Just kidding, it isn’t 1964 – that was just a cheap shot to get your attention.
Some readers will perhaps be shocked and puzzled as to my equipment choice and methods for this live recording at the Cavern in Liverpool. A domestic cassette recorder? One cheap mic? What’s he playing at? Why not a nice little modern handheld digital recorder and a couple of high end condensers? Why not a direct feed from the desk? This isn’t a 60s bootleg, is it?
No,but it’s a 60s sound, for a genuine, authentic beat group, no less; The Beat Rats, all the way from new York City. so they deserved an appropriate treatment. In this case the monster Sony 138SD cassette recorder, and a single Sony F99 stereo dynamic mic, both circa 1972. A 1/4″ machine or anything with valves in would have been an option, but too unwieldy for a superfast set up,and way too fragile in this kind of environment.
The cheap mic sonic was useful(!) – the restricted frequency response knocked out low end rumble by default, so I knew I wouldn’t have problems with muddiness or spiky high end transients. The result would be most reminiscent of a 60s sonic. Theoretically.
I’m familiar with the Cavern – and the shortcomings of its sound system. In such a small venue, the PA system is often overpowering, and configured for one-size-fits-all. So an important aim was to bypass the house sound as much as possible. My solution was to place the mic very close to the stage, to pick up the natural balance of the instruments, and grab enough vocals from the stage monitors (with perhaps just a little from the PA).
Time was very limited in setting up; no more than 5 minutes to unpack my gear, set the mic, and check everything was working (ie holding a cigarette lighter above the recorder to make sure the tape was turning!). There was no possibility of any soundcheck, and monitoring was well nigh impossible due to the external noise level, so a little intuition was necessary. I set the mic at ear height, roughly 5ft in front of the centre of the stage, with the recorder to the side. To show how small the place really is, I should note that the cable for this mic is a mere 6′!
Other than an unruly drunk bashing into the mic stand during the second song, I just moved the mic once – a foot further back, as I’d noted the vocal was more evident in that position. That always seems to be the the battle in live sound – getting enough vocal in the mix.
But let’s not forget to give credit where it’s due. The band played splendidly and did all the hard work – all I had to do was press record.
In post production, I just eq’d slightly, adding a little more mid range, and a tad of compression on mastering, then culled the set for a 6 track EP. My benchmark for this record was The Big 3 Live At The Cavern from 1964, which is frankly not that brilliant. Did I do better? Did I do worse?
Admittedly, my choices were a risky strategy – especially opting for a lo fi sonic from the outset. But sometimes you just have to go with your instincts and hope for the best!
The Big 3 here:
and you can watch the gig here:
The Beat Rats website:
More of my vid blogs at: