How to Make an Authorized “Bootleg”

Posted on February 19, 2010

-by Dark Star Dan

A nice way to make a quick and full-bodied live recording is by creating what is called a Matrix. This technique was developed by innovative tapers years ago and is quite an effective way of making a really good recording of one of your favorite bands or musical aggregations.

I’ve built an enormous archive of live recorded music over the years, and what I’ve done many times is to bring a small mix board (an 8 or 10 channel) with a couple of directional microphones or one stereo microphone to the show. I would set up the mics in what I perceived to be the room’s “sweet spot”. The “sweet spot” is usually a place in the room that is centered as perfectly as possible between the two main speakers of a venue (for stereo-imaging), and appropriately far back enough to hear the sound “develop” by the time it reaches you. Make sure that you’re not too far back, or you will lose much of the sound pressure level (SPL) and pick up too much ambient room noise. (Although sometimes getting the band’s direct sound off the stage is actually preferable.)

To secure the microphone sweet spot in a room, you usually have to go to the venue early and get an OK from both the club and the band itself. In some cases, you’ll have to be creative to figure out where you can fly microphones without the mics or your cables being trampled by a room full of people dancing. In most cases, setting up a mic stand in the middle of a crowd is not an option, so you will have to hang mics from a ceiling pipe, hook, strong cable, beam, or anything else you can latch onto. Many times I’ve literally taped a stereo mic in-between two wire coat-hangers and suspended the hangers from a ceiling pipe. (I’ve had to do that a few times at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco.)  Half the fun of making an authorized “bootleg” is all the creative ways you can think of to place the microphones where you want them.

Once you have satisfied your room placement and have run all your cables, you’ll want to plug those two inputs (either from a single stereo mic or two room mics) into two channels of the mix board. Then take the left and right feed from the soundboard mix and try to balance the two sources together. This won’t be a 50/50 mix, but the balance, equalization and panning is at your discretion.

That’s the simpler way to do it.  Now, a more preferable and detailed way would be to take individual feeds from the house soundboard’s “Direct Outs” and feed them to your mix board.  These are usually 1/4″ inserts on the back of the soundboard.  This allows you to have more control over each individual musician onstage, and you can adjust the elements that you want to give more clarity. For me, this is usually the vocals, kick drum, snare drum, guitars, and whatever else I have room for on my board.

Remember, with this type of recording, your main feed comes from the stereo mic or room mics hanging from the ceiling (or wherever you placed them).  The direct feeds are to add clarity for each individual musician. With this kind of individual control, you are essentially an artist painting your canvas with the audio recording. Each channel represents a different color and stroke of your brush. You also have the option of using in-board effects such as reverb, delay, limiting, or compression, to further enhance your recording.

To aid this whole process, you will need very good headphones that can isolate your recording as best as possible while working in a noisy environment. If you can, find a location within the venue where you don’t have to deal with so much room noise. Make sure you have plenty of cabling in case you need to travel. Also, make sure you bring a road case or tool box with you, and plenty of adaptor cables and supplies, to be ready for any situation.  I have discovered that many sound engineers at these venues are not necessarily happy to see a person looking for a soundboard feed to make a recording. The key is to always be nice, accommodating, and professional. When they see that you really know what the heck you are doing, a mutual respect will develop.

Finally, make sure you are paying attention to what you are doing. Periodically check the recording unit to see that the numbers are moving and that you have audio levels. Nothing is worse than thinking you are making a recording and later realizing that the deck was in record/pause mode. This is tantamount to taking a roll of photos with the lens cap still on the camera. I promise you, this mistake only happens once because the pain of such a gaffe never leaves you…

Hope this was informative, and happy archiving!

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.

Live Stream, Event Recording, Audio Recording, A/V, Audio-Visual, events