Hey musicians, I gotta ask you.....

Since this is a music query, even though it feels poll-ish, I’m posting it in here. Mods, feel free to shift it over to IMHO if it’s not really a Cafe Society thread.

Musicians, if you record music at all, I have a question. I recently read a fascinating article in The New Yorker regarding live music and how the recording of live performances and the recording in studios has actually altered how classical musicians play. In some small ways granted, but then I’m not a classical musician. I live with them, though.

Are musicians aware of playing differently if they know they are being recorded? Not just in terms of putting out 100%, but in terms of the minutiae of playing your instrument? Are there techniques you bring to the fore that you never would use if you were playing alone, or with friends, or live but not for recording posterity?

Cartooniverse, who cannot carry a tune in a basket but is rather fascinated by process.

Can’t speak for classical musicians, I’m not one. I know that I play differently live than in the studio. It’s difficult to quantify.

I hate the studio because every mistake shows up when you listen to it a billion times. It’s hard to keep up the energy when it’s just you and the recorder.

Playing live, the mistakes don’t matter much, unless they’re really gross, and the energy does. And if you’ve got anything like a half-decent band and a half-decent audience the energy can be amazing.

I’m not a classical musician – I sing and play pre-war blues and country (fingerstyle guitar, slide guitar, harmonica and Dobro).

I find that if I’m being recorded, I improvise using less challenging techniques and licks than if I’m simply performing for an audience.

I find that I’m always making mistakes – I had thought about weighing in on this thread about accomplished muscians and mistakes).

But the great majority of these mistakes won’t be the least bit noticeable to anyone in the audience. And a lot will even be unheard by fellow band members. Even if I know there’s a musician in the audience accomplished enough to spot small mistakes, I don’t really care. The important thing is how the overall performance affects the audience, not the details.

But a recording is going to be around afterward – and if I hear it years later, the more mistakes I hear, the more it will bother me.

I presume that similar things affect classical musicians, with some differences – the technical level of their music is higher than mine, and maybe less dependent on spontaneity.

Personally, I don’t really play any differently when I’m recording than at any other time. I’m more interested in trying to capture the raw energy of my songs than anything else. I will stop if I make a horrible mistake, tho, and re-record. But sometimes, especially in solos and vocals, I tend to just do one-take and as long as I didn’t screw up the rhythm or blow some phrase I was trying to include, I just live with the spontaneous, ummm, errors. About half the time these “errors” become my favorite thing about the song, so for me it all works out in the end.

btw, my music is made for me, so I have more leeway than a lot of musicians. I’m always pleased when someone else likes my tunes, but I don’t care, ya know what I’m sayin’?

Plenty of bad electronica and a few more rock tunes at my site.

Well, they don’t have free beer for the band at the studio, so yes.

Yes, I play differently when I’m being recorded. I try to fuck up less!

Classical studio violist from Los Angeles checking in.

I’d like to see the article you’re talking about.

For me, the main difference is that I hear differently in a studio than live onstage. You have a headphone in your ear, of course, so there’s a different kind of awareness of the ensemble. A bit like being in the audience instead of in the band. Especially if the headphones are blaring some prerecorded stuff as well.

But I don’t think I play any differently. Naturally, you have to be operating at 100% during a session, but I always try to be in top form, no matter what the venue.

When I play live, I’m standing up. When I’m recording, I sit down.

NoCoolUserName pretty much said it for me.

WAG: Classical music was totally acoustic, and you had to play such that you projected well in concert halls. Using a mike, there’s no need.

I didn’t mention it up there, but I’m a cameraman. When I shoot a shot and it sucks, it’s up there for all eternity. For those of you who have made comments about the immortality of their work, I grok that.

However, making visuals is almost never a solitary event. It’s almost always for pay, and done knowing others ( sometimes millions of others… ) will see it.

The article is in the June 5 2005 New Yorker, near the back. Food for thought, I tell ya. It postulates the theory that technique has changed to accomodate performing knowing you will be recorded. I find that somehow unnerving.

My in-laws are classical musicians of the world-famous type. They have talked over the years about combining 2 or 3 or 4 different live performances into a single recorded piece, and then going into the studio to replay as little as a few notes, to clean things up. Since I’m the only non-musician in the family, I just sit and nod. Inside, I find that kinda sad. One shouldn’t strive for technical perfection or mechanical replication, I feel one should strive for the moment. You know what I’m talking about…

Many classical recordings, particularly larger-scale ones, are done in normal performance venues, removing the issue of the acoustics. And in these situations, the mikes aren’t generally placed particularly close to the performers. So projection is the same concern as in a performance.

As for playing for a recording…I find I have to imagine an audience, imagine I’m conveying everything to the far corners. Different musicians will have different approaches…some top-class groups will play straight through a work three or four times, and leave the studio guys to decide on the best version, and if/what to patch from the others. Different performers may be happy to go over various sections and passages dozens of times, to get the ‘right’ one.

Another semi-pro guitarist checking in - I play in a dance-rock band; just practiced last night.

I agree with NoCoolUserName and F.U. Shakespeare - studio is different from live because of the energy. A classic example is pacing - when I play a song live, it is often MUCH faster than the original version of the song - we are feeding off the energy of the crowd and more than a little pumped up ourselves. And you know what? Everyone digs it. When I listen to a recording, I think “Jeez that was fast!”. When I have done studio work, we really work on pacing - needing to slow it down for a “normal” listening situation.

Cartooniverse while I agree that there is something to recording something “live” and not punching in overdubs, it sounds like for the most part classical musicians are just doing a little correcting - which makes sense given the “eternal” nature of a studio recording vs. the energy and one-time-move-past-it nature of a live performance. Over dubs can get extreme - in the good sense, the Beatles’ later albums are un-reproduce-able live; and in the bad sense - some people get lost burning thousands of dollars in a studio picking one note from one take and splicing it with one note from another take.

That’s certainly true. Garry Trudeau did a hilarious turn on the whole “We Are The World” recording session. At one point he had a panel where some infamous celeb did their part later on as a “solo”.

They sang ( IIRC ) the word “the” once. Was told they’d nailed it and thank you so much. Indeed folks do sweeten up a bad note or bar. I get that, we all want our best foot forward. Hell, plenty of digital cleaning up happens in movies, post-shooting.

Word-Man kinda hit on what I was talkin’ about. The real conscious difference between live for live and live for posterity. A difference in technique or performance style.

Glad to help - I can chime in with some other differences:

  • Obviously: mistakes. Every now and then we have a howler, and live we just have to fake our way through it.
  • Not so obviously: minor slip-ups in the name of “entertainment.” Sometimes I do it for the show and sometimes it is just spontaneous fun, but there are a lot of maneuvers I do in front of a crowd - turning and mugging faces with my drummer, hip-checking my girl singer, going back-to-back with my bassist - you get the idea. Well, 80% of the time, it just happens and all is good. Sometimes, though, I get caught up in the maneuver and forget my chord change or something. It is very rarely worth noticing and I just carry on. But since I am not “entertaining” in a studio, those issues simply never happen. My favorite one of these was during a performance of My Sharona - you know when the middle bit starts with the rhythm guitar and after about 4 bars the infamous lead kicks in? Well my rhythm guitarist was just about to start that bit when a buddy put a shot of Jack Daniels (the official drink of rock musicians everywhere) on my speaker cab. I reached over, shot the shot, put the shotglass back on the cab and launched into the lead. It went over very well - and yeah, my initial couple of notes were a tad sloppy, but believe me, no one cared!

By the way - I’d be curious if folks who play other genres - classical especially - have the same trade-off of “entertainment” for “accuracy” - I personally don’t think of, say, symphony players - except for soloists of course - as needing to think about entertainment. I guess I assume they focus exclusively on accuracy. True?

Absolutely not! Take a look at F. U. Shakespeare’s link above, where we discuss such matters. Suffice to say that classical musicians always strive towards accuracy, but an accurate performance isn’t necessarily a good one, and an inaccurate performance can be wonderful.

Yep - I suspected as much, but was just stating my going-in naive assumption. But here’s my question - what is the equivalent to “entertainment” for a classical musician - or other genres for that matter? As a rock guitarist, I am bumping, jumping and generally acting like a nut. If a classical player occasionally trades accuracy for entertainment, what are they doing? Perhaps a big flourish-y move? I don’t recall ever seeing a classical player make eye contact with other players and actively communicate - either for fun or to note a change - and there is certainly no bumping or other stuff like that. I know I am missing something here - any classical players who can help out?

Oh, and by the way - another live performance issue - coordination. In the studio, folks have usually worked out the parts in excruciating detail - heck you are working on a single song for a long time. In a live performance, maybe we didn’t find the time to work on all 40 or so songs to the same level. Heck, we always sound good on “Melt with You” so we won’t rehearse it, right? Well, I am the Field General in my band - I am the one who signals song changes and such and do my best to keep my mates prepped - so real time during a song, we communicate (usually with gestures, like me raising my pick hand up - or when a certain type of drumbeat is needed, I will strum in an exaggerated way to remind my drummer). This can lead to mistakes - either the person has forgotten the bit and we have to adjust, or my act of signalling leads to me not doing my own part on time. For the most part it is no big deal and 90% of my signalling has just become rote - if I don’t signal my drummer at a specific point, he wonders what’s wrong, even though he knows the part cold - but every now and then, it really helps.

But again, I don’t see that type of communication with other genres of music - but I suspect I am just clueless…


Classical/opera singer checking in. I suppose there is less overt “show!!” to a classical concert or event than a rock concert or somesuch other thang, and we classical types are not likely to be jumping around on stage, etc. (unless it’s in the score :)), but we’re always trying to engage, excite, interest, and otherwise titilate whoever is there to listen.
As for the OP…I have made a few recordings in my time, but not many. Most have been live performances, but a few have been dedicated recording projects. I have found those experiences very difficult and entirely unlike live performing. There is a definite shift in expectations towards perfectionism, both on the part of the artist recording and on the part of whoever hears the recording, and it is extremely difficult to capture the energy and vitality of what you would otherwise do if there were no microphone dangling in front of your face.

The couple of times that I’ve made a genuine “studio” recording (not in a recital or concert hall), I’ve felt completely at sea, because I"m used to doing all of my work acoustically - adjusting my volume, tone color, timing, etc. in real time according to what I hear around me. In the studio, some guy wearing headphones was responsible for all that, and the results don’t reflect my best.

Partly the accuracy is so inherent that it doesn’t take any effort or concentration. But I assure you that there’s a lot of eye contact. Of course, you don’t get to see that between conductors & players…but it happens in all sorts of other situations as well. And then there’s the players who know each other so well they don’t need eye contact, they can second-guess each other.

It’s there, but far less obvious. Little things, such as bowing movements on a violin or breathing for wind & brass, can be enough to indicate the beat. Listenting to others to hold things together without a visual aid is also something that’s built into a classical musician’s abilities.

It’s especially hard if you’re a vocalist; on stage, you’re going along with your bandmate’s and it’s more organic, but in the studio you’re trying to keep up that same energy while singing along with a recording of your bandmates you’re listening to through headphones. It’s like karaoke.

Semi-related story; Once in a friend’s studio, while straining to hit a high note, I crapped in my pants just a little bit. After the take, he called in from the board over the intercom: “How’d that sound?”

“Sounds great. I crapped in my pants.”

“You what?

“I crapped in my pants.” I can hear my bandmates roaring.

Him: “Like, a little or a lot?”

“Just about the size of your fingernail, but a little goes a long way when you’re crapping your pants. Let me put it this way: I have way more crap in my pants than I want right now.”

This guy was a recording genius and gifted musician himself, but he had no running water in his house. I had to go throw my crap in his backyard. Being a musician was so glamorous.

Classical musician here - used to be semi-pro, now just the occasional gig.

There is a feeling among some who play my instrument (double bass) that tuning a little high (like tuning to an A at 442 Hz rather than 440) will make the instrument sound better on solo recordings. Most bass players I knew would tune high for juries, audition tapes, etc. I’m not really sure it made a lick of difference unless the recording equipment was older and you weren’t doing any tweaking afterwards. It always seemed like a myth handed down from the older generation of bassists, but we did it anyway. (any little edge helps!)