Using clip mikes for recording live performances outdoors
Since 2010 I work for tape.tv “Auf den Dächern”, an online music format that features live performances on rooftops of Berlin. The format uses only one static camera on a tripod for a post card feeling. The performance area is rather small, the makers also started with solo acoustic performances captured with a single clip mike. They insisted on keeping the picture clean of conventional mikes and stands after the format grew bigger. But what to do if there’s a band with drums, guitars, an a couple of backing voclas playing on the roof?
As long as the musicians are familiar with the term “loudness disciplin” and don’t need monitor wedges, it is still possible to use clip mikes for most sources. My favourites are DPA4060 - they are omniderectional and sound open and clean. Just tell the drummer he’s now also a mike stand and clip it to his shirt at chest level. You’ll get the whole drumset. Put a Shure Beta 91 into the basedrum for more low end. Place a pair of small membran supercardioids (we are on the roof, supercardioid to avoid caputuring the sound of traffic below and plains over you) somwhere out of the frame, but close to the drummer - you’ll have your overhead sound. This is it. Clip a 4060 on every singer - just like they do it on TV, at chest level, and place the vocalists in front of the drum set. Use their bodies not only as mike stands, but also as acoustic shields to separate voices and drums.
This recording technique requires a different mixing apporach compared to a studio recording where sound sorces are well separated. Every clip mike on a singers chest will capture an amout of cross-talk from other voices and instruments. The trick is, to use this cross-talk to create an overall sound the same way they did it in the early era of sound recording before the invention of close miking. Unfortunately, the more clip mikes you use, the more cross-talk you get. I would not recommend using more than 5 omnidirectional mikes. Unless you want it dirty.
First of all: reduce phase cancellation issues. MeldaProduction MAutoalign is a nice plugin for this, but I also do some work manually pulling and aligning waveforms. Use linear phase EQs. Find a level balance, if possible without using much of dynamics on single tracks (it will alter the overall sound since you got cross-talk on almost every track). Ride your faders. Use some decent compression on the master bus.
This technique works best outdoors with unplugged acts. It delivers very authentic and true sound. You can watch performances of Jazon Mraz, Biffy Clyro, Amanda Palmer, Wallis Bird and others I’ve recorded and mixed this way at my homepage.
Other sessions are available at tape.tv.