The Gap Narrows Between Live Sound and Recording Studio

For a lifetime, there was not much to connect the worlds of live sound and the recording studio. In recent years, that gap has started to disappear.

The goals of live sound and studio recording are quite different. The former is all about musicians being heard by the audience in the same room; the latter, about preserving and storing music so that it can be heard in another time and place.

But that is not why the equipment was so different.

Studio equipment could be fussy and fragile, as long as it precisely captured the sound of musicians. Live sound gear had to be sturdy, but not so heavy that it was hard to move — and it had to be working the instant the musicians started to play. It was a very different tradeoff.

In a way, the separation between live sound equipment and studio equipment was puzzling because all along, both were designed to the same standards derived from railroad, telegraph, and telephone equipment. Both have always used the same microphone cables, for example, so that it is no trouble at all to plug the equipment together.

I think the iPhone is the best symbol for why the two worlds have come together. For a decade, it has been possible to do studio-quality recordings on the iPhone. As time goes by, this has become easier and more common. Yet the iPhone, when put into a heavy-duty jacket, is light enough and sturdy enough to travel anywhere. If that had become possible, then studio gear no longer had to be heavy and finicky — and that meant that it could be taken on the road.

Sometimes you see an actual iPhone, iPod, or MacBook on a rock stage or at the mixing station, but whether it is these general-purpose devices or something more specialized, it is smaller, lighter, and more precise than ever before. This precision also means that the same equipment can be used when musicians are ready for studio recording.

From the recording studio side of things, equipment has become smaller to the point where studio recording can now happen anywhere there is a room that is quiet enough.

The potential for this convergence became obvious enough two years ago when the rock band Chicago took a whole recording studio along on their tour so that they could record an album in the afternoons before performing at night. Chicago is better funded than most recording musicians, but the principle applies on any budget and scale: recording studio equipment can be carried around.

Before music touring paused a year ago, it was already common enough to see studio equipment in the touring racks. When touring resumes, this will, I expect, be more common than not. Pro sound product engineers are designing most new equipment with both road and studio in mind, so that from here forward, the cautions of “not sturdy enough to take on the road” and “doesn’t sound good enough to use in the studio” will be the exception rather than the rule.

The convergence between studio and live is an advantage for engineers, who can now more easily go back and forth between studio and live work without having to learn a whole new set of equipment.

For musicians just starting out, a barrier is fading away. If they plan ahead, they can play live shows with much of the same equipment that they used to record their album. This reduces the investment needed for musicians to get started.

For more experienced musicians, it is the “why can’t we” questions that are going away — “Why can’t we do that in the studio?” and “Why can’t we take that on the raod?” For the most part, now we can.

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