Home Recording Studio Types: Live - dummies

By Jeff Strong

Thirty years ago, when a band wanted to record, the members all went into a studio together, set up their gear in one large room (with maybe a few dividers between them), and played as if they were at a concert. Then they would overdub a guitar solo, backup vocals, and maybe a few percussion instruments.

The beauty of this type of recording for a band is that you have a better chance of capturing the magic of a live performance. The disadvantage is that it takes a little more recording skill to get a good sound.

For the live studio, you need a recorder with at least as many available simultaneous tracks as you think you need for your band. Eight tracks are usually enough for most bands. The tracks would break down as follows:

  • Rhythm guitar: 1 track

  • Bass guitar: 1 track

  • Piano, organ, or synthesizer: 1 or 2 tracks

  • Rough vocals: 1 track

    You generally record this track over again after the rest are done to get a cleaner track.

  • Drums: 2–4 tracks

    The number of tracks varies depending on the type of sound that you want. You may need a separate mixer to create a submix of the drums if you’re only using 2 tracks.

Aside from the simultaneous track count, you probably want extra tracks available to record a guitar solo, background vocals, and maybe percussion instruments. In this case, a 16-track recorder is a great solution. If you want more flexibility in getting your band’s sound, you could get a recorder that can record as many as 16 simultaneous tracks.

The following illustration shows a system that can work well for live recording. This setup is illustrated using a stand-alone recorder, because most stand-alone recorders can record all their available tracks simultaneously. With this system, you need a separate mixer and all the cords to connect them.

A system for live recording.

A system for live recording.

If you’re one of those many people who like to record 1 or 2 tracks at a time but still want to play all the instruments live (with no MIDI sequencing), your need for lots of simultaneous tracks is reduced. An SIAB system is probably your best solution because it costs less and takes up less space.

You can also use a computer-based system to record all the instruments live. Just make sure that you have both the inputs and available tracks that you need.

If you record all the instruments live (all at once or one at a time), you also need to have enough microphones and mic stands. And you must contend with making your room conducive to recording live instruments.

With the many ways to configure a home recording system, you’ll probably lean more toward one type of system than another (computer-based, SIAB, or stand-alone). Then it’s just a matter of weeding through the options until you find one that resonates with you (and your budget).