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Capturing Live Energy in Studio

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by blipndub, Jun 22, 2007.

  1. So Gray Daisy just finished mixing our latest cd and after months and months of work we've come to realize that most of the recordings just plain suck. Great songs, some okay tones but real lackluster. We keep coming back to the term tentative to describe the sessions. Two of the guys in the band have been around forever and have two excellent albums under them, me and the drummer have never recorded before and this was our first trip to the studio with this band.

    What tips to you guys have for bringing good energy into the studio. How do you balance out playing the parts right with keeping the recklessness that makes live performance so exciting?

    I feel like I need to play with a different technique in the studio because of the different sonic characteristics of hearing every detail and that impacts my freedom I think.

    I'm excited for the opportunity to go in again and do it right, but I'm nervous that we will end up with another flat sounding session.
  2. record live. everyone together.
  3. That is actually what we did last time in a long and narrow room. One of those deals where you have headphones half on so you can hear the room. The room was weird and I didn't feel very comfortable so maybe that's something we'll think about too, how we set up in the room. It's like a 30X12 room.
  4. set up room mics and wear the phones all the way on both ears.
  5. Phalex

    Phalex Semper Gumby Supporting Member

    Oct 3, 2006
    G.R. MI
    Red Bull and Espresso all around!!
  6. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    After years of trying to capture the live feel in the studio I've come to the conclusion that the whole idea of doing so might just be fantasy. Some bands excel on stage and don't fair as well in the studio, others have a helluva rough time on stage but make magic happen in the studio. Some are fortunate enough to have both.

    All of the recordings we did with The Nerve were done pretty much live in the studio with few overdubs and regardless of how we miced the room, the drums, bass - whatever - the recordings lacked that certain something we had on the stage. I did though learn a few things that I think DO make a difference...

    First, the engineer/producer has a lot more to do with the energy of the recordings than most people might think. We had one CD mixed by 2 different succesful producers. Both mixes are good, you hear all the instruments well, and they'd stand up well to any other CD mixes. For whatever reason though from one guy the songs sound completely lifeless and dead, from the other they're overflowing with energy. Couldn't say exactly what makes the difference (drum sounds, reverbs, and how the vocals sit in the mix count for a lot for sure), but I guess my point is make sure the guy mixing the stuff knows how to get the vibe you're looking for.

    The other thing is that after several unsuccessful attempts at the live feel, we decided to go the "studio" route, and I believe it worked. We had no problems going over well live. Only our recordings were lackluster. We also until this point had this silly idea that we didn't want to put anything on a cd that we couldn't reproduce with at least some authenticity, live. We were cutting our noses to spite our faces, shooting ourselves in the foot, whatever you choose to call it. Our last CD we did whatever we had to do to make the recordings sound full and alive. Multiple guitars, backing vocals that were impossible to pull off live, fx, synthesisers, anything and everything we could use production wise to make the CD tracks stand up to our live performances. This is the only thing that has really ever worked for us. It worked for craploads of other bands you hear every day on the radio too. Most groups can't pull off live what they do in the studio, but if they kick ass live anyway - guess what? Nobody cares.

    In short, I think it's better to abandon the idea of getting a bands "live" feel in the studio, and treating the studio as a completely different medium. You can try to make a water color painting look like oils, but I don't think it's gonna happen.
  7. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    And that works too. :)
  8. +1 on Joe Nerve's comment about the producer/engineer. it is entirely possible (and quite common) to mix the energy right out of a recording. experiment with different EQs to bring things out in the mix, as well as compression, reverbs, etc. because while you can take the energy out of a recording with a bad mix, you can also put energy into a recording with a good mix.
  9. Thanks all, good words. I appreciate the idea of not "capturing" the live sound but creating a good studio sound, that makes sense.

    The engineering was one of the problems on the recordings. We got the mastering stage and realized there was no middle bass freqeuency. My bass was too low and the guitars were too high in the eq spectrum. So even though a few of the performances were fine the mix just has no life whatsoever and sounds really tiny when trying to compensate for badly eq'd tracks.

    I'm working to balance not shouldering the responsibility of an engineering mistake while at the same time not saying "hey that's not my problem it's an engineering mistake!"

    If it were just a bad recording that would be one thing, but I always felt these recordings were lackluster so I'm glad to take another crack.

    We also spent just two days on 12 songs, and we're re-examining whether that was a good idea. We reminded ourselves that the Beatles selected take 27 of Hey Jude. So we may just need more time.

    Fortunately we've been playing live for a few months with the new songs so we all have our parts down better than when we went in, some of the songs were only a few weeks old when we recorded them.
  10. If you are not using the "get it all in one shot with overdubs later" method...some bands record by having the full band play together but recording only the drum tracks.

    This gives you a live feel drum track with the interaction of the musicians affecting it.

    The other tracks can be added separately to that drum track. If desired, the drummer can go back a do an entirely new take to the new mix of instruments.

    As others said, getting a "good sound" can be a totally different thing from a "good live sound." You and the band have to decide if you want a "studio" album or one that actually sounds like your band does on stage.

    I've always felt that the recording doesn't lie - assuming you don't have shortcomings in the micing, EQ, etc. in the studio, then what you hear on the recording is what happened. If it doesn't sound good, then maybe the band doesn't kick as much ass live as it thinks it does...
  11. This was my concern when we were talking about it last night. What if the recording is totally true and it's just us that suck? But fortunately I was overruled in my opinion by the others and the engineer pointed to one track and said "if you can do this you can do a whole album that's as good." So that was reassuring.
  12. We went back into the studio this weekend to re-record six songs that we felt were lacking and came away with great new sparkling tracks that I think we are all really pleased with. We've had a number of shows with these songs so we definitely knew our parts better and had a generally more relaxed feel.

    I totally switched bass rigs and it made a huge difference. On the tracks we ended up keeping from the first session I laid down new bass tracks on all of them with the new set up.

    The problem was: there weren't any middle lows. To try to compensate in mixing we boosted the low range of the kick drum which made everything muddy and the bass was lost. I recorded the first session using a GK 1001 into an Avatar Delta 212 playing a flatwound strung precision bass with original fender reissue pickups and a lot of pick playing. We ran a di and miced the cab. Sounded good solo but totally off in the mix.

    For this session I used my Nash jazz bass with Rio Grandes and roundwound strings into a SWR 350 (which has a tube pre-amp) into a SWR Goliath SR 610. The difference changes the entire feel of the record. The bass has it's place which means the drums don't need to take up as much space (and they do anyway because we have such a busy drummer) and every note is articulate and clear. Fabulous.

    I'm disappointed in my Avatars. I A/B'd them with the SWR cab and the avatars sounded super dry and brittle by comparison. The SWR cab hit you in the chest with a full sonic assault, the Avatar was just kind of loud and dull. I ran my full Avatar stack of 212 and 210 to compare. Even when I ran my super clean GK into the SWR it sounded sweet and full. So the avatars are great for the money but they just didn't compare. I would be curious to hear an Avatar 410 set up. I don't know how much of that punch comes from the 10' speakers.
  13. DanielleMuscato


    Jun 19, 2004
    Columbia, Missouri, USA
    Endorsing Artist, Schroeder Cabinets
    You could always do a live album.

    We've had good luck with inviting friends into the studio with us and playing for them.


  14. Bassic83


    Jul 26, 2004
    Texas, USSA
    On the bass tracks I have recorded in the past, I have used J-format instruments into a DI. The drummer was set up in the main room, the gui**** was in an iso booth, and I was sitting or standing behind the board with the engineer. I think most of my tracks had no amp at all, there were a couple of tracks that we ended up recutting the bass part due to imbalance of sound between the amp and DI. The DI always won. I didn't have cans on, I was listening through the mains. I think that helped the energy, plus I had direct eye contact with the drummer. YMMV.
  15. Why would you do only the drum tracks if the whole band is playing? Why not go ahead and record everyone?
  16. For my bass overdubs (which ended up being everything on the old tracks and drop ins on the newer ones) I was in the control room with the engineer and our producer/guitarist and even though I was nervous at first it really made it easier to hear it "live" through the monitors than in headphones.
  17. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    One big difference between gigging and recording is that in the studio, it's the engineer who has direct control over your sound - not you.

    I've had some very frustrating experiences with engineers who are clueless about how to record bass. Generally, the problem is way too much compression. They're afraid of the dynamic peaks getting out of control - so they characteristically just smother the signal entirely...

    On one demo session I did a few years ago, we did a test take, then ran into the booth to listen to the playback. The engineer didn't even bother to include the bass - there was simply no bottom to the sound at all. I protested.

    We did another couple of takes, then listened to the playback again. This time the bass was there, but was completely devoid of any life or character. There was no attack, no guts, no nothing. The engineer had utterly squashed me in the mix - then seemed surprised at me when I took issue with it... :rolleyes:

    I insisted that he back way off on the compression - and I brought it up to the session leader too. But since the leader either didn't perceive the problem - or rather didn't want to have a confrontation over it - I ultimately just let the matter go, figuring it was his money paying for an inferior outcome - not mine.

    Anymore, I never assume that the engineer knows what he's doing. AFAIC, he's ignorant until proven otherwise... :eyebrow:

  18. Bassic83


    Jul 26, 2004
    Texas, USSA
    I don't let them compress my track until mixdown. I want it whole, if it is later determined that it is too "peaky", they can compress it if it's necessary to the song (still not much, and I try for none). A little can go a long way!

    Automatically squashing the bass like a common cockroach is inexcusable! I spent a lot of time and energy developing a smooth, consistent technique. I can kind of understand, if the track is really hot to begin with with; but that shouldn't have happened in the first place, if the engineer was on his game.
  19. Our engineer is quite experienced and is a bass player himself so it wasn't that he didn't think it was important or know how to record bass, I think it was more the scope of the drum tracking was more than we anticipated. I mean we've got a Keith Moon stream of consciousness drummer and he makes a huge footprint on the tracks, I think at the time the bass sound was good, but in the end it didn't stand up in the mixing.

    I also think my approach to the recording the first time was pretty passive, I was trying to stay out of the way of the drummer. This time I went in with a much more aggressive presence and not holding back, including willing to make mistakes knowing that they could be corrected (helped by the producer saying it's okay to make mistakes, which he hadn't before even though he probably felt that way).

    The tracks this time around actually sound like ME as opposed to the first session which may as well have been programed "generic low end rumble #3".

    So using a more ballsy rig helped a lot, but my being braver helped as much.
  20. While I absolutely agree that compression should be minimal at tracking unless you're going for a specific tone, I can tell you that as an engineer and studio owner (and bass player), unless YOU are the client (in most cases here, the 'client' is the person who writes the checks), that's not really your call to make... More important, with a competent engineer, this isn't an issue - you as a bass player won't hear it.
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    Primary TB Assistant

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