Live recording of CDs has become a trend because CDs are no longer mass market items, they are souvenirs.
Even into the ’90s it was standard for music fans to buy a CD based on music they heard on the radio. Then they would go to a concert expecting the band to sound like the CD, and most bands would oblige because those were the days when CDs served mass markets.
Radio is no longer a big factor in music, and stores that sell CDs are disappearing faster than you can say “Tower Records.” Mass merchandising of hardcopy music has been replaced by single-song softcopy sales on iTunes and MySpace. For most bands, the once mighty CD is now on a par with t-shirts, posters, and stickers, and CD sales are tied to live performances instead of CD outlet stores. Audiences want to take home what they heard on the stage rather than what they heard on radio, so the CD needs to sound like the band instead of the other way around.
Mastering Engineer Michael Romanowski, who has recorded the Rock Soup Ramblers as well as Misisipi Rider live, is seeing and increase in demand for live in the studio and live in the clubs. Cost is the driving force, and there doesn’t seem to be much incentive for recording studio wizardry, extensive mixing and overdubbing, without a mass market to pay for it.
Beyond cost, Romanowski also talks about an artistic incentive. He notes that live in the studio recordings pack more emotional punch than “canned in the studio.” Live in the studio sessions allow band mates to hear each other in a new way. He calls it playing the song instead of playing their instruments. Bands don’t use headsets in his sessions which pushes them to listen to each other and balance each instrument’s volume because there is no remix on a live take. If an instrument is too loud or too soft, the band has to do another take.
The studio room itself is another factor. Texas Steve and the Git Gone Trio got the vintage rockabilly sound that they were looking for by recording in a garage studio. Misisipi Rider needed a more dampened room to bring out the acoustic-driven emotions they wanted to capture.
There’s more on the technical end, and there can be post-production in live recording that can raise costs if a band hasn’t done its homework before going into the studio. Still, for a cost-effective recording alternative, live in the studio works as long as the band members know their parts and the songs have gelled before their studio concert begins. MySpace