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How To Record A Live Band: 10 Top Tips

Recording a live band can be a complex task, and to get the best results, you need to consider a whole range of factors: location, monitoring, microphones, cabling, I/O, headroom, and much more. Headliner has put together 10 Top Tips on how to record a live band to help you avoid any major hiccups if you’re about to cut a demo.

1. Make Sure The Band Is Well Rehearsed & Comfortable

Usually, when embarking on any live recording session, you’re working against the clock, so make sure the band is as well rehearsed as can be, and that they are comfortable in their surroundings.

More space – hiring out a hall, perhaps – could be a much better option than cramming five people into a hot and cramped rehearsal room. And as it’s live, forget overdubs - the take is the take. Plan ahead to avoid disappointment - nothing sucks your confidence more than heading in to record a four-track EP and coming away with two tired-sounding songs. Get them zoned in.

2. Use A Decent Laptop & Know Your DAW

Assuming you’re recording onto a Mac or PC, and not a standalone recorder (which of course can also do a great job) then make sure it has enough CPU power and all the basic essentials to do the job at hand. Ensure that there is enough room on the machine, too, as there will likely be a lot of data firing into it, and that you are well versed in your DAW of choice.

Check out our list of the best DAWs for more info.

3. Take Enough I/O to Multitrack

Make sure your audio interface has enough I/O and works seamlessly with your laptop. Normally 16 tracks should suffice, but it can be done with less. Let’s assume, for example, you’re working with a five-piece rock band, and you’re close-miking everything: seven tracks for drums (kick, snare, hi-hats, rack, floor, overheads); two for guitars; one for bass; three for vocals; two for keys.

That’s 15, with one spare for a click track. And if you’re working with a stripped-down three- or four-piece, you could get away with eight if you work smart: kick, snare, overheads, bass, guitar, lead vocal. That’s seven, and one spare for the click.

Sometimes limitations inspire creativity… but on the flip side, it’s better to be safe than sorry!

4. Record To Click If You Can

If the band is tight enough and confident recording to click, you should do it. It also means if the recording turns out great, the band can use parts (or all) of it, take it away and work on it as a full production elsewhere. If this is the goal at the start - which it often is, as studio time can be expensive - then this also means individual parts can be redone, as everything is synced.

Of course, if the band isn’t used to working with click, it can have a detrimental effect, and you can find yourself wasting precious time and money. So work out where your band sits, what the end goal for the project is, and make the call.

5. Keep The Stage Quiet

Assuming you’re not hiring out a professional facility, odds are that there won’t be much, if any, separation in your space. If you’re on a stage in a venue, for example, which is often great to capture a performance as it’s familiar territory to the musicians, it will get loud, quickly.

To temper this, if you have an in-ear monitor rig, use it; if you don’t, just make sure the band is on headphones. In the ideal world, you want multiple monitor mixes, but if not, one will work.

6. DI The Bass & Keys

Purely due to the low frequencies, the last thing you want to do is mic up the bassist on a stage where everyone is playing at the same time. The likelihood is the guitarists will be miked up, and you can deal with those mids and highs, but 50-100Hz roaring out of a bass cab will quickly put you in all sorts of bother, so grab yourself a decent DI box and do it that way.

It’ll save a lot of hassle in the long run. If your bassist needs a little vibe, some bass is okay, but eliminate it all from stage if you can. Same with the keys - not for the frequencies, but use a DI to generate a high quality stereo signal.

7. Use Decent Mic Stands

Make sure you get your hands on some decent mic stands, because dodgy booms just make the job twice as hard. Plenty of places hire them out for not a lot, and it’ll make life so much easier on the day.

8. Bring A Range Of Microphones

Not everyone has the budget to use amazing mics, but if you’re going to record to a decent standard, make the job simpler and bring a range of decent dynamics and condensers: a typical setup might be a pair of pencil condensers for overheads and one on the hats, a dedicated kick drum mic such as an AKG D112, a Shure SM57 or similar on the snare (these work well on guitar cabs too), and a couple of decent dynamics on the toms.

Then a dedicated vocal mic for the lead singer, and if possible for the backing vocalists also. Do the best you can with what you have.

9. Bring Spares: Cables, Strings and Gaffer Tape!

You’re all rigged up, the band is ready to go and… bzzzzzzzz…! ‘Where is that hum coming from?!’ Check your cables - as many as you can - in advance, and always bring spares. The usual noisy suspects are the cheap mini-jack leads used on guitar pedal boards or keyboard rigs, so have a handful or more of them in your inventory.

Also, unless you have the luxury of using a well-built multicore (which we appreciate may be unlikely), then try to make sure your XLRs are all in good shape, and that you’ve packed a handful of spares. Sessions can go down quickly if not.

Strings sounds like an obvious one, but don’t overlook it, as often the guitarist won’t carry spares(!) I can’t ever recall a bassist snapping a string, but it can’t hurt to carry a spare set of those either. But those top E and B guitar strings are notorious, particularly if the band are really going at it - so always have a few spare full sets and a half dozen of the Es and Bs as individuals.

Gaffer tape is for quick fixes, tidying cable runs, and silencing moaning band members (kidding…)

10. Take Enough Power

‘Has anyone got a four-way?’ - we’ve all heard it, and so often the answer is ‘no’. So always carry a few, and ideally, a pretty lengthy extension lead two in case power is located at bizarre places around the room. Just cover yourself to make sure nothing goes awry.

How to Record Live Music - The Bottom Line

When recording a live band, preparation is everything: a well-rehearsed band, good location, decent recording rig, and simplifying every part of the process will get you in a good place more often than not.