Live recording offers musicians the opportunity to capture the unique energy and ensemble interaction of a performance. It's especially beneficial for groups that excel on stage but can't seem to re-create the same musical magic in the studio. As almost any gigging musician will tell you, there's something about playing for an audience-especially a receptive one-that brings out the best in a band.
From an engineering standpoint, though, recording live is akin to working without a net. There's little margin for error, and unlike the controlled environs of a recording studio, the working conditions are often unpredictable.
Typically, an engineer recording a live show works in the midst of crowds, smoke, and excessive sound levels. With the exception of those occasions when the gear is set up in an isolated room or in a truck outside the venue, monitoring must be done with headphones in the room where the band is playing. Through all of this, the recordist must valiantly fight to maintain acceptable recording levels while keeping the twin demons of noise and distortion at bay.
Engineers on live projects also have to polish their diplomacy. Often they'll need to negotiate with the house sound engineer for permission to set up extra mics, install splitters by the stage box, or tap into the front-of-house (FOH) console.
These challenges notwithstanding, a live recording can yield quality tracks for a CD, MP3, or video at a fraction of the cost typically incurred in a commercial studio. Moreover, if the show is being recorded direct to 2-track, no mixing is required afterward-the project can proceed directly to the mastering stage, reducing expenses even further.
If you are contemplating doing a live recording, whether as a performer, an engineer, or both, you have many options to consider. I solicited the viewpoints of a number of live-recording engineers and found that although they agree on some issues-such as the importance of preparation-there is a great diversity of opinion regarding gear, formats, and methodology. Ultimately, the best approach depends on a number of factors, including the budget, the purpose of the project, and the type of equipment that you own or have access to.
The most fundamental decision is whether to record in stereo or to multitrack. The choice you make is likely to have a significant impact on the complexity and expense of the project as well as on the sound of the finished master. I'll start with the simpler applications and then proceed to the more complex.
A STEREO PAIRGenerally speaking, stereo recording is the easiest and least-expensive way to capture a live performance-especially when using an affordable format such as DAT or MiniDisc. (Of the two, DAT is preferable because it has better sound quality and allows you to record for up to two hours without changing tapes.) All you need is the recorder, a couple of cables, a microphone stand or two, and a pair of identical mics (or a dedicated stereo mic). After setting levels, simply press Record and let it roll. Assuming you use appropriate, good-quality mics and position them well, you should end up with a recording that offers the listener a reasonable representation of what the music sounded like in the room that night, replete with audience members talking, glasses clinking, and other real-life sounds.
Depending on the distance of the mics from the P.A., you'll pick up varying degrees of room sound. In a venue with great sound, this can be advantageous; in a space with less-than-desirable acoustics, it can work against you.
Another problem inherent to stereo 2-track recording is that success depends on the house engineer doing a good job on the mix. If the mix in the room is substandard, the recording will be substandard, too.
OFF THE BOARDAnother method for making a 2-track live recording is to take a feed from the stereo bus of the FOH console directly into the recorder. If the goal is simply to make a rough document of the performance, this should suffice. However, producing master-quality recordings this way is extremely difficult.
The main problem with board tapes results from the fact that the sound engineer's objective is to get a good sound in the house. Typically, this means bringing into the mix only those instruments that need reinforcing in the room (for example, vocals, keyboards, and kick drum) and omitting those that are loud enough on their own (for example, electric guitar, bass guitar, and the rest of the drum kit). In such a case, a direct feed from the console's stereo outputs will produce a poorly balanced recording, with some instruments well represented and others barely represented at all. "You're really at cross-purposes with the people running the sound system," says Philip Perkins, a production sound mixer for film and television who does a great deal of location recording, "especially in smaller spaces."
The best way to record off the board to a 2-track recorder is to set up an independent mix. This can be done a number of ways, depending on the console. The preferred way-if the board allows for it-is to employ a secondary mix bus (such as Mix B on the Mackie 8-Bus series), which provides separate volume, pan, and even rudimentary tone controls for each channel.
Another option is to feed the 2-track recorder from two spare auxes. However, auxes don't provide pan controls, so you have to apply the auxes unevenly to pan the instruments across the stereo field. Panning hard left and right is easy-you simply send aux 1 to the left input and aux 2 to the right. However, if you want to position an instrument at, say, 9 o'clock, you need to dial in a portion of the signal from aux 2, but not as much as is coming through aux 1. This is an imprecise way to operate.
NOW HEAR THISOne of the biggest challenges in setting up an independent mix off the board is hearing things accurately. No matter how well positioned the house engineer is for setting up the P.A. mix, mixing for tape is hampered by the fact that there is insufficient isolation between the stage and the P.A. sound. This makes the process of judging levels very tricky.
Monitoring through headphones can help, but because of all the sound in the room, you're still unlikely to hear things well. If you must use headphones, select closed-ear circumaural models that provide as much isolation as possible (see Fig. 1). Some engineers build their own custom headphones by mounting high-quality drivers inside airport hearing protectors. But even with well-isolated cans, monitoring through headphones in a room awash with loud music tends to be difficult. It's especially hard to judge the low end and to detect unwanted noise on individual tracks.
For these and other reasons, most high-quality, direct-to-2-track live mixes are done from a remote location (an isolated room or a recording truck). In a remote setup, the signals are usually split and sent to a separate console through an audio snake (see the section "Splitsville"). One major advantage of remote recording is the ability to listen through studio monitors, which is superior to mixing with headphones.
When recording direct to 2-track-and especially when using headphones as your only monitor source-you should record the sound check, then listen back and make necessary adjustments before the show starts. Likewise, if there's a break during the show, take that opportunity to listen to your mix and check for problems.
No matter how you send the signals to tape, board recordings typically suffer from a "flat" sonic quality due to insufficient room and audience sound. If the situation allows, set up a stereo pair of room mics (or a stereo mic) and mix the ambient sound with the other sources from the board. This requires careful blending, but it definitely livens up the sound. When done well, it can yield excellent results (see the section "A Room with Two Mics").
MULTI DOES ITIf your aim is to make a CD or even a broadcast-quality recording from a live show, consider recording live-to-multitrack. Without exception, the audio engineers I spoke to agreed that this is the best way to get premium-quality results.
The obvious advantage to using a multitrack for live recording is that it offers greater flexibility when you're shaping the final sound. Yes, mixdown is required, which means more work and greater expense; however, the control over the end product often justifies the additional expenditures. Not only can you set levels, add effects, and equalize tracks after the fact, but you can also "cheat" if necessary by replacing off-key or lame parts or even by overdubbing extra tracks to supplement the mix. Although some people may object to them on aesthetic grounds, after-the-fact overdubs are quite common in professional live recording-and they may allow you to salvage songs that otherwise would be unusable.
MDM. Of the numerous multitrack formats available, perhaps the one that most readily lends itself to live recording is the modular digital multitrack (MDM). This format is compact and rack-mountable, and it allows you to record for a substantial period without switching tapes. The Tascam DTRS format provides the longest recording times, offering up to 1 hour and 53 minutes on a single tape. The latest Alesis ADATs can record only up to 67 minutes continuously (which is more than sufficient for most club sets); however, they offer the advantage of 20-bit recording, as compared with the Tascam DA-38's and DA-88's 16-bit resolution. Then again, if you're ready for 24-bit recording, check out Tascam's DA-78HR and the soon-to-be-released DA-98HR.
Another good reason to use MDMs is that you can easily gang multiple machines together to add more tracks. This is important: to produce a high-quality recording of a four- or five-piece band, you're probably going to need at least 16 tracks, if not 24.
DAW. While many engineers prefer MDMs, others happily use hard disk systems-both computer-based and stand-alone-for live recording. Recording to hard disk offers many advantages, but it comes with its own set of problems.
Sonically, a computer-based digital audio workstation (DAW) is hard to beat. Many systems feature 24-bit recording, providing noticeably better fidelity and headroom than 16- and 20-bit systems. According to Joel Singer, marketing manager for Audio-Technica (as well as an engineer with years of live-recording experience), "Going from 16- to 24-bit is a huge jump. The depth of the recording is much greater in 24-bit, and everything just sounds more three-dimensional."
DAWs also offer a virtually unlimited track count-that is, assuming the CPU and hard disk are fast enough. This can be extremely advantageous because more elements can be tracked individually, which in turn provides more flexibility at mixdown.
Taking your computer to the venue has several drawbacks. For one thing, desktop computers are designed to be stationary, not portable. They're also relatively delicate. If you decide to use a computer for location recording on a consistent basis, you'd be wise to get it rack-mounted. (See "DIY: Rack-Mounting Your PC" in the March 2000 issue of EM.) Computer-based systems are also more vulnerable to noise emanating from the stage's electrical circuits (which often run the house lights)-usually a major source of interference.
Another disadvantage of recording to a computer-based DAW is that it's not as stable as tracking to tape. No matter how loaded and up-to-date the computer system is, it can still crash-possibly in the middle of a song.
HDR. One viable option is to use stand-alone hard disk recorders (HDRs), including modular models (for example, the Akai DR16) and portable digital studios (such as the Roland VS-1680). Many of these machines offer 24-bit recording, the ability to lock multiple machines together to increase track count, and a built-in mixer-something no MDM can match.
Although HDRs are generally more stable than computer-based DAWs, both contain hard disks, and sooner or later every hard disk will crash. Therefore, if you choose to go this route, back up your data immediately after the show, if not after each set.
SPLITSVILLEWhether you're recording to 2-track or multitrack, getting the signals into the recorder cleanly is the key to making a good live recording. One of the best ways to do this is to use a splitter (see Fig. 2). A splitter acts like a glorified Y-cable, duplicating the outputs of the stage mics and direct boxes and providing the recordist with a separate feed for each sound source (see Fig. 3). Many types of splitters are available, including rack-mountable units, cable splitters, and splitter snakes. In its simplest form, a splitter is a box consisting of one female XLR input and two male XLR outputs per channel. Using splitters that contain isolation transformers is highly recommended, as these help prevent the occurrence of ground loops-a major bugaboo in live-recording situations.
In a best-case scenario, you would probably set up some additional instrument and room mics to supplement those being used in the house sound system. Ideally, the outputs of the split and supplemental sources would be sent via snake to a remote truck or isolated room. There they would pass through high-quality mic preamps and then directly into the multitracks (or, in the case of a 2-track recording, into the mixer and DAT recorder). This setup lets the engineer listen to the incoming signals through studio monitors and ensure that all of the tracks are being recorded cleanly to tape.
Engineers who do a great deal of live recording typically carry their own splitters as part of their regular setup. High-quality splitters aren't cheap, so if you're only occasionally doing a live recording, you may want to consider renting rather than purchasing them.
OUT OF THE MIXIf you don't have access to a splitter, it's often possible to tap your signals from the house sound-reinforcement console. One option is to use the console's direct outputs. However, with this approach your feeds are at the mercy of the sound engineer's fader and EQ settings (because the direct outs are postfader and post-EQ).
Another possibility is to use the console's 1/4-inch TRS channel insert points. Unlike direct outs, these require that a return signal be sent back to the insert, or else the channel is interrupted and the signal is removed from the house mix. Fortunately, there are several work-arounds that will let you feed the recorder from the channel inserts while leaving the house sound intact.
The simplest-though not necessarily the most advisable-method is to plug a cable halfway into the TRS insert jack, sending the signal down the cable without interrupting it in the console. However, this is risky because a connector plugged in halfway is easy to dislodge. If someone accidentally bumps into the console (a distinct possibility in a crowded club), a cable could get knocked loose, which in turn would interrupt the signal going to the multitrack.
Perhaps the most practical solution is to plug TRS Y-cables into the insert points, route the send cables to the recorder's inputs, and then use the return cables to return the signals from the recorder's outputs back into the FOH console (see Fig. 4). This allows you to manipulate input levels to the recorder using the console's trim controls. Note, however, that this approach requires keeping the recorder in input mode (analog, not digital), or else no signal gets back to the house sound system.
Yet another solution is to patch the signals (again using TRS Y-cables) from the inserts to a patch bay that's wired to mult (duplicate) the signals (that is, a half-normaled patch bay). Simply mult the signal for each channel, sending one to the multitrack and the other back to the channel insert through the return portion of the Y-cable.
A ROOM WITH TWO MICSWhether you're recording to 2-track with a stereo mic pair or using mics to record room ambience and audience sounds as part of a multitrack project, you have many miking options. Nearly every engineer I spoke to had a different approach to stereo-miking a room, so it's clear that there's no "right way" to do it. A great deal depends on the type of music, the acoustics of the room, and the nature of the project. If you have time to experiment, try a few different methods until you find the one that works best for your purposes and the application at hand.
In a multitrack situation, room mics are useful for more than simply picking up audience applause at the end of songs. The mics can also be used to capture room ambience and the overall sound of the performance. These signals, in turn, can be added during mixdown to increase "liveness" and the sense of "being there."
Probably the most common way to mic a room is with a stereo pair of cardioid condensers in an XY configuration (see Fig. 5a). The microphones are positioned on a stand (a stereo bar is helpful for this application) near the mix position and elevated seven or more feet in the air so as to reduce the pickup of audience noise and reflections from the floor.
Some engineers, like Joel Singer, prefer to use more than two mics. "In addition to an XY pair positioned to capture the sound of the P.A. in the room," explains Singer, "I also like to put up two stage mics: a stage left and a stage right. Generally, these are shotgun-type microphones-especially in larger venues-which let me really home in on the audience."
Not everyone thinks XY is the way to go. Philip Perkins, for example, prefers ORTF, a near-coincident technique developed in France for recording classical music. (This technique was also often used-from the FOH position-by "tapers" at Grateful Dead shows.) In ORTF, a pair of cardioid mics is angled 110 degrees to either side of center stage with the capsules roughly seven inches apart (see Fig. 5b). "To my ears," says Perkins, "XY miking is just not very interesting." However, he cautions that ORTF doesn't sum to mono as well as XY does.
Another tried-and-true approach employs a spaced pair of omnidirectional mics. Engineer Rich Tozzoli, who has recorded live projects for artists such as Al DiMeola and the Beach Boys, calls this method split omni. Tozzoli uses a pair of Earthworks TC-30K omnis, placed separately on either side of the room directly facing the P.A. stacks and as far back as the mix position. The stereo picture captured by these mics provides the basis for Tozzoli's recordings, which he then supplements with feeds from individual instruments taken from the board or from splitters. "The trick is to have the omnis do most of the work," explains Tozzoli. "I use the other mics just to tighten up the mix. Basically, if your goal is to put the record out using the two tracks from the omni mics alone, then the rest is gravy."
If you plan to incorporate stereo-miking into your live recordings, remember that room acoustics will play a large role in the success of your productions. The old "garbage in, garbage out" axiom applies here: if the room sounds good, miking it well can yield excellent results; if the room doesn't sound good, it's probably not worth the trouble.
Therefore, Tozzoli advises bands to be as selective as possible when choosing a venue for a live recording. "Bands need to think this through ahead of time," he says. "For example, if they're in a city and they have a choice of four venues, they should go out and listen to all four. Stand in the audience and listen to what the room sounds like during a performance. Then pick the venue that sounds the best and make your recording there." Tozzoli recommends going for the "tightest sounding" room. He also finds that rooms with the most wood (floors, walls, and so on) tend to yield the best recordings.
Of course, even in a room with great sound, mic placement is critical. As mentioned previously, positioning the mics near the mix position is a good rule of thumb. But be aware of any nearby, unwanted sounds that may get picked up. For example, if the cocktail bar is just to the right of the mix position and you have positioned your XY pair of mics nearby, one mic is going to capture an abundance of clinking glass, bar chatter, and cash-register noise-not something you want in your mix.
Obviously, a competent sound person mixing the house is indispensable, because your stereo room mics will be capturing that mix in the room. If the house sound is bad, your results will be, too.
Interestingly, some engineers avoid stereo-miking altogether-that is, for capturing the band's performance. For example, Brian Kingman, who runs Six String Recording (a successful live-recording company in New York City), uses an array of audience mics to pick up applause and such. This includes two mics at the front of the stage, pointing out toward the audience, and four more arranged around the mix position. "I prefer to get all of the band sound from the close mics alone," Kingman explains. "The ambient mics that I put up are strictly for capturing audience response."
FROM THE SOURCEFor the most part, the live-recording engineer is dependent on the mics used in the house sound system. However, there may be occasions when the house isn't miking everything to the degree required for the recording. In that case, you're best off requesting permission from the sound person to put up some extra mics where necessary.
For instance, Kingman finds that club sound engineers typically don't put enough mics on the drums, so he puts up more whenever possible. "I like to cover all of my bases," says Kingman, "so I mic everything I can, including the individual toms. Sometimes I even use two mics on the kick-a Shure 91 to capture the attack of the beater and a Sennheiser E602 for the low thump."
Even if the house has put up enough mics, some may not be of particularly good quality. If possible, substitute better mics, especially for picking up vocals. To minimize leakage, it's helpful to use mics with good off-axis rejection. For vocals, a number of engineers suggested using the Shure Beta 58A. The Audix OM-5 and Audio-Technica 4054 were also highly recommended.
Direct boxes used in clubs may also be substandard. Therefore, it's advisable to carry your own high-quality DIs.
Capturing a consistent signal from moving sources is a big challenge. Sax players, for example, typically move about quite a bit on stage. While this may not prove problematic for the house mix, it can cause troublesome level fluctuations on the recording. The obvious solution is to use a quality clip-on mic.
Acoustic guitar can also pose problems due to player movement. Although live-sound engineers are often content to take a line signal from an acoustic-guitar pickup (routed through a direct box), this may not suffice if you want to capture a more authentic guitar sound. Again, a clip-on mic (preferably a condenser) is the solution. Of course, attaching it can be problematic. One trick is to tape a tongue depressor to the side of the guitar so that one end protrudes past the guitar in the direction of the headstock (see Fig. 6). Be sure to use tape that leaves little or no residue once it's removed (for example, Permacel gaffer's tape). After attaching the depressor to the guitar, clip the mic onto the depressor and aim it at the 12th fret. No matter which way the guitarist moves, the mic signal remains constant.
Some instruments are best recorded using both a mic and a direct signal, with each feed going to its own track. Electric bass is a good example. Although many engineers will simply use a DI, it's a good idea to mic the amp as well if enough inputs and tracks are available. Not only does this provide more sonic options at mixdown, but you're also covered should one of the sources cut out in the middle of a song. Because retakes are impractical in most live-performance situations, ensuring that a song isn't ruined by an intermittent DI or mic cable is especially advisable.
PRISTINE PATHBecause any signal path is only as good as its weakest link, you must factor in the quality of the house equipment when deciding on a venue for a live recording. If you're getting feeds from the house console, you are dependent on the quality of that mixer, its mic preamps, and any other gear in the signal path.
Using a splitter gives you more control over the quality of the signal path-in particular, the mic preamps. Some of the engineers I spoke with invested a great deal of money in mic preamps and felt strongly that the preamps were a critical factor in the sound of the final product.
High-quality cables also help maintain the best possible signal, as does keeping cable runs as short as possible. If you're going to get signals from the FOH console, try to position your gear close to the mixer, minimizing the length of cable runs.
LEVEL HEADCorrect level setting is critical to the success of a live recording. Unlike recording in a studio, where you can do a second take should clipping occur, live recording requires that you get it right the first time. Therefore, extra care is required.
Sound check is your one chance to experiment with levels and settings, so it's helpful to have the band play as many songs as possible at that time. Since levels can change drastically from song to song, request that the group play, at minimum, both a quiet song and a full-volume number. Better yet, have them go back and forth between the two.
No matter how perfectly you set levels at sound check, the band will almost certainly end up playing louder during the show. Give yourself a margin of safety: after setting sufficiently hot levels, lower them a couple of decibels in advance. This is especially important when you're recording digitally, because signals above the maximum input level will necessarily distort. On the other hand, if the signal level is set too low, you lose fidelity (digital resolution) by virtue of not using the maximum number of bits; 20-bit and especially 24-bit recorders offer a big advantage here, thanks to greatly increased headroom.
Specific problems to anticipate include volume discrepancies (these can be huge) from one keyboard patch or guitar effect to the next. Hopefully, the musicians will have normalized volumes between their different patches, effects, stompboxes, and so on, but you never know. Also, the human voice has a very broad dynamic range, so vocals can similarly be problematic. Therefore, talk to the band members before the show and question them in detail about their their mic techniques, their gear and how they use it, and so forth, to determine whether you might be faced with this type of problem.
Although keeping signal paths simple is desirable, often you'll need to patch in a compressor/limiter (or several of them, depending on the setup) to handle the big dynamic jumps common to live performances. Keep this to a minimum, though, because once you commit to tape with compression, there's no undoing it. In general, moderate settings will sound the most transparent. Try starting with a 2:1 ratio and setting the threshold so it triggers only on the loudest sounds. If the compressor kicks in too frequently or compresses the signal by more than 3 or 4 dB, lower the input gain.
Even with carefully set levels and a compressor guarding your signals, it's still imperative to keep a close eye on the input meters throughout the show. This is no time to space out or disappear for a smoke break. Recording live is very demanding in this regard-all it takes is one or two overshoots to render a track unusable.
PREPARATION IS KEYAlthough the engineers I interviewed for this story often espoused different techniques, all agreed that diligent preparation is the key to live-recording success. The following guidelines are fairly universal and, if heeded, can do much to minimize gremlins.
Scout it out. The first step is finding a suitable location. Factor in not only the sound of the room but also whether the band is playing alone or sharing the bill. Unless you're contemplating a very simple setup, it's generally better to forego multiple-band shows, due to both time and space limitations.
Once the venue is chosen, inspect it in advance. Visit the club to get a feel for how best to proceed; check out the power situation, the lay of the room, and, if it's a house sound system, the gear. Most important, find out who the sound person is and schedule a time for the two of you to talk. Do this in advance-if you show up a couple of hours before the gig with no notice, you're not likely to get a warm reception, and you may get no cooperation at all.
When talking to the sound person, explain clearly what you're doing and then discuss the equipment you'll be bringing and how it will interface (if at all) with the sound-reinforcement gear. As the sound engineer at Fez, a prominent New York City nightclub, Fred Reed has had a lot of experience dealing with bands coming in to do live recording. "Definitely get in touch with the sound person a week or two before the show," suggests Reed, "especially if you're doing an elaborate multitrack recording. If you're going to be coming out of the inserts, you'll need to make sure you're compatible, so find out what board the house is using, its pin configurations, and so on."
Philip Perkins concurs. "There's no substitute for going to the venue and talking to the people who work there," he says, "especially if you're going to interface with the house sound system. Pay the engineers a visit or at least talk to them on the phone. Most people, if they feel like you're including them, will want to help you do a good job."
Keep it clean. Keeping your recording equipment well maintained is important. Inspect every piece of gear carefully before leaving for the gig, including mics, headphones, cables, and connectors. If possible, plug everything in to make sure each item in the signal chain is fully functional.
You should always bring along spare parts as well, including cables, connectors, power strips, power cords, extension cords, mic stands, mic clips, stereo bars, recording media, duct tape, and any other small, affordable essentials. Because you may be working with a questionable house system, having your act together is a necessity-doubling up on the small stuff can really save the day.
Test it out. Not only is sound check important for setting levels, but it's also the sole opportunity you'll have for a "dry run" of your setup. Record the entire sound check and then listen back afterward for problems. Examine each track individually to make sure you're getting a good sound and to check for distortion, hums, and buzzes. This is especially important if you aren't set up in an isolated location. Unless the band is playing more than one set, this is your last opportunity to hear what you've recorded until after the show is over.
Fight the power. Some of the nastiest gremlins to bedevil live recordists are the buzzes and hums caused by ground loops and other AC problems. Try to resolve such problems before the show, or else the recording could be jeopardized. Typically, it's best to power your gear from the same leg of the club's AC power that the sound system is on.
Use power conditioners to lessen the effects of noisy power lines, and allow some time (during or after sound check) for changing polarities, lifting grounds, and troubleshooting power problems.
Plug the leaks. Leakage is another problem you'll face as a live recordist. Whereas studios can use iso booths, baffles, gobos, and other sound absorbers (not to mention the most surefire weapon, overdubbing) to help keep sounds from leaking onto other tracks, the live recordist typically lacks those options. Directional mics and DIs can minimize leakage, but some bleed will inevitably occur.
Stage monitors are often a cause of leakage. Vocal and overhead mics are particularly prone to picking up sound from the monitors, which can lead to real problems during mixdown (for example, the vocals leaking into the drum overheads). Another problem is that singers (and sometimes other performers) typically request more and more level from the monitors as a show progresses. Therefore, it's important to explain the situation in advance and, ideally, persuade them to use as low a monitor level as possible. Making a successful recording is in their best interest, so they're likely to be receptive to your suggestions.
PARTING WORDSAfter the show is over, the gear has been packed up and brought home, and you've gotten some rest, plenty of work remains to be done. A 2-track recording won't require mixing, of course, but it will almost certainly benefit from some editing and mastering. With a multitrack project, however, you have the option of rerecording certain tracks, overdubbing extra instruments, and the like prior to mixdown. In other words, your work has just begun.
An automated mixing system such as Pro Tools can be extremely helpful for fixing some of the problems inherent in live recordings as well as for enhancing the overall sound. You can adjust fluctuating levels, mute open mics in parts where they weren't used, and generally make the recording as clean as possible. Equalization and effects can also be applied as needed.
As long as the changes you make serve the project, don't hesitate to experiment. After all, there are no absolute rules of recording other than, "If it sounds good, do it."
Mike Levine is an associate editor for EM and editor of Onstage, EM's new live-performance quarterly magazine. When he's not buried in his word processor, he also composes music for commercials.