Recording Live Concerts

Recording a live concert is always problematic. Where do the microphones/cameras go and how does that affect the audience during the performance? There is also the issue of overdubs and retakes. Audiences have come to expect pristine recordings from classical ensembles, and this is because in the studio mistakes can be corrected by re-recording sections or even individual notes, or using electronics to adjust the end result. However, for budding performers (or composers) getting a concert recording my be the only option as studios and musicians can be cost prohibitive.

There is an article on about a small studio dedicated to recording Carnatic music live. One of the aspects it talks about is just this concept of cost verses getting the recording out to the public to be heard. One of the engineers, Charubala Natarajan says, There are really so many artistes out there, who are so good, but they aren’t being released commercially." The problem is cost of getting a recording done.

This made me think about my own recording concert last June, which had both audio and video recorded. Initially, there was some arguments about where the microphones were to be placed, trying to juggle between a good recording and a good concert. My concert manager won and while the recording is good, it's not as good as it would have been with a more intrusive microphone setup. The video was done with two cameras in the balcony, one used for zoomed in closeups and another for the overall stage. Since the video has yet to be edited, I have no idea how this one turned out.

Because some of the performers were professional I could not take the recording to market. Listening to it, I'm not sure I would anway. It does make for a good demo CD, which is really what I wanted anyway. However, for other artists, the need to be able to "sell" their works is one way to increase their revenue stream. When all the artists involved start asking for their "cut", it makes it difficult for emerging artists to get anything for their troubles.

Then there is the internet. I mentioned yesterday "Leave me Alone!" is a new opera that will live broadcast on 31st of January. Certainly, this broadcast will be available in the future, initially, for free download, but then potentially for nominal charge to help defray the costs. YouTube is a great example of a way artists are using the internet to gain exposure, but these videos still need recording. The London Symphony Orchestra with Valery Gergiev conducting are presenting the entire cycle of Mahler symphonies available on the internet. The beauty of this is not only getting to hear these amazing works, but also getting a chance to see Gergiev in action. But this is the London Symphony, so they have a budget for this sort of project.

There is also the need for the performer to hear the concert after it's done, for self critique. During the performance in June my mind was on so many things I couldn't get good grasp of what the sound was actually like. The recording has provided me with endless details of things I can fix for future compositions and concerts. The video will likely do the same, particularly since I conducted the concert. It would be nice to see how effecting the conducting was verses the sound created (not to mention to use as a demo of my conducting).

Ultimately, what the industry needs is a company that can record concerts live, do a reasonable job and for a nominal cost. If, for example, concert halls provided a live recording option as part of their "service" for renting the hall, even if the included recording was done with only a few microphones, one engineer and minimal (read: no) setup, I think more and more artists would opt for this.


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