Beth Hart Live at the Royal Albert Hall

American singer, songwriter and musician Beth Hart has built a career on memorable, narrative song writing and passionate live performances for nearly 20 years. Her new album/DVD/Blu-Ray release, Live at the Royal Albert Hall, is a testament to this – leaving Sweetwater Studio Senior Producer/Engineer Mark Hornsby in no doubt that the recording had to be perfect.

‘Beth is a very emotional performer and it’s pretty epic to put her in a space like that,’ he says. ‘You have one shot when you’re trying to capture something like that, so you’ve got to make it count.’

Beth Hart Live at the Royal Albert HallHornsby has an enviable track record of 5.1 recording, both in the studio and in live spaces. This made him the first choice of film director Nigel Dick, who has directed videos for everyone from Paul McCartney to Gloria Estefan. With years of experience of surround sound mixes for the likes of George Strait, Allison Kraus, and also with his experience as staff engineer at Nashville’s Seventeen Grand Recording – one of the first 5.1 high-definition mix rooms in the US – Hornsby was the right man for the job.

Having already worked on several high-profile video concert performances, Hornsby was aware of the requirements for a 4k video shoot and set up for a 24/96kHz 5.1. surround-sound mix that entailed roughly 40 tracks and an array of microphones placed on the stage and at strategic points within the theatre. ‘I’m creating what Nigel is going to use to edit the entire show,’ he explains. ‘You have to mix it like it’s a live show, bringing up the faders for solos, while keeping a close ear open for anything that could possibly go wrong.’

Arriving in London on the day of the performances, Hornsby worked in tandem with Hart’s crew and the video team to set the stage for the evening. ‘All the microphones had been shipped ahead of time and the crew had been using them on all of the preceding European tour dates,’ he explains. ‘The main things we had to accomplish on arrival were tweaking the stage mic set-up and make sure that the communication with the video team was solid.’ With the video team working underneath the stage of the Hall, Hornsby set up his tracking and monitoring station in remote recording truck outside of the venue.

Throughout the evening, the audio was fed to the remote truck via fibre-optic cables sent from Front of House, running through a set of Sony DMX preamplifiers before entering the DAW. The feed was monitored by a Solid State Logic broadcast console, along with a pair of ATC SCM25as – also part of the monitoring set up back in Studio B at Sweetwater Studios in Fort Wayne.

Mark Hornsby Hornsby, who has attended many concerts at the Royal Albert Hall over the years, already had intimate knowledge of the venue: ‘It’s got an iconic sound,’ he says. ‘If you go with the room and just let it sound big, it works.’

The room’s natural acoustics and long reverb tails left an exhilarating sonic footprint on the recordings. During the set-up phase, Hornsby took great care to mic the room accordingly, with several audience mics as well as a matched pair in the Hall’s famous domed ceiling. Controlling the natural reverb occasionally became a challenge when Hart belted out louder portions of the performance, but as Hornsby wisely adds, ‘You can’t fight the room. If you try to dial it back down then you might as well have just recorded somewhere else’.

Although there are plenty of fiery performances on Live at the Royal Albert Hall, it’s the intimate emotional moments that Hart shares with her audience that really help exhibit the entirety of her artistic talent. ‘There are four songs she did with just herself and the piano, where we were really able to take advantage of the openness of the space,’ Hornsby says, ‘You can really hear the connection she’s making to the audience in those songs and when I returned to Sweetwater Studios they were the first things I wanted to work on to set the tone for the rest of it.’

With the recording complete, Hornsby and the crew met backstage to plan the next leg of the journey. For him, it was returning to Sweetwater Sound in Fort Wayne, IN to create the surround sound mix of the audio in Sweetwater’s Studio B, making use of the studio’s Solid State Logic AWS 948 Delta console and ATC SCM45A monitors to recreate the stunning performances that he captured. While he’s spent a lot of time engineering on both the stage and in the studio, Hornsby says that ultimately the objectives are the same.

‘You want to capture the energy of a good performance and you want that to translate whether you are listening to it or watching it. Beth has got soul for days and it’s something special. Being able to capture that in a live performance like this is really incredible.’

More: www.sweetwaterstudios.com

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