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Sound Advice

Live Recording in the Studio by Kevin Doyle

Recently, I was approached by David Deacon and the Word to co-produce and record an album; with the intention of recording the band ‘live-off-the-floor’, including solos and vocals. Their wish was to capture a live organic sound, using all-natural instruments and no computer-based sequencing or sampling.

I was somewhat surprised by this request. In the last three years, I have worked on more than thirty albums, but even so, the last album I recorded live-off-the-floor was in the fall of 1992.

I looked forward to the challenge of re-discovering recording methods that would maximize the sound quality without compromising the flexibility to be efficient and practical in the live environment.

For the drums, I used a 421 for the midrange and a D112E for the low end of the bass drum. After moving the mics around for the optimum position, I used an old Neve EQ to add extra low end and midrange. On the snare, I used two SM 57s: one on top, and the other underneath. After getting the right blend, I added a little top end from a Neve EQ. For the toms, I used KM 100s (-10dB) for their warm low end and clean top end. For the overheads, I used a pair of 414s with their phase reversed. I found that without the phase reversal, I was experiencing acoustic phasing problems in the low end. I tend to never roll off the low end on the overheads, because I like the richness they add to the toms and snare. If I have too much snare in the overhead mics, I’ll strap a stereo compressor over them with a very fast attack and fast release time.

For the bass, I used a Sanken CU-41 on the amp and an active DI. The Sanken is a great mic for bass and guitar amps. The microphone is almost impossible to overload, and has great low frequency response, which are features hard to find in a condenser microphone.

I used two Neve 1073 modules as mic pre-amps and EQ on the bass. I find the 1073s have a great low end and can be punchy and warm. Before hitting tape, I used a little compression from an LA-2 for the DI and a highly-modified LA-3 for the amp.

David Shaw, the piano player and co-producer, informed me that he would be doing very dynamic solos live off the floor, and also some very quiet playing in some of the verses. With this in mind, I chose to use two B+K 4000 series microphones, and the Drawmer 1960 mic pre-amps, for their great transient response and tube sound. I had my assistant, Stuart Brawley (a piano virtuoso in his own right), place the mic pre-amps right on the floor, and under my instructions from the control room, had him set the appropriate levels. After adding about 3dB at 15kHz with some outboard GML EQs, I went directly to tape from the 1960, bypassing the console completely.

With the guitars, I used a stereo DI and a U-67 (-10dB) and SM 57 on the amp. The U-67 has a really warm low end, and the 57 has a good midrange. Depending on the guitar part, I would vary the mixture of the microphones, rather than using EQ. If I needed to use any compression, I used an LA-3 or Summitt.

For the acoustic guitars, I really like the sound of a B+K mic with a Pultec EQ. With acoustic guitars, pianos and many other acoustic instruments, I tend to avoid using any compression at all. I’m still waiting for the optimum compressor for some acoustic instruments that doesn’t affect the quality of the sound.

For the lead vocals, I placed the singer on the floor so he was able to have good eye contact with all the members of the band. I prefer good tube mics, with a GML pre-amp on the floor. For compression, I’ll switch between a dbx 165a or a UREI with a GML or API equalizer.

I’ve been extremely satisfied recording like this recently, and am really enjoying live recording again.

Kevin Doyle has engineered recent projects for Shirley Eikhard, Harem Scarem and Lawrence Gowan, and is currently Head Engineer at D.A.V.E. (formerly Sounds Interchange)

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