Audience Recording Tips

Although a soundboard patch is the most direct way to record a band, and sometimes the cleanest, it isn't always the best sounding. The sound person is mixing the music to sound good in the room, not on a tape. The PA is often used mainly to fill in drums and vocals with the guitar and bass amps on the stage, so the mix may have little or no sound from these instruments, providing a tape of drums and vocals with only the minimal guitar and bass sound picked up by the vocal mics. Even if all the instruments are in the mix, it may be mixed for the room and sound odd played back on a home stereo. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the venue, the more likely it is that the soundboard mix will be unsatisfactory. This rule applies mainly to electrically amplified bands and less to acoustic or bluegrass bands which may run all the instruments throught the PA even in a tiny room. A well made audience or front of board (FOB) tape can often sound better than a soundboard of the same show, which is the reason that some bands do not allow soundboard feeds.

The key to audience taping is positioning your microphones where the sound is best. Generally, the best sound will be to the front of the venue. As a rule of thumb, in the center of the room halfway between the soundboard and the stage is a good place to begin. Sound pressure levels decrease exponentially with distance from the source, so the closer to the stage/PA, the greater the ratio of direct sound to audience & room sound. Often, the closer to the front, the less audience noise you'll get, both because the sound is louder relative to people talking and because people who want to listen rather than talk tend to be up front. Another factor to consider is that the sound person mixes the music to sound good where he or she is: at the soundboard.

The easiest (and one of the least expensive) ways to begin making audience recordings is with a pair of binaural microphones and a high-quality recorder. For analog taping, the Sony WM-D6C at around $400 is the best choice, since it is of much higher quality and reliability than the WM-D3, and the price of a TCD-D5 is as much as a DAT. For digital recording, the Sony TCD-D8 at around $600 and the TCD-D100 (which is being replaced by the PBM-M1 at about the same price) at around $800 are the only entry-level decks available. The next cheapest portable deck is the Tascam DA-P1 at around $1400. (see the DAT-heads mailing list home page for a list of sources and the most recent version of the market guide for more up-to-date information.) There are a number of sources of binaural mics, ranging from MarcSounds and Core Sounds at around $200, to Sonic Studios at $300 or more, to the Neumann and Sennheiser binaural rigs that run into the thousands. Another option, if you are at all handy with a soldering iron, is to build your (admittedly rudimentary) own binaural mics, which can be done for under $30. See my other page for details.

To record with binaural mics, clip them (as near your ears as possible) to glasses or a cap, sit or stand where the music sounds good, and set your levels properly. If you don?t want to hold your head relatively still for the entire set, you can also clip the mics to your collar or to your shoulders. Alternately, you can also use a head-sized nerf ball on some type of stand as a dummy head and avoid the hassle of wearing the mics.

Another useful type of microphone for recording in bars and nightclubs is the PZM. Radio Shack makes a model the runs about $60. These mics are flat plates that should be mounted on a larger surface, such as a wall, table, or even the front of the stage. If you use conventional mics to record near a large surface such as a wall, sound reflecting from the wall will cancel out some of the frequencies, giving your recording an odd imbalance. The PZM avoids this problem by recording at the boundary, where the direct and reflected sound reinforce rather than cancel each other. If you use these, be sure to use the optional 12-volt batteries for full dynamic range and frequency response.

The next step up is to a single point stereo mic. Sony makes a number of these in the $100-200 range, although the Audio Technica AT822 (about $250) may be a better choice if your budget places you at the upper end of the scale. AKG and Neumann also make high-end stereo mics. These mics are convenient and easy to use, but they don't allow the flexibility that a pair of microphones does, and some people don't like the stereo image they create.

Finally, a pair of mics with a stereo bar and a stand provides the greatest versatility in mic placement and stereo image. The cheapest place to start is with a pair of Nakamichi 100 or 300 bodies, which take interchangeable capsules to provide different pickup patterns. Though no longer manufactured, they're sometimes available used for around $400 a pair. The next step up is to AKGs at around $600 a pair, and from there to Microtech Gefells at $1000 or Neumanns or Schoepps at even higher prices. Before making such a large investment, you'd be best served to get the hang of audience recordings with an inexpensive pair of binaurals and patch out of someone with nicer mics whenever you get the chance. Every mic sounds a little bit different, and everyone has different tastes in mics. Shop around and listen carefully before spending a lot of money on mics that may not turn out to suit your needs.

Back to the Binaural Mic Construction page.