Home Studio Practitioner – Recording a Band Live on a Budget
Limited recording budget? Let necessity be the mother of invention in achieving a professional-quality tracking result.
by Luka Sraka, Jan. 2017
It is no secret that we can make very good audio productions with limited hardware, some knowledge of MIDI programming and nice sounding samples. But what if we want to record a band live? In this month’s Home Studio Practitioner, I will explain how I set out to record a whole band live with limited gear.
A while back I had a couple of nice songs and a great three-piece band, so I wanted to record these songs live. I was no stranger to making songs in the box, programming drums and then recording bass guitar, acoustic and electric guitars and vocals live. A nice two-channel interface was sufficient for this type of work, but not for recording a drum set live.
I had a decent sounding room at my disposal so that was not a problem. The drummer had a quality drum mic set which we complemented with some large and small diaphragm condenser microphones and a couple of sturdy dynamic ones. All in all we had fourteen microphones on the drum kit. An inside and outside kick microphone, snare top and bottom, tom one, tom two and floor tom top and bottom mics, an sm57 and a pencil condenser on the hi hat and a stereo pair for the overheads. I was aware at the beginning that the fourteen microphones were overkill but I wanted to have everything covered, and I could always take some of those mics out when mixing.
The last problem (the biggest one) was this: where to get an interface with at least fourteen mic preamps. I’ve asked around different studios if they would be interested in lending me their interface but no one seemed very keen to the idea of breaking up their set so I could borrow an interface for a couple of days. I ended up borrowing a digital mixing desk from a friend which was effectively a sixteen in and sixteen out interface, and all I needed was a USB cable and connect it to my computer. The mixer was Allen&Heath QU16. I found the preamps very clean and the EQ section was fine as well. I ended up using hi-pass filters on some channels and phase shift switch on the bottom mics. Everything else was done in the box.
We decided to record drums and bass guitar together, so when we were rehearsed enough we plugged the fourteen drum mics and a tube preamp that bass was running through into the desk. The last channel we used for talk back microphone.
I have to admit I was sceptical about the sound and so were the other band members, but all in all it worked like a charm.
In three days we captured the drums and bass performances for the songs we set out to record. The rest of the project was done using an Apogee Duet, a dual mic pre interface. With the bulk of the recordings done, I thanked my friend, returned the mixing desk and resumed working on my project.
For the acoustic guitars I decided to use the mid+side technique (M+S) with two large diaphragm condenser mics, one set to cardioid and the other to omni directional. When recorded I duplicated the track with the mic set to omni and flipped the polarity. This resulted into a wide stereo image that was perfect for the acoustic guitars in my project.
For electric guitars I used an sm57, an industry standard, through Apogee’s preamp and a condenser mic for a bit more warmth through a tube preamp. Last but not least I used the same Audio Technica condenser mic trough the same preamp for vocals and backing vocals.
All of the mixing was done in the box. You can hear the result here:
All in all, I found using a digital mixing console a great cheap alternative to buying or borrowing an interface and preamps. Digital mixing consoles these days have acceptable sounding preamps. The routing and workflow is easy, and they are not so expensive to borrow.
I started the project with a bit of doubt, and I had a back up plan if things ended up not sounding great. With the drum tracks recorded, you are only clicks away from changing the drum sound and using samples if needed. On one of the songs I ended up adding a kick drum sample for a bit more definition, but otherwise no additional samples were added. The song on the link above uses no samples.
Since that project completed, we acquired in the studio an interface with a bigger I/O capability and bought a couple of high quality preamps. When we are recording drums, or anything else for that matter, we get great results. And when we compare it to the songs recorded with a digital mixing desk, we still can not believe that we were able to make a recording this good using very limited gear. I guess the saying that “necessity is the mother of invention” would be a great punch line for this article.
Till next time!