How to Record Your Live Concert

recording a concert on a phone

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Recording a live show is the easiest way to get a quick demo—or even an entire album on a budget! In fact, many bands' first albums are a good live recording. There are several ways to record a show live when you're doing it for potential release or demo purposes. Let's look into the different methods and the pros and cons of each.

Keep in mind, you'll need at a minimum, a two-track recorder, such as the Zoom H4 or M-Audio Microtrack II. You'll also need cables: XLR, RCA, and 1/4" to 1/4" inputs. Some monitoring headphones aren't a bad idea, either!

Soundboard Two-Track Recording

At every show you perform, you'll have a PA system. This can be simple or complex, and generally, the bigger the venue you're playing, the better the system is. The easiest way to get a good recording from your live show is recording the two-track feed out of the soundboard.

On the back of every soundboard, there's a two-track out. Generally, it'll be an RCA connector, but you'll also find 1/4" and XLR connectors as well. The connectors will be labeled either "Tape Out", "Line Out", "Stereo Out", or "Left/Right Out". Most soundboards are run in stereo, even if the mix itself is mono. Why? It's easy -- in most small rooms, a stereo feed is overkill, and sometimes the actual PA is wired in mono. If you're recording, asking the sound engineer to mix the show in stereo (even if the PA is mono) isn't a hard request (but remember, most club sound people will be more than happy to help you if you remember to tip them just as you do your bartenders at the venue), and you'll be happy with the results.

The drawbacks? You'll get a clear recording, but not always the whole picture. Your sound person has to mix the soundboard feed for the room, not for your recording. The general idea is this: the louder something is in the room and on the stage, the less you'll hear in the board mix. Guitar amps, drums, and anything else that's really loud will be soft in the mix. This doesn't apply in a large venue where everything needs to be mixed in.

Audience Tape

Another way to get the whole picture is an audience recording. Buying and setting up a pair of good recording microphones to record in stereo is a great way to get the full sound of a live performance, but the drawback is really clear - you'll get a lot more of the crowd on your tape, and the performance might seem "far away". If you choose to go for this method, setting up your microphones near the soundboard area - and somewhere around 10 feet above the crowd, pointing towards the stage, will give you good results. You need two microphones for stereo recording—remember, you have two ears! You'll get the best results if you use condenser microphones (Oktava MC012, Earthworks SR77, Neumann KM184, and AKG C480 are all popular choices). For more information about audience taping, check out our more specific Taper's Section.

Advanced Recording Techniques

Now that you've tried board tapes and audience tapes, let's look at a couple of advanced techniques that you can use to get a better tape.

Matrix Tape

A tape with a soundboard and audience microphones mixed is commonly called a matrix tape; however, this etymology is actually incorrect. A matrix tape comes from a recording made out of the matrix section of a mixing board. Quite simply, every large mixing console has what's called a mixing matrix - an area where several stereo mixes can be bussed together with separate sources. This is useful for several things - you can bus all the vocals to one matrix and compress them as a subgroup, you can bus all of the drums to a stereo subgroup to compress/limit them together, or—relevant to this article—you can bus together items you don't need in the house mix to a separate mix for a recording. The term "Matrix Tape" actually comes from Grateful Dead sound engineer Dan Healy's use of the matrix section to bus together an audience microphone with a soundboard mix. You can use a matrix section to either bring forth instruments not in the house mix by simply bussing them to that matrix out, or use it to internally mix audience microphones into the mix.
Mixing Audience Microphones With Soundboard

One of the best ways to capture a live show is mixing audience microphones in with a soundboard feed. The biggest problem you'll find is that microphones in the room will have a noticeable delay with the soundboard feed. The easiest way to factor in the delay is 1 millisecond per foot away from the stage.

Combatting the delay is easy. Placing the microphones on either side of the stage, facing the crowd, will help since your microphones are on the same plane as the stage microphones. You can also face the microphones backward at the soundboard, or up high facing down towards the crowd. Otherwise, a unit like the TC Electronic D-Two inserted on the soundboard channels to delay the feed will help. Recording both feeds separately and mixing later is the preferred method, although you'll need to brush up your skills on syncing both sources.