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Live vs. Studio...How Did It Get Reversed?

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There's an [URL="http://www.dailyrecord.com/story/entertainment/music/2015/12/31/tony-visconti-holy-holy-and-david-bowies-new-album/78018596/"]interesting article[/URL] about Tony Visconti, his work with Bowie, and the upcoming Holy Holy tour which will play Bowie's "Man Who Sold the World" live. In it, he said: "[COLOR=#333333][FONT=arial][SIZE=14px]Doing a full album show is so good because — I have heard this over and over again all the years I’ve been a record producer — the band will record the album and they’ll get it technically correct in the studio, there’ll be a certain amount of passion and a certain amount of spontaneity, but they really start learning the album when they’re on tour,” Visconti explained. “I’ve heard more than one artist say, ‘I’d love to go back into the studio and re-record the album now I’ve learned it. I feel it. I get where it is." This reminded me of a point I make in seminars - that the goal of an album used to be to capture the magic of a live act in the studio, and now the goal of a live act seems to be to capture what was created in the studio. I prefer the former. In fact, I'll often write a song in the studio, record it, then scrap it and start all over because I learned so much about the song while playing it during the recording process. What say you?[/SIZE][/FONT][/COLOR]

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I view the two art forms as being related in a manner similar to films and stage productions. Each has its own challenges and you can do different things with each...

 

I do think there's a lot to be said for writing the songs and then touring them - or at least playing them a few times in front of a live audience. It helps you see what works and what they react to, and how well they respond to your new material. As you said, it also gives you a chance to really learn it and get it down. Time to work the kinks out and make it as good as you can. Far too many bands seem to want to go into the studio too early in the process before they really "know" the material, and that can be a big time-waster.

 

OTOH, I think it's also possible to go too far in the other direction... if you've been touring for a year and are totally burnt out on the material, it's going to be difficult to have any spontaneity, energy or enthusiasm in the recorded performances, and I think there's a lot of value in that which could be lost by playing it to death before attempting to record it.

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I didn't realize that was happening, but I think it might be a "because we can" thing. It was pretty much a given, certainly from the time of the Beatles, that you recorded things in the studio that you couldn't do live - you could exercise your imagination and creativity and nobody really expected that you'd bring that 50 piece orchestra into the bar for a show. But with today's technology, most of the studio tricks can be duplicated in a live sound setup. Need a doubled rhythm guitar? There's an app for that. Need an orchestra? No problem, you can have a mix of the orchestra studio tracks on a thumb drive. What would you do if sang out of tune? Engage the AutoTune.

 

 

Sure, you have to learn the album to be able to do that, and you need to understand the technology and at least set up the scenes on your digital console properly so that all you need to do to "dial in" the studio mix is to dial up the preset.

 

Don't get me wrong - I'm not poo-pooing the concept. I think it's pretty clever. But on the other hand, I can hear what they did in the studio in the comfort of my own home and not have to put up with all those screaming people in the audience and $35 parking, bag search, and no beer. If I see the band live, I'd like to hear how they can actually perform as a band.

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One of the things I noticed playing live was that the songs were morphing as we played them up to the point where we recorded them. After that they were defined by the recordings and we became a cover band covering our own material. I even coped some of my own guitar solos in the parts that used to be open for improvisation.

 

I remember seeing the Let It Be movie and noticing in the early parts of the film that I knew the songs better than they did. By the time they got to the rooftop they were like a well oiled machine and then never played those songs together again. In fact, cover bands have played Beatles' songs more than The Beatles did.

 

 

 

 

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Interesting thread... The studio allows for endless creative possibilities and as artists, its pure heaven for me. But performing those tunes live... thats another story. I think we all fall into that trap. As "recording artists", we have to temper our creative juices if we want those songs to translate to a live setting (unless we have the means to hire an individual to handle every sound on the record).

 

When I recorded my first record, we went nuts with parts. I remember one song had 12 guitar parts... When we performed the songs live, they felt really thin. A four piece band trying to sound like 16, it couldn`t be done.

 

On the second record, we are making a conscious effort to keep the songs manageable, meaning we can perform the songs as a 4 piece band. Granted, there are a few extra parts in there like synths, the gang vocal, and some tambourine but for the most part, guitars have been minimized to what we can handle live. Even with that effort, I know the songs will still fall short live...

Edited by Ernest Buckley

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In fact' date=' cover bands have played Beatles' songs more than The Beatles did.[/quote']

 

So true. My friend is in a cover band of The Beatles. They do The Beatles better than the Beatles did. Check this out....

 

 

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I've always preferred to play live.

 

And each song goes through phases. First it's like uncharted land, you are exploring it, and it's surprising you again and again - excitement.

 

Then it gets to the point where you are at your peak, you know what sounds best, what the audience reacts to, and you are in the zone from the first note to the end. This is when you should go in the studio and record it.

 

After that is like an old friend. Not as exciting, but very very comfortable and rewarding.

 

But to answer your question, I think it started with Les Paul and multi-tracking. You could do things in the studio that you couldn't do live. But of course, you could hire musicians to cover the multi-tracked parts.

 

Then it took a jump ahead with the Beatles. This is the era where the recording studio became a musical instrument. You could do things that you couldn't do well live (ever try singing the backwards verse in "Rain"?).

 

Add samples, auto-tune, etc., and it grew from there. I hear a lot of songs that nobody could cover live without a studio produced backing track or click track.

 

It didn't happen overnight, like most things, it just sneaked up on us.

 

I still prefer to play live and get that instant energy feedback from the audience. And if I happen to improvise a much better than normal solo, I get it added from the other musicians and that's an especially nice feeling.

 

Insights and incites by Notes

 

 

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I've thought about this many times over the years. I think the shift came around the time of the use of multitracking. At least by the time of the 16 track. Somewhere between Abbey Road and A Night at The Opera it was no longer about trying to capture the live performance

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I think it started with Les Paul and multi-tracking. You could do things in the studio that you couldn't do live. But of course' date=' you could hire musicians to cover the multi-tracked parts.[/quote']

 

Ol' Les had it all figured out. He took enough gear on the road with him so that he could pretty much duplicate the sound of his recorded guitar on stage. Mary Ford's sister would travel with them and sing a harmony vocal part back stage. He was an amazingly good showman, and this was part of his show.

 

Then it took a jump ahead with the Beatles. This is the era where the recording studio became a musical instrument. You could do things that you couldn't do well live

 

That's a better example. But before The Beatles, people were performing on stage with drum machines and keyboards with sequencers, basically to provide more hands than what the band had. But until sampling became pretty mature, with the exception of pre-recorded backing tracks, vocals pretty much had to be done live.

 

Was interesting was how the audiences reacted to on-stage trickery. A drum machine was accepted for a small act, and if the band or soloist had a sequencer or computer on stage and you could watch him fiddling with it before each song, that was accepted as being pretty slick. But performing with pre-recorded tracks was always considered pretty tacky.

 

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Our duo plays with pre-recorded tracks. I make them myself so they are not the karaoke kind.

 

Would I rather play with a real band? Yes, but economics won't allow. Before downsizing I was in a 5 piece band. We went duo, charged $100 less per night than the 5 piece and only split the rest with 2 people. Now we could actually make a living doing music.

 

So in effect, we are doing the Les Paul thing.

 

We are semi-live anyway.

 

Many years ago, I was at a rock festival. Dr. John, Starship and a few other bands played. Alice Cooper came on and they did a skit where they were marching to hang Vince at the gallows. The tape broke and the only think you could hear was the drummer (at very low volume in the big venue) as he played parade drums marching to the gallows and hanging poor Vince without the music.

 

I also knew a guy who worked at Criteria (we were in a band together years before). They recorded a rock band (who shall be nameless here) using their mobile recording studio in a motor home. When they were all done, the wiped the vocals and re-recorded the vocal tracks in the studio and sold it as a live album.

 

And how many bands went into the studio in California, had "The Wrecking Crew" do their background tracks, and then had to go on the road doing their best to play licks Tommy Tedesco, Plas Johnson, and Leon Russel played in the studio? Same for Muscle Shoals and a few others.

 

Martha Wash sang vocals for a few early hip-hop groups like C&C Music Factory and Black Box, and a sexy, dancing model pretended to sing lead to the vocal track, which leaves me to believe the entire night was pantomiming to a recording.

 

The shift didn't happen overnight but slowly evolved. From Les Paul playing to his own recording to copping samples from other bands and other studio effects plus auto-tuned vocals had a number of small steps in between.

 

When I first got on the road, a 5 piece band could cover almost everything. Those days are long gone.

 

Insights and incites by Notes

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Our duo plays with pre-recorded tracks. I make them myself so they are not the karaoke kind.

 

Would I rather play with a real band? Yes, but economics won't allow. Before downsizing I was in a 5 piece band. We went duo, charged $100 less per night than the 5 piece and only split the rest with 2 people. Now we could actually make a living doing music.

 

So in effect, we are doing the Les Paul thing.

 

We are semi-live anyway.

[...]

 

I was lucky enough to catch a lecture/performance of Robert Fripp's tape-echo-loop solo act, Frippertronics, circa 1980 (standing perched on the edge of a record bin in the old Tower Records on Sunset in Hollywood... the place was completely packed (leading to my [and others'] precarious perch -- amazingly tolerated by the Tower folks -- you had to love that place in a lot of ways).

 

In the lecture part, he explained that -- and this was 1980, remember -- for the kind of music he made and audiences that came to see him, touring with a band wasn't really economically viable -- but a guy with a couple guitars, an amp and a pair of Revox tape decks could hit the road solo and might actually be able to make a living. (That said, I don't think he did too many Frippertronics tours. wink.png )

Edited by blue2blue

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I agree that a song, like any creation, should be allowed to evolve, and that there is no one right way to perform it. I listen back to recordings of my songs that I still do live [some were recorded over 25 years ago], and some have really changed. Some, remarkably, were pretty much set by the time I recorded them, but most had been 'road tested' before they were committed to tape.

 

Years ago, the mantra of our band was not to record until we had explored the songs. The other mantra was not to do anything in the studio we couldn't have done live. I used echo machines [tape, and then analog, then digital] to 'loop' rhythm guitar live while I soloed, so we managed to sound 'bigger' than a power trio or quartet.

 

I also do not do 'jukebox' versions of cover songs. I have been in 'note for note' bands, and I found it creatively stifling. I undertook the challenge for what it was, but it was ultimately totally unsatisfying. Why would I do something someone else has done? And then to do it night after night, like a machine? I prefer to put my stamp on the material... what I consider the difference between being a technician or an artist. And I pretty much never play the same thing exactly the same way twice, particularly solos. I have no problem with hooks, etc., but one of the best things in music to me is taking that risk, putting your self out on the ledge, not knowing where things will go. I have turned down so many tribute band offers over the years I can't even count them. They do huge business here, especially in the Indian Casinos...but I think of that as theater, not music, at that point.

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I agree that a song' date=' like any creation, should be allowed to evolve, and that there is no one right way to perform it.[/quote']

 

I've thought about that and how it pertains to classical music which has a reputation for being rigid. Composers like Bach and Beethoven were improvisers but the only way they could record their performances was to write them down. It seems that we put a lot of effort into being able to perform the music precisely as written - which may not actually be the way the composer prefer to play the piece.

 

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It goes way back to the Beatles era. I remember hearing them talk (I think it was Sir Paul) about how at first, they recorded what they planned to play live, but later, decided to stop touring completely and let the album be the end goal.

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It goes way back to the Beatles era. I remember hearing them talk (I think it was Sir Paul) about how at first' date=' they recorded what they planned to play live, but later, decided to stop touring completely and [b']let the album be the end goal[/b].

 

This ^^^^

 

For most of my adult life in music "The album" or the single or what have you was the focus. Bands toured to sell albums and increase airplay, which was where the real money and greater freedom to express was (is). Honestly IMO in my experience concerts sucked and I couldn't wait to get back home to the controlled environment of my listening room to hear an album or song in all its studio glory. Some of the most innovative bands were studio bands only and never toured. The concert experience was fun, but bringing that polished studio sound to stage was damn near imposible. One Cheap Trick concert in particular I remember was just a buzz of distortion and unintelligible lyrics. I remeber looking over at a friend I was with and we were both looking at each other like, "Why are we here? Why are we doing this? It sucks!"

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This ^^^^

 

For most of my adult life in music "The album" or the single or what have you was the focus. Bands toured to sell albums and increase airplay, which was where the real money and greater freedom to express was (is). Honestly IMO in my experience concerts sucked and I couldn't wait to get back home to the controlled environment of my listening room to hear an album or song in all its studio glory. Some of the most innovative bands were studio bands only and never toured. The concert experience was fun, but bringing that polished studio sound to stage was damn near imposible. One Cheap Trick concert in particular I remember was just a buzz of distortion and unintelligible lyrics. I remeber looking over at a friend I was with and we were both looking at each other like, "Why are we here? Why are we doing this? It sucks!"

 

Same here. I don`t remember the last concert I went to that I felt was better than a record. I always harp on the sound system when I go because most of the time its too damn loud and everything is distorted and of course, there is always something missing in the live performance. Artists trade off parts of their record for the energy of a large crowd but something is always lost on me and its the reason I refuse to spend hundreds of dollars to go see a band or artist.

 

Last summer I went to see Rush twice. The first night they were in NJ and the sound system sucked. Two nights later we saw them at MSG and the sound was much tighter and the band sounded better. Great band with tons of music but that variability from one night to another would drive me nuts if I were touring.

 

With all that said, I loved going to hear Rush. It was truly one of the best concerts I`ve ever been to even with all the warts.

Edited by Ernest Buckley
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There's nothing new about acts trying to recreate their recordings live.

 

How many times did you see early videos/movies of bands lip syncing and faking their instruments their recordings? Granted, that's not actually performing the music they recorded, but isn't it in essence the same attempt at recreating the studio version?

 

I can also count numerous live albums that do a fantastic job duplicating their studio versions. You also have just as many bands that expand on what they did in the studio and take the music even farther.

 

Music to me is a discipline and a free art form. Recording that musical performance is a discipline and art form too. It has the result of freezing that performance in time. This can lead to the end of a work in progress and make it less inspirational for the performer and the audience.

 

The minute you nail it down and say it cant be improved the evolution of that piece of art ends. Its no longer a work in progress and the creative lamp is turned off. You can re-experience it by playing it or listening to it but there is no reason to go beyond that. Chances are a composer will move to a new blank canvas to begin a new work from scratch.

 

I do take a different view when it comes to music. I grew up reading music and see it the same as you would reading a book. You are free to interpret it as you choose. Sometimes it may be the same way as the original author intended, sometimes its much different. I often find movies made from books fail to capture what I interpreted in writing. Sometimes they do and even better job.

 

Its the same with music. If I go to see a band and all I hear is exactly what was on the recording, I'm bored silly by that performance. Yea its cool they can do it but they don't prove to me they've improved themselves as artists. I like bands that use the original recordings as a basis for something even better live. Not all players can do this. Some spend an entire lifetime becoming programed robots and have no skill to take it farther.

 

The way I see it, if you don't take a risk and at least attempt to take a performance beyond the fixed recording you eliminate the possibility of true greatness. Only those who risk failure have a chance of touching heaven so to speak. Those who play it safe can still have bad days and flop. The difference is they are not pushing themselves to improve beyond their maximum comfort zone once they reach it. The risk taker learns the art of recovery. Even if he fails to go as far as he's like, he at least knows the path and the pitfalls there and back.

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And then there are the exceptions like Cheap Trick at Budokan 1978, which captured the energy of live with decent recordings. That's the, "I Want You to Want Me" everyone knows. The studio version of that song is comparatively weak and lifeless IMO.

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There are countless bands that did exceptional jobs on live expanded versions of cover songs. Supertramp, Frampton, Talking Heads, Kinks, Stones, Zepplin, The Who, the list goes on and on. Most of the Iconic bands have at least one great live album and many newer bands also have Videos as well.

 

Craig may be right about what's happening recently however. There aren't that many big bands touring any more. Many that are, are older established bands that have been playing their music for decades. When the studio monopoly crashed it took a good deal of the touring machine out with it. Bands used to cut and album, then go out on the road to sell it. They'd be booked as a first or second opener for a major act to build up their following and sell albums.

 

Studios would advertise these concerts on radio stations and pack stadiums. I rarely hear about concerts on the radio much any more, Probably because I don't listen to the radio much which can be another reason in itself.

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I think another reason why bands aren't touring as much is that much of the music manufactured in the studio can no longer be covered by live musicians. The recording studio in many cases has become a musical instrument.

 

I suspect it's the reason why The Beatles quit touring. Can you imagine doing things like "I Am The Walrus", "A Day In The Life", "The Abbey Road Medley" and others using the technology of the day?

 

Plus, there are a lot of good records out there that are not good songs. (My definition is if the record sounds great but a rendition on a piano and vocal does not, it's a good record that isn't a good song). Many of these are either impossible or next to impossible for your average band to cover in a live situation. And when the national act covers them, so much of the show has to be pre-recorded, simply because the recording studio was an essential instrument.

 

And with the Internet and a zillion TV channels, is there a need for touring? Especially since the majority of the youngsters seem to prefer DJs to live music anyway?

 

Don't get me wrong, although I've done some studio work, I am predominantly a live musician. That's where my heart is. The immediate feedback of energy from the audience is like a drug to me. Playing in the studio is fine, and I like to please the ears of the other musicians and the people in the fish tank, but it's nothing like live in front of a club or arena full of people to me.

 

I'm lucky enough to have made a living doing music and nothing but music for most of my life so far (and have no intention of ever retiring). I did have 2 day jobs in my life while playing as a weekend warrior, but neither worked out - and playing with weekend warrior musicians wasn't satisfying either. Some were very good musicians, but the day gigs took too much time away from what was needed to spend on making excellent music.

 

So the increasing influence of the recording studio over playing live is not something that I'm overjoyed about. Especially when I see younger musicians who don't have the opportunity to make their living playing music like my generation did.

 

When I was young, every hotel of Holiday Inn size or better had live music 6 nights a week. Singles bars coexisted with the hotel bars also with at least 6 nights of live music. A bar with either recorded music or a TV set was a corner tavern with a dozen or so bar stools and nothing more. Those days are gone, and probably gone for good.

 

What's going to happen next? I hope I'm here long enough to find out and adaptable to keep working. So far - so good.

 

Insights and incites by Notes

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