Monday, 7 March 2011

Live and the studio

Hello all,

I've been in the studio this weekend with Mr Nick Tann recording a live performance that he intends to release 'as is' to the masses. Nick played his songs solo accompanying himself on a 12 string acoustic and had obviously put a lot of care and attention into the preparation for this project. To make sure it was as a live gig we even had a small audience in attendance. As an engineer it's always nice to know that you won't have to worry about 'fixing' things afterwards and that you can enjoy the process of recording without having to force performances out the mix.

This led me to thinking back to a lot of the live studio sessions i've worked on. I believe that it is one of the best ways to record whether you happen to be a solo performer or are part of larger band. If you can overcome the obstacle of finding a space big enough to accommodate you then this is an excellent way of maximising the time you have in a studio. Once you are set up and are ready to go then you can just plug away until you are happy with the takes. I've recorded projects where we have set up completely live in the studio - to the point where the musicians didn't need headphones and in most cases this led to the them concentrating much more on the performance rather than worrying about the recording process, something which is very healthy for creativity. That's not always possible, normally because of vocals or the balance of acoustic instruments versus electric, but it's worth considering if your project could be set up as live as possible. You are more than welcome to overdub to your hearts content afterwards of course but the base tracks when performed live always seem to have a bit of movement not possible from tracking up your songs without a lot of trickery.

One of my favourite ways to record live in the studio is to set the instruments up in the same room. You can manage bleed to a large extent depending on the size of the room and what polar patterns you have available in the microphones you are using. What this does from the producers perspective is to put a lot of the pressure back onto the musicians, makes them think about what they are doing and how their parts and the textures they are providing fit into the picture as a whole. All the subtleties in dynamics, tempo and the like have to be considered before you put down a final take as editing and sound manipulation become much more difficult when bleed is involved. When you are in a rehearsal room you have volume on your side but recording is like putting your song under a microscope. With the volume turned right down.

Sometimes though this recording plan isn't an option. I often work on projects where several musicians play their parts on different days due to scheduling, cost, etc and certain styles of music do not lend themselves to live recordings either. And the biggest hurdle is to find a space where you can record live, especially if you want to be loud too.

I guess the point of this blog is that I would like to see more people considering recording live rather than assuming parts must be done seperately to ensure that everything is correct. I've engineered a lot of bands who are worried about their budgets so they see overdubbing from the drums up as a way to ensure that they have a product that is 'correct'. However, if you spend more time in your rehearsal space working on your parts, getting the dynamics right, making sure you know the how to get the sound you want and making sure that sound sits right in the track then there is no reason that a band can't turn out an albums worth of recordings in a few days. You'll find that the pre production will also help the mixing process to be a lot smoother too as the sounds should already be sitting together. So you should hopefully be able to produce a great product that has that extra something without overspending your budget.

Nick getting warmed up at Livingston studios.