While the music industry as a whole is currently perceived to be in crisis, one sector that does seem to be thriving is the live market. It’s hardly surprising, really: gigs provide a source of much needed revenue for artists, and fans know that a mobile-phone-filmed YouTube clip is no substitute for the experience of standing in front of a stage.
But while performing live continues to make a good deal of economic sense, what interests me is the creative aspect of doing it. These days, what music I make is crafted in my home studio (by which I mean a laptop perched on the corner of a dining table), but if you want to give new material a thorough workout, nothing beats playing with other people, and preferably in front of a decent crowd.
When you’re making music in a room on your own, it’s easy to get locked into a creative furrow. You might end up with a track that you’re reasonably happy with, but without the random element of other musicians, there’s a good chance that you’ll simply come up with an idea and then take it to what you see as its natural conclusion.
If, on the other hand, you’re making music in a group, ideas can – and frequently do – spin off in different directions. You often come to realise that the first version of the song wasn’t actually the best, or end up with something that sounds completely different to what you originally had in mind.
This is why I enjoy live albums. OK, there are some duffers out there, but there are many cases in which the live versions of songs surpass their studio originals. This stands to reason: when a band plays their material repeatedly, it’s almost inevitable that they’ll come up with ways to improve it.
Rather than being separate from it, I’d say that live performance should be an intrinsic part of the recording process. Give yourself and others a chance to live with your music before you commit it to tape or hard disk, and there’s a good chance that it’ll end up sounding better than it otherwise would.
By Ben Rogerson