Help an amateur sound recordist
March 15, 2015 3:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm recording a little concert tonight and trying not to botch it

I know the banjo player in this band and he gave me permission to film his concert tonight. I'm making a little documentary for a class project. The thing is, I don't have any experience in this type of sound recording, so I need advice on how not to make a fool of myself. I'm not looking for something professional-quality, but I don't want to completely botch this.

For the audio, a (equally inexperienced) friend is helping me record. I have a zoom recorder and a Shure sm57 mic. Obviously it's not great to have only one mic but this is kind of a test run. Where should my friend stand to get the best sound? For the Video, I have a Canon DSLR. I'm really only looking to get three or four songs recorded. Does this plan make any sense? Is it bad to do this in such an experimental fashion? Anything pitfalls I can hopefully avoid?
posted by winterportage to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The SM57 is not a terrific recording mic. Can you record a feed from the soundboard?
posted by Jode at 4:39 PM on March 15, 2015

What model Zoom do you have? Most of them are self-contained (microphones inside). I have an old Zoom H2 that records wonderfully all by itself.

Obvious things to check: Fresh batteries or AC power source, memory card with enough free space to accommodate the recording, check levels during tune-up (better too low than too high). You can plug a pair of headphones into the Zoom and hear what you're recording while it happens.

Center placement is usually best for stereo imaging. Also, try to put the recorder on something (mic stand, tripod, shelf), they tend to pick up handling noise.
posted by erebora at 4:58 PM on March 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

As mentioned by erebora, the Zoom H2 has a nice sensitive stereo mic in it... but you have to be really-really super careful about avoiding any jostling or vibrations! The one that I had came with a little plastic baton for holding it up by hand, and the manual actually recommends wearing a glove (!) (and probably breathing as little as possible, if you go this way.) If you can find a stable shelf to sit it on, try to put a mouse-pad under it.

There's a simple sound level filter if the band is too loud. The batteries run down pretty fast, so installing fresh alkalines is a good idea. The recording display is really dinky: a tiny little red light comes on and blinks to check levels, but you are not actually recording unless the tiny little red light is on solid. Good luck.
posted by ovvl at 6:29 PM on March 15, 2015

If they're mic'ed, and you can't get a direct feed from the sound board, put your SM57 about 5 feet in front of the speakers, in a place where it's unlikely to pick up other noise or be jostled around. I've recorded concerts by holding my non-professional handheld tape recorder next to my shoulder, standing in front of the speakers, with quite good results. Of course, if there's a large separation for stereo between different speakers, this may not be so effective. As others have noted, the SM57 isn't going to be very good for recording directly -- it needs close and normal-volume, or further away and loud, you won't be able to set the mic up in the middle of the room and get a good recording of an unamplified performance. I also wouldn't worry about trying to make stereo recording work; if you don't have much control over the environment it's going to be tough, so just work on getting one good channel of audio out of it.

If you can get in to test and set up during a non-audience sound check (if there even is one; maybe ask the band to do something just for you, since they're aware of what you're doing), do your tinkering there -- when the live performance gets going, you're not going to have a lot of time to get things set up.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:33 AM on March 16, 2015

Basically you want to get the Zoom reasonably close to the band (within 10 ft), while keeping it more or less equidistant from every sound source (instrument, amp, etc). If the Zoom has built in mics, definitely use those instead of the SM57, which is a better mic for up close, single sound source recording (lead vocals, guitar amp, or a snare drum for example).

Once you establish a general location for the Zoom, the single most important thing you need to do is check the levels to make sure you are not recording a signal that is too low (will be quiet and noisy) or too high (may distort and become unlistenable). If the Zoom has a built in sound meter that makes it fairly easy, otherwise the only way to check levels is record and listen back to the sound (also a great idea but not always feasible in a live setting).

If the Zoom has a gain or input level knob, you can adjust levels that way. Otherwise, you have to physically move the Zoom toward / away from the band to adjust the levels

Once you have adjusted you levels and have a final location for the Zoom, find something to prop it up with and just leave it there. I would not recommend holding it in your hand, although if hand held recording is the only way to get a good position, I guess that's a tradeoff worth making. Also keep in mind that if you end up standing in a crowd surrounded by people, the Zoom will pick up a lot of crowd noise, which may or may not be a problem (probably less so while the band is actually playing, if you're close enough).

Finally, keep the orientation of the Zoom in mind. It may have a prefered axis that likes to be pointed at the sound for best reproduction. If you're holding it in your hand, even small movements / changes in orientation may be audible in the recording. Just keep that in mind.

The biggest X factor here is the band itself, and what kind of sound they produce, which is something you really can't control. But if you follow these guidelines more or less, I would expect you'll get a very nice sounding result. Good luck!
posted by grog at 7:41 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not sure if I've missed you before you record but I'd just use the inbuilt mics on the zoom. They're really very acceptable! I'd ignore the SM57 in this instance. If you can put the Zoom on a stand (the H4N has a standard tripod mount on the bottom) then definitely do that. You need to place it somewhere in the room that sounds balanced to you or even better... sounds balanced through headphones. Too near the back of the room and you'll get too much audience noise. If they're a well balanced acoustic band then somewhere very close could work, if they're a loud amplified band you'll want to be further back. If they are a good sounding acoustic band then using a gorrillapod to attach to lights above them may work perfectly!

Not sure if which Zoom you have but the H4N can record through it's inputs as well as the mic so you could take 2 channels from the sound desk as well as using the inbuilt mics but that may just add complexity. Best of luck! Use your ears and make sure that the level that you're recording isn't too high... (peaks of between -6 and -12db are perfect)

PS Here's a little bit of film about recording an album purely on the inbuilt mics on a Zoom... it's pretty cool!
posted by Mr Ed at 10:15 AM on March 16, 2015

Use your Zoom for this (assuming it is an H2n or H4n). Close-mic a speaker, use the XY mode (not MS if you have the H2n; no choice if you have the H4n).

Adjust your gain during soundcheck so that is peaks between -6db and -12db, put it on a tripod with a standard tripod thread. Record in 24-bit/96k (you can still get 15 hours on a 32GB SDHC card at this quality).

Mic'ing from your seat will make everything sound really distant like it's in a small cave. You really do need to close-mic with the Zoom.

Just realized this concert was last night. Well, maybe this will help next time.
posted by TinWhistle at 12:57 PM on March 16, 2015

Response by poster: Thx for your help everyone! This will definitely be useful for next time TinWhistle, thx
posted by winterportage at 7:41 PM on March 16, 2015

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