The following is an excerpt of an email to a friend, in reply to his comment that he hoped I was recording my gigs. This was my reply:
“Nope! I’m oddly disinterested in recording these days, either live gigs or studio stuff. I think I’m sick of cultivating recordings, working my ass off to present them in their optimum form, and then having people treat them like second-rate works of art. (How’s that for sounding bitter, pragmatic, and nonchalant all at the same time?)
Seriously, though… I’ve seen so much more tangible forward movement (both creatively and professionally) from doing live gigs than from making recordings. I want to keep building on my momentum in that regard. And it is, admittedly, very disspiriting to have spent as much time and work on my recordings as I have, only to see them go largely unnoticed by a lot of people. So the last thing I want to spend my energy on is making more recordings (even live tapes) that more people will end up ignoring, or not taking the time, effort, or the financial equivalent of two hours of minimum wage work to investigate.
Speaking of which, best of luck with your impending CD release! :)”
After writing this, I was taken aback at how bitter it read, and also how accurately it seemed to reflect myheadspace. So maybe a qualification is in order.
The last time I did any sort of serious recording that I can remember was in August of 2003, when I was finishing the mixing and mastering of Normalized. Since then, the only “studio work” I’ve done has been occasionally running a cable from my amp into the computer to record a random bit of Echoplex coolness, and then forgetting about it. So for all practical purposes, I haven’t done any real recording work for almost one and a half years… almost certainly the longest I’ve ever gone without doing serious studio work.
It’s really kind of odd, in a way, because the whole reason I started playing guitar in the first place was because I wanted to add some basic chordal stuff to the synthesizer-based tunes I was cooking up on my cassette 4-track, waaaay back in 1988. Doing studio work has been a pretty constant element in my musical life, and there have been several points where I’d go for many days on end without even touching a guitar, as I’d be wrapped up in some kind of recording project (either of my music, or as an engineer for other people).
But over the last year or so, I’ve found the recording world to be quite unappealing to me. A number of people have videoed gigs of mine, but I have no real interest in listening to them. People keep telling me they’d like to get audio recordings of my gigs, but I have no interest in listening back to my shows after the fact. Chris Opperman seems to have been very satisfied with the recordings of his gigs that I’ve appeared on, but… I have no interest in checking them out.
So what gives?
2003 was an absolute ordeal of a year, and nearly all of my music-related energies during that period were spent on getting Normalized mixed, mastered, and ready for production. Subconsciously, I think I’m probably associating audio engineering with life-altering stress and drama.
Beyond that, though, there are a lot of aspects of the recording world that I’m increasingly suspicious of. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed is that, for me at least, recording and performing seem to lean towards opposite ends of the spectrum. In the studio, you can hear a single performance replayed EXACTLY the way it happened, as many times as you like. You can edit, splice, overdub, pitch-correct, or simply record dozens and dozens of takes until you’ve gotten your “perfect” take (and/or lost any semblance of objectivity that you may have initially had, after hearing microscopic flaws dozens of times in a row) . You can spread a recording out over however many days, weeks, months, or even years that you like, and fine-tune it to your heart’s content before anyone else has to hear it. And when (or if) you finally release the recording, it will be exactly the same series of sound waves, every single time it’s experienced, by whomsoever experiences it.
A live performance, on the other hand, has almost none of these aspects to it. You have one opportunity to make your statement, you have to do it in real time, you have to get it right the first time (and/or deal with any imperfections that inevitably arise), and -probably most crucially, for me – you have to try and make a connection with whatever audience you may have at a gig.
I know myself well enough to know that I can be a serious studio hermit, withdrawing into the relative security and comfort of the studio to fine-tune work to the nth degree. I remember all too well the feeling I had getting up on stage at the beginning of 2002, for my first real solo gigs in several years – all of the studio tweezing I’d done, all of the online research, all of the mailing list postings, were utterly meaningless. What was meaningul was whether or not I could hold the stage for the set I was about to play.
As the quote to my friend above also indicated (or maybe “blatantly screams in bright red capital letters” would be more appropriate), it’s really difficult to get people to take a recorded work as seriously as they do a gig. I can think of maybe two or three friends of mine in my day-to-day life who have actually been willing to fork over the $10 – $12 I charge for my CDs in person. Loads of people are happy to get free copies of an album, but always come up with a reason not to buy it. (Many of these same people are also musicians who will happily invite people to come see them play live at a club with a cover charge of anywhere from $5 to $10 dollars).
In case some Looper’s Delight mailing list subscriber is reading this and shaking his head in disgust at the depths of my self pity, it has to be mentioned: I treat recordings like shit as a listener, too. There are free promo CDs I got from the record stores I worked in seven or eight YEARS ago that I haven’t gotten around to listening to yet. Just last night, I was at a characteristically fantastic gig by Nels Cline, and at one point I found myself realizing that listening to a recording of this gig after the fact would be a pale substitute for being there in person, experiencing it as it was going down. It’s sort of like the difference between having sex, as opposed to watching a videotape of having sex after the fact. (Come on, now, this blog is way overdue for a blatantly red-blooded male hormonal analogy…)
Jeez, this is one formless mind-spew of a post.
Does this mean I’ll never make another recording? No. It does mean, though, that it’s not a serious priority for me. I do want to get back into the studio swing, but the number one issue on my plate is improving my live work – doing better shows, at better venues, for more people. I’ve already sacrificed a huge chunk of my life to making a couple of CDs, and I want to make sure they get a fair chance to be heard.
Ironically, I have all kinds of ideas in my head about recording concepts I’d like to work on… but that’s a post (and an actual undertaking) for another time…
andre i mean this quite seriously
talented musicians should take effort to record their gigs for future reference.
you don’t know _when_ that future will be, or why you will refer to it … but record-keeping is very important. photographs, sound recordings, video, hell even just notes as to what happened. you never know when you will need it, but you might need it _bad_.
or maybe i’m a pretentious ass who does too much archiving.
i do believe i am not though.
i will say that my music (both the organ trio/duo and the electro thing) rely heavily on improvisation. if you only play strict arrangements i guess it could be different.
You know what? I agree with you. And I have a feeling that the trend is going to start shifting from people buying albums to people wanting to see music in person. That doens’t mean I wouldn’t be really fucking excited to have a perfectly-crafted 100% accurate “Special Opps” studio album in my hands, but in the meantime, I just want to rock the motherfuckin’ hizouse.
Amen Brother Andre…
Man, I know EXACTLY where you are coming from with this post. I recently just finished a studio album that I had been working at for months and months. During the process, for days, I might not even touch my guitar rig. It was disorienting in that my true passion is to perform and express my musical emotions in a live setting for others to hear…not sit at the damn computer and tweak recording software night after night. However, I felt I needed a studio album to help legitimize my live act…to have a stack of CDs available for my “fans” when I perform out. Maybe to help my credibility as a local artist. I thought a studio album was a necessary evil to increase exposure. Now that it is done, I have mixed feelings.
It is so subtle the way we can become studio hermits, trying to achieve that “perfect” mix before releasing it into the public. We micro analyze the same riffs over and over. We easily lose objectivity of what sounds good or bad with our own music.
I can regularly play my rig in a live setting and express my feelings through looping and improvisation in a way that is very satisfying. Yet trying to capture that same spontaneity and passion in the studio becomes mind numbing. There are too may options. I end up listening back to a riff or musical section and think of all these ways to tweak and manipulate…and what additional gear I need to buy in order to do that! But, in the end, after hours and hours, have I made the actual music any more passionate and expressive? Usually not! It seems so often that we tweak recordings because we can, not because it matters to anyone else but ourselves.
And then, when you finally let family and friends hear the completed project, they say good job and yet buy very few copies. So many people today are in the habit of burning home CDs that actual “buying” is getting more and more dated.
Your current blog posting is very relevant to me in that I am more and more convinced that our live shows are the ONLY way to make a true connection with our fans. It is just do damn easy these days for anyone to sit around in their basement with all the time in the world and use current computer tools to generate song after song that plays on the many virtual music sites across the Internet. Recordings are becoming such a saturated art form. Because of that, in our own circle of fans, few people feel compelled to actually pay for our studio work. The live show is so much more human and organic. No two shows of mine are exactly alike and that is precisely what is so magical about it.
I think that recordings have a purpose, but I am becoming more and more interested in clearly understanding my purposes before even starting on another recording project just because I can.
On the other hand, I live in Kansas and would not even have much insight into your music if it wasn’t for your 2 CDs I bought a year or so ago. It is a complicated issue.
I Could Have Written The Bizarro-Entry To This One
I hear everything you’re saying, Mr. Dre. And I couldn’t help smiling because I’m feeling everything you’re feeling, in exactly 180 degrees the other direction. At this point, I’d be quite happy to never play a live show ever, ever again. I’ve realized that the fun part of music has always been the writing and recording aspect – a process I view as being somewhat akin to painting a picture. Getting up in front of people to play was never even something that *seemed* like a fun idea. I hardly ever go see live music myself anymore (though that often has more to do with the excreble quality of live sound and the overall *ambiance* featured at local venues than the music itself). I’d love the chance to see you perform, however. -Yogi
Good grief, man, no need to fly out to NYC for the gigs! (But thanks for the thought.)
I’m trying to keep this particular angle low-key for the moment, but the gigs in New York will be recorded (as will pre-performance rehearsals), with an eye towards putting out both 5.1 and stereo releases. Dominic Frasca, the venue owner (and a truly brain-bending guitarist himself) wants to start issuing releases of the gigs he hosts there.
And yes, Nels Cline is one unbelievable musician. Right now he’s actually on the cover of Guitar Player here in the US, which is a coup of pretty serious proportions… great to see the guy getting some much-deserved (and long overdue) recognition.