In our last article, we talked about the video aspect of creating a live DVD for your band. Now we’re going to talk about something that hopefully all of you musicians out there have experience with – audio! Today we’ll be talking about how to capture the amazing live audio to complement your amazing live video!
The first thing you’ll want to determine is the source of your audio. I know what you’re thinking – “Well…I’ve got these nice cameras. Why don’t I just use the audio that I capture from them?” Allow me to give you a quick rebuttal. Go to YouTube and find just about ANY live footage captured by some moron at a live concert. How does the audio sound? If you answered anything other than “like a piece of crap – almost as though the camera’s microphone was constantly being run over by a truck made of broken glass inside of my ear”, close this website and find another member of the band with more brain cells than you to continue onward. Don’t worry, I’ll wait here until he or she gets back.
The audio that you capture from your camera is going to suck. Just plain and simple. But wait, what about those nice, expensive cameras that you’ve rented that have fantastic mics on them? The ones that don’t explode on themselves in high volume environments? Well, yes, you may get an audio track that doesn’t sound like absolute crap, but the problem you’ll be running into will be quickly apparent if you compare that captured audio to audio from a professional DVD of your favorite band.
Notice how that professional DVD has a really clear, clean guitar sound? And the drums sound like you’re standing right in front of them? And the singer never gets washed out? It’s almost like they captured each microphone signal individually and mixed them professionally – almost like you would if you were making a live CD.
“So…Fang…what you’re saying is…?”
Capture each microphone signal individually and mix them professionally
…you know, like you’re making a live CD. It’s not rocket science – if you want to sell a DVD, you need two things:
- Good quality video, and
- good quality audio
Your DVD can be directed by Martin Scorsese and be the pinnacle of a visual art piece, but if the audio sucks, NO ONE WILL WATCH IT. You’re a band that plays music, not a visual art piece, and don’t you dare try to argue GWAR with me. GWAR doesn’t count.
The only honest, reliable way to capture good live audio is to capture each microphone signal individually and mix them. So, how do you go about doing this? There’s two ways – the easy and perilous way, or the correct way.
The easy and perilous way: Have the sound guy do it
Let me start of by prefacing this with a warning: I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS METHOD. YOU SHOULD NOT DO THIS. THIS IS ONLY FOR A LAST RESORT SITUATION.
The “easy” way would be to capture the stereo output coming from the board. All this requires from you is to have the sound guy send the main output from the board into a capture device – say, for instance, a small hand-held recorder like the ZOOM H4n.
If the sound guy knows what he’s doing, and does his job correctly, you should have a exact capture of what’s coming out of the speakers in the venue. Hopefully he’ll also do things like increase the sound level when solos are being played, or do some baseline compression on things like the snare and vocals.
Here’s the big problem. You have to rely on the sound guy to get this right, and you only have one shot. The. Sound. Guy. Now, I know a lot of competent sound guys, but I don’t trust any of them to mix levels for a stereo output capture. Why not? Because the sound that works for a venue is a lot different than the sound that works for a DVD. The sound guy is working to make sure the sound in the venue sounds good, and he could give two craps about your live DVD recording.
Let me repeat that – the sound coming out of the speakers at the venue may not be the sound you want on the DVD! Maybe the venue has a bunch of HUGE subwoofers, and the sound guy doesn’t need to mix the bass very high because he’s already blowing out the place. How do you think that’s going to come across on a normal TV speaker? Answer: it won’t. The bass has now disappeared from your DVD.
What about the singer? In a venue packed with people, you want his voice to be heard over the din of the crowd, so you’ll probably boost him pretty high up in the mix. On the DVD, however, he’s now 10 times louder than any other instrument. Unless you’re Pavarotti, I don’t want to watch that DVD.
And what about the crowd noise? The cheering between songs? The sound guy doesn’t have a microphone in the crowd, that’s for sure. What may have been thunderous applause now sounds like a polite golf clap.
And there’s NOTHING you can do to fix it.
That’s exactly why I don’t recommend this method. You have no control over the levels, and no ability to go in and fix things later. Only use this method if you literally have no other possible way to capture your audio. It’ll be more work, but you’ll thank me later.
The correct way – Record each microphone individually
This is really the only way I’d recommend to capture your performance. You’re going to need:
- The sound guy’s full cooporation
- Communication with the venue/sound guy as to what type of outputs the board has
- Time before the show to calibrate and test
- A beefy, reliable computer with a lot of free space and a good recording suite
- A capture device (or multiple devices) that can handle 15+ inputs
- Cords for connecting the output to the capture device
- An audio engineer to monitor the recording to make sure everything is working
This sounds simple – for every microphone, capture the output and record it to a separate channel of audio. And it is that simple – but it’s a logistical NIGHTMARE. First, you need to find a friend or company who will do this and who has the proper capture device. Next, you need the sound guy’s full cooperation. This is damn near impossible for most places. Make sure you know your sound guy and the venue likes you. You’re going to need to pull some strings to make this happen. You’ll also want to communicate in advance with the venue and the sound guy about the recording. Let him know exactly what you need, and make sure he follows through.
A word of warning: Some (bad) sound guys are ok with letting a microphone clip all the time. However, if this happens in your raw track, it’s going to sound bad and there’ll be no way to undo it. You can always increase the volume on a quiet track, but you can’t decrease the volume to undo a clipped track.
Ok, now that you have all that together, there are a few more steps you’ll want to be aware of:
You know those “click” markers/clappers that you see in old-style movies? The dude who holds up the board that says “Casablanca, Take 34” and then he snaps the top of the marker? Do you know why they did that? When you’re shooting with multiple cameras, you have to have a way to sync the video and the audio. That “click” sound was loud, and all the cameras captured it. Also, you could sync the video across multiple cameras by finding the exact moment the clapper landed down, and match them to each other.
You’re going to need something like this in order to sync the audio and video. It can be as simple as someone clapping loud into a microphone three times while the cameras are rolling, or you can even make your own “click” marker. But remember, when you get the audio and video to edit together, you’re going to need to sync them somehow, and they need to be accurate. You may have an unnoticeable amount of lag at the beginning of the DVD, but by the end, it can grow to whole seconds of lag. That’s not very professional at all!
Mixing your audio
I could literally go on for 50-100 articles on how to mix properly. But I’m not going to, because
- I don’t feel like I’m a good enough mixer to teach you proper technique
- There are already a million articles on the web about how to mix properly
The long and short of it is this: Import the audio into your mixing program of choice (ProTools, Sonar, Reaper, etc.) and make it sound good. Also import the sound from the cameras and mix it INCREDIBLY LOW in the mix – assuming, of course, that it’s not total crap. You can use this camera sound for the cheering of the crowd – just increase and decrease the levels between songs. Or better yet, place a audio capture device (like the handheld ZOOM recorders out there) somewhere near the crowd for even better results.
At the end of this process, you should have audio that you would feel comfortable selling to your fans as a live CD. Once you have that, you can place it into your DVD with no shame.
In the next article we’ll go over some video editing techniques, as well as programs for post production and creating your DVD menus and hidden features! Hang tight, we’re almost done!