That Synching Feeling.”

Here are some of the reasons offered by performers as to why they would use pre-recorded music:

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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.

1 Reader Comment

  1. Emily Williams

    While I would agree with your overall assessment that sometimes it doesn’t matter if the performance is live or recorded I didn’t think the reasons you stated from the performer’s point of view were very convincing.

    If someone hires live music, they should understand that’s what they are going to get, glitches and all. If professional performers are going to be hired and the money spent on them should not those in attendence receive the live performance they paid for? However, I agree that in the case of the inauguration pre-recorded music was an ok option for the following reasons.

    1) It was too cold outside for the performers to be able to execute their music well.
    2) It was too cold outside for their instruments.

    These are really the two most convincing arguments in my mind. Whether or not they might have missed a note here or there is not a consideration in my opinion. What constitutes a “sub-standard” performance anyway? Performers as much as anyone else are human, and so should be expected to make mistakes. It is true that CD’s hold performers to a high level of execution, but reality is that you can’t be expected to give a CD performance everytime. That’s part of what makes music enjoyable. The nuances here and there, even the imperfections make music speak to the heart. I have to say that I think I agree more with “the flip side” in most instances.

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