Live performance is all well and good for the young and fearless, but not all hobbyists are made that way...
In August's edition of Sound On Sound, I read an excellent Leader by Editor in Chief Paul White, on the strong case for playing your latest composition to a live audience.
By the end of the article, my palms were sweaty and my blood pressure was up. Not because I was annoyed — the advice was very good — but more at the prospect of playing my composition in front of a live audience. Paul asserted that "it doesn't hurt to test your performance abilities and your material in front of real people.” Well, I say it does! There are many reasons why some of us in the world of DAWs and bedroom studios don't choose to play live, and I'm going to tell you mine!
Reason number one is fairly obvious. A friend of mine once said there was only one reason he didn't make the grade as a professional footballer: total lack of ability. I'm not suggesting I have no musical skills, but not enough to carry off a live performance. In the studio, within my DAW and in my fantasies, my guitar playing is of the six-fingered style favoured by the likes of Pat Metheny. My keyboard solos reach speeds that would make Rick Wakeman hang up his cape. My drumming ... well, you get the picture. Even setting aside my limited ability, there are tricks that make some compositions impossible to play live, short of growing extra fingers or hiring a crack team of session musicians.
Reason number two: I'm no spring chicken. Who wants to listen to a 51 year-old bald bloke trot out a few tunes? Unless I'm mistaken, there hasn't been a huge change in the music market recently, and Justin Bieber is not older than he looks. There just isn't any interest in nerdy old studio blokes' songs, except from long-suffering wives and partners, who can readily hear the recorded versions, as opposed to live.
Reason number three: this is my composition, it's my baby and I like it. If you don't like it, well, that's tough. I make music not because I want to make huge amounts of money from it. I do it because I enjoy the process of composition, the construction of the tune, and the recording. The composition is the end in itself, and when it's complete there's a sense of disappointment that's only alleviated by the excitement of starting the next one — which, of course, will be better.
Reason number four: I don't have the time. I'm a happy amateur, and this is my hobby. I have a very sensible job that takes a lot of time, but earns me enough to buy the gear featured in Sound On Sound. I often compose and record late at night when the day's work is done. It's my relaxation. Why turn it into a source of stress with a live performance?
Reason number five is probably the major reason for a lack of live performance: stage fright! I'm not talking about the sort of stage fright that the great, the good and the successful talk about. You know the type — the star who says "I suffer from dreadful stage fright” and then goes on stage to give an amazing performance, loving every second of it.
No, I'm talking about the sort of fear that prevents your fingers from functioning, your mouth from emitting sound and your legs from doing their normal job of supporting your weight. I've played in front of real people, and I can remember looking at my left hand, thinking that it really shouldn't be making that E-chord shape any more, it really should have moved onto A-minor or possibly that D that I was sure occurred three bars ago. Forget about D9(b5)/F#! No, my fingers weren't going there at all. That hand was just frozen on E, and no-one really likes songs consisting of one chord strummed for three minutes! If I did manage to stay on my feet for long enough, that piece rehearsed privately with such serenity and grace went from a beautiful Miles Davis jazz tune to an Einstürzende Neubauten piece, complete with realistic drill and other industrial noises. The temptation to speed up, thrash it out or just 'get it over with' has ruined many a wonderful musical moment for me.
So in conclusion I would like to say: please let us studio nerds stay where we feel comfortable and safe, in the studio! .
Simon Woods is a deputy head teacher and a self-confessed studio nerd. He has played live and has frozen on stage but has never actually fallen over.
Matt Robertson: Björk's Musical Director
Björk's stage show is bizarre and beautiful, and it takes a team of dedicated musicians, technicians, programmers and designers to make it happen.
Maxime Le Guil: Recording Vincent Delerm's Les Amants Parallèles
Under the guidance of engineer and producer Maxime Le Guil, Vincent Delerm forsook grand orchestration for the humble piano — bowed, plucked and hammered...
The 1975's chart-topping album is just one of a string of hit debuts engineered, mixed and produced by Mike Crossey.
Ron & Russell Mael: 45 Years In Showbiz
From elaborate band arrangements to their pioneering collaborations with Giorgio Moroder, Sparks' music has always been innovative and instantly identifiable.
Will Gregory:Recording Tales Of Us
Will Gregory took the unconventional decision to base Goldfrapp's latest album around a single instrument — which he couldn't play!
Kevin Lemoine: FOH Engineer For Green Day
Backstage at a major festival in France, we caught up with the man who has been mixing one of the biggest names in punk for the last 14 years.
Love And War was not only a remarkable comeback for singer Tamar Braxton, but a breakthrough opportunity for engineer and mixer Mikey Donaldson.
Jonathan Wilson: Reviving The West Coast Sound
For Jonathan Wilson, the quality of recorded music peaked in late-'70s LA. His own production career has been a quest to scale the same heights.
Inside Track: Secrets Of The Mix Engineers
A simple song and an outrageous video turned Robin Thicke from a star to a superstar — with the aid of master mixer Tony Maserati.
Composer & Producer
Many classically trained musicians have ended up playing rock. Ólafur Arnalds' career has gone in the opposite direction...
Years before the Minimoog appeared, a Finnish visionary was already building digital polyphonic synthesizers — and they were controlled by light, skin conductivity and even brainwaves.
Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Duncan Mills
Jamie Cullum's sixth studio album, Momentum, sees the British pianist and singer further expanding his stylistic palette.
Recording Born Sinner
Hey man, nobody ever asks me about this stuff. I love talking about it, so thank you,” exclaims J. Cole.
David Schreurs & Jan Van Wieringen:Recording The Shocking Miss Emerald
Tired of trying to make money, Caro Emerald's production team chose to make music they loved. The result was a worldwide hit album...
Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Andrew Scheps
Under the guidance of Rick Rubin, Black Sabbath returned to their roots. Mixed by Andrew Scheps, the resulting album topped charts worldwide.
Peter Franco & Mick Guzauski: Recording Random Access Memories
Daft Punk spent four years and over a million dollars on their quest to revisit the golden age of record production. Mick Guzauski and Peter Franco were with them all the way.
Secrets Of The Mix Engineers
Ken Andrews won a blind shoot-out against some of the biggest names in the mixing world. His prize: the plum job of mixing Paramore’s acclaimed comeback album.
Nitin Sawhney: Recording Live To Vinyl
Vinyl is still the listening format of choice for many consumers. Using it as a recording format is more of a challenge!
Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Producer Jack Douglas
Their latest album saw Aerosmith return to their roots, with Jack Douglas in the producer’s chair. But it wasn’t all retro...
Janus: Gravedigger Then And Now
Signed to Harvest, Janus made one album — and hated the way it sounded. Four decades later, they finally got the chance to mix it properly...
Shahid ‘Naughty Boy’ Khan: Producing Emeli Sandé
Shahid Khan has gone from pizza delivery man to in-demand producer — with a little help from Noel Edmonds.
Alan Moulder | Secrets Of The Mix Engineers
The film of Led Zeppelin’s reunion concert was five years in the making — yet Alan Moulder had only three weeks to mix the entire soundtrack!
Inside Track | Secrets Of The Mix Engineers:
Underpinning the biggest spectacle of 2012 London Olympic Games was probably the largest multitrack recording ever made. Just how do you mix a thousand-track project?
Mike Stevens: Musical Director For The Queen’s Jubilee Concert
Mike Stevens has worked with some of the world’s biggest pop acts at countless high-profile live events, including the Queen’s recent Diamond Jubilee concert.