Confessions of a Small Working Studio—The New Role of Remote Recording Professionals

Aug 10, 2010 3:18 PM, By Lisa Horan and Kevin Hill

Allen Kyle, the owner of Austin, Texas' Night Owl Recording

Allen Kyle, the owner of Austin, Texas' Night Owl Recording

In fact, in light of the drastic changes in the music industry during the past decade, educating clients has become one of the most formidable tools in the success of live sound recording professionals. "I find myself preaching the word about artists taking control of their own careers on a regular basis," says Heil, who records bands and recording artists in the rock, country and contemporary Christian genres. "Many of them are still convinced that the big labels are going to 'discover' them and put them on tour with tour support and pay for their album projects. I try to help them understand that it doesn't work that way anymore. If you're an artist today, you've got to produce your own record and create your own product and then go to the record companies with some evidence that will make them believe it will sell and make them some money."

In addition, live recording professionals often bear the burden of educating clients about the benefits of professional recording and convince them they shouldn't do it themselves just because they may have the equipment at their disposal. "My biggest selling point is that I don't just have professional equipment, but also the expertise and the experience that the $10-an-hour guys doesn't," says Heil. "I can, quite simply, create sound that they can't, but I'm still not like a big house that will charge $2,000 a day."

When it comes to education, it's a two-way street. According to Setaro, it's important that live recording professionals take plenty of time to educate themselves about the client, the client's goals and the venue so they can create an effective plan. For an upcoming recording of an Assyrian orchestra, for instance, Setaro is gathering information and planning a month out. "The performance will feature a symphony orchestra, pop singers and then solo instrumental pieces. It's a big undertaking that will take all 48 tracks so I've really got to get a solid plan together for it." In addition to hiring another live sound professional to work with him on the day of the performance, Setaro has conducted thorough interviews with his client to get a handle on the specific details of the show, such as who's in charge of production; how many cellos, violins, timpani, etc. will be involved; how the stage will be set up; and other details that will help him capture sound most effectively. "I've got to consider things like the amount and type of mics and equipment I'm going to need, where I'm going to obtain this equipment and how my setup is going to work with my client's stage," he says. In this case, it will be a challenge because the client's goal is to have a visually stunning stage, which is going to require Setaro to come up with alternate ways of running cables and placing mic stands so that the view of the players is not obstructed.

This is a situation that Setaro has grown accustomed to, and he says, in fact, that one of the most important parts of his job is capturing the “live” performance of his clients while remaining unnoticed. “Most of the time, I set up on the side of the stage by the monitor mixer or somewhere out of the way but in a place I can see the performance and be close to the stage,” says Setaro, whose band clients typically use the audio he’s captured for promotional purposes, while his church clients use it for archive and training purposes.

Kyle sets himself up in a closet, outside behind the stage, or “whatever place I can find that’s out of the way and quiet,” though he confesses that that’s a tall order in a club environment. Needless to say, his setup is largely determined by the venue. In a small venue, the splitter is placed on the stage near the house snake and all inputs will go to the splitter first. Then, one trunk will go short to the house snake and the other trunk will go to him. In a large venue, on the other hand, the stage plumbing will usually involve subsnakes to a main box onstage that travels on to the monitor world. In this case, “I generally set up near the monitor guy, and one side will go to me and the other will continue to my distribution system,” explains Kyle.

While Heil prefers setting up his gear in an isolated room within the venue to stay hidden, sometimes he’s had to set up shop right onstage next to the monitor console. “Sometimes, if it's a really tight budget, I will forgo the consoles and split and tap the direct outs of the monitor console, but that configuration creates more work on the back end and either I or the band’s engineer end up doing a lot more ‘fix it in the mix,’ so that’s not my favorite option,” says Heil, who also does a "live mix to cameras" out of Pro Tools setup using buses and secondary outputs. In this scenario, he will mix the show live and send that out to the DVRs, and either generate or receive LTC and stripe that to the session for frame-accurate audio in post. “I take the camera two-mix and stripe that to a stereo track alongside the multitrack. If the client needs reference tracks, I can cut the two-mix up into regions and export the regions as files, then burn that to CD or DVD. It all depends on what the client wants.”

One thing most clients want in a live recording situation is crowd sound, so it's critical for remote recording professionals to calculate the size of the stage and the distance to the crowd to properly capture audience sound. According to Kyle, one of the most important aspects of a successful live recording is the live audience sound element. That said, positioning mics to capture the crowd and mixing this sound well are the secret glue that holds a live recording together. "You may hear folks kicking stuff and all kinds of extraneous noises going on, but if the crowd sound is mixed well, you can hide a lot of problems," says Kyle. "The bottom line is, if the glue isn't a good, high-quality sticky glue but a crusty old glue stick from 1996, the sound isn't going to come together and you're not going to accomplish the good, live sound feel you were shooting for."

Glue aside, it's important for remote recording professionals to realize that, at the end of the day, the live recording is going to sound like the venue in which it was recorded, regardless of how great the band is or how well the sound is captured. "I've recorded bands in venues with tin roofs on 10-foot-deep stages where the band wouldn't play unless their monitors measured 120dB SPL onstage—actually louder than the P.A.—with a lead vocal mic that is just getting nailed with cymbals, drum wash and monitor bleed. And then I've recorded in large concert halls that have grand ceilings, wood floors and amazing acoustics," says Kyle. "What I'm going to be able to capture is going to depend on where I am. A lot of times, it doesn't even matter what mics or preamps I've got. It's all about the location."

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