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A Study In Contrasts: Live Sound & Studio Recording

There is a certain way of thinking that develops...

By Karl Winkler October 2, 2015

Anyone who has done some studio recording or at least knows full well some of the pitfalls of the studio world.

For those of you who haven’t done, well, let me tell you.

Recording is its own planet, and it’s a world where people have pale skin, sunken eyes, hearing loss (oops – that’s common in the sound reinforcement world, too), and it can be out of touch with reality, as in, reality is sometimes the last thing that recordings attempt to convey,

But perhaps even more importantly is the element of time.

For sound reinforcement, everything is about preparation and the schedule is the schedule. The event will happen on time, barring any unforeseeable natural disasters or a singer’s voice temporarily out of commission due to “recreational consumption.”

With recording it’s as much about post-production, i.e., mastering, as it is about mixing and tracking. And, until the money runs out, time just doesn’t seem to matter, or at least as much.


Two of my hobbies could be involved with the wedding industry if I were so inclined: photography and music. As it is, I have a string quartet that does indeed provide music for weddings.

And even though it might be possible to make more money doing photography for the same base of clients, I have chosen not to pursue such an avocation. This is for one simple reason: with photography, most of the work happens after the wedding. And brides, once they have relaxed following a year or more of planning, can be extremely picky.

Unfortunately, what was captured at the wedding is what you have to work with. Or is it? What about Photoshop? Can’t we remove that blemish? I thought my chest looked bigger in my $12,000 dress than it looks in your pictures! I told my fiancee to shave right before the ceremony!

Thus time just doesn’t seem to matter, but exacting results do. The only limit is the client’s budget, and some of them are willing to spend quite a bit on stuff like this.

But with the quartet, the work happens on the front end. We plan with the client to provide the music they want, we rehearse, we prepare for the gig, and we do the gig. Once it’s over, it’s over. We pack up our instruments, get some of the killer food (wedding food is usually pretty darned good), have a half a glass of wine, and we’re out of there. (Oh yeah, and we pick up our check.)

Part of the reason this works is that the music is an integral part of the ceremony, providing the mood, enhancing the emotions, and providing a backdrop to the couple’s special day along with flowers, bridesmaids’ dresses, decorations, etc.

Music is special. And whatever minor mistakes we might have made are lost to history, unless the event was videotaped. Interestingly, most of the ones for which we’ve provided music have not been videotaped, at least not professionally.


But beyond the fact that once the gig is done, it’s done, there is a certain way of thinking that develops as one gains experience in live sound. The best way I can describe it is efficiency. Problems need to be solved quickly and “without a lot of moaning and groaning.”

And some of the problems are major. But with a knowledge of the basics, a handle on “the way of the road” and the right attitude, everything can be fixed one way or the other. And when it comes right down to it, the show must start on time.

Another cool aspect of live shows is the “rush.” When I was mixing front of house years ago, I never got tired of that electric feeling one gets just before the master mute is lifted. I mean yeah!—what’s better than being behind the wheel of a half-million dollar, multi-kilowatt system with thousands of fans there to enjoy the show? And it’s fun to participate actively in the performance by adding your expertise, sensitivity, aesthetic sense, and musical understanding to the overall show.

Sure, those things happen in the studio, too, but not live. Not in front of an audience. Not like at a sporting event or X Games or mountain climb before God and everyone. Of course the audience response is important because it energizes the performers and the crew. Seeing and hearing the throngs of people totally getting into the music, the visuals, the sound has to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

Clearly, great, old rock ‘n’ roll bands like the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith have to be energized by the crowds or why would they continue? Don’t say money. Those guys can’t possibly need any more money. And although it’s certainly cool to hear your record on the radio, the immediate vibe brought to bear by a live performance and the risk of flying so high just isn’t there.

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About Karl

Karl Winkler
Karl Winkler

Vice President of Sales at Lectrosonics
Karl serves as vice president of sales/service at Lectrosonics and has worked in professional audio for more than 25 years.


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