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Recording the Band, July 2003


There was a time, not so very long ago, when nearly all “live
albums” were recorded by remote trucks. Typically, a performer or
group (or, more likely, their record label) would hire the truck to
follow a tour, and then the album would be culled from the tapes of
that tour. Occasionally, you would find a band — such as the
Grateful Dead — who were serious about keeping an archive of
all their performances for posterity and so made simple stereo
recordings from the soundboard’s feed, but they were the exception
rather than the rule in the ’60s and ’70s. When the Dead would put out
live albums through Warner Bros. or, later, Arista, they were always
from multitrack tapes, often involving a remote truck.

Needless to say, things have changed. Now, there are many
groups who routinely record all of their concerts — some in
multiple formats — and an increasing number even release an
entire tour’s worth of shows to their fans, either on CD or over the
Internet, or both, without using a remote truck. Stereo DAT is probably
still the most prevalent medium for simple archiving of shows (having
replaced the vastly inferior analog cassette), but increasingly, we’re
seeing bands capture shows on various multitrack media, from MDMs to
disk-based systems such as Pro Tools. Recently, we contacted a handful
of engineers to find out what recording equipment they’re carrying
gig-to-gig to capture the music for their private vaults or for future


Engineer: Jon O’Leary

The popular Colorado jam band String Cheese Incident have released
in the neighborhood of 70 CDs of their live concerts (most encompassing
three discs) on their own SCI Fidelity Records label during the past
couple of years. Basically, fans can own just about any SCI show they
see on a tour, and because each night is different (in the Dead/jam
band tradition), there’s plenty of incentive for hardcore fans to
collect many or all of their shows.

When Jon O’Leary started mixing the band in 1996, “I just ran
a stereo soundboard every night because I liked to hear how it came out
for my own sake,” he says. “Most of those are on DAT. It
wasn’t until a year or two into taping that the band started listening
much. But then what I also did is I made a tape for them with my
audience microphones, which would usually be at the soundboard, if the
soundboard wasn’t in the last row under a balcony in a theater. If that
was the case, I’d usually hang my mics from the front lip of the
balcony and then run a couple of cables back to me. I have a pair of
B&K 4011s that I use for the audience mix. Anyway, the group likes
hearing the hall mix more than the soundboard because they realize that
soundbard tapes sometimes are the opposite of what you’re hearing in
the hall. In other words, if someone is too loud off the stage [amps],
they’re going to be quieter in the soundboard mix, whereas the audience
mics let you pick up the way the music sounds in the hall. They like to
hear the ambience, and the bass usually comes out a little more
realistic on the audience tape.

“Then, what I eventually started to do was make what the kids
call ‘matrix’ tapes — combining the soundboard stereo
mix and the audience mix — and that goes directly to DAT. We did
a tour or two with the DATs, but now we record it onto a Fostex DV-40
4-track digital hard drive [recorder], which sounds really good. The
converters are really good in that machine and that’s really important.
So we put the two audience microphones on there and the two soundboard
channels, and then we send those to a mastering facility and they do a
quality-control check to make sure any ticks or digital noise comes
out. They do some EQ’ing and compression, and they time-align
it.” (O’Leary notes that Peter Dressen is the primary recordist,
as O’Leary has his hands full at FOH.)

“On top of that, we also multitrack every show; we’ve been
doing that for several years. We started out on DA-88s, then we
graduated to DA-78s when they got up to 24-bit. And now we’re doing it
on a pair of Mackie 24-channel hard drives. I also back up the 4-track
onto four channels of the hard drive. So now, instead of dealing with
boxes and boxes of tape, we pull two hard drives and mail them [back to
their office in Colorado] and put two new ones back in; we’re storing
them all at our archive in Boulder. I have no idea what will happen
with those, but we’ll probably need them at some point for
something.” O’Leary mixes the band through one of the new Gamble
DCX digital boards.

As for future plans, O’Leary says, “I want to start mastering
on the road myself, on a workstation I’m going to put together. I’ll
get up in the morning, pull my workstation into wherever we’re playing,
find a little room, put some baffling and remaster the previous night’s
show, because what we want to do is get the product out about 72 hours
after the show. Right now, we can’t do that. Our grand plan is to get
it so people can download it on either MP3 or .shn within 72 hours of
the show, and then for people that want the CD in the package, they can
still do that later through our Website. But even that will be quicker,
because we’re thinking of pressing our own CDs on the road,


Engineer: Dennis Thompson

When jazz/fusion bassist and reedsman Marcus Miller was in Japan a
couple of tours ago, says the musician’s principal live sound engineer,
Dennis Thompson, “A fan came up to him and gave him a CD to sign.
Marcus looked at it and said, ‘Hmm, I don’t remember making this
CD.’ It turns out it was a bootleg that had been recorded
entirely from [in front of] the bass speakers and it sounded
horrible. So we decided rather than having bootleggers put out
this stuff, we’d listen to what we’d been recording and put it out

The result is Miller’s vibrant and exciting new live album The
Ozell Tapes: The Official Bootleg
, which captures Miller and his
six-piece band (along with guest singer Lalah Hathaway) during their
spring 2002 tour. Thompson, a Jamaican who has worked with Miller for
the past several years, records every show on a Sharp 702 MiniDisc
Recorder. (He previously recorded to DAT.) The two-CD set was compiled
from those stereo recordings. “No fancy multitrack mixes, just
direct from the mixing board,” Miller writes in his liner notes
for the set.

Thompson generally mixes through either a Yamaha PM4000 or a Midas
Heritage console. “You’d be surprised how good that MiniDisc can
sound,” he notes, “if you take care of the sound that’s
going to it. Obviously, we use good microphones and have the good
console every night. If you listen to the CD…I really didn’t have
to do anything to it; there’s just some EQ after the fact.”
Thompson did not put up any audience mics: What’s on the CD is coming
through stage mics.

Thompson admits that not every performance he records in stereo
through the soundboard would be usable: “Certain venues you know
it’s not going to happen. Sometimes things are so loud onstage, you
have to compensate for it in the P.A. mix. It’s hard to get musicians
to turn down sometimes. So it’s kind of a ‘luck of the
draw.’ Sometimes a guitar is missing here or a drum there, etc.
Musicians turn up and down during the night. There are a lot of things
that can change over a night onstage, and that will usually be on the
tape, which isn’t always good.”

This is a major reason why Thompson is now considering taking a
multitrack Pro Tools rig on the road to record each night’s
performance. “Marcus is such a fantastic player, and he plays
differently every night,” Thompson says. “It would be nice
to [record] every show and have a little more control over it
afterward. That’s probably where we’re going.”


Engineer: Jeff Thomas

The Dave Matthews Band is the most successful touring group in
America right now and they’re very serious about recording and
archiving their shows, which they periodically release on CD such as
last year’s Live at Folsom Field two-CD package, a forthcoming
set from The Gorge in Washington and various DVD-Video releases.

From Matthews’ new studio outside Charlottesville, Va., engineer
Jeff Thomas described the group’s live recording setup: “Every
show on tour is redundantly multitracked,” he explains. “We
run 48 tracks of 24-bit, 48k audio, and we do it on two different
formats: Tascam DA-78 tape re-corders and MX-2424 hard disk recorders.
The 78 tape is considered the redundant backup tape. Then we mail off
the hard drive to a gentleman in Charlottesville who does a
data-transfer service for us; he transfers all of the data to compact
disc, which creates a very long-term stable storage format for the
multitrack audio. We use about 100 to 120 compact discs per show, which
sounds like a lot — and it is — but megabytes per dollar,
it’s the most cost-effective and time-stable [method] you can use. We
vacuum-seal it in these heavy-duty food bags to remove air and we seal
it in a PVC tube that protects it physically. Mitsui is the supplier of
the CD media and they guarantee us over 100 years of shelf-life,
storing it at 70°, 40-percent relative humidity. During the
transfer, there’s [also] two different tape-drive formats — AIT-3
cartridge and On-Stream cartridge — that we make, and that’s good
for five to eight years. We also make a DAT reference and a compact
disc reference of every show, so if we need to look at the songs played
or a quick check of the performance of the show, we’ve got that in
simple form.” The different media are stored in three different

Thomas says the feed for the multitracks is “a
nontransformer-isolated split off a snake. We use API 212 mic preamps.
We’ve modified the output transformer to give us a dual-output line, so
one output goes to the DA-78 and one goes to the MX-24s.” As
befits such a serious operation, the DMB records four tracks of
audience for maximum flexibility later.

Until recently, Ryan Nichols ran the group’s live recording
operation, and Thomas notes, “It’s definitely its own job.
Everything has to be shipped out the next day, and the transfer process
occurs within two to three days of the show; then the disks are shipped
back to us. We have 25 to 30 hard disks that rotate between shows on
tour.” Where do they keep the recorders? “The machines have
been all over the place,” Thomas says. “We’ve had them in
monitor world; at front-of-house for many years. Now, we’ve got them

Photo: Noel Hastalis, Courtesy Warner Bros.


Engineer: Robert Scovill

Veteran engineer Robert Scovill, currently out with Matchbox Twenty,
has been recording Tom Petty from the FOH position for many years.
“These days, I have my own Pro Tools rig that I carry with me
— a 64-I/O 888 rig — and we do multitrack most
nights,” he says. “If we think we caught something good,
we’ll save the multitrack, but if not, we don’t save it, because the
process becomes so intense if you want to go back and find anything. If
we decide to keep it, we dump it off to AIT-2 the following day, and
that takes about half the show time to archive it. I’ll usually run it
at 24-bit, 44.1. I can usually get one entire show at that bit rate and
sample rate on one AIT-2 tape.

“Every night that I track Pro Tools, I have other things
running in conjunction with it,” he adds. “I’ll have a
couple of CD-Rs going with a wet 2-track mix; in other words, it has
all of the ambience. I’ll also run a timecode DAT to save as a review
for the Pro Tools. The one downside to archiving to some sort of backup
media is that, since you’re archiving an entire session, if you want to
audition one song, you have to pull up the whole archive. So we try to
get something that’s synchronous [the timecode DAT] but you can listen
to it. Then I also record Samplitude 2-track files, so I’ve got a lot
going on.” Scovill says that his audience tracks go to both the
Pro Tools multitrack and get blended into the stereo mix.

“I try to take copious notes on song quality,” he adds.
“Can you imagine what it would be like, say 30 years down the
road, for somebody who had no affiliation with the music to come in and
start sorting through all of this? It would be impossible. I’ve done
that getting ready for a live Rush record. The sorting process was
backbreaking; the hardest work I’ve done.”

Scovill has recorded shows on a number of different formats through
the years, from 4-track and 8-track Tascam cassette to ADATs. “It
would’ve been great to have a couple of nice 24-tracks, but it’s really
difficult to maintain those night after night, and, of course, the tape
cost would have been astronomical.”

Petty’s infrequent live albums have been recorded using remote
trucks, but Scovill notes that on the High Grass Dogs video,
shot at San Francisco’s Fillmore nightclub, Petty’s management
“didn’t feel the need for the ADATs recording the show because
they had hired a mobile recording truck for the event. To make a long
story short, the truck failed on one of the keeper nights, and
management called me up and said, ‘You didn’t by any chance
record those on ADAT, did you?’ And I said, ‘No, I
didn’t.’ But I always record something 2-track, and those ended
up being used.”

On the road with Matchbox Twenty, Scovill now finds himself
occasionally releasing live mixes “right off the front-of-house
console. They’re putting them up [and selling them] on the Apple
Website. So my time put in on all of this is paying off, because I’ve
figured out a way to make it sound pretty good. They already have a
track from opening night of the tour on there and there’ll be more. It
seems like it’s heading in that direction.”


Engineer: Bernie Kirsh

Jazz keyboard great Chick Corea has played thousands of performances
in dozens of different bands and groupings over a career spanning some
four decades. His longtime engineer Bernie Kirsh says, “We don’t
do anything very elaborate [for archiving the shows]. The live
performances are basically just stereo DAT; years earlier, they were
just cassette. Normally, rather than go through the mixer, I just put
up a couple of mics because what the [soundboard mix] usually tells you
is what is being changed in the room so that it sounds right
coming out of the speakers. Generally, we found it’s better to just
pick up a couple of mics.”

Kirsh’s mics of choice for that purpose are the ol’ reliable: Shure
57s. “I place them by the mixer usually, assuming that’s
convenient; just an X-Y pair usually, based on the space available and
where it is in the hall,” he says. “The good thing about
57s is they tend to take the room out of the equation. If you use
condenser mics [as opposed to dynamic mics], then you’re more reliant
on the acoustics of the room, and when you’re going from place to place
[for gigs], it’s much easier not to rely on that because there’s no
guarantee you’re going to get a perfect acoustic environment. The
purpose of these recordings is to hear the music, to be able to review
the performance, maybe hear some new ideas that occur within the
improvisations. They’re not meant to be released.”

In fact, for Corea’s most recent live album — the amazing
two-CD Rendezvous in New York, which features him playing at the
Blue Note in duets (with Bobby McFerrin, Gary Burton and Gonzalo
Rubalcaba), trios, his Akoustic Band and with Origin — was
recorded DSD using a pair of DAWs based on Merging Technologies’
Pyramix systems; the December 2001 concerts were the first 16-track
recordings of that type. Clark Germain engineered and Kirsh mixed the
tapes at Media Hyperium Studio in Torrance, Calif. Currently, Kirsh is
working on a surround video taken from the Blue Note shows (which
celebrated Corea’s 60th birthday) and on a series of individual CDs
featuring each lineup from the weeklong celebration. Kirsh is mixing
those on the Yamaha 02R96 at Corea’s home studio in Florida.