The Live Album.
To produce, or not to produce?
Purists argue that a live album should be in no way remixed or meddled with. A feed from the mixing desk should be recorded, they say, and the album put out as it is. This view, nice as it sounds, leads to one thing: crap live albums.
When an engineer mixes the sound for a concert, he is mixing it to sound good in the venue. In the case of a major label band recording a live album, the venue is likely to be an indoor arena or outdoor stadium with a capacity of at least 10,000 people. Here's a clue: the acoustics in your car or home are slightly different to the ones at Madison Square Garden. A big arena, for a start, will have a natural echo that completely changes how things are heard. At the show, the band will be playing (assuming they're successful) through some of the finest and largest PA equipment money can buy. In addition to that, they will be playing at ear-splitting volume, which, aside from making the whole experience more physical (you feel the beat in your chest) and exciting, actually changes the way you hear things. In short, even if you have a totally wicked stereo system and you play it fairly loud, a direct live recording is not going to sound anything like the band sounded on the night. Should you need proof of this, track down a quality soundboard live bootleg of a band you've seen live and realise how inferior it sounds on CD to the rocking performance they put on that night. They may have been playing in the world's largest stadium, but on record it will sound like a few guys making a fairly small noise.
The point is that a soundboard recording of a live show doesn't sound anything like the band sounds live. The whole thing lacks power and intensity. In the studio, a band can mix a live show so that it sounds on a normal stereo approximately like they would live -- that is, huge. The purists argue that this spoils the vibe of the album. Well, really. A live CD can never capture the atmosphere of a live show. When you go to a show, you have the anticipation weeks in advance of going to see one of your favourite bands. Then the night arrives and you stand outside with thousands of people just as crazy about the band as you are. You finally get inside and wait anxiously through the opening act's set. The band always arrive a few minutes late, just to build the excitement. Then they finally hit the stage in a sea of flashing lights, lasers, and pyrotechnics, and you, along with 9,999 other rabid fans, go nuts. How is a live CD ever going to capture all that? It isn't. But a bit of studio work can ensure that the guitars slam, the drums pound, and the huge reverbs are present just like you remember them being the night you saw the band.
Purists' final argument is that the live album should be one complete, unedited show, rather than the band selecting the best performances of each song from various nights of the tour and blending them together so they sound like one show. The latter, claim the purists, ruins the atmosphere. Purists really ought to shut up. If no one told you (and Jeff Keith didn't mention the various cities by name), would you know that Tesla's Replugged: Live is taken from various shows? Of course not. If you're not at the show, you don't feel the atmosphere building, and if a band is hot, they should have pretty much the same vibe every not. To say that it ruins the feel of the show to select the band's best performances is a crock; it would merely lead to inconsistent live albums. Purists are inconsistent anyway: reviewers will accuse one live album of being too slick, while complaining about a poor mix on another. You can't have it both ways. There is one thing the purists are right about however: A live album should be a 2CD set. Sorry, but what kind of band plays a set that you can fit on one CD? To get in all the band's hits, a little banter, and some jamming, you need two CDs.
A well-produced live album can offer much of the raw power, spontaneity, and excitement of a live performance while still rendering high-quality, listenable end product that's often fatter sounding (while retaining clarity) and more rocking than the original studio versions. A bootleg, on the other hand, might offer authenticity, but with such poor production quality, is hardly the stuff of casual listening pleasure. Would you rather have something 100% pure or something you're actually going to listen to?
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