Adjusting Your Setup from a Live Gig to a Recording Studio
As guitar players, we’re so obsessed with creating the best live tone possible that we easily forget about our studio setup. Sure, while our favorite amps, cabs and pedals might make for a killer tone in a spacious club, these “road tested” methods don’t necessarily translate seamlessly into the controlled, solid-state environment of a recording studio.
Simply put, you can’t get away with the same imperfections under the microscope of studio equipment that you can in front of your adoring (and intoxicated) fans. That said, there are a number of things to pay attention to when making the transition from a live gig to the recording studio, in both your equipment and your approach.
FINDING YOUR TONE:
While the live performance is up to the musician, there are two schools of thought for engineers, when it comes to tracking guitars in the studio.
1a) GET THE RIGHT TONE NOW:
The purist approach has some engineers seeking to record the exact right tone that is coming out of the amp, as is, as the final tone. They spend hours turning knobs, setting the mic and positioning the amp to get the exact right tone that will be the final product. In this case, the amp is finely adjusted to specifically fit the recording space—most likely a departure from your live settings (which are set for more spacious areas).
1b) OR … WORRY ABOUT TONE LATER:
There are other engineers who prefer to record a simple direct signal out of the amp so that they can fine-tune with re-amping (with POD products) to manipulate the tone in post production. These engineers want full control of the tones and while you might not think about that on stage, this post-production practice provides them with the most flexibility, as they’re not married to one particular tone.
2) GAIN STRUCTURE + VOLUME:
Playing live is much more uninhibited than playing in a studio setting—the tone can be more raw and unrefined because you have reflections off the walls, crowd noise and many other distractions. However, you might consider lowering the gain structure when multi-tracking guitars in the studio to maximize signal control and then use a POD to simulate the effects of a really loud amp setup.
When it comes to volume, your stage volume is going to be lower than in the studio—that’s because what’s “comfortable” for a small, cavernous club is not always optimal for getting the best tone out of your amp in an isolation booth. Though you might have to keep it tamed for most venues, your amp is always at its best when it’s cranked… so always let it loose in the studio!
4) GEAR MAINTENANCE:
It may sound simple, but when it comes to the recording studio, it’s important to make sure that your gear is well maintained and functioning properly. For example, that not-so-harmless hum caused by a loose tube might add passable character in a live setting. However, when you’re layering that same tone a few times over in the studio, that single hum will multiply and culminate into a very noticeable nuisance. Make sure your equipment is at its best when immortalizing it!
It’s safe to say that sound can be affected in countless different ways and reacts differently in various settings. In the end, it’s up to you and your ears to be the judge of the tweaks you need to make—be sensitive to the space you’re in, note the nuances and adjust accordingly.