no tale. A boombox in the middle of the practice room, that's it. I guess you could say it was the ultimate in simplicity :)

Joe Hartmann's picture

My son frequently uses an old TEAC 360 to record his band. I do not think much of the quality, but they get what they want from it. They aren't much concerned with sound quality; they are interested in how the content works. That's what they tell me, anyway

Pittsburgher's picture

I used to record my high school band concerts, back in the '70s, on cassette with Dolby B. Even with the hiss, hum, and poor miking, the results were still quite enjoyable and remain frozen moments in time in my tape collection, bringing back great memories.

Ed Strnad e_strnad@prodigy.net's picture

At Brooklyn Poly in 72, I bought the first Teac 4-channel reel-to-reel deck, the 2340. Fanatastic overdub & synch capabilities at a consumer price point. This thing weighed about 60 pounds, but technically it was "portable." I got a lot of mileage out of it. With friends, I produced a complete album ("The Counterweight Record"), had it cut and pressed, even drew the label and album jacket artwork. (Master cut by former AUDIO magazine answer man, Joe Giovanelli.) Using later TEACs, I went on to make records for high schools and local bands. I once recorded a live NY thunderstorm over "Ride of the Valkeries" in "surrond sound" -- it scared the crap out of my Brooklyn brownstone neighbors whenever I played it at 1am! I still have many master tapes and burn CDs from them today; they still sound pretty good. Nothing like half-track analog tape running at 15 ips! It was more fun when you had to physically cut and splice tape. Anyone still have a splicing block??

Azuth's picture

Well it wasn't really just me. It was me and my friends trying to record my friend's band at the drummer's house where they jammed. The guy who owns the house(the drummer) spent a week building a studio next to the room they actually played in. Layers of home brewed acoustic treatment, a mixing board, a few mediocre microphones, and a Hifi VCR for the storage medium was all we had. Now to put this into perspective, this is a heavy metal band and they play LOUD. Even with all the acoustic treatment, it was still loud in the recording room. Put on headphones and it was still loud. There was just no way to seperate the jam session from what was being recorded. Mixing the different amps and mics was no easy task. It took weeks before we had anything that was worth a damn. Even after the $1000's spent on hardware it was still only marginally better than the cheapest one mic recordings that they had made previously.

EW's picture

Using a binaural mic and minidisc player, I've recorded a pair of Buffalo Tom concerts, as well as a performance by Guided By Voices. The recordings came out quite good. If anything, they revealed the limitations of the sound system and acoustics of the venue.

tabaca's picture

yes i have tried to copy music from a live performance to tape(cassette) and had a very bad copy since i used a cheap mic and had bad placement of the bad mic i am not equipped to do a good job so i will just say "no"next time someone asks me

Larry Sherwood's picture

I've recorded a couple of student string players using a professional quality, portable mono analog tape machine with a $100 mike. The "kids" had previously only listened to their own music on truly excrable "Blue Light Special" consumer grade tape recorders. I'm sure audiophiles would sneer at my efforts, but the kids were delighted with the sound quality [well one of them, with the possibility of a serious musical career in front of him, cautions me not to play the tape outside of a small circle of friends!]

tony esporma's picture

In college. Chamber works and jazz bands. Used four Ortofon mikes (two cardiod, two omnis) onto a Teac 4 track open reel and a Technics two track (for on-the-fly mixes).

Jared Kline's picture

It's not hard if the equipment that you have is limited but if its good equipment it can be tough.

Tim Bishop's picture

My friends and I recorded ourselfs with a cassette recorder. While it was fun, the results were only basic. But what fun we had being aspiring rock star's!

Anonymous's picture

I recently taped Brian Wislon performing Pet Sounds at Sunrise Thtr. in Sunrise, Fla. It turned out as good as could be expected on a mini-dat could. What an evening!

Richard Noggin's picture

Many props to audio recording engineers. Their job of recording live events when there is little control of the acoustics and background noises (planes, trains and automobiles). I tried to to tape my child's violin concert for school on a Hi8 camcorder. Forget cassette because of its poor response. The Hi8 tape and camcorder is a great recording medium in spite of having to record video. I never realized the echo that super reflection of high frequency sounds caused by hard floors and walls and the poor absorptivity qualities of large glass windows. I felt as I I put my camcorder inside the liberty bell and someone went Mitchell Guilliatt on it. I tried to make due without the vidoe by remixing the sound to remove the upper frequency blast and to mix the lower frequency back into the final audio. Didn't work. I leave the recording to the professionals and I will pay for the final product.

K Segur's picture

We record our church service every week for the home bound parishoners. We have a fairly large/wide dynamic range pipe organ and a chorale of about 10-15 people. They primarily do traditional church music like Bach or Mozart and also original pieces done by our music director. The choir isn't too bad for recording unless the sopranos kick in as a group, then the level goes nuts. You can't gain ride too much or the dynamics will saturate a cassette very quickly. When the organ is in a solo like a prelude or after the service, it is best to back off somewhat. Live is so much more dynamic than from a CD of LP that it will catch you off guard. We do not have any idea of what is coming each performance so we go by the four years/52 weeks per year experience. We have to use cassettes because we must use a format that allows portability and is cost effective. Services last 70-80minutes so a CD recorder just wont give us enough time. Everything is run thru a 12 channel mixer/preamp with some qualization. Our mikes are strictly dynamic and just aimed into the choir/organ area. Live classical church music, when done in a acoustically great venue like our church can really make you wonder what it must have been like to actually hear Mozart or Bach. It is worth hearing every Sunday at Church of the Holy Faith in Santa Fe.

Satellite of Love's picture

I'll never forget it as long as I live. I was 12 years old. A local Los Angeles radio station, KMET, was to broadcast a special Led Zeppelin interview along with Zep's music. Because I had no hi-fi equipment, and was (and still am) a huge Zep fan, I asked my dad if I could use his car radio to make a tape of the program. He consented. On the day that the program was to air, I rode my bike to a local Tower Records store and purchased the most expensive high bias Memorex tape that I could find. Man, it was expensive, but I thought that the better the tape, the better the sound, even if I were to use (which I did) a portable Panasonic tape recorder. It wasn't even a stereo recorder. The big moment had come for me to set up for the big event. Tape and recorder in hand, I headed to the garage with my dad's car keys. Very carefully, I set the recorders's microphone right over the single monophonic speaker in the car (it was a '68 Plymouth Satellite). I was the recording engineer, and my quest was to make the best possible tape of this historic event. I was invincible! As the program aired, I pushed the "record" and "play" buttons simultaneously, and sat back in the car seat as quietly as I could. Let me tell you, my heart was pounding! Having listened to the Zep interview, I was even more anxious to show off my tape to all of my buddies at school the following day, but I thought that it might be a good idea for me to audition the tape first. As I carefully re-wound the tape, my entire being was filled with anticipation. I pushed the "play" button. The moment of truth had arrived. The first thing I heard was a long, introductory hiss. Then, I heard the strangest warbles imaginable where the voices were suppossed to have been. I couldn't figure out what I had done wrong; after all, I was using that newly formulated high bias tape. Could the tape recorder have had something to do with it? The program sounded fine as I was listening to it in my dad's car. Suffice to say that after that experience, I took a short (7-8 year) hiatus from the art of recording. But then . . . I guess that's where Stereophile came in.

joe's picture

i record live cds of bands at a festival i do sound for.

B-A Finlan's picture

I remember being inspired in the late 1960s, while in High School, reading Bert Whyte's (formerly of Everest Records) column in Audio magazine. One month he described his portable recording set up (Revox recorder and Hammond condenser microphones). These were the days when an open-reel recorder was an important part of a home audio system. I had already experimented with my father's (ca. 1956) home Ampex recorder and Shure microphone. By the time I was in college, I had access to professional equipment and began recording various music ensembles at the music school I attended. I then bought and rebuilt several open-reel recorders, mostly of the Ampex and Magnacord (1024) breed. Using a modest home tube Ampex (model 1260) and a couple of Nakamicki microphones, I recorded bands, orchestras, choral groups and solo recitals. I mounted the mics as a near-coincident pair (ORTF) using photography light stand(s). I felt at the time, even using this simple set-up, that my tapes sounded much more realistic to the live environment then most commercial recordings I had purchased. The apex of my hobby was reached the year I bought and rebuilt a stereo Ampex 351 recorder. It looked like brand-new by the time I was finished. It was in a "portable" case (yeh sure!) just like the one in the picture in this month's Stereophile print magazine. I dumped a lot of money into that machine that year! I eventually sold that unit as parts were so expensive. I have not had time or money to indulge my hobby in recent years (Children have a way of changing things!), but I have a Sony pro DAT machine that I only use on Sundays to record Garrison Keiler . . . It is indeed unfortunate that there is so little interest in live recording among audiophiles today.

Robin Banks's picture

Back in the '80s, I used to record the local bands' free concerts all the time. It was great. Standing there for two hours with a recorder in your hand and then rushing home to find out that the tape "came out." The funny part was that you always had somebody talking to you while you recorded, and of course every word was picked up by the recorder. On a few occasions, I've had tapes come out just like a PA tape, and then there were those that didn't sound good at all. I still have most of those great recordings today. These days, I don't get an oppurtunity to record much, but now some of the music is not worth recording anyway.

Pedro Ruidiaz, San Juan, PR's picture

Some of my recordings turned out very well, others not so good!

Dan's picture

I started recording local rock bands in high school and, when I later traded in the Realistic reel-to-reel for a Sony with "sound-on-sound," overdubbed myself playing both guitar and piano. I've since recorded many friends, as my profession is radio production and I have a somewhat sophisticated studio in my basement. It's a lot of fun.

Frosty Clark's picture

I started by recording my daughter's flute recital, followed by the piano recital of a friend's son. Then local orchestras and choruses started wanting archive recordings and/or copies for their members. It turned into a nice little side business that I still actively run 20-some years later. I always record with my equipment and me in the audience, not off-stage, so I get to hear 40-70 LIVE concerts a year! Several commercial CDs have resulted from this very small business, also.

Denny's picture

I used a simple one mike set up and recorded on an VCR. The sound was good. The VCR out preformed the cass. recorder by far. I had trouble with the live music over powering vocals. Over all quality was good and has ben played many times on the System. I may try two mikes next time!!

Jim Holm's picture

I've been attempting music recordings all my life. I've made hundreds of recordings of local recitals over the years - many have been used by the local PBS station. Excellent Cardoid microphones arranged in ORTF fashion, a good portable DAT recorder like TASCAM's DA-P1, a long microphone stand and a 75 foot stereo microphone cable will produce very acceptable results 98% of the time. In my entire life I have never been able to fool myself into believing any recording produced by anyone sounds even remotely close to real music -- there's just so much detail in the real thing.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I am a composer/arranger/performer of very modest talent of easy listening vocal/instrumental piano & strings music and got started building my own home studio 15+ years ago. My first recording format was R2R and then moved to DAT when they first came out. Recording in the studio is totally different than "on-site" recording. I mostly do church related projects with the choir, acoustic piano, and some instrumental tracks with the choir and soloists. I hope to do some classical ensemble work later this year. The sound out of the house PA was so bad the first thing I did was to get a direct-out feed for each mic input and mix totally separate from the "house" PA. I then come back with my DAT master and dump it into my computer using a Midiman DIO2448 sound card and Syntrillium's Cool Edit. My front end is a Midiman Flying Calf 2448 ADC and The DIO 24/48 card (street price of about $300 for both). I monitor using MAudio's 24/96 SuperDAC ($220) It is slightly better that the DAC on the sound card which is pretty good, but still an improvement. It also makes a good DAC upgrade for a cheap CD Player. I tried two other computer based sound cards, but could never get the noise floor below -46db (noisey PCI Buss), which is not even cassette quality, until I got the ADC out of the computer. I am now at -80db noise floor which is good enough. Inside Cool Edit I add Compression, if I need it, and eq and reverb. I record totally dry. The computer gives you 99 levels of undo so if you don't like the EQ or reverb you added you just undo it and start over. Even the modest set up I have is vastly superior to anything I did previously, and I can burn RedBook CD's to boot. I have even recorded directly into the computer on site when the noise of the fan is not an issue. A master at 24/96 is where you want to be if you can. I am then able to burn CD's for familiy, friends, and church members who want copies of the church performances of major events, ie Christmas and Easter Contatas. I have recorded two CD's of my own work that I give to family and friends who are very musically tolerant and/or tone deaf. My next move will be to a Digital Audio Labs Card Deluxe which will move me to 24/96. I know that Pro Tools is not too far down the road either. Once the quality bug hits you, it is hard not to want the best. Remember once you get into computer recording you can never have too much RAM or a large enough Hard Drive. At 16-bit every minute of 2-track audio is about 10 megs of RAM. You may have to record in "blocks" or "Tracks" to not max out your RAM before you "save" to HD. More bits and SR increases are even more RAM. The key is a quality front-end, ie mics, mixer and/ or MIC Preamps. The old addage is true, garbage in/garbage out. My mic cabinet is Shure SM 81's and AKG 3000B's, not the best but very good for what I am doing. Even if you stay at 16 bit, with a quality front end you would be amazed how good it can sound. It is a great hobby and has given me a greater appreciation for great sound quality and recordings, ie JA and RS's work. When you realize how difficult it is to make a quality recording you tend criticize less and enjoy more. I know I do.

Denny's picture

I used a simple one mike set up and recorded on an VCR. The sound was good. The VCR out preformed the cass. recorder by far. I had trouble with the live music over powering vocals. Over all quality was good and has ben played many times on the System. I may try two mikes next time!!

John Paul, Vancouver, Canada's picture

My best recordings to date have been made with a simple Sennheiser MKE 2002 Binaural Microphone/Head and Sony TCD-D7 DAT deck -- acoustic jazz in ambient spaces. As an upgrade, I have invested in a matched pair of Earthworks QTC-1's (4 Hz -40KHz +/- 1 db, +/- 1/3db of each other), but have yet to find the DSD recorder to go with them. They sound great feeding into through a pre-amp into a Stax Omega II system though. Anyone with any DSD recording experience here?

Anonymous's picture

its impossible to record anything and achieve decent sound without preparation.