I say that the answer yes. Some of my favorite albums of all time are live recordings. From the Grateful Dead’s “Dead Set”, to Nirvana’s “Unplugged”, live albums bring an element of authenticity to the ear and give the listener an idea of what the music sounds like in a heads of those performing it. The truth is however that the recording live environment, especially one with an audience, most certainly has its challenges.
One of the first steps to making great recordings is planning the recording process. A great recording begins before you’ve set the first mic. Not only disciplines such as mic placement are key in an uncontrolled environment, but also decisions about which microphones to use.
I’m a big fan of a well-known sound engineering and online recording instructor named Graham Cochrane. He runs a website called The Recording Revolution. It’s full of great advice and instructional videos for the home studio engineer. I’ve read several of his articles where he speaks of the merits of having one or two good, yet relatively inexpensive mics in you mic locker. In a studio environment, I would tend to agree with Graham. One would assume that the studio has been treated and EQ to some extent. Even a home studio. In the live environment however, you had very little control over your space. This doesn’t mean you can still get a good recording from relatively inexpensive microphones. Nevertheless, if you have a better tool for the job, in my opinion, you may as well use it.
Recording is just as much art as it is science. When recording in a live environment, science takes precedent. The art will have to wait for mixdown. In the end, you typically don’t get a second chance at a take, and there are no overdubs. You need to capture what the performer is doing, while they’re doing it, and as accurately as possible. This is why mic placement and mic choice is so important in live recording. If you have time before the show, and a cooperative performer, test out a few mics to see how they sound. Not only in the room, but in the cans as well. After all, when the show is over, so is the recording session. What you have captured is all you have to work with come time to mix it all down. And if you can start with smart tracking techniques, you’re one step closer to a great final recording.