In the days of pre-Isolationist Music Creation, socialized musiciansactually recorded tracks together in a room, assaulting each other withvolume and signal bleed and hopefully unheard mistakes. Although somewhat primitive baffling was employed, pretty much every soundleaked into every mic; as a result, record production was identified by the studio space’s sonic characteristics and the performance idio syncracies of those making all the noise. Live energy and ambience are essential components of ’60s-vintage Beatles, Stones, Who, andother classic tracks — as well as the major ingredients of compelling“studio sounds” from joints such as Gold Star, Motown, Stax, andTrident.
While DAWs and plug-ins can manifest a whole lot of aural color for those who record in isolation, the true, thrilling, and vi bey sound of live is an impression that can only be captured old school. So, here are a few tips for getting in and out of the process with minimal hassle and maximum impact.
You’ll need a space where drums, bass, guitar, scratch vocals, and any other essential basic-track instruments can be set up, miked, and cranked up. It doesn’t have to be Abbey Road, but it should be an area that possesses a reasonable sonic environment (no weird reflections, not too live, etc.), allows suitable sightlines between musicians, and won’t cause the police to visit when the volume ramps up. I’ve used living rooms, basements, rehearsal spaces, churches, garages, and office cafeterias (after hours, and with permission, of course). Carpets and blankets can deaden problematic live areas, and you should also scope out a comfy place to set up your computer and recording gear.
Recording basic tracks live typically requires more goodies than layering tracks alone in your personal studio space. You can always record everything in a stereo pass — not a bad idea, actually — but if you want some measure of control over individual elements later on, you’ll need more mics, more cables, more mic stands, and more inputs on your audio interface. For a basic session, I recommend at least eight inputs. This allows assigning kick drum, snare, stereo overheads, bass, guitar, a scratch vocal, and an additional instrument (keyboards, percussion, toms, etc.) to separate tracks. For mic options, borrow a small collection of dynamic and condenser types (make sure your interface is equipped with 48V phantom power for the condensers), and seek information on models professional engineers typically employ to mic each sound source.
To paraphrase the Saw films, “There will be blood” — or, in this case, bleed. Signal bleed, that is. Don’t worry about it. The filthy business of sound sources infecting each mic position with multiple signal washes is the sound of vintage live-in-the-studio recording. Famed producer Tony Visconti once told me that one of his favorite and most surprising guitar sounds was captured solely through a tom mic positioned on a dru...