Taping Vaco

I took the train down to Princeton last Tuesday night to see Virginia Coalition at Colonial (I've blogged about them before). I of course graduated back in June, but I've become a big Vaco fan as of late and I couldn't pass up a free show in my old house. I brought down all my computer gear, hoping to be able to record the show but luck was not on my side.

I have recorded quite a few shows at Colonial and other Princeton locations. Most of the time the sound guy (usually one of DJ Bob's henchmen) would let me plug into the sound board with an RCA cable. I recorded a bunch of shows this way including three Pat McGee Band shows, my own Open Mic performances, and a few campus bands. I was used to recording at Colonial since I knew where all the power and connections were, and Bob's sound guy seemed to always remember me and was willing to help me out.

In order to pack light, I didn't bring my XLR cables because they're pretty heavy and I've never needed them to record at Colonial before. Of course, what is the only kind of connection that the sound guy is willing to give me? You guessed it, XLR. Even if I had XLR, I probably wouldn't have been able to record because the outlet on the wall near the sound board was off (it is apparently controlled by the light dimmer in the room, yet in the past I was able to use it with the lights off so I don't really understand that). So I had no power or audio in that location.

So I needed two things - power and audio. Unfortunately with audio my only real option was a crummy computer microphone that I had. I don't own any real mics. I always think about buying one but it would have to be for taping only since a vocal mic like an SM58 isn't great for recording performances. Also one microphone creates a mono recording, which is kind of crummy. I also can't run a mic like that directly into my computer without a preamp to power the mic. Therefore I'm looking at about $400 minimum for the two mics and the USB preamp, never-mind the stand.

As for power, I searched high and low, everywhere I could, to try and find a wall outlet that actually worked. My PowerBook battery doesn't last too long while recording since it is spinning the hard disk the entire time. My computer probably isn't the best thing to record to, now that I only have a 15" PowerBook. A 12 incher was much easier to manage but I don't have one anymore. A DAT recorder is $800 so I really don't want to drop that much on something that I'll only use a couple times each year.

I finally found power in the kitchen of all places. The kitchen was right next to the dining room, which is essentially "stage left" since they put a stage up in the dining room which faces out into the large fireplace area in the front of the club. The power outlet I found was about six feet off the ground and occupied by two things. I discovered the first was this eerie blue light fixture that I tried unplugging but I soon realized that the light would be more useful if on, so I could see what I was doing. I traced the other cord to a big box which looked like a fridge with glass doors but I think it was actually a food warmer. Since it was off at the time (it was the middle of the night and there was no food to warm) I unplugged it set my computer atop the warmer to keep it close to the outlet (I also neglected my extension cord while "packing light") and to keep it out of the way of the bands and crew walking by. I then plugged in my cheapo microphone and tried to find a way to position it to record the band.

I eventually settled on sticking it to the top of the doorway right by the left speaker stack. The mic obviously wasn't meant for this type of recording so it was clipping and overloading like mad, so I connected it to my Mac using my iMic and turned off the switch that powers the mic. I thought maybe with just a little bit of power it would pick up the signal fine and I could mess with the sound later. That was a poor decision because now listening to my recordings, the clipping recording wasn't all that bad and the no-power recording (which is what I used to record all of Vaco's set) really isn't audible at all. Maybe with some work I can bring the volume up loud enough and filter out all the massive buzzing noise but I'm not too confident that it will work.

Note to self: buy some recording gear. This ghetto stuff isn't cutting it anymore. If only I could record on my 4G iPod. Maybe soon the iPod Linux project will progress far enough with 4G support to allow me to use my iPod for recording with an external battery pack. That would solve much of my problems. Until that time, I could look into another recording device, but anything that would suit my needs would cost just as much as an iPod since I would need over 2 GB of recording space for any show that I record.