As a fledgling musician beginning to get my feet wet, I have been spending some time lately musing about the line between live and recorded music. Creating that next album often seems to be the big picture goal of many artists, but the most raw, real, in-the-moment performances are - almost without exception - live. At the same time, there is a slew of earth-shaking talent whose sounds have never been recorded! (This is growing smaller all the time with recent technological advances and social media, but still - how many killer musicians do you know who rarely or never enter(ed) the studio?) On the other side of the sound wave, audiences in general are less willing to fork up the time, $, and logistical effort to come out and listen in person than to press play on their device of choice. So where do we focus our time and energy to best reach those people our music will resonate with?
I think the first question has to be: What qualities are unique to each performance situation - live vs recorded? These may seem pretty obvious to me, but I remember posing a similar question as a TA to college-level Music Appreciation classes and being met with rather mundane results. Answers ranged from "You can't see people in an audio recording" to "The bass is quieter in my iPod" to "I might not remember a live performance as well." Ok, generally true. But I'm more talking about the link between musician and listener, between music-er and music-ee, and how that changes in each case. Because when we perform live, we tend to gain inspiration from our audience, and on some level what we put out is tailored to how we feel as a result. The effect on the crowd is palpable too, when they can see and feel the regret or rage or jubilation pouring off the stage. When they transition from observing to entering the experience themselves, the music can take on a life of its own, as the listeners' mood and musicians' enthusiasm rocket off of each other and launch the moment into an unplanned orbit.
With a recorded piece of music, there is separation between the artist and the interpreter. First, the very process of recording can sometimes dilute the expression. When the necessary repetition, lack of audience, and pursuit of perfection combine together in studio, the result may not be anything like the lightning-in-a-bottle harnessed live. A recording is also of course a static entity: the goal is usually to put forth a final, finished product that is a close representation of what would be performed on stage. And yet... there is an inherent singularity in recorded sound too. While the recording itself will not change (except for the unavoidable deterioration over time), these captured sounds will absolutely allow changes in interpretation. Someone may hear a heart-wrenching ache today, but in two years hear unbridled triumph in that very same sound.
So as performers, we are constantly weighing the benefits of instant connection vs an enduring platform that can evolve over time. (This is starting to sound like a dating blog.) But when and why do we choose to pursue each of those goals? I guess my current perspective is that the live performance is the end goal - the most authentic way I know to express those musical thoughts that I can't put into words. The recording is a way to try to replicate the most potent live experiences and disseminate them to a greater group of people in hopes that someday they will be motivated to access that full experience with me. (I guess I should cut off the dating comparison, because this would imply we should get married so that we can convince other people we would be fun to take out on a date...)
Switching gears here, this debate over live vs recorded sound affects instrument manufacturers too! Just as guitar players would use different amps when playing in a small studio vs a large concert hall, Harrelson also builds trumpets with varying levels of focus, feedback, and projection. Many of these differences occur in the bell, where the sound wave is amplified outward from the horn. Feel free to check out all of the options available for different musical needs. http://whyharrelson.weebly.com/jasons-blog/understanding-bell-choices
To wrap up this wandering entry, I've been checking out some of the iconic live performances from SNL lately. Nirvana, Simon and Garfunkel, and the White Stripes have all created some pretty unique experiences, but this gem by Patti Smith particularly stood out to me.
I work here at the Harrelson workshop- talking to trumpet players, finishing and assembling trumpet parts, and loving every moment of it.