This TunesDay, let’s talk about recordings. Specifically, concert recordings.

English: A shot of the control surfaces of the...

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Now, we’ve all heard live albums – your favorite band recorded in concert. What you might not realize is that many “live”albums are as carefully mixed and “sweetened” as a studio album.  They can often capture the energy of a band live but they can also hide some fundamental flaws – a flat vocal tuned up, a missed solo punched in and the bad one removed.  It’s sort of audio Photoshop.

I prefer soundboard recordings, the black coffee of music.  These are recordings right off the mixer used at the show.  Many have circulated as bootleg tapes or discs for years.  They are generally of high quality and they can be thrilling.  Yes, there are some “audience tapes (recordings made with good equipment by a member of the audience) that can capture the raw performance but I think soundboards have a leg up since every mike is accounted for in the mixer.  I have an Eagles soundboard of a live show that shows how brilliant they were as a vocal band (oh, and Joe Walsh can flat-out play…).   I have many others – some of which unmasked  the bands as studio creatures; others of which (pick any good Dead show!) put anything the band ever did in a studio to shame.  Soundboards are the ultimate test of a band to me.

I was listening to a soundboard yesterday (a Talking Heads show from the mid-1980’s – boy they were good live!) and a business thought hit me.  While marketing used to be studio music – sweetened, totally controlled – it’s become soundboards.  Customer comments, social media, review sites – they’re raw messaging about your company or brand.  That’s why we need to get it right as we play it live – there won’t be any chance to fix it later.  A Tweet to a customer that sets the wrong tone, a questionable Instagram photo, or just heavy-handed censorship of comment boards will all be heard as those actions get played back over and over through the digital echo chamber.

If you can’t play live, don’t try to fake it.  Inevitably someone will make the soundboard public and you’ll look foolish.  It’s why The Beatles felt they should stop touring (even thought the soundboards of the rooftop concerts filmed for Let It Be are spectacular) – their sound had become so complex that they didn’t think they could do it justice live.  Be at least that smart and err on the side of caution.   The soundboards won’t go away if you’re wrong.

What’s your thinking?

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