UPDATE (October 2015):
I think I’ve finally cracked how to do recordings of live spoken-word events. I know, slow learner, right?
It’s pretty simple. Attached a lapel mic to the mic being used by the performer, and run it into a dictaphone (e.g. our trusty Zoom recorder), which you leave discretely on stage. How did I not think of this before? It’s really easy.
I just used this technique at Evidently (a really good performance poetry night in Salford), and got good results. It’s easy enough to secure the lapel mic onto the main microphone (the one being used for the PA). Just wrap an elastic band around it.
There’s a little bit of live-sounding plosive pop (the pop is actually from the plosives hitting the main mic that goes to the PA, and looping back from the PA speakers into the lapel mic), and occasionally, a more physical performer will biff the lapel mic with their hand. But otherwise the sound’s good.
Because the volume is set to auto-adjust on our Zoom (to try to prevent distortion and clipping), it gets a bit quiet here and there. However, the fidelity is easily good enough to survive amplification; there’s not much hum or hiss at all, even when you bring it back up to normal levels in Audacity.
And that, I’ve concluded, is how you record live spoken-word events.
Tap-tap… Is this thing on?
We always thought MacGuffin would be well suited to stories and poems that are written to be performed. So to kick-start things, we’ve been recording a bunch of really good live literature nights, including most recently Bad Language (Manchester) and Fictions of Every Kind (Leeds).
Our approach has been to record the whole night, edit it down into separate performances, then email the performers and invite them to upload to MacGuffin (and share within their networks).
While the performances have been really good, we’ve sometimes struggled to get a decent live recording, so I thought I’d share some tips we’ve learned along the way:
- It’s really hard to get good fidelity in a live room; you have to accept that it’s going to sound like what is is – a live event.
- Turn up early and do a sound check, but remember that a room full of people, absorbing reverb, coughing, shuffling and clinking glasses, laughing and shouting stuff out, won’t sound the same.
3. We’ve tried recording from the mixing desk (with a line-out to our Zoom recorder), and an ambient recording of the room (so you’re essentially picking up what everyone else hears). Both are prone to picking up hum and hiss at different frequencies, from the PA system, or the lighting. Hum and hiss you don’t notice in the room can be really loud and distracting on the recording.
4. The biggest 2 determinants of sound quality are a) how close the performer is to the mic, and b) how loud they speak. A bit of popping on the plosives is preferable to lots of hum. The closer and louder, the better.
5. If you can, take a line-out from the desk and an ambient recording (somewhere close to the loudspeakers in the room). You can mix them together when you edit. Remember to mix them before you do any cutting and pasting of the audio files, so you only have to synch them once.