Live recording is easier than ever with free software, inexpensive microphones, and online producers. Still, “easier” is not the same thing as “easy.” As we often tell newcomers, the first time you record is going to involve a lot of hard lessons.
You can get a head start, though, by learning from the hard lessons of others. Here are some ways to make sure your first time goes as well as possible.
1.Perfect is the Enemy of Good
Your take isn’t perfect. It can’t be perfect. No take can. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the more tracks you record, the more you will learn! Record takes until you get one that sounds good. Any small errors will either be fixed in post, or will add flavor to the track.
2.Control your volume, leave headroom
More volume is not better. That is a myth that only made sense in the days of 16bit digital recording on ADAT or D88s. With 24bit digital, it is much better to record at a reasonable volume and leave 4-6 decibels of headroom.
3.Use short cables
Electronic interference can mess up an analog signal as it travels on a cable. This is mainly true with unbalanced cables like guitar patch cords, and ones that go to RCA connectors, etc. The longer the cable, the more interference you will hear. Balanced cables such as microphone cables with XLR ends are far more forgiving but it is a good idea try to keep all cables carrying analog signals as short as possible.
4.Keep everything simple
Power down and remove pedals or any other devices in the signal path, even if they are currently bypassed. If you string too many devices together in one take, it will be harder to get a version where everything sounds good. Even if you bypass a device, but keep the power on, it could degrade your signal if the pedal doesn’t have a full bypass feature.
5.Put the meters in view
If you keep an eye on the meters, you can identify problems as they come up. For example, if someone in the room is tapping their foot subconsciously during a quiet vocal take, keeping an eye on the meter is one way to catch these unwanted sounds.
6.Save and backup everything
Even if you don’t like a take, going back to it might teach you something someday. Save it, label it, and back it up.
7.Test different mic distances
Microphones placed close to sound sources can have greater fidelity, but over-emphasize the low end, leading to a muddier sound. Play around with distances in order to figure out which position works.
Learning to record live is all about trial and error. See what works for you as an individual or as a band and keep notes as you go so you can avoid similar mistakes in the future.