Record Your Band’s Live Show

Okay, so you’ve decided what three tunes you want for your demo, but you can’t decide whether to just record a gig or go into the studio. In this article, we will look at how to set up some low-cost equipment for doing your own demo of a live show. Of course, if you don’t want to do it all yourself, you can always find engineers and studios for hire, whether for mobile recording of your live show or in-studio construction of your demo.

But if you are playing live regularly, have already gotten your arrangements together, rehearsed the tunes a million times to get ’em tight, charted out the songs the way that you need them — then you’re ready. And the fact is, a good recording of a live show is an excellent way for new fans to hear what you really do, and for other music professionals (including, perhaps, someone who might want to invest in your efforts) to gauge your talent and marketability.

Plenty of challenges Recording a live show presents a unique set of challenges: The main drawbacks are that the sound is less controllable, it is next to impossible to fix any band errors or sound-equipment glitches, and if one of your selling points is your live show, you will also need a video of a live gig, so you will have two such recordings. The upside to recording a live show? It has an excitement level hard to achieve in the studio, it is faster and cheaper to make, and if done right it can cover all the bases, selling your songs and your show.

There are a ton of 8-track digital recorders on the market from Korg, Fostex, Yamaha, and other manufacturers, ranging in price from $300 to $3000 or more; you don’t need the best, but the least expensive might not have all the options you need. To record a live show, you will need at least four microphone inputs and a couple of direct (line) inputs; the former will capture the drums (in a perfect world, two or three mics would be on the drums), vocals, and the guitar amps; the latter can take the keyboards (if any) and bass as direct inputs.

You may need direct-input (“DI”) boxes or not, depending on the specs of the recorder you’ve chosen. You might also want to take the house PA and feed that to a line-in as well. This article can’t be exhaustive on these options because there are so many, so do your homework before starting – the Internet, of course, is a great library, or talk to knowledgeable friends or acquaintances about your plan.

Set and setting count, too If the venue has a good mixer on-site, you could also take a stereo line out to your mobile recorder, or even (with the right number of inputs) take direct outs from each mixer channel – drums, vocals, etc. If the club has a good sound guy, use his expertise as well (and for crying out loud, at least find out what his favorite imported beer is and get him some, preferably after the recording’s done, of course).

If your recorder has a hard drive, it will be plenty big enough in the current models of these digital 8-tracks to record your whole show, after which you can pull out the tunes you want for your finished demo. If the recorder uses flash memory of some kind – Compact Flash (CF), Sony “memory sticks” and Secure Digital (SD) are all popular formats – make sure to get enough to do the job. CF and SD modules are around $10-15 (as of the beginning of 2009) for the 2GB size, which will get you plenty of recording time, and the prices continue to fall. The recorder manuals will tell you how much time each size module is good for, based on the recording specs (a sample rate of 44.1 kHz at 16 bits, for example, is CD quality). Your recorder may offer higher sample rates (48 or 96 kHz) and more “bit depth” (24), and these higher specs can double or quadruple the size of your sound files.

Once you have your show recorded, you will need to do some “large scale” editing, meaning you will chop the good tunes out of the show. Make sure to take a good 15 seconds before and after each song, and save the rest anyway, since you may need some crowd noises (and more applause) to insert in the final mix. Ah, there’s the word I’ve almost dreaded arriving at – “mix.” Yep, it’s time for The Mix!

Mix and master The better portable digital recorders have on-board effects like reverb and compression, but you won’t want to go overboard on effects with a live recording; it already has its own natural reverberation going, thanks to the room that you recorded in. You may need some compression on some tracks, but the major challenge will be to adjust the levels of the various parts. This isn’t easy, and you will be stuck with what you recorded, plus you will have tons of “bleed” across the tracks; the vocal microphone was picking up everything else, right? And the other mics did the same thing.

A final hurdle for mixing a live show on the portable recorder is the limited data display; you will not be looking at waveforms on the little display of an 8-track Korg recorder, so it’s a tough job. You may need to beg, borrow or bribe some help for this step. Of course, you could also transfer (“dump”) all your tracks into a computer DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and do the editing and mixing “in the box,” as they say. This would allow for much greater control of the material, although you are still limited by what the recorder captured, with all that bleed and everything. But this would be a better way to work with the sound files, and if you have a bandmate who has any halfway-decent audio software on his computer (even Garageband on a Mac or Cakewalk Home Studio on a PC), then this is the route that you should take.

Got video? Well, there you go, the basics of making your demo from a live recording. You will need to study up on mixing if you don’t have someone who knows how to do it (with the tools now available, even a talented amateur can get fairly good results). Never just slap something together; this is your career you are working with, remember? Now, if the live recording option seems a little loose and unpredictable to you, you might want to consider going the project-studio route, yours or someone else’s, so read up on studio recording if that’s what you think will work best for you.

Now, it really should be a separate project, since making a video is a whole different challenge, but you could also have someone videotape your performance while recording the audio. It is a tricky job to get the audio and video to stay synced, and if you intend to do an MTV-style video — the kind that MTV really isn’t showing much of anymore — then it really does have to be planned out with at least the precision and care that this audio project requires. But if you just want a few clips to post on your website with a tune or two, you can probably pull that off without too much fuss.

You can do this The main thing to remember is that, if you want five or ten minutes of good video — to post to YouTube, put on your band website or what-have-you — then you will need at least 30-60 minutes of video. If you only have one camera operator, he or she should make sure to get a lot of different angles, from different distances, with different pans and close-ups and tracking shots. If you can get two cameras to record your show, all the better. Just make sure up front that you have extra battery packs, enough Mini-DV tape or flash memory or DVDs (whatever the cameras need), a tripod or two, etc.

It will be for another article to go into editing and constructing your video clips, but you can do it on either a PC or a Mac, and there is even low- and no-cost software available for editing and file conversion. It’s not easy, but anything good takes time and effort. You may be surprised at how do-able it really is, as long as you are not overconfident or careless about how you proceed. Make a plan, set up a series of possible shots and angles, discuss the particulars with your bandmates and camera operators, and go for it.

There is no reason that you should feel anything but excitement at the prospect of making an audio recording of your live show and even capturing some of it on video. As long as you are not averse to hard work and long hours, you can do this. And since you’ve probably put a Herculean effort into your music for 25 hours a day and eight days a week, you can probably do this pretty well, as a matter of fact.

 

DJ Skills – Preparing Your Set For a Live Show

In the minds of an audience a DJ is only as good as their last show. This is a hard truth that needs to be faced up to. DJ you need to prepare your set for each live show so you will not flop. Read every word of this article as I reveal my success formula.

As a successful DJ, I know that when I play a live set I make it look easy. My mixes flow and get the crowd on their feet pretty much guaranteed every time. The reason it looks easy is because I have put in a massive amount of hard work in advance to ensure that I do a brilliant job for my audience.

You see for me the alternative is not an option. Earlier on in my career I played a couple of shows where I presumed too much. I presumed that I understood what the audience at the venue would like I presumed that they would respond as positively to the last successful set I played. In the DJ game we should never take our fickle audiences for granted.

So here is my success formula.

1) Get to know your audience – I play to majority black crowds across three or four styles of music. What I have discovered is that a style which is big in one City may not be the flavour in another. Therefore I take time out to research a new city in advance. This is easier than you think now we have social networking. I simply study what my friends from that area are listening too. I check out their mix-tapes and local DJ’s and take a listen.

2) Bring something new – I am not trying to contradict myself from point one so do not worry. What I mean by this is that if I discover a certain style of music or a specific track is big in an area where I am about to visit then I make sure that I get an exclusive remix done that will blow the place apart. So successful has this strategy been for me that years down the line I still get people saying things like “I remembered when you came here and played that big remix”. Creating this positive kind of memory builds up your ‘legendary’ status as a DJ and will create anticipation on your return.

3) Do not rest on your previous success – What worked last time will not necessarily work this time. Be diligent make sure you do your research and stay current. Sadly your audiences are fickle and will quickly dismiss you if you fail to keep on top of your music.

4) Cover the basics – Before you set out on a show make sure you go through a checklist that ensures everything is present and correct. Do you have your headphones, are they working and so on. Last month I was all set to go and play somewhere only to discover a fault with the laser on one of my pioneer CDJ Decks, fortunately I do have a backup. I am glad I checked as discovering this fault whilst playing live would have been a nightmare.

These ideas are based on my real experiences i.e. I have learned the hard way. I trust they will be useful to you and help you to become a successful DJ.

 

Marketing Your Music – The Internet Live Show Factor

For a few years now I have embraced the changes and the new social media tools that the internet has provided to enhance music marketing techniques. Not withstanding the obvious like MySpace, YouTube, Imeem, Revver, Facebook and so on, one of the most important forms of marketing I teach is the internet live performance.

For me, it started with Stickam.com. This is a site where you can open an account and stream live video feeds right from your computer and laptop. Just plus in a web cam and have DSL or better connection to the internet and you’re good to go.

But something I did a few years ago has become a staple in my music marketing teachings. I did a test back in 2004 and just opened a profile on Stickam and started to just randomly play guitar and sing covers. Within a few weeks, I had around 200 friends and fans. And just to think, I was not even serious about it.

Funny thing is that even though I have been preaching this, many are slow to get on it. I’m thinking because there might be a fear factor that some don’t sound as good live as they do recorded. Or perhaps they just might be a solo artist and not have tracks to sing to. Either way, it’s a HUGE mistake if you’re an artist and don’t do live streaming events.

Another great thing about the streaming live portals like Stickam, Ustream, BlogTV (all dot coms) is that you have the ability to embed the live streaming video player on your own site; even other social sites like MySpace and the others.

And even as a random act of opening a profile and starting to play, while you’re streaming live, people click in and out of your show to see what you’re all about. This is better than playing at a coffee house or patio venue. Plus, it’s in the comfort of your space.

Yet another very cool factor about live streaming shows is that you get to interact with your fan base live in a chat room. I have assisted many though this process and all have been blown away at the fact that they can chat with their fans between singing songs.

This is also an extremely cool way to get new kinds of music exposed to the public. Could you imagine that you play upright bass, your friend plays the kazoo and your other friend plays a mandolin? Just by the shear uniqueness, people will stop by and listen. Hopefully you don’t suck. It’s an open forum of chance so take it!

To me that’s the most important thing about blowing up and marinating your fan base. Today’s marketing had jumped into hyper relationship building. That fact that you can chat with your fans means that you get to reach out.

At the end of the day it’s sociology before technology. In this case, technology is helping access sociology. Oh yea, it’s all for free too!

 

Lights, Action, Camera – It’s Show Time

The adrenalin is pumping; a thousand butterflies have taken up residence in a hundred stomachs, and tonight is the night. In a few minutes the curtain will rise and the performers will strut their stuff before the assembled throng. Its show time. It’s what makes live performances so appealing and what the photographer wants to capture, that magical moment when the performer and audience are as one.

Be it the end of year ballet school recital or grand opera there will be these moments in every performance. This is when every photographer becomes a street photographer because no one can predict when these moments will appear. The set up and rehearsal shots just don’t cut it, these shots can’t be manufactured, they just happen. The street photographer’s mantra comes in to full play here, travel light and have lots of film.

When shooting live shows your film speed will become your greatest friend. If you shoot digital learn to switch between the ISO settings of your camera with a few thumb clicks, if your shooting film have several cameras each loaded with a different speed film. As a rule of thumb 400, 800 & 1600 should cover most situations, just remember the higher the speed the greater the grain. Another advantage of using a range of ISO’s is you can leave the aperture and shutter settings to the camera. Which 9 times out of 10 will be quicker and more accurate than either you or I could ever hope to be. This can be fast paced stuff, so much so that at times focusing can be problematical.

Using your flash to compensate for the lack of film speed is a no, no for several reasons.

Using your flash will gain you no friends with your fellow patrons and the down right ire of the production staff. They have spent several hours getting the scene to look just right only to have it ruined by the Joe in the third row with their bloody flash. If you are close enough for your flash to actually work, the scene you wanted to capture won’t be in the camera.
Using your flash is the best way I know to get the tap on the shoulder followed by a request to leave from the really big Usher.

Using your flash is dangerous for the performer. A performer momentarily blinded by a flash loses concentration and orientation. Imagine a trapeze catcher momentarily blinded just before a catch. The dancer spinning on one toe, flash, wobble, wobble, crash. It could be a real show stopper, literally. Now you wouldn’t want that on your conscience, would you?

Rest assured, in the majority of cases the stage lighting is more than adequate for photography purposes. It does, however tend to be uneven and the best light is when the subject is being lit by spill rather than in a direct beam of light. Taking several shots as the subject moves about the stage should produce at least one good one, remember lots of film. This is where, outside of sport, the continuous drive mode on the more expensive cameras comes in handy.

The down side to these cameras is their several auto focus points which can be a real pain in the proverbial. Never too sure which part of the scene the camera has decided to focus upon. Switch it off and just use one point, set your focus and recompose the picture as desired.

Likewise a tripod is more of a hindrance than a help, awkward to lug about and set up. Your fellow patrons are just as likely to knock it at the crucial moment if you’re in an open venue and it will cost you an extra couple of seats if you’re in a seated auditorium. Better to shoot hand held and if your budget will stretch to it an IS lens is an added advantage. It is comforting to know that any motion blur is from the performers rather than the photographer.

Fortunately there are medium telephotos that come with image stabilization. This is my preferred lens for this kind of shooting, especially if static in C22. A medium telephoto will give you the greatest range of possibilities, fiddling with primes is very difficult to get right before the moment is gone. Although if you’re in an open venue they can work, just remember Robert Capa’s words of wisdom “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

In an open venue such as hall, a night club or a bar your freedom of movement will be an asset to getting that great shot. You can shoot from the side, from the front, up the lead singer’s trouser leg or from the balcony. Do resist the temptation to climb on the speaker stacks. Sound engineers take a very dim view of this and more than likely will dispatch the biggest and meanest roadie in your direction with orders if not to kill, to at least maim seriously.

In the more formal environment of a tiered auditorium you should be far enough back so you can see something of the stage floor. You don’t want the performers in all your shots to be cut off at the ankles. Also get your seats as central as possible. It is usual for the production values of a show to be set from the centre of the auditorium. The director, the lighting designer and the stage designer will huddle together there making the final adjustments to the look of the show and the performers will instinctively direct their performances at them.

But before you start implementing any of the above pearls, do get permission not only from the venue and organizers but also the performers. You are photographing on private property, even if owned by the local council, and will at least require the venue manager’s green light. The organizers, producer, band management, whoever will own the copyright to the show and you will need their permission. The same goes for your models, the performers. Photographing your kids is fine but Mrs. Smith’s could be a very different story.

If you have thoughts of anything other than the family album, even the internet, it would be best to get it in writing. Property and model releases at the very least and the more professional the show the greater the need. Getting them before the show is the best course of action, decreases the chances of embarrassing moments and trying to get them after the event is very hard work if not impossible.

Then after the curtain falls and the applause fades away, you will have some moments in your camera that will bring back fond memories of a great night. Perhaps even earn you a dollar or two if you have the paper work in place.

 

Talent or Shiny Floor Shows?

I am forever confused that the public confuses a show such as the X Factor as being a talent show. During the 70’s and 80’s Saturday night Television was full of variety shows. Where professionals took to the stage and performed to entertain the TV watching public.

Those variety programmes were known as “shiny floor shows” X Factor and the like have now taken their place but they are not sold as a “shiny floor show” they are sold as talent shows. Strictly Come Dancing on the BBC has done the same again replacing the old variety format with a slick good looking variety show.

Our fascination with these shows just shows our confusion about celebrity. We love to see the real “so called” B list celebrities on Strictly putting their reputations and bodies at risk for our entertainment. Most of them do very well and the level of dance achieved by them is testament to the real professionals that train them every week.

X Factor however is a different beast. It takes unknowns plucked from auditions all over the country and places them into a singing competition which for 12 “live show” weeks enthrals part of the nation. But then what? You can count on one hand how many of these (in Louis Walsh’s words) “New Pop Stars” really go onto a successful career?

They are cast aside by the industry for two reasons, firstly they actually weren’t that talented and secondly the British public has a problem with making that conversion from the crying “I’m doing it for my mother” audition to making someone a star. We just on the whole don’t buy it.

For me their lies the irony, we are stuck in a celebrity world where the celebrities are not like the “real” stars of yesterday just talentless B or C listers desperate to get their picture in a magazine to promote their latest clothing line or whatever. Then we are unable to let the contestants from a shiny floor show make the crossover to celebrity because we have seen their normality, we’ve seen behind the curtain.

Show business used to be about never be seen “front of house”, keep that exclusivity, retain that aura. Now in the space of twelve weeks these guys have laid themselves bare and someone has to help them rebuild that aura. Not all can do it, not all get given the right people to help them do it.

The States is different it has a different social mentality where success is praised and encouraged by the masses. They can allow the competitor to make that transition from audition to star watching all the tears and joy by being comfortable with someone else’s success.

X Factor is going to the US next year and it’s a huge gamble for Mr Cowell. For me, here in the UK, it has run its course. I told friends of mine in the industry at the end of last years series that, as a manager, I’d advise Simon to leave now as it’s starting to slide. Wagner has proved that by the voting public helping to make a mockery of the whole show. Maybe he had to stay one more year to help keep the profile of the brand up whilst gearing up for the launch in the States, only he knows.

Also the industry is now openly questioning the validity of it as a talent show… Urm hello, no rocket scientists in there is there. It’s always been about the phone calls, texts, advertising and sponsorship. A record deal to the likes of Wagner seems a mere dip in the ocean compared with the revenue created each year.