Live taping HOWTO

I've been taping shows since early 2000. This page is intended to provide some basic advice about making decent-sounding audience recordings of live, amplified music and avoiding some common mistakes. This applies to my recording setup (Core Sound binaural microphones w/flat frequency response battery box and a Sony PCM-M1 DAT recorder), YMMV. It's kind of a cheat sheet of useful things I've learned, including the many mistakes I've made and how to avoid them.

Mic placement

I generally tape shows with the mics clipped to my shoulders, as far apart as I can get them. I've also tried clipping them to my collar, but found the stereo separation lacking. Some people like to clip their mics to hats or eyeglass frames (the thinking being the higher they are the less likely they are to be blocked by other people), but I haven't tried this.

Where to stand

Many tapers consider the "sweet spot" in many rooms to be right in front of the soundboard (a.k.a. "FOB"), unfortunately people also tend to congregate and talk there. There is nothing like taping to make you aware of all the things people do at a show aside from listening to the music! I prefer to get as close as possible to the speakers: the closer you are to one of them, the more difficult it will be for people to carry on a conversation nearby during the show. Generally my best-sounding tapes have come from standing right next to a stack, literally about a foot away, so close that there's no room for anyone to stand between me and the speakers. Tapes made even a few feet further away begin sounding distant and echoey. The volume right next to the speakers may be well be uncomfortably loud, bass in your face and all that...bring earplugs (seriously).

A note on stereo

As one reader pointed out (thanks T.R.), counseling you to stand really close to one speaker may sound like dubious advice if the show is in stereo. However, in my experience this has not been a big deal. Depending on the event and venue, the stereo effects may be simplistic, or the show may even be mono. Regardless, your microphones will pick up reflected sound from around the room. I usually try to stand right next to a stack, slightly towards the center of the stage, so that the mic on one shoulder is pointed directly into the nearby stack, while the mic on the other shoulder points across the room towards the other stack.

IMO, the clarity of recording up close more than makes up for the loss of stereo. When recording with CSBs, moving away from the speakers soon results in a recording that sounds like it was made in a gymnasium -- distant, muddy, and echoey. If you don't believe me, compare and contrast for yourself: while a band you don't care about is playing, move from standing right next to the stack to somewhere in the middle of the room. Then listen to the tape later, and make up your own mind.

If you are very concerned about stereo you would probably be better off with cardioid microphones.

Setting recording levels if you can get near the speakers

If I can get close to the stacks, for loud rock music I like to use line in, with recording levels set to max. This is usually pretty safe but you might still get clipping, be careful! For quieter music I use mic in, always at the "-20" setting (be very wary of the "0" setting, it's actually an amplifier). I'm starting to use the "mic limiter" feature of the M1 as a safety net: a number of my early recordings have some clipping, which is extremely annoying and is difficult to fix even with clip-repairing software (a-la Cool Edit 2000). Recording so that a typical volume level reaches -12 works pretty well for me. Watch your levels very closely as the show begins and make adjustments as necessary. Don't fiddle: quickly get them about right and make only minor changes during the show.

Setting recording levels if you can't get near the speakers

A different approach is required if I can't get close to a speaker or am in a seated show. In this situation, recording at a fixed level using line-in often leads to unacceptably low levels for the music. Likewise, using mic-in can lead to clipping, particularly during the applause between songs, which may reach your mics at a higher level than the music. In these situations I've become a big fan of using mic with auto recording levels (AGC). The M1 does a good job of getting decent levels for the music but throttling back during loud bursts of applause. On the M1, AGC only works with mic in and so is still vulnerable to brickwalling with very loud music.

Use of auto recording levels (AGC) is considered heresy by some tapers, because the full dynamic range of the performance is not preserved. This sounds reasonable, as tapers are after all at heart preservationists. But in some situations this stance is just not practical and leads to sub-par recordings. Trust me, I've been bitten more than once by this. You only have one chance to record, and getting acceptable levels is very important. Capturing the music at very low levels just because the crowd is relatively louder seems foolish to me, as does clipping the audience's applause if the levels are too high. Ask yourself which you would rather have: a thin-sounding tape where only the applause sounds clear, a slightly better-sounding tape where the applause clips and distorts, or an actual good-sounding tape with solid levels throughout?

It should be noted that use of cardioid rather than binaural microphones in these situations might provide some relief: unlike binaurals, cardioids are directional and so be pointed directly at the sound source, thus picking up less of the crowd. However, I don't own a pair. <g>

Sampling rate

This is a hot-button issue among tapers. Many audiophiles sneer at DAT's LP (32k) mode, which has a frequency response up to 16k and has a slightly compressed dynamic range when compared to 44k or above. On the other hand, I think it passes an important real world test: it sounds pretty good. Several points in favor of LP recording: On the other hand:


Rechargable NiMh batteries with a capacity of 2200+ mAH are now on the market, Thomas Distributing carries them (no affiliation, just a happy customer). I think the batteries that came with the M1 were only 1300 mah. I always change them between sets just to be safe.

Training wheels

Everyone screws up their first recording. Don't feel bad about it. To reduce the chances this will happen:

Classic mistakes to avoid

The following are all blunders I've made which have either marred or ruined my tapes, or even prevented me from recording altogether. Don't say I didn't warn you!
Michael Edmonson <>
Last modified: 10/16/2004