Don’t record your live show audio like this

Recording a 2-track stereo mix of a live show is a very simple task on its own. You take a 2-channel sound card and a laptop, take two outputs from the mixer and record it into any DAW of your choice. Or, you might even use a portable recorder from Zoom or Tascam and skip the sound card and laptop altogether. Some mixers also give you the option to record directly into a USB drive like Behringer X32. Whichever method you follow, the process of recording the audio is fairly simple. But there is only one glitch in this matrix.


90% of the time the 2-track audio being recorded is assigned ‘post-insert’ and ‘post-fader’ to the Master out via a ‘matrix’ that includes all the eq done to the PA system to correct room anomalies or even cut out on potential feedback frequencies. All this eq done for the venue, is meant for the audience present there — so they get to hear a good sounding concert, possibly without feedbacks too  but definitely not meant to be a part of the recorded audio.

In layman terms, all the processing done to make those brand of speakers sound good in that room, is also getting recorded into your audio. That is like serving the tea leaves along with the tea after you have taken the hassle to carefully strain it. I am sure if you are served tea like that in a cafe, you will not accept it. Then why in the case of audio?

Because you are not aware, well, until now at least, of how this tea should be served. If you are using that recorded audio just as reference to hear how you performed so you can identify your mistakes and improve on it next time, it is still okay to record the 2-track this way. But if you plan to release it publicly, then you should try and avoid this anomaly altogether. How big of a difference does it make you might ask. Have a look below at one instance of the PA eq for an outdoor venue done by an FOH engineer (someone who mixes the audio for the audience).

As you can see, the engineer felt he needed to do a lot of eq-ing to make the speakers sound good that day at that venue. Now I am not questioning whether this eq on the PA was a correct decision or not. What I am asking you to consider, as a musician or an engineer (or even a listener), is would you like this eq change to also get recorded into your audio? The audio that you are recording straight from the mixer, is going straight from the instruments via cables, via mixer, into your sound card or into some other recording device (Tascam or USB or even video camera feed). So, the speakers or the room correction eq should not have any interference in that part of the audio. Why then would you want to deteriorate it by another eq that is meant as a fix for a different problem?

You might even say that the recorded material sounded pretty fine to you when you heard it later and if you can’t hear it then why bother? Remember how when YouTube first came out, and you started watching videos in 360p (which was all that it offered at that time) it looked fine? But now when the internet is slow, you still wait for a moment to buffer it in 720p or 1080p before you watch it. Same goes for the audio that you recorded. Without the full bandwidth file to compare to, the degraded audio might sound fine on its own. Now, if you are okay with not listening to the full bandwidth and resolution of your own music, that is a perfectly valid decision. As long as you make a conscious choice, there is no right or wrong here either.

I would like to mention here that tweaking the eq-ed audio, after it has already been recorded, is possible to some extent to make it sound better, maybe in mixing or mastering or whatever shaman magic you want to call it. But then again, would you rather not tweak an audio that has better bandwidth and resolution to start with?

Also, if you are recording the audio to check if your tones sound fine, a closer to the source audio is what you need so you get a truer representation of what is coming out of your instrument.

So then, what is the solution to this problem? Just make sure you record the audio ‘pre-fader’ and ‘pre-inserts’ to your master track.

Technically speaking, the 2-track audio for recording is routed via 2 matrix outs in the mixer. But most of the time it is being routed in post-fader configuration, which automatically includes all the eq and any other processing you have done on the master bus for that venue. If you are just a musician or a video personel or someone who is not comfortable with all these technical mumbo jumbo, just ask the sound guy who is handling the console to route the master audio ‘pre-fader’ and ‘pre-inserts’ and you should be good to go. Most digital mixers in use today, whether high end or low end, have this option. Using group outs should also be fine as long they themselves don’t have some kind of processing involved.

Now, keep in mind, recording the output this way still includes all the processing being done on the individual channels like Kick, Snare, Bass, Guitars, Vocals, etc. To get absolutely unprocessed audio as is sent from your instrument to your mixer, a multitrack recording is the only way to do it. But that requires a different setup and mostly comes with a higher cost in terms of the specific mixer and the specific recording laptop and hard drive involved. A few not so expensive mixers like the X32/M32 allows inexpensive multitrack recording simply via a USB cable but audio dropouts are something that occurs on it more often than not. A serious multitrack recording with redundancy  so you don’t lose a second of your one-take live performance   comes with an added cost. But a one-step, better-quality stereo recording comes for free if you just follow the simple routing solution.

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