Pre-recorded? So, what?
Whereas I have written before in defense of live performers (“Who Needs Performers?”), I found the recent attacks on performers who used pre-recorded music rather lacking in substance. In particular, the 2009 inauguration performance and the national anthem at the 2009 Super Bowl were written about by Eric Felten in the Wall Street Journal in an article titled “That Synching Feeling.”
Here are some of the reasons offered by performers as to why they would use pre-recorded music:
- This occasion’s got to be perfect. You can’t have any slip-ups.
- The slightest glitch would devastate the performance.
- There are too many variables to go live.
- The performers care too much about their art to risk presenting something substandard.
On the flip side:
- This led the musicians to deny who they are as performers.
- There is something pitiful and pitiable about musicians hobbling their own voices.
- What is art without risks?
- An opportunity for glorious exertion and vitality was missed.
If I were to be coming to this argument for the first time and read these two lines of reasoning, I must say that I’d probably have to agree with the decision made by the performers.
The arguments made by the performers addressed the marketable situation in which they were involved. They were hired on the basis that they create apparent perfection on a regular basis. This impression is enhanced by the recording industry that expects and delivers flawless (i.e. edited) recordings. Nevertheless, this expectation exists and must be addressed. If not, such a flawed performance would surely make the internet (as it actually did in the case of the Inaguration).
Taking a look at the arguments made by the other side, I am left with more questions than answers. “What is art without risks?” Good question; perhaps we should pursue an answer. What is the “something pitiful and pitiable about musicians hobbling their own voices”? What does it mean to deny who you are as a performer? What sort of “opportunity for glorious exertion and vitality” was missed that was not at all possible when in the recording studio for the pre-recording?
These are, in fact, questions about the value of live performance that must be addressed. I think, however, we musicians would be hard-pressed to offer a response to the public value of the market. If most of the audience is going to be watching via the internet, then who cares on which day it was performed? I think it is time for us to learn more about our audience and their expectations so that we can address their needs while at the same time pursuing ours.