As Recording Technology Advances, How Does the “Live Experience” Change?

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Sabrina Bucknole. Sabrina has been singing in musical theater for over eight years, and wrote this as a deep dive into how the meaning of “live” performance has changed over time.]

 

Seeing a “live” performance has changed in meaning throughout recent years. With the introduction of new technology to the stage and online spaces such as YouTube and Facebook, the meaning of “live” has evolved and become something everybody with a smartphone or tablet can experience.

Bringing the Studio to the Stage

Technology once only found in the recording studio has recently been adapted and used for on-stage performances. According to vocalist, electronic music composer and lecturer Donna Hewitt, “Recording and performance practices are trending towards each other and this is being propelled by a combination of technological shifts, a broad change in the level of production literacy of musicians, and an increasing shift towards more technologically intensive performance, either on stage (in terms of the musician’s own performance tools) or off stage.”

In other words, the use of technology on stage has greatly increased, with artists becoming more experimental with the use of technology in their live performances.

The introduction of recording equipment and new pieces of tech to the stage has evolved and shaped the term “live performance”. For instance, loop pedals record vocals and instruments in real time, then loop the sound back to the artist. These nifty pieces of tech allow you to create layers of sound and add textures to live performance.

There are plenty of new and up-and-coming artists who use loop pedals for live performances, including Grace McClean who creates what can only be described as a witty form of jazz using clever yet comic lyrics and snappy vocals. A great example of this is in her live performance of “Natural Disaster”. Hite (aka Julia Eastern) is another example of a growing artist who uses the loop pedal in an innovative and experimental way during live performances. She uses the pedal to add smooth textures through holding long notes, creating an enchanting sound which is evident in her performance of “Eyes on the Prize”.

But it’s not only smaller artists who use these nifty pieces of tech during live sets. Pedals are becoming increasingly popular mostly due to the likes of famous artists including Imogen Heap, Radiohead, and of course, Ed Sheeran. With only an acoustic guitar and loop pedal by his side, Ed Sheeran became the first-ever artist to play Wembley stadium solo over three consecutive nights in 2015.

There were concerns that Sheeran wouldn’t be able to pull it off because usually audience members in an arena as immense as this require a grand spectacle. Plus, being able to fill a stadium with sound generated by only a guitar and pedal seemed impractical, but as history shows, the performance was a complete success. The pedal was able to create a richer and fuller sound, contributing towards Sheeran’s impressive achievement.

Livestreaming

Livestreaming music festivals and concerts are also becoming increasingly popular. In fact, 81% of internet and mobile audiences watched more live video in 2016 than in 2015. YouTube for instance, livestreams large events including Coachella and Ultra, giving new meaning to the concept of seeing a performance “live”. The BBC’s coverage of Glastonbury is another good example of this because even though the viewers are not physically there, they are seeing the action in real time.

As well as growing in popularity, live streaming is becoming increasingly normal thanks to Facebook’s new tool which allows users to go “live” and watch videos as they are happening. Facebook’s “live” feature can also be a great benefit to up-and-coming artists when they’re trying to promote themselves through their pages, from live covers to never-heard-before originals. What makes the “live” tool different and possibly more effective than uploading a music video is that artists can interact with their viewers in real time as well as reach new audiences.

As the concept of watching things “live” becomes more of a normality, how does this affect the way audiences view an artist’s performance?

Of course, seeing your favorite artist perform through a screen is not the same as seeing them in the flesh, but if more and more people are watching performances live, would this not decrease the number of people attending live shows?

Actually, 67% of live video viewers are more likely to buy a ticket to a concert or event after watching a live video of that event or a similar one. The use of technology here then acts as great advertising for artists by increasing attendees and therefore ticket sales. It’s also clear that people value the experience of being physically “there” at a concert more because they are part of an exclusive group experiencing a special moment in time.

Holograms

Holograms have also been used in recent years as an experimental piece of tech in live performance. In 2012, a hologram of world-famous rapper Tupac was resurrected on stage alongside Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. Stunning more than 80,000 audience members at Coachella, they performed popular hits including “Hail Mary” and “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted”.

The illusion created, was not technically a hologram because a hologram by definition is a “3-D image produced by the interference of light beams that reflect off a physical object and can be seen with the naked eye”. Instead, the illusion was created by adapting a nineteenth century theatrical trick known as “Pepper’s Ghost” which used a sheet of glass and a light to project the actor’s reflection onto the stage. This technique was used in supernatural plays around this period to create an image of a ghost-like, ethereal being.

Still, this nineteenth century technique adapted and enhanced with the use of current technology offers audience members a seemingly impossible opportunity to witness deceased artists perform live.

Holograms and technology which produce holographic effects are also being used by living artists to add to the dynamics of the performance. For instance, in 2017’s Grammy Awards, Beyoncé used Holo-Gauze to deliver 3D visual special effects in her spell-binding performance. The hologram features Beyoncé, her daughter Blue Ivy, and her mother Tina Knowles.

Holotronica CEO Stuart Warren-Hill, who supplied the Holo-Gauze screen, said, “Holo-Gauze is ideal for live events such as this, allowing live performers to be situated behind our near-invisible gauze while visually stunning holographic effects appear to float in front of them. Holo-Gauze makes the seemingly impossible possible.”

Rather than using holographic effects to replace the live experience, they enhance the performance and add extra dimensions. It’s clear that artists are embracing the idea of using holographic effects in their live performances, manipulating the term “live” even further.

Whether it’s livestreaming performances for the benefit of the audience, using loop pedals to add textures and dimensions to the music itself, or introducing holograms to enhance the on-stage performance, the meaning of “live” is changing due to advances in technology. But this does not mean, seeing artists live, in the flesh is no longer of value.

While technology can enhance performance, audiences still appreciate and value the authenticity of live performance, especially when artists with “real” voices perform without technology like auto-tune to aid them. Modern technology found in studios allows artists to refine and perfect their sound including autotuned vocals, automatically mapped virtual instruments, and sound proofing foam to manipulate the acoustics.

While using high-tech recording equipment such as this can create a “perfect” final product, this can also raise the audience’s expectations when seeing an artist perform live. Audiences can sometimes feel let down when they see an artist performing live because the reality does not always live up to the expectation set by studio recordings.

This is why even though technology can enhance a performance, most people appreciate and value hearing “real vocals” and watching artists perform live, in the flesh, rather than through a screen.

Studio Spotlight: Lakehouse Recording Studios Contribute to the Lasting Legacy of Asbury Park’s Music Scene

Continuing our monthly look at awesome recording studios – from the scenes they serve and the atmosphere they cultivate for independent artists – we find ourselves in the seaside town of Asbury Park, New Jersey. Known for legends like the bandleader/trombonist Arthur Pryor and rock idol Bruce Springsteen, on top of some notable music venues, the Jersey Shore city has a proud history of celebrating its musical roots.

A few years back, musician and career engineer Jon Leidersdorff opened Lakehouse Recording Studios. Feeling the need to expand his offerings, Lakehouse was designed and built in a building that also features the reputable Russo Music store, as well as Lakehouse Music Academy, a music school for students of all ages and levels. It only makes sense that this complex features a state of the art, two-studio recording facility, right?

We talked to Jon about getting the studio up and running, what sets it apart from the rest, and what it means to be providing recording solutions to the musicians of his hometown:

Tell me about how you made the transition from home studio to opening up Lakehouse. What kind of projects had you been working on leading up to that point?

Jon Leidersdorff: I was recording and developing local artists that started to see some success and working with newer bands that I met through the industry. Some of my producer friends also were bringing artists in to work there. And from that, the studio and I got very busy. I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to be involved with more projects if I didn’t have a larger commercial space.

What makes the design and layout (of the studio, specifically), unique and what can artists look forward to getting out of it in a session?

For the new recording studios I wanted to have everything I was previously missing. I wanted space where every musician in the group could see each other and set up the rig of their dreams to record with simultaneously. I wanted everyone to have the sound that they wanted hear and to be able to play together and see each other. I wanted more of a live performance for tracking.

I really missed hearing the magic of when the entire group plays together. The whole group playing at the same time really pushes each musician individually and has a huge impact on the composition. I also wanted it to sound amazing in the space.

We hired WSDG. John Storyk has done this thousands of times before and I realized that there would be no substitute for that type of experience. His rooms sound great. One thing that I hear often from the producers and artists that come through our studios is that they love the feeling in the space. And how we have so much of the gear that they never get to play or that they just see as virtual instruments or plug-ins. We spend a lot of time and energy making sure that we have a lot of unique  and vintage instruments that the musicians can use to feel more creative.

Outside of just the studio, elaborate a bit on the overall complex that Lakehouse is situated in and its significance to the neighborhood.

We are located in the downtown of Asbury Park, New Jersey. The city has an amazing musical heritage. Early days with Arthur Pryor and the John Philip Sousa big bands, the west side jazz scene of the 1930’s and ’40’s, the Jersey Shore rock scene of the 1970’s and ’80’s and the amazing punk scene at the Lanes in recent years. People believe in music here. They trust it, they support it, they live it. You can see it everywhere. It’s a great place to be when you come to record. There are great art galleries, restaurants and atmosphere, live music venues and of course there’s the boardwalk and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a great backdrop to ignite the creative flow.  

In our building we have Russo Music, the largest and coolest independent music store in NJ. They have the best equipment and do repairs and set ups on site. It’s really helpful for the musicians that are recording here. There is an amazing music academy with very progressive programming. Most of the teachers have really cool gigs and credits.

Monmouth University has their music industry program and record label here as well. They bring really great guests here.

We also have our own small DIY venue. It’s the home for the Asbury Park Music Foundation. They have a killer PA in there and anyone coming through town can book their own show. I’ve seen a lot of great acts there. They are a nonprofit that do tremendous work for the community here.

There is a great photographer and videographer Andrew Holtz. Upstairs is Bands on a Budget who do merchandise for so many different artists. There’s CoWerks, a great shared office space.

There are also some great well-known producers will have their own mix rooms on the premises. It really creates a great community having so many different creative people in the same space.

What inspired you to start Lakehouse Music Academy? What was the reaction from residents?

The idea for the music Academy really came from need. So many of the artists that I was working with really needed support. They needed experts around them and educators who could help them to accomplish their goals. Having relevant mentors opens up so many possibilities. There are really great programs at the Academy that help the students directly and specifically with their aims.

We are fortunate to be in an area where so much of the music industry lives and plays. We have some of the biggest artists and music industry professionals teach at our Academy. The community has been the best supporters. We have a huge student body now in just a few years.

Have you been able to establish a sort of ‘path’ between the academy and the studio?  

We have set up programming that helps young musicians develop into songwriters and artists. There are programs that teach songwriting, audio engineering and connect the students to the music industry. They even have their own record label.

Between watching students come in the doors to the academy, bands through the studio, and everything in between, what makes you excited about Asbury Park’s music scene?

It’s a very exciting time to be in Asbury Park. The music scene is really turning into a ‘music community’. There is so much going on and there are many great collaborations happening everywhere.

It makes you feel good to see these artists helping each other and taking it to the next level.

What inside advice would you give to independent artists who are getting ready to step into a professional recording studio for the first time?

Ask yourself what you want to accomplish. What do you want to sound like? It’s important to find a studio and someone who understands what you’re trying to get done.

Studio Spotlight: Sine Studios’ Matt Teacher On Recording & Running a Philanthropy-Driven Label

In continuing with our ‘Studio Spotlight’ series that aims to highlight cool recording studios all over, this month we chatted with Matt Teacher, co-founder of Philadelphia’s Sine Studios. Matt started Sine Studios over ten years ago in the Rittenhouse Historic District with business partner Mike Lawson shortly after graduating from Berklee College of Music.

As the duo built up a reputation around town among clients across genres, they went on to launch The Giving Groove – an “artist-friendly, socially conscious” record label in an effort to help musicians they were passion about realize their musical vision while simultaneously giving back to the community. With half of all album proceeds being divvied up between the artists and a music-related non-profit of the artist’s choice, The Giving Groove is showing how members of the music community can make a difference across the board.

Read our interview with Matt below to learn more about his experience, Sine Studios, and The Giving Groove. Be sure to check out all Sine Studios has to offer in the way of mixing and recording, too!

You’ve been running Sine for 10 years now. Tell us a little bit about how you jumped into engineering and what led up to you opening your own studio.

Matt Teacher: My business parter, Mike Lawson, and I have been playing music together since 7th grade. From the first time we began making music together we were interested in learning how to record it. This started with a 4-track cassette recorder in Mike’s parents basement, then moved to a digital 8-track, then the Digi001.

By the time we were graduating high school we both knew we wanted to open a recording studio so we both went to school for it—Mike studying audio technology at American University and I went to Berklee in Boston. We both graduated in 2003 and returned to Philly and began working on finding our space, securing a loan, and finding someone to help us build our space. Mike and I both worked doing sound for film companies as we built Sine and in 2006 we opened our doors.

In terms of overall design, how is Sine unique? What can artists look forward to getting out of the space as a result of the way it was built?

The most important ethos of our studio is that we wanted it to feel like home, but allow our artists to be very productive at the same time. We were incredibly lucky to find Obie O’Brien to design our space and Bruce Slater to do the construction, both of whom had previously worked together building Bon Jovi’s studio, Sanctuary II. Our studio is in a turn-of-the-century brownstone in Philly’s Rittenhouse Historic District.

We gutted the 2nd floor, which was 2 apartments, and built our control room and live room. We used layers of leaded drywall, closed-cell foam, icynene, and sound-stop board to make the floor and walls very dense so that when we record the room holds the low frequencies and allows the microphones to pick them up in an even, well-rounded manner. There are no parallel surfaces in our live room and all the walls are curved or slanted so that it produces very even (but live) frequency response.

We didn’t want our room to be dead so we used very minimal treatment—mostly on the ceiling above where the drum kit is usually set up. Being musicians ourselves we have collected a lot of different instruments, amps, and toys that our clients are free to be inspired by and use during their sessions.

Philadelphia has become an even more prominent music city in recent years, whether it’s hip hop, garage rock, or anything in between. What excites you most about about the scene in 2017?

Having grown up in Philly and then returning here in 2003 I’ve seen the music scene dwindle and surge. When we first moved back a lot of venues were closing, studio options weren’t what they were in Philadelphia’s heyday, and it kind of felt like the scene was falling apart. Luckily, that didn’t last too long though. Over the proceeding years a lot of artists started making a name for themselves, whether it was Dr Dog and War on Drugs or Meek Mill, a lot Philly artists started making a name for themselves.

Today I am most excited about Philadelphia not only being a home to great artists, but also its return to a thriving industry town. I want Philadelphia to be a destination, not just for bands and artists, but for record labels and studios as well, and it’s incredibly exciting to see it happening.

Building on that, what kind of a role do you see Sine playing in the independent music scene around Philadelphia?

I love that many Philadelphia artists call Sine Studios home. We are here to provide a comfortable, creative space for one and all. We also provide a network of musicians and industry professionals and love to make introductions and connections for our artists.

A couple of years ago you started The Giving Groove record label. What inspired this move after so many years of running the studio?

After running Sine Studios for 10 years we wanted to expand into something that could help the artists we were working with. So many times we’d watch as an artist would finish their project and then struggle to get it out into the world in a meaningful way. Making and recording music comes naturally to most artists, but the business side of it is often not something they’re well-versed in.

It can be very difficult, especially when competing for tours and radio play with major labels who are throwing serious money behind their acts. That is why we started the Giving Groove: to have the ability to help artists get their art out into the world and enable them to give back to the music community that fostered them.

With 50% of the profits going to artists and 50% going to a music-based non-profit, what sparked the idea for this business model?

I was inspired by my dad and step-mother who had recently launched a cookbook publishing company, Burgess Lea Press. Their model was this: 50% of all after-tax profits would go to the author; the remaining 50% would be donated to a food-related charity. It needed to be adapted for the music industry, but this model is what would become the core of the Giving Groove ethos.

This model feels like something that really appeals to artists of this generation. What has the reaction been like from the arts community overall?

To date artist reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.  They feel as though they are getting their fair share, something that the mainstream music industry has always struggled with, and they appreciate that the label enables them to give back to the music community in a meaningful way. In the year and a half from when we came up with the model to when we launched we vetted our concept by everyone we had developed relationships with through the studio.

Everyone from Harry Weinger (Universal/Motown) to Aaron Weiss (mewithoutYou) to Jon Bon Jovi have been incredibly supportive and are routing for us to make the Giving Groove a success.

What kind of future plans do you have for The Giving Groove?

We plan to keep expanding our roster with a diverse range of artists and allowing them to support a growing network of music-related charities. For us it’s not about putting out a certain genre of music; it’s about the label’s mission and I believe this mission should be inclusive of all styles of music. As our branding grows we hope to continue to sign both well-stablished acts and up-and-comers.

Back to the studio a bit: What inside advice would you give to independent artists who are getting ready to step into a professional recording studio for the first time?

When I speak to an artist getting ready to head into the studio I always stress the importance of pre-production. Whether they’re working with a producer or not there are certain steps that need to happen before they set foot in the studio to record. For a band they need be well-rehearsed, but not to the point where the songs aren’t exciting to them anymore.

The songs have to be second nature to all the musicians so they don’t find themselves working out fundamental parts in the studio—everyone should just be focused on capturing the best performance and not just getting a passable take. They need to be able to play the material to a click even if they make the conscious decision not to track to it.

If they are going for mainstream pop success they need to take a hard look at the songs’ narratives and make sure their story (or if the lyric is more eccentric: “vibe”) comes through to the listener—artists always know what they mean when they write something, but making sure that comes through to the listener is key.

Two Monitoring Tips For Mixing in the Home Studio

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written exclusively for us by Scott Wiggins, founder of The Recording Solution, a website dedicated to helping producers, engineers and artists make better music from their home studios.]

I’m sure you’ve heard or read in audio forums, or books from professional engineers that you need the BEST monitoring or listening environment possible when mixing your music. You may think you need the best monitors, the best converters, or the best acoustically built room.

Although I agree with needing a good listening environment, I don’t agree that you need the “best” gear to pump out good mixes. The “best”, most times, means expensive. For most home studio owners, we simply don’t have the budget to buy the best gear available. This high-end gear would definitely help, but it’s not the end all be all.

Most of us home studio owners are not in the ideal mixing environments. You probably are in a spare bedroom, a garage, a basement, or whatever space is available. These rooms were typically not built with the idea of recording and mixing music in mind. That’s ok!

If you can just get some decent affordable gear and some strategically placed acoustic treatment, you will be on your way to a great mix. I’ve been mixing on KRK Rocket 5 monitors for years, and have happy paying clients!

I also have some DIY acoustic treatment strategically placed in my listening room. I could go into acoustic treatment and where to put it, but that’s a whole other article. Today I want to focus on two simple hacks for monitoring in your home studio.

1. Turn your mix WAY down

First off, you should not be mixing at super loud volumes. We, as humans, perceive louder as better. Don’t trick yourself, or I should say, don’t trick your ears. You should be monitoring at a level where you could still have a conversation with someone and not have to turn the mix down or raise your voice to be heard.

The problem with loud monitoring is you may think the mix is balanced, but your ears are just adjusting to the volume, and long story short, fooling you.

This low volume hack gives you a better perspective of balance between the instruments in the track.

For example, when I’m nearing the end of a mix, I turn the volume WAAAAY down and listen to how the vocal and snare are sitting with each other. I tend to like a loud snare, and this low volume lets me know if I’ve set it too loud compared to the vocal. This super low volume also helps tame the weird room reflections and resonating frequencies we all have in our not so perfect mixing spaces.

Another tip when I’m nearing the end of my mix is to listen to the mix as a whole . I will listen to the song from start to finish at this low volume, and take mental notes (or written), of the balance between everything. You then can go and turn things up or down where needed. We are essentially “balance engineers”. It’s our job to make the tracks sit well with each other.

Don’t stop the mix, listen to it in its entirety so you get a better perspective of the balance of the whole song. Poor mixing decisions tend to come when we are too laser focussed on one tiny part of the song, that we lose perspective of the whole picture. Act like you’re a casual listener just enjoying a song. Then go back and fix the things that stick out.

2. Listen on a different set of speakers or headphones

I monitor on my KRK Rocket 5s, but then I will switch to my headphones. Don’t get caught up in what type of speaker or headphones you switch to, the point is to “wake your ears up”. Just pick something new to listen on even if it’s a crappy little mid range mono speaker. Don’t ask me what the best crappy speaker to buy is.

When listening to the same speakers for a long time, our ears adapt and start getting used to the problems that may be occurring in the mix.

For example, your ears may get used to way too much bass or low-end in your mix, and you will perceive this as OK. Switching to a new listening environment will wake up your ears and you can instantly hear things that are out-of-place. You can also bring in your favorite professional mixes and reference how they are responding on your monitors and your headphones. Take notes and adjust your mix.

I tend to set my reverbs and delays too loud on my KRKs. When I switch to my headphones, I immediately notice this and adjust. Then when you switch back to your first monitors your ears wake up again. Just periodically switch to something new, and this can be a very useful technique to help you make accurate mixing decisions.

So to recap:

  1. Mix at low volumes
  2. Reference your mix on different monitors or headphones

These are two very simple hacks that will give you better perspective and help you make better, more accurate mixing decisions. Another hack that took my mixes to the next level was learning how to mix music in mono.  I hope this helps you in the future.

Just keep mixing!