What makes a live album "live"?

I was thinking about this question this morning while listening to Tom Waits’ “Nighthawks at the Diner”. Wikipedia calls it a studio album, although the studio was set up to resemble a small jazz club and the album was recorded live. So, is it not a live album just because it was recorded in a studio?

“KISS Alive!”, on the other hand, is generally considered a “live” album, although the band later admitted to a significant amount of overdubbing and fixing things in the studio. So, is it really a live album?

What about Frank Zappa, who frequently took backing tracks from live performances but then combined or overdubbed them with studio tracks. Look at the liner notes for “Sheik Yerbouti” or “Tinseltown Rebellion”. Are those live albums, or studio?

Where do you draw the line between live and studio?

Recorded in a studio, even if there’s an audience, studio album.

Recorded in a venue with an audience, post-processing but no overdubbing, live album.

Recorded in a venue but with overdubbing, like the Kiss album, some sort of hybrid. Same with Frank Zappa’s stuff. Closer to a studio album, I guess.

There’s probably no artist who blurred the lines between the production of a live album and that of a studio record. His technique of xenochrony recorded basically everything he did live, particularly his improvised guitar solos, and he’d take those improvs back to the studio and build new songs around the tracks. On the Joe’s Garage albums, I think “Watermelon in Easter Hay” is the only major guitar line recorded originally in the studio. At the same time, there was a clear distinction in packaging as to what was a true “live” album and what was new “studio” product.

I’m sure that almost every “live” album gets some post-production tweaks; artists may claim they like the “warts and all” sponteneity of a live album, but they don’t want to appear humanly fallible. Some are just more upfront about it: the Secret World Live album has liner notes saying that it’s “based on an original concert by Peter Gabriel.” I also suspect the utterly raw live disc is a thing of the past, unless you count bootlegs. Rhino put out a Replacements live recording from 1986 (so from the Tim tour, I guess) a few years back and it’s pretty shambolic as befits the 'mats, but it’s notably not one of their “too drunk to make it through an entire song in one go” shows, so there’s some editorializing there. For that you’d have to check out “The Shit Hits The Fans” which was originally a tape confiscated from some kid bootlegging a show, which Twin/Tone put out (limited pressing) when the band jumped to Sire Records.

My favorite “live” album is Beach Boys Party!. It was recorded in a studio with some small crowd response and ambience dubbed over it, but it really does allow for the many joyful little aberrations that make live recording special. At the end of the big hit single from the album, “Barbara Ann” one of the boys say’s “Thanks, Dean!” Yes! Dean Torrance from Jan & Dean sings (uncredited) lead vocals on that song! He just wandered into The Beach Boys session from a neighboring studio where Jan was using a session singer for all of Dean’s parts.

I thought one category of “live” was “recorded in a single, continuous take.” So a group goes into a studio with no audience, records a song straight through using the instruments that will ultimately be released - I consider that a “live” track. If you disagree, is there a better term for what I describe?

Different from - say - Rush’s All The World’s a Stage which IIRC is a mashup of several performances on a single tour.

I would call that a studio album. To me, the big difference between a studio album and a live album is really just the sound of the music and the crowd. That can be faked with reverb, of course. Really, it’s the low quality of the sound, because that’s the best you can do with a big venue.

Studios can provide the best sound, the best acoustics, and you can add reverb or echo as you wish, if you want a bigger, more live sound. You don’t have that kind of control in a regular live venue.

Cool. We disagree. So long as we don’t start discussing definitions of “unplugged/acoustic”! :smiley:

Haha! Fair enough.

Just the first site that came up.

I have often heard musicians describe a particular song as having been recorded “live”, meaning in a single take with no (or minimal) overdubbing/enhancement.

Yeah, the song could be recorded live, in one take with no overdubs, but that doesn’t make it a live album or a live track. I mean, just about all records used to be recorded in a single take with no overdubbing.

Lots of classical music is still recorded that way – it was shocking when Glenn Gould started overdubbing and punching in and out of recordings.

Wikipedia says this:

I personally would call it a studio album recorded “live” or a “live studio album.” I wouldn’t call it a “live album.”

This is one of my favorite albums:

They have studio and live tracks, clearly labeled. I don’t know how much overdubbing or how many takes it took for each, but, in my opinion. a live track should be in front of an audience at some sort of live venue.

I play music in an acoustic trio and our only recordings are “live” - by my definition. Due mainly to our technical ineptitude. You can get a pretty good quality recording in a living room with minimal equipment. Doing so in a bar/auditorium is FAR more complicated. And I’ve always preferred recordings that more closely represent what can be conveyed in live performances. For example, if you are a 3-piece group, as a general matter I prefer that you eschew horn and string sections on your recordings. Just my preference and different styles/approaches.

So - I guess I’m beating a dead horse at this point (what makes a dead horse “dead?”) - but the term live has 2 meanings. One would be in studio vs before an audience but NOT in a studio as you suggest. Another perfectly valid use of the term is what I suggest - one take vs multi dubbing.

I still don’t understand why you feel a single take in front of an audience but in a studio would not be “live.” Aren’t TV shows generally described as “Live, recorded in front of a studio audience”? If my living room functions as my recording studio, and one time I invite some friends over while taping, does that make a meaningful difference? I think not.

On edit - what puly said. Live studio album is likely the best descriptor.

Fun fact; Cheap Trick Live at Budokan (Tokyo) was actually recorded at a venue in Osaka. Japanese TV couldn’t use the Budokan recording because the large crowd drowned out the band so they dubbed the Budokan film footage with a recording made at a smaller venue. That recording was then used for the album.

Because I associate a live performance with the sound of a live performance, I guess, with all the uncontrolled distortions, reverb, echoes, crowd sounds that come with it.

I suppose that, technically, a “concert album” is a specific type of “live album” – recorded live at a concert venue, in front of an audience, and with all of the audio artifacts that you mention. But, I also suspect that “live album” and “concert album” get used interchangeably by many music fans.

I’m down with that.

So, what do we call the numerous “Live at the BBC” albums? That’s a live album recorded in a studio. What about live performances recorded in a TV studio? Are those "live’ recordings?

I would call Nirvana Unplugged a live album.

All those also have in common them performing mostly previously recorded studio material, if that makes a difference. I mean, that’s what I expect when I hear the term “live album.” It’s not a collection of completely new and unreleased work.

So that would be just about every classic jazz album ever.