tips for a newbie recording a live band via USB mic

Dear Audacity Users –

I need some quick tips for a newbie recording a live band via USB mic.

I am brand new to Audacity and I am recording my live band, (digital piano + bass + drums + guitar), in a practice room, via a USB mic, direct to disk via Audacity.

I have this mic…

Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone

…and we play progressive-rock, jazz, fusion, jam-band stuff, and similar tunes.

Here is the scenario…

Step 1: Some of our live sessions are recorded direct to disk via a single USB mic hanging from the ceiling, using Audacity.

Step 2: When I view the output in Audacity, I see 2 tracks for these sessions.

Step 3: Then, I apply Audacity’s Normalization (with default settings) first, then I apply Equalization (with default settings) .

Step 4: Then, I export the whole thing to MP3 at 256kbps, and it sounds OK, for a poor-hack’s draft.

Here are the questions regarding Step 3 and help in general…

Question A: Are these the right effects to be applying? Should I apply fewer? Should I apply more? Should I apply Compression?

Question B: What is the correct order for applying such effects? For example, Normalize first and Equalize second, or the other way around?

Question C: Is there anything else in Audacity that I should be doing?

Please advise.


– Mark Kamoski

Starting with 4. Export the work as WAV at the default settings. That’s your Session Master. Then, if you want to export a lesser quality work for your iPod or internet posting, then export MP3. Never do production in MP3. MP3 creates sound damage every time you use it and you can’t stop it. The MP3 is the throw-away version.

As for the other tools, what are you trying to achieve? Is there something broken about the show when you listen on the timeline? Default Equalizer generally will not do anything, so that step is just to exercise your fingers.

Live performances do tend to wander all over in volume, so the compressor tools are probably a good idea. Do Not do anything that affects the quality of the music without a very clear reason for doing it. And if you do, you need to be listening on a killer sound system or really good headphones. If you equalize for your computer speakers you are likely to get a show that only plays on other laptops similar to yours and sounds awful everywhere else.

You can’t effectively tune out the room and the room is a performer in your show. Have you tried putting the microphone in different locations? Is that an option?

Next time you capture a session and after you Export a WAV, export a short, good quality MP3 and post it here so we can listen. Since you’re only using one microphone, reduce the show to mono and you’ll get twice as much in before the forum cuts you off.

Even better if you have an on-line place to post a whole song.


Dear Koz (and all) –

Regarding what I am trying to achieve, I think that I just want the cleanest, clearest, distortion-free rendition of the session, with some balancing of the overall-high and overall-lows, to bring out the “live presence” of the room, so that all instruments are better balanced, so that no particular sound-range is too-high or too-low.

Regarding if there is something “broken”, it seems to me that the overall raw capture is OK in that it does not have distortion, but it is a bit “thin” and “shallow”.

Regarding one of my typical recordings, I have put on online here…

Overall, my goal with this is to take the one-mic-recording and get it as clean, clear, balanced, and warm as possible, in a quick basic way, to have an MP3 to distribute to players for analysis and review of the performance.

(Right now, this one-mic-recording is just for a “poor-man’s best effort” for now, and my “real answer” is to mic every instrument and have them output to separate WAV files while recording, and I am moving in the direction, but not 100% set up yet, so I need to do these draft-recordings and learn Audacity a little this way now until I move up to the multi-track live recording.)

Any hints or help is appreciated.


– Mark Kamoski

Since the show is mono, you can Split Stereo Track from the drop-down to the left of the timeline and only send one channel. That will save half the download time and transmission data. And we won’t care.

I have to split my musical tastes from the mix because this isn’t my thing, but past the obvious instrument balance (probably no mystery to you), This sounds like a nice recording made in one of the weekend clubs on Melrose. There’s very little room echo in there and what there is sounds like – a club. Not somebody’s kitchen or garage.

We can add slight stereo delays and make it sound a little fuller (fake stereo) and I suppose you could equalize it a little and bring up the cymbals and tamp down the bass a little, but this could be seriously good to go as it is. There is a voice in there and I would so keep that. That’s the club sound and not a sterile studio recording session.

You made a recording using most if not all of the forum recommendations. It’s clear and open. It doesn’t overload, it’s not distorted. It’s not in MP3 (that we know of) and it’s not hissy/noisy or trying to compete with the TV in the next room.

You can be truly evil and after the other elves get done, put some club environment sound effects and MC introduction / applause in there.

OK, content. The bass player needs to not attack the instrument. It’s not a contest and we could use fewer string buzzes. We can’t fix that. Once they do that, you’re stuck.

And now all about me:
Post something uptempo. This one drags.


A better way to get to mono is Tracks > Stereo Track to Mono. It will mix down for you. Koz

Dear Koz –

Thanks so much for your input and I will put it to use.

I do not have uptempo songs as WAV files, yet.

But, just so you know we do play stuff (somewhat more) uptempo, here are some samples.

(If I can dig up the WAVs from these, then I may post them for review-- but these MP3s should give you an idea of what we “end up with” after our hacky-mixology, etc.)

You can play some of our clips in the browser here…

You can download some of our tunes here…


– Mark Kamoski

Still not my music. Contemporary Jazz? I know the theory behind it, but it sounds to me like people playing several different songs at once. So my ears are hopeless, but I seriously doubt you’re going to get better recordings with your equipment.

One of the downsides of making recordings like this is if someone plays a clinker, that’s clear and obvious, too. This is the gag of people hearing themselves on a good recording for the first time. “Do I really sound like that?!!!?”

For equalization, I think there’s a room resonance peak in there somewhere. Some of the piano notes are a little louder than the rest of the song, but it would take a good while to figure out where it is and how to get rid of it. I keep coming back to: Not Worth Messing With It.

I did make one change to the DropBox posting. Effect > Amplify: New Peak -1. That just makes it louder on my system. That’s it.

You may find that through split recording and multi-track production you may spend a lot more money and an enormous amount of time to get only a marginally better recording.

Apart from stereo. That could do a lot to enhance the club atmosphere.

A really good post production rule is three times the length of the show soaked up in post production and it can get a lot worse on a difficult show.


Microphone placement is the main thing that I’d concentrate on. In the “08” track the drums sound quite distant. I understand that it’s difficult to get a good mix with one mic in a rehearsal situation :wink: Also, in the same recording the keyboard is sounding quite harsh/piercing which I think is mostly due to an over-emphasis in the 600 to 1000 Hz range (though this is much less pronounced in your other recordings. Overall I’d tend to push the keyboard a little “back” in the mix and bring the drums a little “forward”. Taking out some of the mid from the piano and a little reverb will help. Take care with the bass to not let it “boom”. Unlike Koz I like the slapping sounds of the bass and those frequencies help to keep the bass forward in the mix.

I wouldn’t worry about trying to do much post-processing on the recording - aim for a good sound in the room, then experiment with microphone placement to pick that up as “balanced” as you can.

As Steve said, microphone placement in the room is everything. While the band is playing, walk around the room (facing the band) and listen carefully for the “sweet spot” - one where the bass doesn’t boom,the mids aren’t harsh, and the balance between instruments is good. Put the mic there. It is up to the band to balance themselves - an “impartial” listener near the microphone position could make suggestions on this.

Using a stereo microphone would open up the recording.

– Bill

I wouldn’t worry about trying to do much post-processing on the recording

See? You’re doing miles better than most people doing recordings like this.

Sooner or later we’re going to get to the room. You said you had placed the microphone on or near the ceiling. You should be careful not to get the mic too close to anything solid or flat. Really nasty things happen to the sound when you do that. What’s the ceiling made of and how big is the room? How far from the ceiling is the mic?

We know next to nothing about the “studio” because you didn’t say anything. See: “walk around the room…”

You can get fancy if you have a long mic cable. Put the mic on a stick and hold it briefly in different places and note where you are. A valid place is on or close to the floor. Theaters are sometimes miked that way. If you’re good with woodworking you might try a fake Pressure Zone system with your existing mic. I have a picture of that here somewhere.

Gotta look.

What do the band members think of all this? I’m posting this as if you were a stand-alone recordist and not one of the band members. If you’re trying to do both, then it’s harder.

Wearing my evil hat for a second, one way to automatically set the individual instrument balance and volume is to give each performer headphones connected to the mix. It’s one thing to experience the mix from the perspective of the drummer’s chair and very different to hear it from the audience.

Do you have anything where you all play the same song?


Found it. It was buried in my cellphone.

That’s a plain, ordinary Shure SM58 Rock Band microphone sitting in a shallow hole (so the mic doesn’t roll around) cut in the center of a piece of 1/2" plywood . It’s 30 inches on a side. You don’t need the hole. You can put a piece of packing tape across the mic near the rear.

You use it by sitting it on a couple of folded over towels and point it at the performance. The towels insulate it from the floor or table where you put it and the wood isolates it from surrounding acoustic reflection problems. The wood can be anything over 1/2" thick. Bigger than 30 inches doesn’t help.

Before I install it, I spray it Barbeque Grill Black. A matte black that is very robust.

The sensitivity/loudness of the microphone doubles, but keeps all its other sound characteristics. It’s not perfect, but it works so well we use these (or similar ones) all over the company.

The down side it’s nearly a Meter/Yard on a side and the whole board is part of the microphone, so you can’t tap on it or disturb it.

Try setting it on the floor in front of the band. I’m not kidding. Some classic theater sound systems work like this with purpose-built microphones.

I didn’t make this up. This technique appears in Microphones: Design and Application Lou Burroughs, 1974


Dear Koz (and all) –

Here are some answers to the questions that have come up here.

>>> You said you had placed the microphone on or near the ceiling. You should be careful not to get the mic too close to anything solid or flat.

The mic is attached to a 2" pipe that goes from wall to wall and the pipe is about 3 feet from the top of the ceiling.

>>> What’s the ceiling made of and how big is the room?

The ceiling is concrete.

The room is is an odd shape.

Here is a sketch of the room…

>>> How far from the ceiling is the mic?

It is about 3 feet down from the ceiling-- the ceilings are about 12 feet high.

>>> We know next to nothing about the “studio” because you didn’t say anything. See: “walk around the room…”

Please see the link above to a sketch.

>>>What do the band members think of all this?

The primary goal of these sessions is to help us become better musicians while making good live music.

As such, recording is a secondary endeavor (at best), and by recording the sessions we hope to make some quick-and-dirty captures for analysis and also to serve as a poor-man’s demo to help open doors to gigs at small local clubs, etc.

>>> I’m posting this as if you were a stand-alone recordist and not one of the band members. If you’re trying to do both, then it’s harder.

I play keyboards. Audactity is running on a computer on a table in-front of my keyboard, within reach while I am sitting at the keyboard. It is not that intrusive because I just start a new project in Audacity before each tune, name it sequentially (01, 02, 03… N), then press Record and let it spin. It has worked out so far. But, yes, I am focused on the music at run-time and cannot adjust Audacity on-the-fly in real time.

>>> Do you have anything where you all play the same song?


Well, I should say that we strive to play outside, improvisational, and open-- so, we sincerely hope you do not hear the “same [old] song” in our recordings.


That said, please feel free to browse all of our recordings are here…

Given our recordings and what you say about the “same song”, please see if this might be closer to what you seek.

This is clip from the start…

This is a clip from the end…

This is the whole recording…

Thank you for your advice and analysis, it is very helpful-- please send along more if you care to contribute further.


– Mark Kamoski

Given our recordings and what you say about the “same song”, please see if this might be closer to what you seek.

Appealing to me is probably hopeless. About the second or third seventh-minor-diminished chord in a row and I’m looking to go make a nice cup of tea.

[Room Diagram]
You keep dragging us back to completion. I don’t think you can do a lot better than you did. I’m all for hanging pads on the walls.

That’s why it doesn’t sound like a barn/kitchen/bathroom. That got my attention right away.

A note on the MP3. The one you posted has a number of overload points in it. If you do amplify ahead of converting to MP3, Don’t do it to the default value of zero. Amplify to -1 and those red overload points should go away.

we strive to play outside, improvisational, and open

Do you have a club that you’re dying to play?

“I’d kill to get my band into Scullers Club on Soldiers Road.”

Any nibbles?


No, I have not even investigated gigs yet-- I am still building rosters of players, trying to get players to commit a bit, etc.

For details concerning what I am doing, please see a copy of my typical CraigsList ad here…

…which should explain things a bit.

But, the short answer is “no” and playing out is (right now) a far secondary goal.

The primary goal of these sessions is to help us become better musicians through the process of making good live music.

The secondary goal is to form some bands, that can gig 1 or 2 times per month, playing late-night shows at local venues-- for fun and adventure.

The tertiary goal is to create some quick-and-dirty recordings, for analysis and to serve as simple demos.

So, we have day jobs-- this is for the music-- this is not for the money-- etc.



– Mark Kamoski

Dear Koz –

Ok, this is good to know.

FYI, I am trying to get some tips for the next session-- that is, I probably will not touch what I have already recorded and burned to MP3.

However, all your input is VERY helpful to move the process forward, help me to be more efficient, and plan for the future.

Thanks so much.

– Mark Kamoski