We got back from our Midwest tour a couple weeks ago with high hopes, bags full of dirty clothes and a hard drive full of sound files. We recorded every show on the run, and we’re going to put out a live album from what we got.
As we now sit at our various day jobs, playing catch up and sifting through the thousands of emails that collected while we were away, we’re listening back to the tapes on our respective earbuds. And I think it sounds pretty good, especially seeing as we recorded it ourselves, on stage, without the help of a soundguy. I’d wanted to do this for years but kept putting it off because I figured it’d be a logistical and/or financial nightmare. But it really wasn’t too tough to achieve, and all excuses from previous years proved to be just that… excuses.
Listening back to the tapes as musicians, naturally, what sticks out the most to us are the mistakes. We live in an age where it’s really easy to fix mistakes so that they’re undetectable, to cut and paste a mangled chord or autotune a flat note here and there… but tempting as that may be, we’re not going to do that. And here’s why:
My favorite records tend to be from the ‘60s and the ‘70s, back before it was easy to make corrections. In order to fix a mistake you’d have to punch it, meaning you’d have to play back what you recorded, hit the record button right before your mistake, play it correctly, and then stop recording immediately after so that you didn’t erase anything extra by recording over it. It took a lot of work to do, so unless a mistake was a song-ruiner, it would often be left in, lest risking the ruination of the rest of the track. It was a huge pain in the ass.
But now that there’s no risk involved in editing, the default mentality is to fix as much as possible to make every track as perfect as possible. Modern musicians never have to play anything perfectly because we can always just go back and fix our mistakes. This is a harmful way to approach playing music.
Two problems result. One is that musicians get lazy, because they don’t have to worry about playing a song properly anymore. They can just “fix it in post.” There’s no motivation to improve one’s actual playing, because as long as you know how to edit, that’s all you need to know to make pristine music.
The other problem is that perfect-sounding records are boring to listen to. I’ve made the correlation between my favorite records being from the ‘60s and ‘70s and the abundance of mistakes on them. The mistakes often ended up being my favorite parts. I love listening to a band I’m into going for it, and then hearing a sour note when someone slips up a little. It’s a reminder that the people playing the music are humans. It’s endearing.
OK, so yes, there are counterexamples. “The Last Waltz” and “Europe ‘72” are some of my favorite live recordings of all time, and they did indeed edit both of those after-the-fact. But these times are calling for a stand against editing things to perfection. We don’t want our pictures Photoshopped to the point where they no longer represent reality, and we don’t want our music to sound like Kim Kardashian looks on the cover of magazines. I may play a wrong chord every now and then, and my voice may often go flat when I reach for a high note, but I will take comfort in knowing that everything on our yet-to-be-released live album actually happened. Hopefully you’ll hear a mistake and it’ll become your favorite part.