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For The Record: The Past Tells Us Much About The Future Of Live Recording
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But once again technology came to the rescue.

In the 1990s, digital recorders utilizing tape cartridges were introduced. Each unit recorded eight tracks and several could be synched up. They were rack mountable, reasonably light and low maintenance. A portable rack could now hold enough recorders to run a direct out from every board channel and record every night for future use.

Some enterprising engineers even used the previous night’s show routed back to the console to do a preliminary sound check. The only downfall was that you had to spend every spare moment formatting tapes for the recorders, and archiving was a pain. Depending on the length of the show and the number of tracks required, a single performance might use 30 tapes or even more.

By this time, almost every home had at least a decent stereo and a VCR. More and more tours were filmed, whether a theatrical release was realistic or not. Home entertainment technology had created an alternative market for video concert releases.

Although live records were still being released, the concert experience had much more impact if the visual elements were included. Most top tours and almost all major festivals had an audio and video recording element to document the event and provide a revenue stream long after the actual show. The concert experience was now as close as your local video store.

The 21st Century has only expanded this paradigm. A combination of forces has created a “perfect storm” supporting concert recording. On the recording technology front, digital audio workstations are smaller, lighter, more robust, and in fact, are often the same machines being used in the recording studio.

An entire show can be recorded on a single hard drive. Digital consoles can easily provide audio streams to the recorders without multiple analog to digital (A-D) conversions or analog signal splits.

The advent of the DVD and home theater systems provide a delivery medium with the quality and impact to really bring the concert experience into the home. Large high-definition screens and surround sound can do a remarkable job of reproducing the feeling of being at an event. They also provide new ways to make money from a live performance, and in a day and age where file sharing and piracy have eaten away at the traditional money flow in the music business.

It used to be common for record companies to provide tour support from record sale receipts. Now, it’s more common for touring and the recorded products that come from touring to be the largest source of income for performers.

Some bands have taken it to the next level by selling recordings of the actual show to attendees on their way out. “Jam bands” are still popular, and no two performances are alike. So getting a recording of these performances show may have more significance than whether the band says,  “Good night, Seattle” or “Good night, Detroit”. Concerts are being staged for the sole purpose of producing a DVD or even a pay-per-view broadcast.

Nothing can really replace the adrenaline, the excitement and the immediacy of being at a great concert. Our jobs are going to be around for a long time.

But we should always remember to look back at the historical trends of our industry. It’s the only way we can stay ahead of the curve and keep providing the gear and the services that our clients need.

And anything that enhances the revenue stream from live performances for the artists, promoters - and especially for us - is a very good thing indeed.

Bruce Main has been a systems engineer and front of house mixer for more than 35 years. He has also built, owned and operated recording studios and designed and installed sound systems.

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