work the mic

Recording Your Shows is a Bad Idea (Part I)

July 7th, 2014


I am an absolute tyrant about the fact that I do not want anyone recording my band's live shows. Friends and fans will tell you that I have asked them to take cameras off of their tripods, or delete recordings from their smartphones and social media pages.

Am I jerk? Am I killing my chance for free promotion? Am I alienating friends and fans? Probably. But I've got my reasons. Many musicians rush straight into recording their performances only minutes after they've learned their first chord. It's a natural inclination to want to hear how you sound. However, I believe there are some compelling reasons to leave the camera at home.


There's this idea that a recording, regardless of the equipment, the technique used, or the skill of the person doing the recording, is an objective version of what you actually sound like. That's a nice idea, unfortunately, it is total bullshit. Let me tell you why:


Let's compare sound to color, since we can't see sound. When you're listening to music in a live setting, you are absorbing a wide prism of "colors," whether you're listening to a solo instrument, or a full band. The primary color of an upright bass is beautiful on its own, but mixed with another primary - maybe a tight kick drum - you now "see" an equally pleasing secondary color. (This all assumes that the band and sound guy know what they're doing, but let's just put that aside for now.)

"A smartphone can't capture the warm fuzzies of a great performance."

The colors these instruments produce are reflected off of the walls, the ceiling, the floor, absorbed by the bodies of the audience, altered by the shape of the stage, and filtered through your highly subjective emotional and mental state. Your feelings about the music and the experience are affected by the energy of the crowd, and the charisma of the band.

A smartphone will funnel that wealth of information through a mic the size of a pin, and produce a tinny, compressed, clipped xerox copy. It cannot capture the warm fuzzies of a great performance. It would be like watching your favorite movie, but you're only able to see one color... Godfather in Blue. Who wants that?


The other thing to take into account is that if you're recording in a crowd, the people around you are much closer to the mic, so their conversations and screams, the sounds of them moshing, or the sounds of them talking smack on the band, are going to compete with the sounds coming from the stage.

You'll also be introducing the handling noise from the recordist fumbling around with the device, something that drives me absolutely nuts. If you set the recording device on a table or chair, you could also be introducing a whole new form of unpleasantness as the sound bounces off of the surface and into the mic.


If you really do want to record your show, there's a gigantic difference between trusting an experienced sound tech who's familiar with your type of music, and is using a 32-channel digital rig with high end mics and preamps, as opposed to using a camcorder held by your best friend. And, if you've got a soundguy who REALLY knows what they're doing, they'll probably have the ability to throw the tracks they capture into a sound editor (like ProTools or Reaper) and work some magic on what they recorded. Generally speaking, that's the kind of thing you're used to hearing on live albums. It's a lot of work, and a lot of expensive gear. Can your little camera compete with that?

There's some additional thoughts to consider, but due to time constraints, we'll have to save that for next week.

(If you like what you've read, please share or quote freely. I appreciate your support.)