work the mic

Recording Your Shows Is a Bad Idea (Part II)

July 14th, 2014

Let's continue our discussion about whether you should record your shows. You can catch up on the first part of the discussion here.


There IS an upside to recording live performances... it gives you a loose (and if you're recording with a phone, I do mean loose) idea of what everyone in the band is playing, and allows you to make decisions about structure, parts, arrangements, and mixing.

If that's what you're going for, it might be better to capture a rehearsal, where you're not competing with crowd noise, and you're not obsessing over cringe moments like when you said something really embarrassing from the stage or when the vocalist went flat on the chorus of your best song. Your negative feelings about those moments could color your opinion of the rest of the recording. However, if you hear those moments in a rehearsal recording, you'll be much better off because you can just say, "thank god no one heard that."

That brings me to what I view as the most important consideration about recording live performances: we humans are subjective, emotional beings, and we have poor memory-recall abilities. In some cases, that's a good thing.


Let's say you have a terrible show. Everybody's got 'em, so don't feel too lousy about it (unless you've been having terrible shows for 11 years... then you may want to reevaluate some things). Maybe your drummer drank too much and dropped the beat a couple times. The singer couldn't hear herself in the monitor, so her pitch was all over the place. The sound guy was watching a ball game on his phone instead of paying attention to the mix. (All of these things will happen to you if they haven't already. God knows they've happened to me too many times.)

Now, if you didn't record that trainwreck of a show, your imperfect memory will gradually gloss over all the bad stuff, and you'll eventually come to a place where it doesn't bother you that basically shamed yourself in front of a bunch of friends, fans, or coworkers. You'll probably even laugh about it, if you remember it at all. Without that crippling shame of failure, you'll just go about your musical career, happy as you please.

"If you record a bad show, you have a permanent reminder of just how sh%&ty you really were...

Not the best thing to have if you want to convince yourself to get on stage again."

HOWEVER, if you did record the show, you now have a great and semi-permanent reminder of just how shitty you really were, and if you're anything like a lot of us self-conscious musicians, you'll put that thing on repeat and beat yourself up for years to come. Maybe not the best thing to do if you ever want to work up the courage to get back up on stage again.

This is especially true if you're just starting out, because there's going to be some crappy shows... maybe even a lot of them... and it takes a certain amount of self-deception to keep plugging away and getting better. Having a hard copy of your failure is going to make that all the more difficult.


Another thing a lot of people don't think about is the observer principle as it relates to your recording. There's some sort of crazy brain magic that causes many people to just freeze or panic when they see a camera. If you know that your performance could be posted on YouTube for millions of people to watch you miserably and utterly fail, you might start to notice your voice tightening up, or your guitar player sweating abnormally, or that suddenly the band is plowing through the stops in every song, or playing in double time.


Some people might argue that if you don't want to record your show, it's because you're not "pro" enough, and if you were legitimately talented, you'd be okay with any show you play representing you as a performer.

Bullshit. If you pay attention to your favorite band's live album, you will most likely hear them fading in the beginnings or fading out the endings on certain tracks. In some cases, this is because they are cutting out breaks or banter, or sound problems, but in a lot of cases, it's because they're patching together 2 or 3 performances, or even an entire tour into one good show. Nobody's perfect all the time.


Recording shows is your decision, but hopefully I've given you some things to think about. And if you ARE going to do it, do it right, something we'll talk about in a separate post.

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