Multitrack Recording for Live Events

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

It’s what we work for, what we live for… a “Worship Moment”! To experience one is to get a taste of heaven. And to capture that moment in a recording is a thing to marvel. But there’s one big problem… Live Events and Recordings just don’t like each other very much!

Nonetheless, you’ve been given the responsibility, and the opportunity, to capture live events and produce them into something that can bring back those life-changing moments.

So, for the purposes of this article, let me make a few assumptions: (apologies to those professionals out there who do this with great equipment and an expert staff!)

• You are using mostly volunteer recruits.
• Your musicians are not all professional studio musicians.
• Your Sound Techs are not all CTS certified.
• Your Video Techs are not all CPV videographers.
• Your recordings will be produced to either CD or DVD.
• You want to do this with minimal investment.
• You want to capture the excitement of the live event on the recording.

Now that’s a lot to ask!

First of all, you need to make some choices up front that will help you along the way. For instance, decide where you want to spend the bulk of your investment. Do you want to buy high quality audio recording gear or video equipment? Or perhaps hire key people during the recording such as an Audio Engineer or a Professional Cameraman for the main camera(s)?

Consider as a resource to look for contacts you already have who could lend their expertise. For example, perhaps someone in your community has experience in audio or video production and could get involved in your project.

Decide what aspects are the most important. Realize that the finished product is NOT going to be perfect. Compromises will have to be made to complete your project, so decide in advance about things ranging from “Will we overdub parts?” to “What if the tempo gets off?” or “Are we willing to mute a bad performance from the final version?”

Making these decisions early on in the process will help you realistically shape your project.

So, now let’s assume you’ve had some heart-felt discussions and have a budget to work with, and move on to some keys to a successful recording. (We’re going to leave the whole discussion of post-editing for another time…)

The key to a successful audio recording is Acoustic Separation. To be able to produce your multitrack recording, you are going to want as much separation as possible between channels – otherwise you are going to spend many frustrating hours in the studio trying to properly mix your audio recording.

Because of this, the use of floor monitors is not ideal. I am a strong proponent of using headphones (or ear buds) and separate monitor mixes for each instrument. Using a monitor system, such as the Aviom system, can pay huge rewards both in terms of audio separation from open mics, as well as better performances from the musicians themselves because they can hear what they need to hear.

Everything should be on a separate channel – the more the better, in terms of post-production. If your system does not allow for that many channels, try combinations. For drums, try using one mic for two tom-toms. Choir mics or background vocalists could share a mic or be routed through a smaller board to create a sub-mix. That would not be preferable, but do whatever is needed to work within your budget and goals. For drums, ideally, you want them in a covered booth, with every drum and cymbal mic’ed separately. Perhaps, you can even talk your drummer into using digital drums – take him/her out to dinner!

In terms of Signal Routing, some sort of splitter is ideal. If you’re using a digital soundboard for the house, you may be able to share your inputs digitally with your recorder. If you’re using analog and your budget allows, use good quality active splitters (for a small budget, Behringer has a very inexpensive one).

Alternatively, you could use a soundboard designed for monitoring, which would give you the ability to send each input back out. The important point to note, however, is that you should always keep your signals balanced (XLR or Tip-Ring-Sleeve) throughout the whole signal path.

Special note: If you’re planning on using a combination of analog and digital systems (say, you’re using an Aviom system for monitoring (digital), and Analog to Digital Converters going into your recording gear), keep in mind that your Monitoring System MUST be first in line from a split – otherwise, your musicians will get a noticeable delay in their headphones and will not be able to play!

It will be important that each audio track actually be usable once you start editing. Which means, most of all, that you simply cannot afford to have any overdriven tracks. While it is arguably preferable to record live music without a Limiter (so that you have all options open to you later on), it is unavoidable in many live settings. The same thing goes for Compression – it should only be used at the time of recording if absolutely necessary. That being said, however, I would MUCH rather have a limited and compressed track that is usable in the studio than an overdriven, noisy track that I have to throw away!

For the audio recording, there are basically two different approaches that need mentioning:

Integrated Recorders, such as the Yamaha AW2400, or Component Recording, with computer-based multitrack recording and peripheral A/D converters, such as the MOTU 896HD.

Either way, I would suggest that your signals be split and that a separate soundboard be used to mix for the house audio feed, as the needs of live sound and that of recording are almost opposed.

The advantage to an integrated recorder is that there are no compatibility issues. You virtually “Plug-n-Play”. For some recorders, all you need to connect to a personal computer is a single USB or Firewire cable. Once connected, you can use the computer to manage and back up your audio files and projects, and even use computer-based audio editors for additional production control. The disadvantage can be cost. Although the AW2400 is as little as $2000, you can easily spend much more on an integrated recorder, whereas you can put together a component system for as little as $1500.

Lastly, determine ahead of time what you will use as your sampling rate. If recording for a CD, you should probably choose 44.1 kHz. If recording for a DVD, you should probably choose 48 kHz. This topic is a whole discussion in and of itself, but you should choose this ahead of time so that all of your work will sync up together easily.

There are several keys to a successful video recording. Without ranking them, the most important aspects of video recording are: Lighting, Location, and Locking.

Lighting is both an art-form and a science. Lighting is definitely a place where professional expertise can serve you well, because without proper lighting, your video signal will be grainy and unusable. It is a myth that digital cameras don’t need as much light as analog cameras, and a fact that cameras can’t handle reality. In it’s most basic form, lighting comes down to having three things in proper proportion: the Key light, the Fill light, and the Backlight. A whole article could be done on this topic alone.

For Camera Location in a live event, you must be inventive. You need to place your cameras in a way that they do not detract from the live aspect of the event, while at the same time placing them where you can have good shots. My theory for live recordings is: The more cameras, the better – tape is cheap!

The more cameras you have running, the greater the chance that your “volunteer” camera operators will give you something that you can actually use in the editing room. Now, “syncing” is another issue, one that we will leave for an article on post-editing.

No matter how many cameras you use, it is best to monitor each camera’s output. If that can be done at a single location by a Producer, great! If not, put a monitor at each camera, hopefully pointed in a direction that your “Line Producers” can see.

By Locking, I mean the ability to sync your cameras’ video in the studio. If you’re using pro-sumer or con-sumer cameras, you will need something at the beginning of each tape to sync to – I like to ask the drummer to use his sticks to click off the first song, and have each camera focused on the drummer at the beginning of the tape. This gives you the ability to quickly sync each camera in post-production.

Encourage your camera operators to experiment and try to get interesting shots. Some of my best camera shots have come from totally inexperienced teenagers to which I simply gave the freedom to experiment.

In terms of equipment, use 3 CCD cameras if your budget will allow. If you don’t want to spend the money on high-dollar professional cameras, there are several good models of “pro-sumer” cameras available, such as the resilient Canon GL-2. There are even a few 3 CCD consumer DV Camcorders available for under $1000 that provide adequate images for many applications. Keep in mind, however, that not all cameras color-match well with other manufacturers, so you will want to use cameras from the same brand, or at least compatible brands that color-match well, such Panasonic and JVC.

I will have to leave the topic of Project Planning for another time, but minimally, you will want to name an Executive Producer (who has the responsibility and authority to make the tough decisions), a Project Manager (who takes care of the details), an Audio Producer, and a Video Producer.

While it may seem daunting, you can have a successful audio and video recording of a live event, using volunteers, at a low cost. The more planning and preparation you can do ahead of time, the better the recording that you will get. Should you get the privilege of capturing a precious “Worship Moment”, you will be forever changed by it!