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The Challenge

Organizations have a wide variety of recording needs. Sometimes the need is simple, such as capturing song ideas or preserving a panel discussion for later playback. Sometimes the goals are more challenging, such as creating an impressive demo track for a band.

Anyone can buy low cost stereo digital field recorders today, such as the unit shown here. And in the right situations, with good placement, these devices can achieve very good sound quality with a minimum of expertise.

SonoCrafters has extensive experience producing good quality multi-track recordings from live performances, and this can be done in combination with live PA reinforcement. The process consists of using a live reinforcement strategy that can easily be mixed for the live audience while capturing clean tracks that later can be processed and mixed in the studio environment. In the right circumstances, this process can come close to the quality achievable with expensive studio recording sessions, at a small fraction of the cost.

Compared to Studio Recording

Today’s live recording technology permits us to capture separate tracks for each instrument, up to 32 separate tracks recorded simultaneously. Once captured, the editing, mixing and mastering process if practically the same as if the material had been recorded in the studio. There are four major differences to consider:

Quality of components. Professional studios use specialized (and expensive) microphones and pre-amps that really should not be used outside of the studio environment. Today’s live sound equipment is able to come very close to the quality of studio pre-amps. SonoCrafters uses microphones that are generally higher grade than used by most sound companies, somewhere between the usual live sound equipment and studio equipment. This minimizes noise and provides a very high audio quality.

Cross-talk. In the studio, one usually has the ability to completely isolate each channel, such that each recorded channel has one instrument or voice and nothing else. This provides for the cleanest mixing landscape. We cannot achieve that level in the field, but we can get close through a combination of direct boxes, sound dampers, and some filtering in the post-production.

Studio correction. A significant part of today's studio production is the ability to correct problems, either through multiple takes or through editing during the mixing stage. In a live recording environment, we cannot usually do multiple takes, but many of the studio correction tools can be used with live recordings as long as the channel separation is good.

Ambient noise.The live environment usually includes ambient sound, such as audience noise, that cannot be fully controlled. However, by concentrating on close-in microphone placement and direct boxes where practical, the noise can be contained. And we used advanced post-production tools that allow distinct sounds like a door closing or whistle to be removed while preserving sound quality

In summary, the live production cannot equal the best studio recordings, but we can often achieve a result very close to studio quality, and certainly good enough for demos and self-marketed CDs. And we can do this at a small fraction of the cost of the full studio experience.

The SoundCloud clip below is a brief demo of what is possible when recording a live performance. This was a 15-piece jazz big band performing outdoors under ideal circumstances. We tracked every instrument with either tight mics or DI and then mixed and mastered later. The end result was very close to what this ensemble could achieve in a costly studio. We were fortunate that the setting had very little noise and the band was capable of a good performance with a single take. We cannot guarantee results at this level every time, but this does demonstrate what is possible.