Since we have been recording some new material with Between Bluffs, it has sparked ideas and conversations about one of my favorite "great debates" of the musician - how to approach producing a studio album.
Do you stay true to what can be produced in a live setting?
Or, do you go all out and try to create something unique altogether, utilizing all the tools of recording technology?
Or is there somewhere in between?
Keep it Raw!
On one hand, they say, Keep it Raw! Keep it Real! Don't do more than what can be done live. Stick with your style and try not to deviate; that is the true form of your music and how people will experience it. Reproduce that live show of the stage as closely as possible in the studio because when a fan experiences your music at a live show, they get a certain expectation. If they enjoyed themselves enough to want to buy a CD then they get home they want and expect a similar experience. Maybe they will enjoy the translation from stage to studio, but maybe not. Can that experience on stage ever truly be translated to a studio disc? How can you capture the energy of hundreds or thousands of people together in a room vibing on some good music when you are sitting by yourself in an isolation booth trying to lay down a vocal track , staring into the black insulation foam? Maybe you record as much of it live as you can? But then are you not just doing live album? What is the point of recording in the controlled atmosphere of the studio when you are just going to basically track a live show? Why not just record the next big live show and get the fans on tape too?
The others say Go BIG! The studio offers you the chance to do things that you could never even possibly try to imagine doing live. Layers upon layers of harmonies that fill the void; string and horn sections you could never possibly afford to hire for every gig; collaborations with members of other bands who are way too busy to hit the road with you; imagination being the only limitation to ideas coming to fruition. But then there's that disappointment factor again. The fan who experiences your music for the first time online then comes to a live show and realizes that you don't actually have a string quartet or horn section, or group of awesome black soul singers. It's just a power trio or standard rock four piece. Maybe they are impressed at the raw transformation of the sound, and like it even better. Either way, it's not what they expected; maybe even not what they wanted.
Stuck in the Middle
Is there a middle ground? Can you capture something in the studio that is both a fair representation of the live show, but also something grand and spectacular that takes it to another level? How do you know what to emphasize and what not to in order to achieve the best of both worlds?
Butch Vig, Rick Rubin, George Martin, Brian Eno, Phil Spector, Quincy Jones all seemed to have cracked the code on making a fantastic album. They made great records that will transcend time and stand on their own, but how did those records translate to the live stage? In some cases, not nearly as well. On the other hand, bands like the Grateful Dead and Widespread Panic had spectacular live shows that never quite translated into a studio album of equal quality. It's a catch 22.