The scenario is one that is tragically familiar to most of us: a slightly (or not so slightly) intoxicated converser pulling out a copy of Live at the Leeds, Get Yer YaYas Out, or — precariously enough — At Folsom Prison, only to slur nostalgic about their attendance at said event(s). The problem? Besides their breath being an assault on all things olfactory in nature; the aforementioned assailant is only 25 years of age — and lest we toss arithmetic to the wayside, we must sit there in pensive amusement as we are bombarded by vanity lie after vanity lie.
Such was an unavoidable occupational hazard for those of us foolish enough to talk music, let alone live recording, with imperfect strangers in the dark hours of the night. Or so was the case until Eric Welsh, Jake Walker, and Jim Coudal of The Show (theshowlive.com) decided to take guerilla recording to the next level of marketability and hit the road with acts such as The Pixies and Dead Can Dance, capturing every unique performance and offering well-packaged, professional “bootlegs” to rabid fans interested in reliving that special night where Frank Black crooned “Debaser” just for them.
Started with a mere few days notice when The Pixies commissioned them to overtake the task of recording their last 12 concerts of 2004, The Show has since immortalized numerous live performances in both North America and Europe. Their setup is fairly simple, according to Welsh who also co-owns and operates Chillhouse Studios in Boston, MA (chillhousestudios.com). Three PreSonus DigiMAX 96k units, patched via XLR audio splits, covered the 20 input channels used by The Pixies — which were then sent out optical/ADAT into the Alesis HD24. The remaining four mic pre’s were used for ambient microphones (Shure KSM32s); two on stage and two near the front of the house.
The positioning of said ambient/crowd mics can pose quite a challenge, Welsh informs us. “I make it a point to place them in the best areas I have available, and keep them in phase with each other when setting up a stereo pair. Simple things like wind and rain can ruin the recording if you are not careful; and putting a microphone next to the overzealous fan that can clap with the strength of Bigfoot, or yell louder than your grandmother, is generally not the best idea.”
The gear is connected to a backup battery system in case of power failure. “You’d be surprised how often power can go out during these big festival dates where 10,000 generators are feeding power to everything,” Welsh remarks. “Once the concert is recorded to the removable hard drive, a backup copy is made. After the tour is over, I take the hard drives to Chillhouse and begin mixing with the Yamaha DM2000.”
But why use this particular set-up? Isn’t it a bit, dare we say, archaic, given the relative ease and convenience of computer based recording? “I have used Pro Tools-based systems on past tours,” Welsh says, “and though nothing is wrong at all with that approach, I feel more comfortable with a system that does not require a computer or leaves itself open to the many technical issues that can go wrong while on the road. Equipment gets tossed around a lot when shipping to other countries, and it is also more cost effective and a safer option, in my opinion, to have multiple HDR units as opposed to a computer setup for the type of work I am involved with. Simple and powerful is what I am after.”
Concerning the DigiMAX 96k, Welsh explains, “The DigiMAX 96k’s offers exactly what I need — clean sounding mic pre’s and limiters that I have found very useful. Once audio hits the DigiMAX 96k’s, the path remains digital all the way to the final mastered and mixed CD. I can record a nice hot signal and adjust the limiter so that it will only engage if the audio signal peaks; thus, no matter how hard the kick is played, I will never clip into the red on the HDR. If I see that the limiter is getting hit too often, I simply turn the gain down a little. This is perfect for a band like The Pixies, who do not sound check. After a good line check with the crew, I have my basic settings; and after about a minute of the first song I’ll have maximum levels eating up all 24 bits.”
Though the business model isn’t new per se, The Show’s approach is undoubtedly different from what other “on the fly” companies offer. Where other companies offered the final product directly after the concert, The Show manually flyer gigs (as well as working with the merchandising companies) and sell vouchers that are redeemable online or at one of their provided on-site computers. Within a few weeks, the CD is then shipped to the customer, who then ends up possessing a high-quality, live recording complete with unique packaging consisting of pictures and a setlist.
And this approach may help save that part of the world inhabited by those of us who simply have neither the time nor the desire to listen to another intricately woven, faux narrative consisting of “that one time Gene Simmons pointed at me during ‘Black Diamond’ while they recorded Alive. Can’t you see me in the liner photos? Row ZZZ, dead in the middle? The one with the long hair?”
. . .or it could be responsible for quite the opposite; and please help us if that’s the case.