Everybody has an opinion on whether they prefer live recordings of music or studio recordings. What follows is a list of four pros and four cons for both live recording and studio recording.
Studio recording pros:
- Song crafting – Each individual song can be crafted to specifics once it has been recorded. Maybe you’re not quite sure which direction to take the song, but once you lay down a few tracks, a vision might start to crop up.
- Control – An amazing amount of control is available in a studio setting. You can mic the entire drum set, for crying out loud. You can
- Re-tracking – If a band tends to have a lot of solos, the studio is often a good idea because you can record several takes of one key solo, then go back and pick the best full take. You can just keep going, and going, and going until you’ve got the perfect solo.
4. Editing – If someone’s having an off day and just can’t play this one part to save their life, the engineer can often go back into the track and splice a better take into that particular part.
Studio recording cons:
- Song Crafting – Discovering a song’s direction in the studio can be counterproductive if you end up not being able to play it live the way you recorded it. Fans can be disappointed, or may like the live version better and wonder why you didn’t record the song that way in the first place.
- Control – Control can lead to a sterile sound, especially with certain genres of music, like rock, jazz, country, etc. Locked in a booth, you often miss capturing the high energy of a live show.
- Re-tracking – Re-tracking can become very expensive very quickly if someone can’t nail their part in the first few takes. It’s possible too that nerves set in as you continue to do take after take, which might actually be making the situation worse. You end up beating a dead horse.
- Editing – Someone (typically not a band member) is calling the shots on this one. The identifiable “sound” of the band is in his/her hands, and even if they are seriously pro at his/her job, she/he can often drastically change what was previously one of the band’s most recognizable qualities.
Live recording pros:
- The Visual – One benefit of a live show is that the listen can see those magical live moments on stage, and it makes them feel a connection to the band or artist. Whether they see somebody drop the ball, or a roadie fix a cable, or the frontman signal timing to the drummer, the listener gets to witness that and therefore be a part of it.
- The Experience – Not only can the audience witness the unexpected happenings onstage, but they can literally interact with the band. The band can ask questions the audience answers, the crowd can sing along, or even sing alone if the band drops out for a verse, they can clap or jump together; it creates a union between artist and fan.
- The Energy – Everybody knows an audience typically gets really excited when the band finally comes out onstage, but the band most definitely feeds off the excitement of the crowd.
- The Authenticity – On a live recording, there are no overdubs, no retracking, no splicing or editing. You get a sound sample of the band in their truest form.
Live Recording Cons:
- The Visual – When you’re witnessing those aforementioned magical moments from, you understand what’s going on. There’s a physicality to it, and the artist brings the viewer with him/her. If you’re only listening to a live recording though, you don’t necessarily have that same connectivity, and the magical moment may not make sense at all musically. The artist is playing more indulgently, stretching things out, adding things and without the visual, sometimes it gets boring.
- The Experience – Allowing the audience to interact directly with the band can lead to some testy situations, especially depending on how close they are to each other. Inebriated or belligerent audience members can damage music gear and equipment, or start heckling and abusing the artist, which detracts from the shared experience you’re hoping to capture on a recording.
- The Energy – Lack of audience equals lack of energy, and if you happen to walk in on a performance for no one, even if the band is giving it their all, chances are you won’t want to stick around to experience a band you don’t know by yourself. Sad for everybody. This is why concerts are videotaped as opposed to a studio recording session.
- The Authenticity – In a live recording, you get the magical moments, but also the train wrecks. If the band originally wrote the song in the studio, they may have to patch some dubs or edits into the live performance to get the anticipated product.
It depends on what you want, and often on whether you’re the one recording, the one listening to the recording, or the one viewing the recording. The Encyclopedia of Music at FDRMX would love to hear your thoughts.