Posted: Jun 7, 2022
**Guest post written by Brad Johnson, a musician and producer from Southern California. When he isn’t spending time with his wife and kids at the beach, he is helping songwriters and musicians at Song Production Pros.
"Have you ever listened to a modern live recording and wondered how the performers were so dialed in? Where the singer hit every note, the drummer and bass player stayed tight in the pocket, and the lead guitarist played flawlessly.
Perhaps you've tried doing a live recording of your own band and were horrified by the results. You thought you nailed it, only to find that on playback, your singer was pitchy, your guitarist missed a ton of notes, and the energy from the audience wasn't captured.
What is it that separates your live recordings from the pros? Is it that they are that much better?
Well, not exactly.
I worked alongside a Dove-winning music producer who has done live recordings for some of the most prominent worship bands in the world, and I can assure you that those live records you're comparing yourself to are like the Wizard of Oz.
When you get a peek under the hood, you'll see that those "live sessions" aren't very live.
This article will disclose the top 4 pro tricks I learned that will help you elevate your live recordings and make them sound amazing. However, you will have to keep an open mind as what you learn might surprise you.
Let's dive in!
The first trick to an awesome-sounding live recording is being able to comp together different takes to make one great take. This is standard practice with studio recordings, and the process is the same with live recordings.
There are different methods for getting multiple live takes to use for comping. The two most common are to record numerous nights of a tour or recording takes before the show during soundcheck. Doing this ensures that you have plenty of options to create an excellent framework for the rest of the recording process.
After the initial capture of the live performance, the rest of the process becomes a studio record.
Now, this doesn't mean that everything is re-recorded/overdubbed. The amount of overdubs depends on how strong each musician's performance was.
For example, I've worked with artists who are professionally trained vocalists. Often, the live performance was so good that you didn't need any overdubs.
However, because of the differences in what makes an excellent live performance compared to an outstanding studio performance, often many parts will need overdubbing.
If you think about it, you are entertaining when playing live. This usually accompanies lots of moving around, adrenaline, and showmanship. In the moment of a live experience, heavy breathing, pitchiness, and weak notes go unnoticed by the audience. But when you listen back under the microscope of a recording, those nuances are amplified.
It's important to mention that there are certain instruments that won't get overdubbed and some instruments that are always overdubbed.
The musical instrument that won't get overdubbed is the drums. However, they go through their own editing, which we will touch on in the next section.
Instruments entirely overdubbed are acoustic guitars, keyboards/synths, auxiliary percussion, and bass guitars.
The amount of overdubbing with a live recording depends on the number of fixes that need to happen.
While thinking about overdubbing and comping might make some music purists out there cringe, it's the initial step to making your live performances sound awesome.
Timing drums is a very misunderstood skill set. When Pro Tools Beat Detective changed the game of drum editing, it came with loads of controversy.
You'll have strong opinions that editing drums "to the grid" ruin all vibe and groove. Essentially turning the drums into a machine.
However, you'll also get strong opinions that imperfections are actually a distraction to the everyday listener in modern music who is used to hearing "perfect" music.
While there is merit to both sides of this argument, timing the drums is essential when you want your live recordings to sound awesome.
Live performances are far from perfect. When you get everyone playing together, there will be fluidness and fluctuation. However, when it comes time for overdubbing, you need to have a solid backbeat for the music to react against. This is the only to keep your editing/mixing job easy and to ensure all performances gel together at the end of the project.
There is an art to timing drums correctly to keep the groove intact and sounding natural. It's also a critical step to ensure that you have a solid backbone and guide for the overdubs.
When you have timed drums to the grid, you will be able to utilize all the same studio editing tricks that you would for a typical studio recording. If you want to layer in virtual synths and keyboards, it's easy to program and to have sound natural.
Also, when you need to re-record guitars, bass, or auxiliary percussion, you have a guide to keeping everything in sync.
Having a professional editor time your drums is crucial to making your live recordings sound professional and should not be overlooked.
Here's the thing I learned from listening to countless raw live recordings regarding vocal performance, most sound pitchy.
It's the nature of performing. As stated in the overdubs section, an excellent live vocal performance doesn't always translate to an outstanding vocal performance in a recording.
So it might be surprising for some to hear that those great live recordings you hear often go through a tuning process with software like Melodyne.
Now I know that tuning is another one of those divisive editing tactics that some purists might be vehemently against.
However, great vocal tuning goes beyond making someone sound like T-Pain.
Like timing drums, there's a process in tuning transparent vocals and allowing the performance to not be distracting to the listener and sound amazing.
There are many great benefits to transparently tuning vocals. Still, there is one that I want to touch on concerning live performances.
Suppose you have an outstanding performance, but the entire performance was pitchy. With tuning, you could salvage that performance without having to overdub or release a track that makes you feel like the emperor who has no clothes.
If you want your live recording to sound as best as possible, tuning your vocals is necessary. It will ensure that the performance is not distracting, and the most critical element of your music doesn't clash with the rest of the band.
Live performances are all about energy. That instant response from the performers and the audience is what makes concerts so addicting.
However, in a live recording, often those audience moments are missed. Even if you have room mics set up in the most optimal places, you still don't quite capture the excitement.
So what do you do? You fake it.
Adding in crowd cheers after the fact isn't something that makes any self-respecting musician proud. However, if you're missing that response from the crowd in your live recordings, then your recording won't feel as exciting and full.
The whole point of wanting to release a live recording is to allow your fans to experience an excellent show on-demand. The performance will feel flat if the microphones don't pick up the ravenous crowd roar after a song or during the exciting moments in the performance.
Finding a good stereo sample of crowd cheer can go a long way in adding energy to your live recordings. You can use it for specific sections and end of songs to make the listener feel like they are standing in the venue alongside thousands of other fans.
I understand that this may seem inauthentic to some. Still, it's a tip that I've seen applied to many different live recordings to amplify the energy of a band's performance.
It goes a long way in making your live recording sound awesome. It should be implemented tastefully when you need that extra lift to your track.
Getting a live recording that sounds amazing isn't easy. It takes a skilled engineer and producer to adequately capture your performance and who knows how to properly edit and overdub.
However, I want to encourage you as an artist that you can have a live recording that sounds amazing.
The tricks that I shared with you are insights into how the process is done. If you have the skills or can find the right people, you can elevate your next YouTube performance or live album to new heights.
I hope this article has helped you understand a bit more about the process of making a live recording sound excellent.
Let us know which trick was the most eye-opening for you in the comments below!"
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