FAQ: Do you have a copy of that live recording you did?

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Joined: 02/12/2009

I am often asked about why a live recording that I was hired to record is not released. After all, it takes considerable time, effort and money to do a recording. Why wouldn't the people who paid for it follow through and release it?

Here's why:

Record labels and artists of all sizes often record shows professionally, but these recordings don't always get used. I have recorded hundreds of performances, but many were never released.

When someone hires me to record the audio portion of the show (video is a separate crew), usually it's a multi-track recording. This means that each microphone onstage goes to its own track on tape for later mixdown to a stereo recording. This is not an "off-the-board" stereo recording (like most bootlegs), it's the real deal.

This is done by means of a microphone-level splitter which goes onstage before the house and monitor mixing boards. All mics go into this splitter first. This provides a separate feed of each mic onstage to each of three destinations: The front-of-house board (audience), monitor board (band onstage) and the recording system. (Sometimes in smaller clubs there is no separate monitor board.) Individual microphone preamps are used for each feed to provide complete isolation and independent control.

There is often no simultaneous stereo recording made, since the tapes will soon be brought to a recording studio. If there is one made, it is a temporary "rough mix" for the purposes of determining which parts of the recording to work on, without setting up the whole multitrack system ($$$/hour).

I've done hundreds of these recordings. I turn the tapes over to the people who hired me as soon as I am paid. After that, it's up to them what they do with it. If they want to release it, there are many more technical and budgetary hurdles to leap first.

Any of the following reasons might prevent the fans from ever hearing it a particular night's recording:

-Once the band gets a chance to listen back to their performance, they realize that they didn't play as well as they thought during the heat of the moment.

-They often record a series of shows or a whole tour, and pick songs from other nights to release.

-Record label business politics (such as the live recording potentially hurting sales of a closely-timed studio release) or intra-band squabbles get in the way and delay or completely kill the idea of a live release.

-The budget is not there to pay for studio time, duplication, marketing, etc.

-Groups break up, lineups change, and bands change their focus, which makes the release unrepresentative of the band's present sound.

-The tracks are taken back to the studio and used as a foundation for further studio recording, which thus can't (or at least shouldn't) be called a "live" recording.

-The goal was not for a releasable recording, but for a snapshot of the band for demo use, teaching new members the repertoire, etc.

-Any one of hundreds of potential technical snafus can happen that are big enough to make the recording unusable. (I'm usually just the first link in the chain. Thankfully this one has never happened to me, phew)

-And many many more...

Even when recordings are used, it takes a long time to work on the mixdown, and then longer after that to release it. Sometimes it doesn't come out until years later (box sets etc.).

I list my credits on my site because I work damn hard and I am proud of the work I've done. The one thing that I ask is proper credit where credit is due, since this is not a high-paying or glamorous job. Few can (or would want to) do this for such little reward. Too many times I've worked hard and done a great job, and the project survives all of the above hurdles. But then the office yutz whose job it is to list the credits on the album doesn't bother to find out the names of the people who made it happen.

So, you and I would love to hear "that kickass show" as a professionally produced release. But that's not up to us. That's up to a million other factors. We fans (I include myself here) are just a few of these factors. We just have to wait and see.

For a good example of the ratio of released to unreleased, see my long list of clients and the relatively shorter list of releases:

(I first wrote parts of this in response to a question on the xiola.org bb about my Jane's Addiction recording.)

Joined: 01/12/2004

The next question usually asked is, "So, did you keep a copy?"

Joined: 02/12/2009

No, I long ago realized that "rough mix" or "off-house-board" tapes are fairly crappy and not worth the trouble. Remember, I'm not making a stereo mix like the guys at front-of-house and monitor-land are doing. I'm concentrating on getting each mic onto it's own track with the best audio possible for later mixdown to stereo.

Usually I'm too busy during a live recording to mess with a simultaneous stereo mix (I'm usually only one guy after all), and the acoustical environment of a loud live performance is not conducive to a good mix. Much of the time during a show I am listening to one track at a time under headphones, not the whole mix on nice studio monitor speakers. If a client has specifically asked for a stereo mix, I'll do it, but with the warning that it's just a rough mix. Or, if they specifically want a live-to-two-track mix and not a multitrack recording, I will set up in a controlled (isolated) environment, far from the stage. That's a very different job.

The difference in quality is staggering when you compare audience or board boots with pro multitrack recordings. If you've ever had a boot from a show which was later released as an album, you know.

If I were to covertly make/keep a two-track copy I would betray the confidence that my client has placed in me. It's not worth my reputation (and label lawyer wrath) to get a bootleg that I'll only listen to a few times.

Since I've put so much effort into the multitrack recording, hopefully the band/label will mix it and release it if they think it's worth hearing. We fans count on the artist to turn us on to their best work. That's what differentiates artists from fans. If it's a great show, odds are much better that it will be released.

Believe me, ten years ago I collected and traded tapes, and the live kick is what got me started in this business. But boots quickly lost my interest. I kind of miss the enthusiasm of traders, but I guess I've sacrificed my risk-taking attitude for professionalism. I'd rather do it right regularly and be known as a perfectionist. I'm no sell-out (my income proves that), or audio snob (I'm about the moment), just a working stiff and music fan in a world of plentiful musical options.

I often share the sentiment and would love to hear some of these shows. If the audience is that jazzed about it, imagine how much more attachment I have to it after an 18-hour day of work. But that's not the way it works.