Today’s question deals with recording live concerts. Ryan Canestro discusses this with me inside Home Recording Tactics, but let’s take a look at today’s question.

David writes:

Joe, I want to use a laptop to play my tracks with video. I also would like to use software like Sonar, etc to work as a mixer. I.E. for effects.

I was hoping to send my wireless through a soundcard into the laptop and have both the live mic and recorded tracks return through the soundcard into the PA. Can this be done and what would be the best setup?

Good question, David.

This certainly can be done, but you want to make sure this is something you REALLY want to do, because it will take quite a bit of effort to set up, and there’s a good chance it won’t work every time.

Why? Because any time you try to use a computer-based system for a live event, there’s always the chance the computer simply won’t behave properly.

The Computer Rig

If you decide to go the computer route, you’ll want to treat the live event kind of like a recording session.

First off, don’t use the computer’s sound card. You’ll end up with all sorts of noise and grounding issues. Use a proper audio interface.

Secondly, you’ll want to set up the Sonar session with all the backing tracks cued and mixed like you want them, then have an audio track set up for your vocals. This track will be “live,” so it will need to be record-enabled, or perhaps you could just use an aux track if you don’t want to record the vocals.

Using a DAW as a mixer is certainly a great idea in theory. You can add EQ, compression, and effects to each track, and you can adjust the levels, all from within your laptop. However, I’m not a big fan of being COMPLETELY reliant on a computer for a live event. If it hiccups, gets an error message, crashes, whatever, you’ll have to stop EVERYTHING and fix it.

This isn’t a big deal in the studio, but at a live show with fans watching, this is super embarrassing.

However, if you test everything, use as little plug-ins as possible, and like to take risks, it can certainly be done.

An Alternate Solution

If recording the vocal isn’t important to you, and you simply want a system to play back backing tracks and amplify your vocals, you could use something as simple as a mixer and an iPod.

Load up your backing tracks on a playlist in your iPod, and run the iPod directly to the PA system along with your microphone. An iPod is much less likely to crash compared to a laptop.

OR you could use a USB mixer, which will allow you to play back tracks from iTunes on your laptop. Then you could run your microphone directly to the mixer. In this scenario the computer ONLY has to play back a song from iTunes, rather than run an entire DAW setup.

Hope this helps!

Do YOU have a suggestion? Leave a comment!

[Photo by Karen Roe]

  • Alexav

    Which will be an alternative of using DAW? could be a hard drive disk recorder or multitrack recorder like Tascam portastudio?

    • Yep. But those are becoming less and less used.

  • Pingback: 7 Tips for a Successful Live Concert Recording [With Audio Example!] | Home Studio Corner()

  • Bill McDonald

    Hello Joe, the question I have is what would be the best setup with an 8/8 interface, in otherwords recording with 8 mic,s the Band concist of, Drums, 2 guitars lead vocals and 1 back up vocal and a Bass guitar. I have an M-Audio Fast Track Ultra 8R and a Zoom HD16. and I would like to know what would be my best option and how I would setup. thanks

  • i go the ipod route with the backing tracks for my band. well more like clicks, sequences, samples, electronic drums, synths, etc. i pre-mix everything and then pan all the samples right and pan the click track left. i split the signal so my drummer gets the click and the audience gets the synth. way more reliable than a laptop šŸ™‚ the only scary thing is, since all the samples and sometimes even backup vox are synced with a click, if the drummer starts late, or misses a beat somewhere, the whole song gets off. hasn’t happened yet though.

  • Cush

    The only live recording I’ve done is with the StudioLive 16.4.2. I recorded the show with Capture. (One of) the great things about the Studiolive is that it’s an Interface that doubles as a mixer. So if my laptop crashes or decides to be a, uhhh…problem, I can still run all the live sound off of the mixer and no one is any the wiser of my laptop issues. Except for the band when I tell them that I’m not able to record the show. Also, capture is super simple and requires practically no computer resources.

  • Daniel

    I toured for a major artist for a while that had backing tracks synced with video. We used Quicktime movies mixed in 7.1 surround sound, running out through an 8-output interface… This allowed us 8 separate, mixable tracks, that were always perfectly synced to video: all contained in a very resource-conservative movie. This prevented us from having to run any DAW software, and in the year I was playing with this artist, we never had a single instance of the tracks/video malfunctioning.