EXTREME RECORDING 101 [PHOTOS]

Photos by Eric Tra

Over the past few years, a small crew of The Wild Honey Pie’s audio engineers (including me) have been building pop up recording studios and live sound rigs as part of our interactive video series, where bands are filmed playing at a variety of zany locations including summer camps, ski-mountains, boats and haunted houses. Combing location recording with live sound is tricky to be sure, but if you do it right, you’ll walk away with pristine multitrack audio files when post production comes around.

For our most recent video series, On The Mountain Season 2, we recorded bands playing in snow fields during a snowball fight, inside a gondola going up the mountain, in the ice cold woods, in the steamy spa and other fun spots. Each gig is a learning experience, and obviously there are no perfect solutions. With that in mind, here’s some lessons we’ve learned along the way.

1. Separate the Live Sound from the Recording

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Experience has taught The Wild Honey Pie audio team that it’s best to separate the live sound from the recording. We’ve tried the simple way of sending audio tracks out of our live sound desk (pre-fader, direct out) into a multi-track recorder. This can definitely work, but it’s not ideal. Since the recording is the main focus, the trim knobs that would normally be used by the live sound mixer for sound reinforcement adjustments must now be set and left alone once the recording levels are dialed in.

Up on Stratton Mountain, we brought up 24 channels of discrete preamps (Focusrite Saffire series) and sent those levels straight into the recorders. We then sent the multitrack analog signals coming out of the recorder into our digital board (the bad ass Soundcraft Performer 2) for live mixing without having to worry about affecting the recording.

With this method, we were free to simply focus on doing the best possible job without having to compromise or worry about how one piece of equipment might effect the other. Limiting distractions might be the most important part of location recording, and separate preamps make a big difference.

2. Use a Dedicated Hard Disk Recorder Not a DAW

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There’s nothing worse than getting the spinning wheel of death right before the end of a 45 minute recording session. Best case scenario, the band has to redo the take. Worst case…well, let’s not even go there.

Instead of risking session crashes and all the fun stuff that happens when you overtax your laptop’s CPU in freezing temperatures, we decided to incorporate a pair of dedicated hard disk recording devices (in our case JoeCo’s BlackBox BBR1). These devices are designed specifically for tracking longer sessions, and I’ve never seen one error out or crash. We simply put a super fast thumb drive in the back, enabled the tracks and pushed record.

3. Don’t Skimp On the Live Sound

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Since the potential digital audience is much larger than the on-site audience, it’s sometimes tempting to focus more of our resources and energy on the recording at the expense of the live sound. Fortunately we’ve resisted that urge. We’ve realized that the success of the live sound mix has a ripple effect all the way to the recording .

We make sure at least one member of the team has experience with live sound, and we take the time to get good monitor mixes for the bands, even when the director is shouting at us that the he’s losing light (in which case we hurry the F@!# up). Nothing ruins a band’s performance more quickly than a bad monitor mix, and nothing ruins a recording like a bad performance.

We also try and figure out a way to bring along some main speakers and monitors that can push enough sound to satisfy the band and the small “studio” audience. We were fortunate enough to get our hands on a full system (JBL EON 600 series), and they worked swimmingly.

4. Fight the Bleed

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If you fight bleed simply by telling the punk band you’re recording to “play quieter please,” hats off to you sir. It’s never worked for me. The only reliable method we’ve found is judicious mic choice and placement. I’m partial to tried and true dynamic mics like the Shure SM57 or SM58 that cut down on bleed, impart a cool vibe and withstand whatever beating the band or the weather doles out. If it’s not broke, don’t try to fix it.

5. Team Work

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What I’ve described above is an ideal situation — a rare occurrence in my experience. As engineers, part of our job is to work around limitations, be it limited gear, time constraints or a hailstorm. I’ve found the best solution to any of these issues is working with a group of talented, creative engineers. And no egos please. All for one and one for all. For me, the quality of the team makes the difference between a living nightmare and legendary weekend.

Thanks Squarespace!