The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts

I have previously written about artist/bands/producers that have the talent, skill and knowledge of the recording process and they are able to make all the instruments, tracks and effects come out as one sound, one instrument.

Today I realized I skipped over the bands and artists who are also able to achieve this result when they are playing live.

I’m not talking about the processed, playing to prerecorded backing tracks, lip syncing, auto tuned manufactured pop idols out there.  No I’m talking about the artists who still care to make unadulterated good live music.

Bands that when they are playing, are breathing together pumping out a sound that is like one instrument.  The experience is as good as the record only better because you can be there sharing it with them.   It happens when a group of musicians become a band on stage.  They go from plural to singular.

It’s really cool in this day and age to see how much recorded live music is available, especially with channels like Palladia and AXS and shows like “Live from Daryl’s House”, “Live from the Artist’s Den”, CMT’s Crossroads and the plethora or taped festivals.

The technology has made it that not only do you get a quality visual but the audio is as good as any live album you may buy or download.

When I was younger you really didn’t see much of the popular artists live.

Maybe they made the weekly variety show on TV but only the real mainstream acts were on and then it was all pantomime and lip syncing.  I could watch and tell most drummers weren’t even trying to give the illusion that they were actually playing.

It was about the only way you ever got to see what the band looked like unless you bought the album or went to a concert. Where I lived and in my household there was no way a 13, 14 or even 15 year old boy was going to one of those hippy rock concerts.

When Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and The Midnight Special may their way onto my TV it was one of the few times to actually see a band perform live with mediocre sound.

Once in a great while one of the networks would have a simulcast show.  That was when you tuned into the show on the TV and turned down the sound.  Then you turned on your stereo FM radio receiver to the designated station.  The sound quality of FM was pretty good especially if you had a decent amp and speakers.  Those were pretty cool but far and few between.

Rock concert films could be a hit or miss on the sound quality and especially the synchronization of the audio track to the film.  Most times the drums were out of sync so bad it was hard to watch.

The best place to see and hear music was live and even when I was older and able to attend concerts the acts and venues were very limited.  The huge acts never came within an hour of my area because there were no venues able to support them.

The larger venues were old arenas built for sports or farm exhibitions and conventions so the acoustics were terrible.

The best place was to go to clubs or the few theaters in the area that could support musical acts.

There were lots of local venues that carried live music sometime 5 to 6 nights a week.  This was right before someone decided that going out and paying a cover to drink and listen to someone spin records was the cool thing to do.

This is when I was learning my craft.

This is when and where I learned to play live.

The interesting thing is most all of the bands I played in didn’t have a soundman or every instrument mic’d  and mixed.

We had a PA which was almost always exclusively for vocals.  The stage monitors were exclusively for vocals and the vocalists.  I went through 90 to 95 percent (maybe even more) of all my live performances without one drum mic’d and no monitors, as did most all the other musicians in the band.

And I will say from my recollection of the time this is how it was for most bands at our level.

First off PA gear was too expensive and most bands were limited to one van that had to haul all the gear plus half the band members.

So what did we do?

We got our mix right on stage.

We had to listen to each other and listen to where we were in relation to each other’s volume.

You had to rely on the acoustics of the room, our ears and intuition.

When it all came together that stage would breath and the music would throb.

Soundman, yes some bands had a soundman but they weren’t college trained audio engineers.  No usually they were a friend of someone in the band.  Or they were someone who had limited musical knowledge but a good day job.  They went out and bought a mixing board and some gear so they could experience the rock and roll life.

The point to all this is that good live bands are just like a seventy piece orchestra.  Each player has a piece to play, a space to fill and a space to leave.  When done properly it becomes one great instrument that can move a crowd of ten or ten thousand.

It’s the old axiom “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

© Otis P Smith and About the Groove, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Otis P Smith and About the Groove with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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