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Is there a niche for location recording?

In June I have to move to a condo (because I can't afford to buy a house) and that means that the two room setup I've spent the past few years putting together is coming down.

My plan was to get an SKB case and rack up my SCA pres, A/D converter, and get both a rackmountable interface and rackmountable firewire hard drive. Connect that to a fast laptop, and I'm in business! I'd take the recordings back to my place for mixdown.

I was thinking that my main business would be the local high school choirs, orchestras, and garage bands.

I don't record to put food on the table...I do it because I love it, and I just want to find a niche that will bring a good amount of business and still satisfy my recording wants. I wasn't planning on charging more than $25/hr once I can turn out good/repeatable results.

I was going to dedicate my entire condo to a mixing suite so I can take on mixing projects and small acoustic jams. Maybe even pick up a V-Drum kit and BFD to record demos out of the place.

What do you guys think? Does it sound feasible or like a waste of money?
What do you do about monitoring (good headphones?).


JoeH Sun, 03/05/2006 - 01:15
anxious wrote: The niche is there, but I don't think there is a laptop system that is truely up to the task of location recording. They are just too physically fragile, take too long to navigate under high pressure conditions and are not quite up to the reliability I think you are going to want.

ADATS, DA38/88's, Masterlinks, etc, are a steal now.

Suddenly, I am reminded of my dear old dad, who used to tease us with excuses for not having a color TV like everyone else on the block at the time.....something about it "not being perfected yet." :twisted:

There's a reason those tape systems are a steal now.

The current method of choice for most location multitrack recording (Laptop to FW HD) is ridiculously simple and darn near bullet-proof, IF you have done your homework and IF you have learned your rig inside and out. There is no free lunch on this one, no matter how tempting and "Easy" the salespeople make it look. You will NOT find a consumer-based laptop that will perfectly, reliably 'out of the box."

But aside from compatibility issues with chipsets and I/Os on various machines during spec and setup, and assuming all the parts work together BEFORE one takes itout on the road, there is normally NO problem at all with a properly tweaked and maintained Laptop to HD system.

The same rules apply to a laptop as to a huge 2" inch reel to reel system from 20 years ago: Good mainenance, good cases, good tech manuals, a thorough knowledge of the operating system, and on and on. (let's not forget backups like spare power supplies, batteries, and a complete OS on CDrom orDVD rom in case of major problems.) And of course, a backup CDr or tape machine running as well. Nobody said this would be easy or 100% failsafe, and NEVER take anything for granted.

It's silly to think its going to work perfectly, every time, right out of the box until you sort it all out ahead of time. Laptops (or mobile desktops) deserve to be treated with utmost TLC and respect. (You wouldn't toss your mic box around, would you?)

The number one rule of audio and video gear is: KNOW YOUR EQUIPMENT BEFORE YOU TAKE IT OUT. A live remote is no place to experiment on the fly, and then blame the LAPTOP for being "unreliable" or "too tough to navigate" under stress conditions. So is any other part of the chain, if you don't know what you're doing. Small switches on microphones, (pads and pickup patterns) are just as finnicky and one learns to deal with them properly as well.

You can (you SHOULD) create templates and preset files to get you up and running in emergencies, or head-scratching/trouble shooting moments.

In a properly maintained system like a good HP or SONY or whatever brand you prefer, there is more stuff going on under the hood there than many fully equipped mobile rigs of 10-15 yrs ago. It's KNOWING how to drive the thing without crashing it that counts.

AFter nearly five years of professional Laptop-to-FW/HD use, I can say that almost 99.999% of my problems with the unit were pilot error, or simply not knowing (or not REMEMBERING) what the fix is. A loose FW cable (That I SHOULD have gaff-taped down in the first place) caused an HD problem once. Another time, it was the battery charging circuit causing loud "Pffft!" sounds every three minutes in my recordings. (Removed the battery,and problem solved!) Most recently, I spent a harrowing couple of hours troubleshooting my system (backstage, before a show) only to find that all I needed to do was cycle the mixer's power down and then back up. (In this case, a Mackie ONYX 1640 with FW card. Duh!)

My point is that laptops can and do work for many folks here - professional and amatuer, but for successful, constant, realiable use, you cannot break or even bend the rules without expecting a harsh penalty. Cut corners, go cheap, or fail to learn your system's ins and outs, and you're just begging for trouble on the gig.

Just don't blame it on the laptop alone. There are far too many success stories here and on other forums that show what a boon this type of rig is. Frankly, I could not do the kind of work I do, or service the clients I service (at my current, IMHO reasonable rates) without the speed and flexiblity of a laptop rig out on remotes and a full blown desktop system in the studio, all running with FW drives.

I love my DA-x8 recorders...for backup, and an Alesis Masterlink is totally unecessary for the way I work now; I can do all that in software, faster and quicker. It will still be quite a while before I take the Tascam's offline for good, but they're there whenever something unforseen happens with the laptop system. And let's be honest, failures can happen anywhere, any time, in any system, digital or analog; it's just too easy and convenient to blame the laptop instead of the ill prepared user. (We didn't even talk about proper file storage, disk defragging, and all kinds of bells and whistles that need to come off a stock WINXP setup.)

Sorry to ramble on so much, but IMHO, a safe, sane and tweaked laptop system will more than get you going, and you'll love what it can do.

Of course, there's still B&W TV sets out there, too..... :twisted:

Thomas W. Bethel Sun, 03/05/2006 - 06:47
pr0gr4m wrote: [quote=JoeH]Several of my clients are considering the newest trend: Live CDs for folks as they leave the concert. We're planning at least one event in the near future where they will pre-sell a limited number of recordings of the first half of the concert, to be given out (packaged and even shrink-wrapped) at the door on the way out. Clearly, we'll need to have our ducks in a row on this one, but it can be done with the right preplanning and HD system.

I LOVE this idea. This is huge! Talk about increased merch sales...this would be huge. If people can buy a CD from their favorite band from a show that they were at? And have it signed by the band? One could make billions!!!

Time to find a durable CD duplicator.
This is not working out as well as everyone though since it does take some time AFTER the concert to do the duplication even at 52X which I would not recommend as a dubbing speed plus the band is putting out something that is not indicative of their best work since it was of a live concert and a rush to get it on CD leaves a lot of room for errors which they may not mind today but can come back to haunt them later in their careers like an off color joke or a reference to someone in the audience who later decides to sue and a lot of people don't want to wait around after the concert for the CDs to be made (there have been some instances where it took over an hour after the concert to get the dubbing done and into the hands of the waiting fans). There have been posts about this on other forums and although it seems like a good idea some unforeseen limitiations can make it a nightmare instead of a money maker.

JoeH Sun, 03/05/2006 - 07:26
I agree with you there, Tom. I don't see it (for now, at least) as anything but a gimmick, something to raise the consciousness of the audience, and sell some tickets, generate buzz, etc. Even moreso in the classical world, where it's just starting to happen, at a trickle. It's certainly NOT going to make anyone rich any time soon. You'd have to sell a LOT of discs to bring the profit ratio up to consider it successful.

There have to be a few things in place ahead of time to make it fly, as well:

1. Packaging - everything but the shrink wrap needs to be ready, including blank discs with the lable info pre-printed. And you'd need competant staff as well.

2. Mixing - it should be agreed upon ahead of time that it's a live mix - one pass to HD or CDr, or if that's not the case, (at least in classical) work from a template to add effects like reverb or mild limiting, etc., bounce it down to stereo 16/44 with track IDs, and get it to a dupe Master ASAP, probably during intermission.

3. Performance - everyone from the artistic director/band leader, etc., on down must agree that it "is what it is" and it happens as-is, without a net. I am finding that this is a breath of fresh air with some clients, at least when first discussed. They actually DO like the challenge, and the REALLY secure ones give it a thumbs up for the sheer thrill of it. At this point in many of their careers ,there are lots of musicians who are sick to death of edit edit edit and waiting around for weeks or months for the finished product.

4. Duplicators: As tempting as it might be, I wouldn't suggest 52x either. Something half of that or even less, if you have the ability with multiple racks or multiple dupe bays. At the very low grass roots level (50-100 copies afterwards, for a classical or folk gig) one COULD, theoretically pull this off. 10 bays buring at 8x (about 3 min. for a 1hr perf.) could easily render 100 copies out in fairly short order, certainly undere 1hr.

I'm sure the big boys on the big venues and larger rockgigs have already streamlined this as well. Plus, if there IS a glitch, or too many after-the-fact sales, it's simple enough to say: Come back to pick up your copy in an hour (or tomorrow, or "We'll mail it to you", etc.)

JWL Sun, 03/05/2006 - 09:48
I like what [[url=http://[/URL]="http://www.dcddiscs…"]Dead Can Dance did [/]="http://www.dcddiscs…"]Dead Can Dance did [/]on their recent tour. You could purchase (I think for like $25) a specially numbered ticket at the end of the show. Later, after they had time to properly mix and master the CDs of the recordings, they would send you the finished CD. I think it took a month or two to get, but the recordings are invariably of much higher quality than something that rushed into production, and I know that I'd much rather wait a few weeks for something that is actually much more listenable.

Thomas W. Bethel Thu, 03/02/2006 - 08:41
Always good advice on this forum.

My only caveat would be to do a good business plan first and lots of thinking about what you want to do. I can relate a couple of stories,

We got underbidded recently for recording a local "Not for Profit" client that we had been doing since the early 1970s. The person doing the recording was $25.00 cheaper. Well he lasted about one year and went under and took all the archives he had recorded with him when he folded. He was trying to do it all, recording, mastering, duplication, graphic design and web site design and hosting and he was low balling it all in hopes that someone would take him up on providing it all. No one bit so he folded and we got back the job.

Recently we got a client that demanded we purchase a lot of equipment that we did not have. I had him sign a contract with us to provide recording for at least three years so we could pay off the equipment. So far he has stuck to his word and we paid off all the equipment the first year - so we are in the clear.

There are one or two really nice live on location recorders around here. They offer good services at reasonable prices. There are also a couple of really bad on location recorders that offer lousy quality at not so cheap prices. One of these places underbid us for a recording. We normally bring about $6 to 10 thousand dollars worth of equipment and 35 years of experience to the recording gig. This guy showed up with two SM58 microphones a pair of Shure mixers (should be called while noise generators) a DAT deck that was a consumer deck and a pair of RAT SHACK headphones. He charged the group 200 dollars for the recording and $15.00 for each CD and they had to agree to purchase so many CDs at this price. This was worse than a joke because the people got screwed and this was a once in a lifetime concert.

One more story.

We are doing multiple recording sessions for a musician client. He had a concert at a local college where they will be playing all of his music. I call up the college and ask if we can help or do the recording. The person who is in charge says no we have a perfectly good recording department here and we will not need your services. I went to the concert at the behest of the musician and it was a very nice concert. Then I heard the recording and it sounded like it was recorded on a RAT SHACK microphone hung in the middle of the hall. The musician was upset at the quality of the recording but could do nothing about it.

If you are going to go into the business make sure you are prepared both with the best equipment and with a good set of ears and a lot of business savvy since this seems to be a place were lots of people that really don't know what they are doing are working.


zemlin Thu, 03/02/2006 - 09:31
There's an outfit here in Indy that sells low-ball recording services. $25 for setup and no charge with a minimum CD purchase. Hell, it takes me 2+ hours to setup for a live choral recording, and that's if I don't have to fly the mics.

My daughter sang at a concert that was recorded by these jokers - it was at a small, to-die-for concert hall here in town. I'd (almost) kill to record a decent choir in that space.

We bought one of the CDs to:
A) have one, since our kid was singing
B) feel out the competition

There are a bunch of mics hanging in that hall - I don't know what they recorded with, but the end result was total crap. Folks like that give small recording shops a bad name.

Regarding the bit about recording a concert and having live CDs available for purchase after the show - that's no small undertaking!!! I think you'd need several fire-breathing DAW setups - each one driven by a hot-shot engineer - and all the engineers would have to be able to mix to get a comparable sound without having time to reference what the others are doing. Just the time involved in calculating a mixdown, chopping up for tracks, editing out breaks, etc. - you'd have to be damn fast and damn efficient to pull that off with any sort of quality.

Even if you have enough outboard compression and other effects to run a separate mix for the recording and record only a stereo track - even a minimal about of prep work before burning CDs would be tough to pull off without having folks waiting around for an hour after the show to get their CDs.

The last few live CDs I've done have turned around in about 6 months. That's a schedule I can work to.

Pro Audio Guest Thu, 03/02/2006 - 11:18
zemlin wrote: The last few live CDs I've done have turned around in about 6 months. That's a schedule I can work to.
I like to work at that pace as well, when time permits. I'm often amazed at how much better I can make a mix sound if I'm able to walk away from it for a few weeks, then listen with fresh ears.

Fortunately, with the kind of recording work that I do, I get to set my own schedules. Unfortunately, I don't make any money. I do live concert recordings for my own radio station and several other non-commercial stations here. I put a lot of work into making them sound great, but it's a labor of love, not profit. (I do occasionally earn a small honorarium.) I get paid in accolades, respect, prestige, and the fun of getting to work with some incredible and renowned musicians. But no money to speak of.

I often tinker with the idea of trying to turn it into a business, but I usually conclude that I'd wind up enjoying less - perhaps a LOT less. Maybe once I retire from my day job....

zemlin Tue, 02/28/2006 - 08:49
That's basically what I've got going on, except my 1-room studio setup is in my house.
Monitoring? You need monitors. Headphones are OK for some stuff, but you really need decent monitors in a decent acoustic to do the critical stuff.

For working with headphones, I'm liking my Future Sonics in-ears the best lately. They're slightly dark, so I check with Grado cans (kinda' bright) to make sure the top end is OK. I rely heavily on my monitors to make sure stuff is right.

Also, I carry a little more than a rack with me when I go out.

There are a few bits missing from this shot - like a 100' snake and a second bag for mic stands.

zemlin Tue, 02/28/2006 - 09:24
I don't monitor with speakers on location - I have Event 20/20bas at home. I have some little Klipsch speakers (SB1) that I sometimes take for playback, but I wouldn't mix with them. When you asked about monitoring, I thought you meant for mixing at home.

To monitor on location I use my Future Sonics with custom molded sleeves and wear some 31dB ear muffs over them. I don't hear nuthin' (within reason) unless it's coming through the wires. Works great for setting mic positions in front of a choir, orchestra, band, pipe organ, etc.

The black box on the far right of the picture is my DAW. I take that and a 19" LCD screen (in a Laptop bag).

I also have a big stack of furniture pads that will go on the road with me if I need to control acoustics or make some gobos.

JoeH Tue, 02/28/2006 - 10:27
You're in a good place Arthur, if you're going to do it right, AND if you're not nec looking to make $$ right away.

I'd strongly suggest a tape backup like the DA-88 series in addition to the laptop. I run a Laptop with Samplitude/Sequioa, a CDr, AND a DA-x8 in the field. I can go as long as 1 yr with no problems, and then all of a sudden, something odd happens, and I'm glad I have the tape running. I'd love to retire it (and save some $$$ on the blank tapes) but it's not ready yet....soon, but not yet.

Where are you based, btw? Your location may indeed help you, depending on the situation in your area.

pr0gr4m Tue, 02/28/2006 - 10:43
Me too Me too!

I mostly do Garage/warehouse bands. I work with one band who rehearses in this warehouse complex that has 10 other bands there. Once word got out that there was a guy who would come to their warehouse and record them, I had plenty of business for a while. Many of the bands weren't that good but that doesn't really matter. I hit a lot of the local clubs too to drum up similar business. Some of the bands are in it just for fun/experimentation and others are more serious.

I think there's plenty of that sort of business out there if you want it. Of course, it depends somewhat on how active your local music scene is.

I've kept my rig pretty small. I bring a laptop P4 2.8 Dell with external hard drive for audio. I have a MOTU 828 MKII which handles all the inputs I need. A bunch of mic stands, mics, some "not so impressive" preamps, cables, connectors, and a DI box or two. OH...CD burner on the laptop is important. After recording, every band member will want a rough mix.

On location I too just use headphones for monitoring, usually md280s...although I'm gonna have to try Zemlin's idea for more isolation.

I also use a couple gobos that I fasioned out of some office cubicle dividers. I might bring them to try and "isolate" a guitar cabinet or drumset.

At my studio @ home I'll do vocals, keyboards, guitars (if they are direct or acoustic) and mixdowns. It's also a MIDI production studio with a bunch of synths to fill my electronic music addiction.

RemyRAD Tue, 02/28/2006 - 11:52
I'd recommend getting 2 of the Alesis HD24s as they are small, lightweight and at $1300 each, quite a bargain. I wouldn't mess with a laptop. That way you can have a second 24 track recorder for the same price. Then you have real backup. All you need is 3, 1U, eight channel microphone preamplifiers, a 24 x 48 splitter and you are under way!

Doin' it in the field
Ms. Remy Ann Davidclass="xf-ul">

RemyRAD Mon, 03/06/2006 - 20:13
Over the past 15 years that I've had my remote truck, I have had that Neve console and vintage processing just like Kooster McAllister's record plant mobile (that has an API and I was there when it was being installed), is been around a lot longer and in a better marketplace that I have but I still did some nice work. Since the advent of the "Alesis ADAT" along with similar TASCAMs and now $1300 24 track hard disk recorders, my business has been way down. What I am starting to do now is more mixed downs through the old Neve from these multitrack PA board recordings. That way they still get the flavor, quality and character of the vintage control room instead of that thin crunchy metallic sounding cheap console and crappie processing. But business hasn't been what it used to be and I have gone back to doing more television sound for news. Totally ungratifying crappy talking heads!

Will work for music
Ms. Remy Ann David

Kev Tue, 02/28/2006 - 12:42
I had three mobile systems
... now I have only one
The other two were left in the houses where I last recorded with them
the client loved the system so much they wouldn't let me take if back to the Factory.

Talkback and Monitoring and simple patching all based around 001 and ADA8000 or Ai3's ... depending on requirements ... synth's vers mic's
I leave a couple of my DIY mic-pres and they start recording using the methods I taught during the first record sessions.

Then the tracks are taken to a Pro studio for mixing and the addition of plugs and or outboard.

I find this the most efficient use of resources ... particularly money.
Money is only spent on the songs that warrant it.