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  1. #1

    Default Lay it Down Live...and Leave

    Lay It Down Live...and Leave
    by Rich Tozzoli

    Even in the age of the $0.99 song, a full-length release is still a must. Whether you’re selling your downloads online or using a good ol’ fashioned CD to promote yourself locally and sell at shows, you need 8 or 10 songs in the can to be taken seriously.

    But recording and releasing an album’s worth of material trips up a lot of talented people. One reason is that we artistic types care — we’re not going to put anything out into the world that doesn’t represent what we hear in our head. Then you’ve got the difficulty of coordinating schedules, plus the inevitable mountain of expenses. Even with the meter running we can get lost behind the studio doors for weeks, perfecting performances and taking every opportunity to tweak recorded tracks.

    The upshot, all too often, is that the release is never released.

    That’s why you might want to consider recording a live performance of the band -- the way the big boys used to do it. Band plays. Band records. Band goes home.

    Stage vs. Studio

    There are two basic ways to record a live show. You can capture a performance at a live venue or perform in a studio.

    Recording on a live stage has its challenges and its benefits. Even if the venue puts each instrument through the mixer, you’ll need to bring in recording gear and have someone operate it. Ideally the board will have dedicated tracks for each instrument plus a few room mics; this way you’ll have more production control on mixdown. You could potentially use a simple stereo recorder, but finding the "sweet spot" of the room where everyone sounds equal is tough in a band situation. Plus, you lose the flexibility to mix vocals up or guitarists down.

    With a multitrack live recording you can also fix some bad notes later or slip in some extra applause — nobody has to know. Another big benefit is that you get crowd interaction in this kind of recording, and the recording captures the band’s energy of playing off the audience. But the band has to really be “on” song after song so that performances are worthy of releasing to fans. Otherwise, that’s a lot of time and money spent for nothing.

    Another approach is to take the band into the studio, and record live. That’s just what veteran reggae band No Discipline did recently. A staple of the East Coast New Jersey music scene for over 30-years, the band is co-fronted by guitarist/vocalists Al and Mike Bazaz.

    No Discipline’s latest CD, Never Can Get Enough, was completed entirely in just three sessions at R.E.M. Studios.

    “In the first session, all the basics for the 15 tracks were recorded,” notes Al. “During the first session, we learned about half the songs on the spot, and then tracked the basics immediately after. There are several different drummers that play live with the band, so during this session each drummer came in at different times and played five songs.

    “The very next night, my brother and I reviewed the tracks, cleaned up and overdubbed some guitar parts, and added some keyboards as well,” he continues. “We also redid some lead vocals and added harmony vocals on several tracks.”

    Bazaz says that on the third night they mixed, assembled the final order and mastered the record.

    He felt the whole process went very smoothly and they had a lot of fun, with very little stress. “The way engineer Robert Melosh tracked these sessions, he was actually mixing as he was going along. In total it was about three 8-hour sessions,” he said.

    “Due to the fact that we’ve played for so long together as a band, everybody was very used to each other,” Al continues. “This makes the process run smoothly and quickly. Most of the tracks were first-take keepers. Due to people’s busy schedules and life commitments, it was hard to get everyone together for rehearsals. That’s why we learned some of the songs in the studio. The spontaneity of this process helped keep things live and fresh. You don’t know what’s coming next, and that can be cool. You also don’t have time to overthink everything.

    “It’s a double-edged sword to do a record this way in that you always want to be tighter and you may have been able to express yourself in a little different way,” Al says. “Over our career, we’ve recorded using many different processes, some of which can be time-consuming and expensive.

    “Doing it this way kept it relatively inexpensive and exciting. After all, it’s live in the studio. This is our 12th full-length CD, and we are very happy with the result. One love.”

    Rich Tozzoli is a Grammy-nominated engineer, mixer, producer and composer. He has worked with artists such as Ace Frehley, Al DiMeola and David Bowie, among many more, and is the author of Surround Sound Mixing for ProTools. Rich is also a lifelong guitarist and composer. His work can be heard regularly on FoxNFL, HBO, and Discovery Channel.
    Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads. - Erica Jong

  2. #2


    Charlie-thanks for shaing Rich's insightful take on the benefits of live recording-whether on-stage or in the studio.
    Very interesting perspectives.
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------"Life's too short to play with dead strings"

  3. #3


    Thanks for your input! I thought this was an interesting article myself. Live recordings, when done well, always sound the best in terms of energy and authenticity.

    Of course there is something to be said about studio bands like the Beatles, but generally, for the average band, live or one-take recordings always sound better than cut-and-paste or piece-by-piece recordings.

    Unless you're a band with talent like Pink Floyd or The Beatles, you run the risk of sounding "over produced" (and going broke) if you spend countless hours in the studio, rather than countless hours practicing.

    Cut-and-paste recording is one of the main reasons why most modern rock recordings don't pack the same punch as classic rock recordings; they don't have any authentic character, and authentic character is good.
    Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads. - Erica Jong

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
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    Some of my favorite albums are Live ones, George Benson Weekend in LA is live and the energy blows me away every time I put it on. Same goes for Al Jarreau's Look To The Rainbow. The energy and the love you get from Al and the audience just can't compare to the studio albums which are of course 'more perfect' than Live, more perfect but not the same juice.
    Enjoy Your Karma, after all you earned it.
    “Atheism is a non-prophet organization.” -George Carlin

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  5. #5


    I've almost always preferred live material to studio stuff. I just think it's more real. I've been to concerts where the band just seems to be having fun. I think, as has already been stated here, that people are worried too much about being perfect when in the studio. Plus, in a live performance, there's the whole energy of the crowd. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule.

  6. #6


    I'm not generally a fan of live music recordings. A lot of times the singer will sound out of breath or forget the lyrics. The mixes are generally poor. I mean, they can be fun for a change, but they rarely sound anywhere near as good as the studio version, unless the producer simply did a poor job of capturing the band's essence in the studio. In those cases the live version will be better. But usually the studio gives the band the opportunity to craft the product to be exactly what they want. Yes, overproduction can be a problem, but poor production can be just as much a problem with live recordings.

    Anyway, for me it's just like stage plays: I love to see live performances, but I don't generally like video recordings of them. For that, I'd rather see a movie.

    There are a couple of exceptions. The Eagles "Hell Freezes Over" and Santana's "Sacred Fire" are two of my favorite albums. Partly because they are so well produced but mostly because I think they were finally able to do justice to these older songs. The Eagles were never going to record a new studio version of "Hotel California" so this gave them a chance to revisit it through the lens of their more experienced and mature musical tastes.

    The other main exception is the bands who just want to play -- bands like AC/DC or early Van Halen. Bands like that just want to squeeze as much music as they can from their instruments and give the fans a thrill. There is little difference between their live performances and their studio versions...although the studio versions may be a bit more commercial-friendly in the editing.

    So really, I think every band should try to determine how they view themselves and what type of album would best reflect that. Are they performers that want to give the audience a show, or are they meticulous artists that want to produce a masterpiece?

  7. #7


    I like calling them records for the reason that the perfomance/arrangement is a record of the music/song at that specific time.

    A lot of bands do overdubs on live recordings (Hillsong United do a lot of that) I'd much rather live left live.

    I'd craft an arrangement with what ever was at my disposal when just recording a piece at home or studio, after all it is just there to be listened to, no atmosphere or visuals to add to it

    Chris Mills recorded his album The Wall to Wall sessions with a 17 piece band to 2 track tape. Now that's a live recording, the mix couldn't be altered once on tape, no overdubs, just record and master. He's a braver man than me.
    Last edited by PosterBoy; 08-28-2011 at 03:54 AM.
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