Why Musicians Sound Different Live

There is a lot of criticism gets thrown at musicians regarding their live performances. The majority of these critiques come from the musician sounding different live in concert to how they do on their album. This is actually a pretty common issue with musicians; it’s very hard to recreate what they do in the studio live on stage. And while live concerts can be very fun to attend, it is often the case that the music sounds very different to how it does on their album. There is a very simple explanation for why this happens. When performing live musicians are a victim of what is known as the economic problem.

The economic problem is an issue which is faced by every society, scarce resources. In society there is always problems for individuals they can range anywhere from the bus being late to famine. The good thing about problems though is that they nearly all have solutions, these solutions just require resources. The problem is that resources aren’t infinite, there is only a certain amount of them and in some cases there is far fewer than we need. When there is a small amount of a resource economists refer to this as resource scarcity and that is basically the economic problem; unlimited demands and limited resources to meet those demands.

This economic problem exists also in the music industry and unfortunately seems to negatively impact a lot of musician’s live performances. When recording a song in a studio producers and musicians use techniques like auto tuning, reverb (a kind of echo sound), and double tracking. Double tracking is a way of making the song sound stronger by adding layers of the same sound over and over again; music producer Butch Vig breaks this process down really well here on the Nirvana song Drain You. These studio techniques which increase the quality of the song on record are what make the studio album version sound like this and the live version sound like this.

These studio recording techniques are all well and good in the studio and they have their place, they produce good sounding tracks. The issue however is that in the studio the musician can use all these techniques as much as they want but when they get to the live show they are restricted to what they can afford to bring and fit on stage. As a result, sometimes the live performances just can’t quite stack up to the studio recordings.

By Daragh O’Leary

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