It was Stephen who established the practice of recording all of the LCW sessions. We have a room recording, and sometimes a multitrack recording, for every session we've played from the spring of 2008 up through the spring of 2012.
I've always had a soft spot in my heart for live recordings. There's a certain spontaneity in a live recording that tends to get "polished out" of your typical multitrack extravaganza. Of course there's a time and place for both approaches to recording; The Beatles on the NY rooftop is a very different (and no less pleasurable) listening experience than Sgt. Peppers. Or compare and contrast Pink Floyd's Live At Pompeii with Dark Side Of The Moon... Both are great performances created using radically different production values.
Since LCW was formed to embrace improvisational music, we've never been compelled to capture a definitive version of any of our performances. While I may prefer some performance over others, the nature of improvisation is that there will always be another interpretation. Hence the box of CDs that we've accumulated since the beginning of our sessions; I'd guess that we have about 200 so far.
On the other hand, a room recording (Stephen has used a Zoom H2 since the beginning) faithfully transcribes not only the performance but also the sonic imperfections of the room. We play in a basement room; not in a properly-treated studio. Standing waves and close proximity cause the room recording to be a compromise between what we'd like to hear and what we can grab with single stereo mic pair.
The small room also creates differences in what each of us hears while we play as an ensemble. We've learned to avoid the "more me" problem that plagues so many basement bands; in doing so, we've achieved a certain degree of nuance and subtlety and have the ability to use verbal cues without screaming ourselves hoarse. Because of the acoustics, though, our room recordings lack the presence and clarity that one expects of a modern recording. What to do...?
The obvious solution was to take the room acoustics out of the mix by close-mic'ing the drum kit and by recording the bass and guitar direct through our respective processors. The room ambiance can then be added to the mix and tailored to create the appropriate virtual performance space for our music. This was the thinking behind our ventures into multitrack recording.
As expected, the multitrack recordings sounded much better than the room recordings. Despite the improvement, the multitrack recording sessions were infrequent because they interfered with our musical "flow". Even though we didn't fuss at all with the details of the recording, preferring instead to take a "documentary" approach to sound recording, the simple acts of preparing, starting and stopping each session created a disconnect in our creative process.
LCW's space is barely large enough for the three of us and our gear. Bringing in one more person to engineer the multitrack recordings was out of the question. Running the recording ourselves interfered with the music. Again, what to do...?
I had made a couple dozen multitrack recordings of LCW. I eventually realized that my mixdown workflow was always the same: I'd set levels to balance the instruments, add some ambiance cues, and compress the stereo mix for burning to CD. From one session to the next, even the exact details of the levels and patches remained almost identical.
The realization that we'd attained a consistency in our recordings led us to experiment with direct-to-stereo recording. We'd run all of the instruments through the board, including the drums. One pair of buses feeds the main room speakers, carrying only my guitar and Stephen's bass (Joe's drums remain entirely acoustic). Another pair of buses mixes together all the instruments and the ambiance processor; the mix on these buses is compressed and limited to protect the recorder from digital overs.
The conclusion to this part of the LCW story should be fairly obvious. Once we discovered that we could create high-quality live recordings, it was but a small leap to "... and we can stream our rehearsals to the `net!"
Next time I'll share the technical details of how we capture, stream and record our sessions.
This article, the second in a series of three, first appeared as a guest blog post on The RadioStumptown Network.