Not literally, of course, at least not yet. The ability to edit and fix recordings has long conditioned audiences to expect that the music we hear should be perfect. Has it changed the way performers play in live concert?
The role of recordings in the music business has changed. Once, recordings were primarily a product, a way to make money. But classical music recordings haven’t made significant profits in
years and most large recording companies have dropped their classical
labels. Increasingly, recordings are a marketing tool.
In the pop industry, the ability to share and freely distribute recordings has helped develop careers and propel unknown bands to stardom. So if big labels aren’t recording much classical music anymore, perhaps live recordings could help classical musicians?
Take away the not-insignificant issues of union recording contracts, and among musicians there’s still resistance to the idea of routinely recording and releasing live recordings. Why? Because performers have been conditioned to believe that when they’re being recorded, the performance needs to be perfect. What if you miss that high “a” and you can’t fix it in the mixing booth? Many performers have come to believe that they have to play with a different level of caution if they are being recorded live. They won’t take as many chances in a live recorded performance.
So a missed marketing opportunity. Okay.
Even without live recording, perhaps the culture of perfect edited recordings has had a negative impact on concerts. From an audience perspective, listeners used to technically-perfect recordings come to performances with an expectation of every note in place. Performers who understand that the bar is set at technical perfection work with that goal in mind. Perhaps artificially-achieved perfection has become a baseline that has led to a homogenization of musical approach.
Maybe that’s okay (though a fixation on technical control can erect a wall between performer and audience).
But something else: most people these days encounter artists primarily through speakers or screens. I wonder if audiences aren’t getting tired of polished perfection because it’s become so corporate and commonplace with widely available cheap professional tools. Perfection is now an aesthetic choice rather than a rarity.
This is an anecdotal observation, but it seems like the vast majority of hit performances on video and audio share services have a significant live raw quality to them. The video quality can be rough; the audio can be second-rate. But the performance has to have a visceral element of risk. Performances under glass are less attractive in the way that corporate blogs and corporate video are. Not that we’re celebrating wrong notes; but maybe the essential element of a performance ought to be performance, not perfection.