As a musician, the chances are you already have a few gigs under your belt. You may have adapted to the pressures of performing on stage. You might be able to power through a setlist without even flinching, just trusting your abilities to guide you through the whole performance. And that’s great – playing music live is hard work and you should always look to develop this aspect of your music career. However, when it comes down to recording music in the studio, artists and bands need to adopt an approach distinct from that adopted on-stage. In this post, we’ll be looking at the main differences between these two approaches to music.
Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind when transitioning from live performances to studio recordings is that each type of music-making involves fundamentally different goals. Playing live can have many different goals – to entertain a large crowd, to inspire an audience, to get a dancefloor moving, or simply to provide some nice background noise. But in the studio, there is just one main goal that everyone is working towards: a quality recording of your music.
You can be as entertaining as you like but it will not help to further your goals in the live room. Although you may be used to thinking about things like stage presence and pleasing the crowd, you need to switch focus in the studio as these habits will just distract from the music itself, potentially hampering your accuracy and slowing things down. This might feel strange at first, and it can take time to shake the habits developed after months playing your music live. Familiarise yourself with the points below and adjust your thinking accordingly!
A live show is an immediate experience: you get one chance to get on stage and do your thing. Strings snap, notes are missed, equipment can fail, but you just have to roll with it and carry on. In the studio, however, if the music sounds low-quality or the instruments are not working well, the producer will step in to fix things so that the artist does not have to settle for imperfections. As such, recording sessions can be replete with tweaks, breaks, replays and often interruptions – such is the pace of making music when you get more than one attempt to pin down the song. After all, you want to capture your music at its best and this requires a lot of time and work, with a single track often taking hours and several attempts to capture in the highest quality.
Some musicians come into the studio expecting to power through their entire record in one go, just as though they were playing live. And while you can approach your session in this way – recording each song in complete takes – this approach will still involve recording overdubs, making edits, and “cleaning up” the song. Many choose to record different parts separately, which replaces continuity of live recordings with an increased focus on detail and nuance.
This takes us to our next point…
When playing music for an audience, it’s acceptable (and often preferable) for the performance to be as authentic and expressive as possible. People don’t head to a rock concert for a pitch-perfect, note-by-note playthrough of their favourite tracks. In fact, most audiences will embrace a bit of sloppiness if it means the performance is packed with more dynamic energy. The studio is a different matter. When your put your music under the recording microscope, those little mistakes that don’t matter on-stage are suddenly amplified and emphasised, reducing the quality and immersiveness of the track itself.
But it’s not just about avoiding mistakes. It’s about paying attention to details more generally. The tonal quality of a snare drum. The small timing differences in a jazz percussion groove. The clarity of each individual note in a guitar solo. When you’re performing your music live, details like these often get swallowed up by acoustics and volume. But studio recordings give musicians the opportunity to capture these subtle moments – each packed with expression and emotion – in all their glory. This consideration gives you cause to change your approach when tracking songs in the studio: while expression should still factor into your playing, you should also be paying more attention to the quality and accuracy of your playing than you normally would in other contexts.
Kore Studios is a recording studio in West London run by experienced producer/engineer, George Apsion. We offer a large live space and two control rooms, backed up by a mixture of high-end and vintage gear, brought together by experts in producing and mixing various different styles of music. Get in touch to arrange your tailored studio session.