(originally written on Feb 28, 2016)
What is live music? when is it not live? is some of it live? is live singing to a pre-recorded track qualify as live music? isn’t that just karaoke? omg what's real anymore?!
Seems an odd question to pose but I was accused of being “not live” while playing my ass off during a live performance online and feel the need to share some thoughts about the state of live music.
I've been a musician for 30+ years, an audio engineer for 20+ years and have been performing on stages since i was 16. I’ve made albums in with grammy winning artists. I’ve produced many studio recorded albums as well as organized and performed countless live events so I have the experience to speak on this topic. I stay abreast of the current and developing technologies available to musicians for live and studio production. I produce music in many genres using several different digital audio workstations and a room full of keyboards, guitars, amps and computers to create music every day.
When a musician is accused of playing pre-recorded material during a live set it is the equivelant to calling them a liar and a fake. Musicians are hired to perform their talent and entertain a group of people, whether that's in a bar, a music club, a convention center, a street corner or a virtual world stage, the location doesn’t matter. If the musician doesn’t perform live and sneaks in a pre-recorded track or is lip syncing or faking a musical performance in anyway it is like lying to the audience who is there to enjoy music being performed live by humans, often with the assistance of computers.
This is not recommended behavior for professional musicians. Just ask anyone caught lip syncing during an alleged live performance. Milli. Vanilli. Many others have been caught faking it on TV and during alleged live concerts.
Samplers, synthesizers, drum machines, effects units, guitar pedals, mixers, and computers are controlled by a human in some way. Every thing a musician uses to mix and modify musical instruments is an electronic device that are controlled or programmed by a human. The use of these technologies combined with traditional musical instruments blurs the lines of distinction between what is condsidered ‘live music’ and with ‘pre-recorded DJ-mixed music”. Devices like Novation Launchpad combined with music production software gives musicians more flexibility for improvisation and creativity with the use of live looping, synths, drum patterns, samples, allowing the performer to control and modify many individual sounds at once. It is an orchestra of electronic devices and the artist is the conductor.
here are some examples of musicians using tech to create an accompaniment during live performance:
- Musician/vocalist that performs with pre-made mp3 backing tracks.
- Musician/singer that uses self produced backing tracks and plays an instrument while performing original or cover songs alone or with a band.
- singer/guitarist that uses a looper pedal to create an layered ensemble using his or her voice, layering guitar patterns, percussion and other instruments.
- multi-instrumentalist that plays drums, bass, keys, guitars, voice, using a looper pedal to create a one man band sound.
- drummer that plays with a click track staying in time with a recorded track, using drum triggers and samples combined with acoustic drums for a richer, layered synthetic or sampled sounds.
- keyboardist/producer peforming and electronic music using Ableton Live as a backing track player, a synth rack, sampler, looper, mixer, effect rack, using grid controllers like Novation Launchpad, traditional keyboards, custom made MIDI controllers, ribbon controllers, 3D motion controllers, XY touch pads, iOS devices with effects and synths, using all these devices to create a unique arrangements. They perform live with loops, drum machines and synths, while triggering samples, creating build ups and transitions and playing live solos.
- a DJ that performs a playlist of songs creating a unique mix of all pre-recored music adding effects to create a live remix. uses turntables, CDJ’s, DJ specific apps and hardware controllers such as Native Instruments S4.
So who’s doing it live and who is not from those examples?
Answer: they are all live with varying degrees of difficulty with regard to specific technical and musical skill. they all require preparation and talent specific to their musical instrument performance. The DJ’s instrument is the mixer, the decks, MIDI controllers and samples they choose to use and when they choose to drop them.
The singer's instrument is their voice. They are called vocalists. not live singers.
If a musicians sounds “too good to be live” then perhaps you are in the presence of greatness and should have some respect for the talent you are witnessing.