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  • Bob Roden

Live Recording vs. Studio Recording

Updated: Jan 3, 2020

The quintet just completed its first set of recordings together – five songs to put on the BRQ website so that people (and especially prospective clients) can hear what we sound like. Very important from a marketing perspective.

As we went through the process, we had a number of spirited discussions about the relative merits of live versus studio recording. Once again, as with my earlier discussion of public versus private venues, each option has its plusses and minuses, and personal preferences come into play in a big way.

Live recordings (which we made in the present case) have a purity about them that is particularly fitting for jazz. They capture the energy and the immediacy of musicians interacting with one another and playing in the moment. As with any live jazz performance, what happens is what happens, and when it’s done it’s done. So live recordings are true to the “one time only” nature of the event.

The disadvantage, of course, is that, for the most part, live recordings preserve the bad along with the good. Goofed notes, missed entrances, stray sounds, instruments not in balance, etc., are memorialized along with everything else. It’s a case of having to take the bitter with the sweet; we try to keep the bitter to a minimum, but there’s only so much one can do. It goes with the territory.

Studio recordings are, in a way, the mirror image of live recordings. They allow for the pursuit of a kind of audio and performance perfection not attainable in the live setting. Most mistakes can be fixed, either through post-recording manipulation or by simply doing another take at the time. The end product actually can be free of any discernable imperfections. Missed entrances can be made anew. Imbalances can be balanced. Sounds can be tweaked and tuned for maximum audio quality.

The downside of the studio, however, is that it isn’t a true live performance situation. The musicians can still interact with one another, of course, but without a live audience they have to supply all the energy themselves. And the psychology is different too, since one knows that another (and potentially better) take is always available.

Fortunately, both approaches work. Great live recordings are made when great performances happen and that amazing special energy is captured. Great studio recordings are made when musicians are inspired to use the studio’s capabilities to create the purest possible rendition of their work.

In other words, it’s all good, and the end result in both cases is a recording that interested parties can enjoy forever after.

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