Wednesday, November 07, 2007

New toys at the Artsgarden

We're breaking into multitrack digital recording at the Artsgarden. We're picking up all the software and hardware we need now, and as of January 1 we'll be able to offer our performers some extremely cool raw recordings. We've still got to work out some details; while I'm familiar with digital multitrack recording, I've never used Logic Studio before. I suspect I've got some serious study ahead of me. Still, by all reports it blows its competitors away. I'm looking forward to trying it out and seeing what it can do.

We've been recording shows in stereo for quite a while, so we've got a good grasp of what's required for that. But multitrack recording is a different animal. I suspect that one of the big challenges will be breaking old habits. For one thing, I know we'll have to reconsider how we mic percussion. We usually use a single overhead mic for an entire drum kit; with proper mic placement, if you roll up the low end on the EQ, it sounds fine for our usual stereo recording. But we'll have to take a different approach for multitrack. I'm sure there'll be other issues, and I'm sure we'll probably find them the hard way. But it'll be a fun, informative learning curve.

One of our complications as sound guys at the Artsgarden is that we have no rehearsal. We work with a lot of new bands, and we only see our recurring performers two times a year at most. So we go into every performance at least a bit cold and blind. We're intimately familiar with the space, and we know our gear as thoroughly as possible, but we're at best only passingly familiar with the performers and the music. And we only rarely get a full sound check; the norm is a few minutes to set monitor levels. We improvise the live sound on the fly, and simultaneously handle a separate recording mix.

We're required to multitask like this a lot. In addition to a horde of setup crew, road shows have three audio engineers: the front-of-house engineer, the monitor engineer, and a recording engineer. We do all this work with a crew of one single sound guy, who sets up and tears down as well as handling monitor and FOH sound as well as mixing the live recording. Some of our shows are small enough or low-tech enough that it's a reasonable one-man job. But we also do performances for which a crew of three or four might be more appropriate, and it's still just one guy doing the work. (Let me take a moment to say how happy I am to have Chris working with me; there aren't a lot of sound guys who are capable of doing all this as extremely well as he does.)

So, given the complexity of what we're already doing, I hesitate a bit to add more to our job duties. But that's the beauty of multitrack recording: the recording takes almost no active work on the part of the sound guy. The real complexity comes later, after the show's over, when you mix down the recorded tracks to a finished recording. So it'll take time later but won't add a lot to our live-show workload. I also suspect it'll be a lot of fun, and it's a real added value to our performers. I still need to figure out how to interface with the performers about the recording, but I'll work on that between now and our live date of January 1, 2008.

There's also talk about streaming our shows live on the internet; it may or not happen, but our issues with that are much more legal than technical. More on that at another time.

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