Sound for Video (Lesson): Live Sound Recording - Notes from the Field

This week rather than the typical Sound for Video Session, I wanted to share with you some notes from Martin Lebel, one of our community members, with his permission of course. He recently recorded a series of live performances over 11 nights with lots of different performers. Here are his notes, many of which made me smile, chuckle, and nod my head in agreement. It is also helpful if you happen to be on the other sides as the live sound engineer or as a performer. I hope you enjoy Martin's notes and observations as much as I did. Thank you Martin!

Hi Curtis,

Regarding your last email (recording a live concert), I just wanted to say that this was exactly the last contract I accomplished from Aug 11th to Aug 20th 2017 and maybe I could bright some thought for you to keep in mind when you will prepare your next session with Mike Stranks.

Event : 11 night of various show form 6pm to 12h00, all night were different performer, sometime DJs, Lip sync, live signer, live band…

Here’s my story:

The sound engineer was feeding his “live stereo mix” directly onto a “Meyer Sound Galileo” (used as a matrix) and then from the matrix we run 2 XLR cables onto my equipment.

  • Bad XLR cable
    Unfortunately, one of my brand new 50’ Digiflex XLR cable was defective on arrival, at first we were blaming a misconfiguration (sub routing) on the Zoom F8 for not receiving any sound on one channel and, I was arguing that my cables were good (of course because they were new) but it turned out that the cable was the issue. Always start the trouble shooting at the physical layer first.
  • Buzz in the sound chain
    This one took 4 hours to solve. Part of my job there was to live stream the concert so I had Video and Audio equipment in my rack. 
    Here’s the sound chain : Yamaha CL5 mixer -> Meyer sound Galileo (used as a matrix) -> XLR@XLR cable -> Zoom F8 ch1 and ch2 -> Sub 1/2 - 1/8 TRS @ 1/4TR Y cable -> Pre-Sonus HA6 (to split the signal onto multiple output) -> 1/4 Y cable @ 1/8 TRS -> Streaming device (2x Teradek, 1x AJA HELO)
    *Not mine / managed by other
    *Mine / managed by me
    We tried different approach using RADIAL DI, passive 3pin to 2pin ground lift to solve the buzz issue, none worked.
    After ungplugging everything and plugging one device at the time, we figured out that the issue was coming from the Kramer HDMI 1:4 Distribution Amplifier, everything hooked-up to an HDMI cable (all the streaming devices) had the buzz, actually just touching an hdmi connector onto the metal housing of the F8 would cause a buzz.
    We solved the issue by using ISOBLOX devices in-between the Galileo and the F8, amazing devices to have in the toolbox.
  • Line level input on the Zoom F8 needs to be 1/4 jack, not XLR. There’s no “PAD” configuration on the F8 so if you want to use live level, you need to input your source as an 1/4 jack. Have good quality XLR to 1/4 patch cables in your tool box.
  • Tone Level for proper gain adjustment Ask the sound engineer to send a tone at line level, that way you can configure your gain pretty easily. I forgot what was the frequency of the tone but it really helped me out.
  • Other Journalist/video artist will see your recording device and will ask for a copy of your files. 
    That’s annoying
    They’re just lazy, we were providing an “Octopus” in the media lounge for them to bring their own recording device.
    Next time I’ll try to avoid exposing my recording device on the top of my rack!
  • Sound engineer laughed at me because I was recording at 24-bit 48 000Hz “You’re just wasting space for nothing, my board is not event sending you that wide”… He was right : L+R + L+R safety track + L+R Mix * 6 hours * 11 days = 180Gb worth of recording ☹
  • (for outside concert) Never Never Never assume your tent is weather proof
    I was leaving all my gear on site every night, cause you know, I had 11 days in a row to be there but, even though you're in a tent that closes, water will find it’s way in. Electronics get wet and die.
    Never leave a thing directly on the floor
    Always put your own tarp (cover-up) on your stuff.
    Even though the tent in this picture seems pretty tight, water managed to screw up this 269$ camera charger that stayed on the riser (floor) during the night.
  • (for outside concert) Leave everything running during the night. It dries out humidity. But don’t forget to reboot everything the next day, some equipment get a lag when they’re under power for too long.
  • Artists will get you in trouble if you trust them
    Many artist came at me requesting a copy of their video (from the billboard) or “live mix recording” because they want to see/hear themselves to find errors in their performances and try to get better… 
    Ya right, next thing you know is they published everything on Youtube, without the proper permission or proper sound adjustments (eg: chan 1+2+3+4+ L mix + R mix all togheter)
    And you are the one to blame.
  • MC: "Always leave my microphone ON, no matter what!"
    Some MC/Host were requesting the sound engineer to always leave their presentation microphone ON, ALWAYS. I understand that, I saw it myself where performers ended their prestation abruptly and then the MC get on stage speaking in a microphone that is muted.
    With “always on” the thing is they leave the microphone on the table backstage and this pick-up everything, like them blackmailing each other.
    It may not be noticeable on the PA system at 105dB while a music track is playing but you will hear it on your recording
    Next time I’ll ask to have this routed as another separate output into my recorder so I can mute it myself in post-production 
  • Crowd microphone (it’s like room tone)
    That’s my fail, I had no crowd microphone, neither the production nor the sound engineer had one.
    Because I was recording the “live mix”, when the music is out, the performer does their salute while the crowd applause, I have nothing in the recording, except for the MC microphone picking a little bit of applause.
    I’ll need to get stock sound of people applauding for post-production
    And bring a crowd microphone next time!
  • Zoom F8 will not switch to SD2 when SD1 is full
    Or, I did not found how to do it.
  • Have a bin to put notes of what people borrowed from you. Or next time just say “I don’t have this” 
    While everything is live, shit happened, people will run at the FOH to ask for a specific cable, iphone charger, extra SD card, headphones, anything. Because you want to help, you hand them what they need. But on everything I lend to people, NOTHING came back.
    I’m sure the artist that have my LEXAR 256Gb 300mbps SD card does not know what it cost or will never use it at its maximum potential but now it’s my loss.
  • Idenify all of your gear.
    When you load your van, you should hold in your hand everything that comes out of your warehouse/office and look for your name on it. It’s easy to do, and will avoid a mess when it’s wrap-up time.
    To Identify, use a p-touch, heat shrink and a Sharpie Paint (oil, not water).
    Many cables comes with heat shrink tube already installed for you to use.
  • Time code. I have 198 hours of videos (3 cameras) and 66 hours of sound to sync in post. And I did not use Time Code even though all of my gear supports it. Please think before being lazy
  • AVOID Wireless !
    Even though I listed every frequency and wireless equipment I planned to use on this event months in advance and got approval for everything from the production. I got threatened to get kicked-out of the FOH if I use wireless gear on day 1 of this event.
    I understand this, I mean they also have wireless equipment and they never know in advance what is the site survey for FR noise. And this one site was very noisy.
    You are not important, the sound is. Without the sound you are nothing (as the video guy / recording guy). 
    So no Motorola radios, no Telex BTR-800, No Sennheiser in hear monitor, No Teradek Bolt-3000. Everything had to go back in the van.

I think that’s all  Hope it helps

Martin Lebel

That does help a lot, thank you Martin!