HomeBlogsbillhare's blog"Can't you just make us sound the way we do live??"

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This is something we producers are asked from time to time, and of course we'll do our best to achieve this for you if it's what you really want - Most of us just don't believe it's what you really want!

First off, what you "sound" like live and what you "are" live are two different beasts entirely. An A Cappella show is an event in real time in real space. Putting earbuds in your ears and listening to that same show while you do the dishes is another thing entirely. Had you actually been at said show, you might have a slight advantage, remembering how cute a certain member of the group was, the funny (at that moment) skit between those two songs, or the choreography they do for their particular version of "Fix You".

Hearing only the audio of the performance as it was is like going to a movie, but the bulb in the projector is burned out. Heck, let's not even go to the theater, but just play a movie on your laptop with the screen turned off - you are removing about 95% of the experience for the person you were entertaining live - they have no context, and need to have things explained. It's become an "audio-only" experience, so there are a lot of senses to fill!  Consequently, now they can concentrate fully on that 5% that's just the audio, and a million things they would have missed during your live performance become painfully clear.  Add to the fire that this has now become a repeatable performance - they can't hit rewind while watching you live, and will forget about that clunker note in a matter of seconds, but every time it comes by on your CD it will sink in a little more.  You don't have the advantage of being in the moment, visuals, etc to distract from that.

Anyone who has heard a good radio drama knows that settings, images, feelings, etc can be filled in by virtue of a little extra dialogue and sound effects. In our case, that dialogue can be musical and sonic rather than words. Someone watching your live show can look at your vocal percussionist flailing his arms like he's playing a drum set and say "wow, that guy sounds just like a drummer". The same person, if they haven't seen the show but only hearing a recording of it might say "wow, someone really had a gas problem that night!"

Same goes for being in an enclosed space with a dozen or more young singers blaring full volume at you. They might even be using a P.A. system, so the sound is filling the room, resonating with bass frequencies full of yummy goodness. A recording coming out of two speakers won't capture that complex, three-dimensional waterfall of sound, and unless you play it through large speakers at high volume, you'll never match the intensity of what you were hearing sitting a few feet in front of the group. If you do play it through large speakers at high volume, you might now say "hmmm, I didn't notice how out of tune they were when I was watching them sing this...."

So much stimuli to choose from - I mean, you might even be able to smell the group from where you are in the audience - but you can definitely see them, they can see you, and you all interact. You feed them with your reactions and applause; they give you more songs and maybe a personal smile and nod, while trying to entertain you personally. You are in the moment with them, and they with you. Try having a relationship like that with a CD or mp3 of that performance!

Fortunately, you CAN have good relationships with recordings, but they need to fill in more blanks than just be the audio-only version of your live show!

Just about any commercially released so-called "live performance" of any band has been taken back into the studio, enhanced, re-performed, tuned, edited added to, polished and buffed to a shine.

And I've never really been talking about live recordings this whole time anyway, but just the results achieved when stopping your recorded performance at the point where your live show only begins.

Many if not most of the people who will eventually buy your album were not at the show, and for them, you can fill in those bottom frequencies, make the snare drum pop, and rock them with a solid kick drum. It doesn't need to be overly slick, or have crazy effects flying at the listener to get the point across - just fill a bit of that chasm between what you "sound" like live and what you "are" live!


You speak truth.

Love it, Bill.  I'm becoming converted.

In fact, I actually more-or-less quoted you on this very topic on this week's episode of Mouth Off:


--Dave Brown

now: Mouth Off host | ICCA & CARA Judge

then: CASA president, CASAcademy director, CASA Bd of Directors | BYU Vocal Point | Noteworthy co-foun

Well said

Great article, Bill. We're mixing our first CD right now and were just talking about what Dave and Chris said about your recording philosophy on Sunday's Mouth Off.

The tendency seems to be to look at the recording process for what you gain rather than what you lose. Thanks for the insight!

You need to...

Stop ruining a cappella Bill.

John He
Executive Producer | Los Angeles A Cappella Festival
Music Director | Bruin Harmony
Nominator & Judge | CARA


I make special a cappella noodle just for you OK?  Only for you, OK?

Bill Hare Some dude who records and mixes people who can't play instruments. http://www.dyz.com


Thanks for this, Bill. This is great stuff for groups who are split down the middle with the "purists" and those who are trying to just get a better recording out. (e.g. my group).

I love the example of the radio show. Thinking of shows like "A Prairie Home Companion" or "This American Life," it makes so much sense that the producers of those shows realize that just the dialogue by itself is flat, lame and ultimately boring. Thus, they bring in music, interesting audible textures and effects to round out the listening experience... The same lesson should be applied to a cappella music. 

GREAT post. Bookmarked. I'll definitely be referring to this one throughout the year.

LOL @johnhe... Ok? Ok.

Cy Serrano Creative Director, Los Angeles A Cappella Festival LA/AF Website | Personal Website

Converting purists

Converting purists everywhere! It's nice to see the evolution from overly produced to a more "live" sound in recent recordings, but as you said, the enhanced live sound is definitely preferred for the audio-only experience.

Not necessarily an evolution...

... everyone has different visions and tastes - we don't necessarily stop doing "overly produced" things just because others are going more live - if that were the case, Green Day would sound like the Jonas Brothers, who would sound like T-Pain by now.  It really depends on how you approach it, there's much more to choose from now, and of course you buy what you like.  I tend to find that people who are NOT singers in A Cappella groups tend to gravitate toward the more produced stuff, because it's more familiar to their ears, and vice-versa.  Many people won't know a good arrangement from a mediocre one, or appreciate a "clever" arrangement unless they've had a certain amount of experience.  We're all coming from the "inside" here, but there has been a lot of notice from the "outside" as of late...

Bill Hare Some dude who records and mixes people who can't play instruments. http://www.dyz.com

another angle

I've also dealt with groups who were concerned that a slick studio production might somehow misrepresent their group's sound.  They were afraid if their CD sounded too good, they wouldn't be able to live up to it live.  I'm sure you've dealt with that point of view a ton, Bill.  It's hard to convince them that people won't feel misled if they hear a superslick album then go to a live show and get an earful of less-than-perfect.

Mike Henrickson
Cartoon Johnny

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