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Tuesday
Jul212009

Invest in live show gear or invest in making a better record - which is more important?

An artist writes into Music Think Tank today to ask the question below - can someone please advise this person?

I find myself in a predicament that I am sure plenty of other aspiring artists have as well. Is it more important to invest in a better live show in regards to equipment and sound, or should I consider the importance of having an actual recorded product to spread around?

My confusion is rooted into the conflict between the relationship of the two. If I have a better live show in regards to presence and sound, people are going to be looking for a physical product. However, with a relatively well recorded EP, the same people are going to wonder why our live sound is lacking.

Is it better to focus on one over the other, or is an average-above average result in both more desirable?

Reader Comments (21)

Holy Missing Information -- what kind of music do they do? That DEFINITELY affects the answer.

July 21 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Couple of things -

1. The quality of you show and your recordings is not dependent on the amount of money you spend. If it were that easy anyone could do it with a bit of careful saving and investing.

The important thing is to invest TIME. In both.

2. As above, your decisions will depend entirely on what kind of performer you are and what your music is like.

July 21 | Unregistered Commenterfelix

Sorry for all of the missing information! It is quite difficult to quantiatively detail, "What kind of music do you play?" or "Well what do you want?" in any form of communication, particularly an email to someone I don't know =).

I play what I feel is a dynamic blend of indie/rock sound, acoustic sensabilities, and jazz harmonic movement. In the shortest way possible to describe, my influences include a mix of Wilco, City and Colour, Death Cab for Cutie, among other lesser known acts like Alcest. I try to engage the audience with not only music, but an amicable quasi-relationship between audience and performer.

For right now, I feel that gear I have is more than adequate for the lower level venues I play now. I'm not looking to blow the roof off with a 100 watt tube amp while the mix is muddy with every instrument turned up as loud as it can go before even going in to the PA. I am only concerned with what the audience is hearing in respect to my desires to having a sonically pleasing musical product, if that makes sense.

I've done some very basic recording before, but I am wanting to dedicate the time and effort into understanding the recording process and the nuances of capturing a performance. I have great interest in Logic Studio and along with it Main Stage. My conflict is that I enjoy playing live as much as I have fun in writing at home and recording short musical ideas and motifs. Time and effort are no stranger to me, especially in regards to music, so patience will be of no real problem.

At the very heart of things, I am just having second thoughts on whether or not to invest a relatively large sum of money (for a college student) into a new laptop and a DAW; or would things be better spent in making sure that the sound going into some eventual recording environment is as good as I can get it to be?

July 21 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

There is no real answer to this. It's up to you. I mucked around for ages buying low to middle of the road recording equipment but at the end of the day I'm not a recording engineer. I spent too much time mucking around with trying to learn how to record, and putting out some pretty crap sounding stuff, when I should have been writing, playing and booking gigs.

At long last I decided to pay my money into a decent recording and it was the best thing I did. It gave me a live product and a physical product. Both are equally important. Getting a decent recording is a whole new topic.

What ever it is your good at focus on that, and let other supportive and talented people, help you in other areas. You can't do everything yourself...assuming your studying as well!!!

July 21 | Unregistered CommenterDave Anderson

I'll go ahead and say get a good recording. For one, it scales better than a live show. You'll never have a viral live show on the web, but your mp3 can attract a huge audience. Secondly, getting a good recording is about writing the best songs possible and establishing what they *really* should sound like. That can take a while the first time around, so that means it is expensive. But, once you get an idea of what you really want and what works, you'll be able to do it faster next time and hone in on any aspects that were lacking the first time.

Finally, if you're going to get a good recording, go to a great studio. Personally, I wouldn't pay much attention to the rooms or the wood paneling as much as the gear they have. Things like instruments, amps, drums, vintage out board gear (compressors with one or two knobs is my layman's guide) are what is important. You want to try things out that capture your sound. For example, you might walk in playing a Telecaster and realize a SG or Les Paul makes for a much better fit.

One thing to note though, the best way to prepare to record is to practice like crazy. Try a metronome and get really serious about everything. Record practices and see what sounds weird or off. In addition to getting you ready to do a good job in the studio, your live show will become much better as well.

Just my two cents! Hope it helps.

July 21 | Unregistered CommenterEric

Already excellent advice here. I've spent the past 5-6 years strictly doing hip hop after a longer stint doing work with bands, and they're different worlds for this question. If you said you were an emcee or producer, I'd 1000% recommend you sink all your money into either studio time or (preferably) your own equipment for making pro quality records. In a hip hop context, you'll be showing up to clubs where ALL you're doing is a 5 second mic check at best, so getting the JBL active cabinets doesn't really matter as much.

But if you're doing live music...I'd advise getting the best backline equipment you can, and a quality PA system, too. Aside from a random string of lucky gigs (colleges + cokeheads = both awesome) the really CONSISTENT money I saw, in multiple genres, was throwing our own parties and providing the music and sound.

I'd qualify this advice by also explaining I'm a bit of an idiot. Caveat emp-something.

July 22 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

take your money and put it in the bank, save it.
use the equipment you have right now and push it, see how good you can get with what you have.
never get trapped in the "if, then" cycle. (e.g. if i bought this then i could do this better) if you get in that cycle you'll just keep spending loads of money and never get anywhere.
focus on your material, musical ability, and song writing.
develop your own unique sound, originality is key.
as well as being able to play your songs with a tight consistent tempo.

and my final bit of advice is this: pursue what you love doing, and don't focus on money. never change your direction just because it could make more money. pursue what you love with a passion, and be the best at it.

you'll know when it's time to make the purchase, because it'll make clear sense, and you'll know for a fact what you need.
when you're not sure, it's not time yet.

July 22 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Well it really comes down to you I also would say push your current equipment to the max.

Now my question would be what are you wanting with your physical product? If it is just to have something to hand out for free to people who attend your shows why not get your live shows recorded there on the spot.

Maybe even video tape them and transfer to dvd having 2 physical products to hand out to people who attend.

Now if you are looking for a product to sell at your shows that is a whole nother pale of worms altogether. In the end it comes down to your own customized music business plan and goals set- by you within that plan.

July 22 | Unregistered CommenterNetvalar

Here's an alternative thought... Kill two birds with one stone...
- focus on the best live show possible.
- have professionals record a multi-track, multi-camera recording of your live show.
- do multiple takes of the same song
- make sure all your friends are present when you do the shoot
- have an engineer comb through the live recording and resynch the fixed-up audio to your video.
- sell and distribute the audio recording
- send links to the YouTube video to booking agents and talent buyers
- embed the video on your site and profile pages

July 22 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

There is no answer to this question other than to invest in both. Every business decision is about weighing sides and finding a compromise. Identify the things that you cannot do without. e.g. if your guitar amp is broken, you can't play a show. So fix it. Let that determine where your money goes. Figure in that playing live shows generates cash flow and (hopefully), over time, more demand for your music.

Both are equally important.

However, you should spend your money on each technology in different stages of your career.

Are you booked 40 weeks a year? No, then I'd say focus on creating a following by spending money on your performance. As you create a following that will travel with you from venue to venue you will be able to book more gigs for larger amounts of money.

Once you have a great gig schedule, focus on writing new material that you perform live and that you make sound so damn good people beg you for a recording.

At some point you'll have so much great material that you'll know which tracks to professionally record and then the recorded material will sell itself.

When all is said and done performing live is what creates the demand for your recordings. Make sure you live sound is spot-on and then you'll be much better when you hit the studio.

July 22 | Unregistered CommenterHerschel

Better show equipment will allow you to organically build a following that will then buy your records once you have made the money to produce them.

July 22 | Unregistered CommenterWesley Barrow

Josh,

I am somebody who likely makes similar music to yours, given your influences. I'm also in school for audio production. Here's my two cents:

Your record is the most important thing. Live show reputation comes after people like your record.
With that said, the old saying is garbage in, garbage out. If you're instruments suck, so will your recordings. Buy the best instruments you can (yes, that includes your amps).

DO NOT buy PA gear, except what you need to practice. good stuff is expensive, not to mention heavy. Furthermore, any venue that matters will have all of that.

Studio gear is immensely important. However, all the gear in the world won't make you sound like Chris Walla or Jim O'Rourke produced or mixed you (thankfully for the future of music production).
If you can afford to record an EP at a good studio, I say do it! (only after you have great instruments)

or:

You can pickup a multitrack interface like the PreSonus FireStudio for around $400.
If you've got good ears, instruments, and knowledge, you can make demos that most will mistake for professional productions.

Write good songs, rewrite them into great songs, research, record, and network! Play important shows. Best of luck -
Calvin
@vivaceserenade

July 22 | Unregistered CommenterCalvin

I think you need to make sure you spend your money wisely in both places. Often you can borrow great equipment from the studio or from friends to make your record, therefore upgrading your sound.

However I think it is much more important to have a great instrument than to have a great microphone. In recording I think the order of importance as to how good of a sound you get is thus.

Performance
Instrument
Ears and Quality of the Engineer
Monitors
Microphone
Pre-Amp

So if you have a good performance, and are playing a great instrument, you have the two most important parts of making a record.

So I'd say that in general its more worth it to spend money on your instruments than it is to spend money on your record. But you got to make sure you strike the right balance, so you can get both a good record, and a good performance, both live and in the studio.

-Michael

I would simply echo mark's thoughts. Those are the things I wanted to say.

But take it or leave it. It's all up to you. For me it was backwards to record first before playing live, and it's not because I used crappy equipment or a terrible studio. The recordings aren't bad! But they're not great simply because my songs were unproven and hadn't gone through the fires of a live audience during any of the writing process, to really get what worked and what didn't. When I play live now I feel the pressure of having to do these mediocre songs just so I can sell the CD's they're on. And I hate that.

You need great music and you need a great recording. Just don't go broke trying to do it all, and end up unhappy with both. If you do what you can to play as much as you can, you're going to make connections that you wouldn't otherwise, that just might be the help you need.

July 22 | Unregistered Commentermadjeepgirl

I think the world is soon going to be saturated with good recordings of good songs.

Who's going to find your recording in all that?

Better to play a great live show with great songs and gain a following who want our recordings, and who will then spread the word.

http://www.GlennGalen.com

July 22 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn G

by all means -- and regardless of genre -- go for the recording muscle. even with your own gear you can't quite control the sound at your live shows anyway. and if you play better venues, they will have good systems of their own. a great recording could get you into those venues, so i think that's the egg that comes before the chicken.

As someone who has debated this himself many times I'll sit on the fence and let the others hash it out.

Just some food for thought on the recording side though. There's a big difference between spending $2Kon your home studio, and spending $2k on a quality recording in a professional difference.

I've done them both, and don't be fooled by all the people out there who say record at home. If you don't have decent equipment (and I'm not talking about Logic and a Firestudio), the sound quality of your recording is not going to compete sonically with stuff coming out of good studios. People like to look at stars who made it big recording themselves (Jack White comes to mind), but these guys had lots of studio experience, and also good equipment. I guarantee he didn't record the first White Stripes album into a consumer level audio interface on a home laptop.

Another thing to remember is mastering, any professional "radio ready" mix is going to be mastered. Something that is a skill in itself, and most home studios are not ready to provide a quality master.

So if you go with recording, just make sure you know what you're getting into, and that even if you invest in better equipment for your home studio, it doesn't mean that it's going to sound like the latest pro-Indie album on the shelves.

July 23 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

I find myself going through cycles, honestly. I invested a fair bit of money in used gear to record my album, and after it was out did a lot of touring. In preparation for the tour, I sold some of my used gear at little to no loss and invested in quality used gear for live set. After a few larger tours, I sold some of my live gear. And so forth.

I'm not a big believer in hoarding gear or getting too attached to it, honestly. It weighs you down in the same way owning a house does. I think of gear as a fluid ebb and flow, and plan my purchases accordingly.

I think this is the most realistic strategy for artists with limited budgets.

Hey,

I'm with Bruce here on his comment about killing two birds with one stone.. You'll have recorded product (video and audio), while focusing your efforts on the live performance.

-Hoover
New Rockstar Philosophy

July 29 | Unregistered CommenterHoover

write good songs, write good songs, write good songs. Put that money into books that will give you knowledge and help you to write better and better songs. Sometimes it's better to have good songs and so-so gear than to have so-so songs, and top dollar gear. Being that your question was what it was, I'd say that you are set on buying one of the two. That being said, I'd say get the good recording. Most venues worth playing are gonna have good sound equipment. No matter what, there will be people there that are drunk as sh*t and are gonna think you are the best band they ever heard, so you will sell cd's by default. you then take that money and start gearing up with a classic amp and guitar. Just pay someone else to record you. like i read in an earlier post, it will take time away from your music to learn how to get a great recording, it can be done, but time flys when you are a musician. actually, go get a hooker with that money, clear your mind, and write.

August 5 | Unregistered Commenterjoe

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