Tapping a Live Mixer to Record Your Show - dummies

By Jeff Strong

Live recordings are always fan favorites, and if your band plays live shows, recording them can be easy. One of the great things about recording a live performance is that you can spend a lot less time on your recording. Pre-production is taken care of in the process of rehearsing your show (where you get really good at playing your songs) and in the process of doing your show’s soundcheck (where the front of house [FOH] engineer mixes your sound for the room). Post-production is sped up because if you did a good show, your songs, sounds, and sequencing (the order in which you play your song) have been perfected as you created and honed your show.

All that’s really left to do is get good, clean tracks off the FOH mixing board and fine-tune some of the production when you later mix your show. The process of mixing your show is essentially the same as mixing the tracks that you recorded in your studio for a studio CD. The only thing different with recording a live show is tapping the FOH mixing board and running each track (or series of tracks as sub-mixes if you’re limited in your total track counts) into your recorder.

To record your live show by tapping the FOH mixing board, you need to following gear:

  • A recording system: This can be a laptop with an audio interface, a studio-in-a-box (SIAB) recording system or a stand-alone recorder.

  • Cords to plug the FOH mixer into your system: In most cases, these are 1/4-inch TS to 1/4-inch TS cords. One cord is needed for each channel or submix you want to tap from the FOH board.

  • High-quality headphones: You’ll have someone monitoring your recorder as the show is happening, and they need to be able to hear what’s going into the recorder. Ideally, these headphones offer enough sound isolation that the room’s sound is attenuated enough to allow you to hear the recorder’s sound.

Tapping into the FOH system is pretty easy. Here’s what you do:

  1. Set up your recorder.

    Choose a place within reach of the main mixing board out of the way of the sound engineer. You’re secondary to the engineer because you’re relying on him to make the band (and by extension, you) sound good.

    Before starting, make sure you have enough storage space for the entire show. Remember that for each track you record, you’re using about 7.5MB of space for each minute of recording (at 24bit/44.1kHz). So, if you have a 90-minute show and you’re recording 16 tracks, you’ll need at least 11GB of space. To be safe, you should have at least 15GB. If you record at 96kHz, plan on 30GB of free disc space.

  2. Set up a song or session in your recorder.

    Assign the number of tracks you plan to record to their accompanying inputs on your audio interface, SIAB, or stand-alone recorder. Use the same layout as the FOH mixer to eliminate confusion (especially if you’re also the house engineer).

    The number of physical inputs you have available in your recording system is going to dictate whether you can tap all the live sound mixer’s channels or whether you’re going to need to arrange some submixes for instruments like drums. Consult the mixer’s owner’s manual or the FOH engineer if you need submixes.

  3. Insert the TS cords for each recorder input track to the corresponding Insert jack in the live sound mixer.

    Consult the mixer’s owner’s manual for whether you push the plug all the way in or just one click (most use one click). You want to make sure that you aren’t interrupting the flow of the signal through the mixer, instead simply “tapping” the signal as it passes through the mixer.

  4. Arm each track in your song/session.

    Hopefully, you do this before the band’s soundcheck because you want to make sure that each track has a signal. Also, make sure you can hear each track in your headphones.

  5. Adjust the input level of each track.

    You want a good, hot signal for each track. It’s okay if the balance between tracks is not perfect.

  6. Click Record.

    Again, ideally you get to do this during the soundcheck so you can confirm that you’re successfully capturing the sound to disc or tape.

  7. Playback your test recording.

    If it plays back okay, you’re good to go. If not, test your connections and session settings.

  8. Return to the start of your song/session; re-arm your tracks if you disarmed them during your test.

  9. Wait for the show to begin.

  10. Hit Record as the band is getting on stage or a few minutes earlier.

    You can remove any silence later if you want.

  11. Click Stop when the show is over.

    At this point, you should copy the audio that you recorded onto a second drive, or USB jump drive. It’s risky to have this data in just one place, especially as you transfer gear.

Keep a close eye on your recording as the band plays. You may need to adjust the level of some tracks because the musicians can get excited and play louder than they did during the soundcheck. Also, you’ll probably find the levels creep up during the performance. Adjust your input as necessary, but try not to make any abrupt changes because this will give you more work to do later when you mix the music.