What's the difference between playing a concerto for a CD and for an audience?

February 5, 2017 at 02:33 AM · Hi,

I want to know what's the difference between playing a violin concerto (or a symphony or whatever piece) to be recorded into a CD (no audience, in a orchestra studio) and playing it in a regular concert with audience.

I'm talking about all the recorded classical music we can purchase in a CD store: DECCA, SONY, Warner Bros...

Is it like a regular concert, but with microphones for each section/soloist?

Is it recorded in one take, just like the orchestra would play in a regular concert one night, or do they record some sections and then they repeat several takes until it's perfect?

Do they edit errors and mistakes and cover them using software, or we normally listen to a natural and pure recording of the piece, as natural and pure as in a concert?

I want to know the process of recording for example a symphony or a violin concerto, if they use "unethical" tricks to present a "perfect" performance that actually never happened.


Replies (32)

February 5, 2017 at 04:59 AM · Save for anything which is a live performance recording (and even those, as far as I know, may be a composite of several nights of live performances), any recording made in the last several decades is typically extensively edited. They will record sections, not just full takes. Microphone set-up varies, but there's normally a microphone for the soloist, who is generally balanced more "forward" than the natural acoustic would allow. Things like cadenzas may very well be recorded out of context, with just the soloist on the empty stage, so they can get them totally perfect.

Even earlier on, recordings were spliced. One of my former teachers was in the Pittsburgh Symphony when Nathan Milstein was recording the Brahms with them back at the beginning of the 1960s, and he remembered Milstein doing six full takes of the concerto in a row, with a high degree of consistency, to get the perfect composite performance you hear on record.

February 5, 2017 at 06:09 AM · Lydia is correct. Unfortunately, an unintended side-effect of advances in recording and editing has been the expectation from audiences and judges alike of a mistake-free live performance. This has lead to the advancement of sterile robotic players who nail every note with the highest mechanical proficiency over players who make a few mistakes here and there, but present an overall much more interesting performance.

February 5, 2017 at 10:33 AM · Ouch. As a musician, I prefer the natural and pure recording of a live performance (one full take), I don't care how many little mistakes it has. I see there's no such a thing even in the classical world, where things are taken very professionally and seriously. Very sad.

Please, at least don't tell me if a violinist makes a mistake, they cover that using software and overdub the mistake with another take.

February 5, 2017 at 02:02 PM · Have not done orchestral recording, but I assume they are much the same as the rock recording I did when I was young. The biggest factor is that in recording you have the advantage of do-overs. You can re-record any part of the piece as many times as you need (and can afford -- studio time isn't cheap). Even an individual instrument can re-record his part and be mixed in. The point is, recording is a much more relaxed endeavor. The pressure to get it right the first time, as you feel in front of an audience, is completely gone.

February 5, 2017 at 02:42 PM · One of the world's great pianists from the last century (I don't remember who it was, possibly Schnabel?), in the good old days before post-dubbing and digital editing, would typically do several takes of a piece in the recording studio and then tell the producer to chose whichever take he thought was best, warts and all.

More recently, my violin teacher's band Spiro, which records under Peter Gabriel's Real World Records label, never does more than two takes in the studio (and it's much more likely a single take). There is no post-production dubbing or editing except possibly for balance mixing. In the studio the band positions themselves just as they would on stage, and the recording desk is not in another room behind a glass partition but in front of the band, so the recording engineers are effectively an audience. The result is as close to a live on-stage performance as you can expect. This reflects the band's intensive rehearsal and preparation.

Slightly off topic, Spiro is a line-up of violin (or viola), piano accordion, acoustic guitar (sometimes plays cello), and mandolin, with the same players for the 20-plus years the band has been in existence. Unusually, the violinist by choice never uses vibrato in the band; this is because vibrato would make the violin stand out too much from the other non-vibrato instruments and upset the particular balance of sound the band strives for.

February 5, 2017 at 02:57 PM · "I want to know the process of recording for example a symphony or a violin concerto, if they use "unethical" tricks to present a "perfect" performance that actually never happened."

Is it unprofessional or unethical to produce a product at the best of your abilities? Should writersw and forum posters eschew the backspace key and the dictionary to represent a pure view of no a "perfect" version of sorry, meant "natural and pure" version of what they produced?

February 5, 2017 at 03:54 PM · I remember being absolutely aghast to hear a tiny mistake in a recording by Heifetz. But I'm sure he did it in one take without any splicing. I felt good because it was a note that I muffed about 95% of the time until I practiced it the living hell out of it.

I do not expect perfect performances. I do expect to hear music coming from something that does not resemble a robot.

February 5, 2017 at 05:06 PM · Apropos of some of this, I attended the third (and final) San Francisco Symphony performance of Mahler's 8th Symphony about 7 years ago (the recording that won several Grammys). Immediately following the final chord, the audience was asked to remain in place while they repeated a two-measure segment to correct a audible flaw in all three performances/recordings.

So even for live performances these things can happen.

February 5, 2017 at 05:37 PM · I heard of a contemporary music group that was working on a piece that had an incredibly fast tempo marking. They couldn't get it up to the tempo of another group that had done a commercial recording of it. So they asked the group that recorded it how they had actually gotten it fast enough. That group then informed that they too were not able to get it to the marked tempo, so they recorded at a slower tempo and the engineers sped up the tempo without altering the pitch.

I have to admit that I have "cheated" myself. I recorded George Perle's solo sonata and the last movement is very tricky with very difficult string crossings and a PP dynamic. I used a Baroque bow for that particular movement and it came out quite well. However, the recording was never released.

February 5, 2017 at 07:01 PM · When sound engineers speed up the tempo without altering the pitch (easy to do with digital technology) the giveaway is usually that the vibrato sounds a little unnatural.

This happened back in the '60s when Supraphon engineers speeded up a recording of the Prague Quartet playing a couple of the Beethoven quartets, presumably to get the movements comfortably on to both sides of an LP. There were two consequences - an increase in pitch to match the increase in speed (they didn't have the technology then to do anything about that), and a vibrato from the performers that sounded slightly too fast, which was the first thing I noticed.

February 5, 2017 at 08:10 PM · For a recording there are usually any number of re-takes and later editing. I don't consider this cheating or un-ethical. Is it cheating or unethical to do the same in making a movie? A performance is a performance and a recording is a recording. Certain minor flaws in passing during a live performance are quickly forgotten. But hearing them over and over on a recording can be annoying.

It's not only a question of mistakes. There are usually a number of microphones placed near and far etc. to collectively get an idolized balance of sound that no listener can experience from any one seat in a hall.

That said, Lieschen Müller's critique is often true as well.

Almost everyone has done it, including such "perfect" players as Heifetz and Hahn. When you know that you are playing for posterity it's hard not to want to get it "perfect". Nevertheless, you need to keep the expressiveness and high energy level in the recording sessions that you would in live performance. Some recording artists have found it helpful to invite a small audience to the recording sessions to help them feel that they are performing for people and not just a microphone.

Yes, here and there you can hear a tiny imperfection in a Heifetz recording. He sometimes left them stand in a take that otherwise conveyed more excitement.

Something that DOES have some ethical equivication is when a performance is recorded live and presented live but it turns out that they went back and re-recorded some flawed passages as deemed necessary, with further editing, etc. I can see both sides of that situation.

February 5, 2017 at 09:08 PM · I am not saying that it is bad to try and get it right on recordings. I think that the issue is that listeners may not have the difference between recording and live performance in their minds the way they do with film. We have not come up with a seperate term for recorded, edited music. Theater recorded and edited is film. Visual art which moves quickly and is edited, animation. Music? It is still perceived as being in the same category, when perhaps it should not be.

February 5, 2017 at 09:49 PM · I don't think that it's bad that recordings are edited -- especially these days when you can pretty easily obtain live performances if that's what you're after. Plenty of choice in the market.

I do think that it's bad that people listen to recordings and expect similar perfection in live performance. I also think it's bad if people cannot appreciate imperfect performances. Listen to a second or third-tier soloist on YouTube, for instance, and it won't be hard to hear flaws. And they usually cull their YouTube performances to just things they're happy with -- hear them live on a random night and you will hear plenty of flaws. Listen to a random pro who doesn't routinely play concerts, and there will be imperfections galore.

February 5, 2017 at 09:49 PM · I don't think that it's bad that recordings are edited -- especially these days when you can pretty easily obtain live performances if that's what you're after. Plenty of choice in the market.

I do think that it's bad that people listen to recordings and expect similar perfection in live performance. I also think it's bad if people cannot appreciate imperfect performances. Listen to a second or third-tier soloist on YouTube, for instance, and it won't be hard to hear flaws. And they usually cull their YouTube performances to just things they're happy with -- hear them live on a random night and you will hear plenty of flaws. Listen to a random pro who doesn't routinely play concerts, and there will be imperfections galore.

February 5, 2017 at 10:12 PM · I was involved in a Boston Early Music Festival live recording of I believe St. John Passion. There were several performances so there was plenty of material to choose from. Except! One of the lead and famous singers missed all the performances because of (probably) a bad cold. (Of course there was a sub.) So, we had an extra recording session in Jordan Hall in which the missing singer was able to do their stuff, and by the way some other music which didn't go so well in the live performances. The recording people had blankets spread over many of the seats so the acoustic sounded as if there was an audience.

February 5, 2017 at 10:33 PM · One of the reasons that Isaac Stern was allegedly so popular with orchestras is that he required lots of takes to get rid of the less-than-perfect notes. (Unions required some variant of paying by the hour with overtime premium, so it was "earn with Stern".

That might explain why he was anxious to point out in his memoirs that his very first concerto recording was recorded in one take, except for one of the 7 or 8 78 discs during which a section member made some kind of noise.

February 6, 2017 at 12:28 AM · Jarold Williams, I do really hope that classical music (at least recordings which performers are right in the top: Heifetz, Elman, Stern, LSO, LA Phil, Barenboim... you name it) is not at all recorded and edited like rock music. I know there are a bunch of musicians in the rock industry that are professional about what they do, they don't do any tricks, mistakes covers and overdub, sped up tracks, auto-tune... But mostly all what you listen in rock is very fake (over dubs to hide and cover mistakes, auto-tune, sped up tracks, only sing 8 seconds portions of songs and then join them instead of singing the whole thing more or less in one take). That's why I only respect rock bands that can actually perform a song live and make you say "Wow, they are incredible".

J. Ray, yeah, for me, it's not unethical and unprofessional, it's VERY unethical and unprofessional to record something you can NOT play. You got to show some respect to music. At least in classical music I expect that minimum of respect to the pieces you're playing. For me, if a violinist is OK doing that kind of tricks, in the first place, I consider him/her a bad musician, doesn't matter if he/she just came out from Juilliard. You simply don't do that, that's my point of view.

Andrew Victor, if you re-record something because of an external factor, then I'm OK with that, specially in a live performance. Indeed, in a live performance it has more sense because when you record in a classical music studio, it's supposed that no external factors can affect the performance: there aren't hundreds of persons coughing and making noises, the orchestra is more focused on keeping things quite since the music is being recorded, etc... What I'm 100% against is re-recordings and covering things up because the performers made a mistake.

Bruce Berg, things like recording pieces at slower tempo and then speeding them up in post-production are what really blow my mind. You work on that and learn to play it, or you don't record it because you can't play it. Speeding things up... that's what I would expect from a mediocre pop "guitarists", not from a classical musician.

Raphael Klayman, music and movies are very, very different. I don't consider cheating when you edit and add effects in a movie in post-production, indeed I think that's what you're supposed to do. If you guys want to extrapolate my point of view to the movie industry, it would be something like "movies should be recorded in one take, the full movie, all together". That has no sense. I don't want to talk about movies anyway, but more or less, when you edit music to cover mistakes and create fake "perfect" performances would be something like using CGI replace some scenes of one actor or actress to cover his/her bad acting skills. If I were an actor I would consider that almost unforgivable, just like what we are talking here.

I also understand that a mistake can be annoying, but that's why it's OK to repeat the performance. I do like mistakes, it's what makes the music alive and pure, because it's performed by humans, not robots (PC's). I'd rather listen to that slightly sharp E 1000 times in the Mendelssohn violin concerto by Hahn, knowing that it has not editing or cheating, than listening to a fake "perfect" performance of the concerto by Hahn. I like, no, I love music, and I don't like PC's to interfere. I wanna listen to musicians, not robots.

Trevor and many others, I don't have anything against several takes of one concerto or at least one movement. I understand we are humans and we can make a mistake that is quite big, so the best option is repeat the movement/concerto or piece again.

Now, if you start to repeat (re-take, re-do) in one movement or piece those "very difficult" 4 bars until they are perfect, and the that 16 second part that is very difficult until you get it right, and after that join everything to trick audience everything went that right and all played perfectly the whole thing, then I do have a problem, a big problem, with that way of presenting music. I'm probably quite extremist about this, but I'm very intolerant to any kind of trick you can do with music. At least in classical music, I only expect the performers to record what they can do, no what they can't do. So splitting a movement into 3, 4 or whatever number of parts and record them separately until it's perfect and then joint them is something I don't respect at all. It's not professional at all, and I think it's quite disrespectful to the piece you are playing and to yourself as a musician.

For example, a violinist that records Paganini's 24th in several sections until they are all perfect, and then join them, will never be a violinist I admire. That's cheating, you don't do that with music, for me it's very rude and yeah, disgusting. I understand classical music normally has pieces that are 30 minute long or even more, that's why I can more or less accept and respect that one orchestra records a whole symphony splitting the recordings by movements, taking a rest between them. There are some exceptions:

How can you split Beethoven's 5th 3rd and 4th movement?

There are plenty of movement's that very continuous and splitting them would be quite aggressive.

February 6, 2017 at 01:08 AM · Tim, are you against electroaccousitc music? A lot of things that happen there are things that cannot be achieved without advanced technology, yet more similar to postproduction in movies in their purpose, which is to enhance rather than hide bad things.

February 6, 2017 at 01:28 AM · Please, define electroacoustic music and I'll think about it.

February 6, 2017 at 01:57 AM · Tim, unfortunately you are going to be vastly disappointed, because as far as I know, classical artists, including all the great violinists, started splicing takes together as soon as technology made it feasible to do so.

I don't know of any contemporary violinists who do not record and splice when they make commercial recordings. (It is specifically disallowed in audition recordings and the like.)

If you want to avoid hearing spliced recordings, your best bets are radio tapes. There's an extensive archive of radio broadcast tapes from the past, which will be that night's live performance recording, unedited. (Otherwise "live" performance recordings can potentially be spliced from multiple nights.)

February 6, 2017 at 02:27 AM · When I go to a live performance I expect it will not be perfect. I'd rather the performer play with great musicality at the risk of blowing a note here and there. But if I buy a recorded album that I'm going to listen to dozens of times, I don't want to hear the same flub over and over. So by all means, splice!

I've got an Erroll Garner album where he tries to cover an obvious flub by *repeating* it -- as if he intended it the first time! Now, if it was a genuinely improvised solo, I might cut him some slack. But Garner's stuff was mostly canned novelty licks that he arranged in advance -- rather intellectually barren stuff actually. He should have fixed it.

February 6, 2017 at 03:14 AM · Tim - I think the analogy to movies is quite valid if not 100% the same. You talk about being OK with post-production in movies for special effects. What about an actor simply flubbing a line? It happens all the time. Should those be left in a movie? And if not, why in a recording? Don't worry. No amount of retakes and editing is going to make a poor actor seem like a good actor and no amount retakes or editing is going to make a poor musician seem like a fine musician.

You say nothing about yourself in your profile and I suspect that you are an amateur, which is OK. What is not OK is to impose some artificial Olympian standard on the real world of professional music making and recording. Probably 99% of top musicians have done re-takes and editing to some degree. Some have done it much more or much less than others. Heifetz did it, Kreisler did it, Horowitz, Rostropovitch did it, etc. etc. And I suspect that if you were a pro and had a chance to make a commercial CD, you'd do it too. I find it amazing to see you write " a violinist that records Paganini's 24th in several sections until they are all perfect, and then join them, will never be a violinist I admire. That's cheating, you don't do that with music, for me it's very rude and yeah, disgusting." It's clear that you just don't get how things work or even should work. I'd bet anything that if Paganini were alive when he could record his own music, that's exactly what he would do - particularly in the 24th, which so lends itself to that. No, we'll never know for sure. But what if that could happen and you found out that he did so - would you consider him "disgusting"?

I'm a pro who has given countless solo performances as well as made 2 solo CD's. You actually have to prepare even harder for a CD. The option of re-takes and edits isn't the kind of safety net that it may seem like to someone who hasn't done it. When you do another take - at least in my experience - it's very rarely to punch in 1 or 2 better notes. Rather you do another large swath and the engineer will later blend it in. But this means that you have to be very consistent with tempo, sound, intensity, etc. etc. - more so than in live performance. It feels like being dropped into the cockpit of a small fighter plane. A little bit off here or there and you've missed it and are on the ground. Then, you have to worry about all sorts of 'little' things that in a live performance might not carry from the stage to even the first row, such as the bow touching an adjacent open string, an inadvertent 'left hand pizzicato', breathing too hard, etc. etc. And with all that you have to somehow balance great care with with expressing some real musical feeling and keeping sight of the over-arching line. Try it some time. It's quite a challenge.

The only great exception that I've heard about was Casals - but then even he was tricked into doing it: I heard that when he recorded the Bach suites and would hit a clinker, he was fine with it when it was pointed out to him. "Yes, so that's how I played it on this day at that time." The producers understood, as a number of us here have already said, that repeated listenings to a major flaw gets very annoying after a while - or worse, even comical. So after a while, when a clinker happened again, the producers told Casals that they needed him to do it again due to a technical glitch on their end. Kreisler, on the other hand, when he recorded the complete Beethoven sonatas, came to a passage in the 10th that no amount of re-takes could fix. He told his pianist: "I wish Jascha were in town. Maybe he would just punch in that passage and hopefully no one would be the wiser." His pianist said that Mischa Elman was in town. That got K. mad. He said "I need technique! Tone I have, myself!" And that's show biz classical or otherwise, like it or not.

February 6, 2017 at 05:47 AM · Raphael explains it all exactly, and I agree 100%.

Incidentally, I find recording to be far more stressful than playing for a live audience. Audiences are a lot more forgiving than recording engineers.

February 6, 2017 at 12:04 PM · Well, I don't think it's a correct analogy at all, music is music, cinema is cinema. I don't want to talk about an analogy that doesn't work at all, but here's more or less why I don't think it doesn't work. If I had to make an analogy to something alike cinema, that would be classical theater. In the way of working and thinking, actors that do theater are much more alike musicians that actors that do Hollywood.

When making a movie, the key is to portrait a history. The art of acting is there, of course, but you got the technology to make things closer to what's in mind of the director. That's the key, create a movie that is as close to the director's imagination of the scene as possible. I don't only understand they use PC's to accomplish this, I WANT them to use PC's to make the movie as real as possible. The art of acting is way much more important in theater where the history is presented live and it's the actors all by themselves. In a movie, you use all kind of tricks, make-up, after effects... to present a movie that really puts you inside it.

Music has nothing to do with this, I don't even know how to compare music to acting, it has no sense to me, that's why I don't think it works at all.

"No amount of retakes and editing is going to make a poor actor seem like a good actor and no amount retakes or editing is going to make a poor musician seem like a fine musician."

Excuse me? Are you serious?

Wow, studios can make ANYONE sing like a professional singer, it's a fact. You just start with auto-tune, and keep fixing the horrible voice track until it's at a CD level. You really don't listen to rock, pop, metal... do you?

Do you go to rock/pop concerts?

Have you ever heard of "playback"?

The musicians that record those tunes using these tricks are so bad they don't even have the guts to perform live, so they playback the track. It's no surprise to me knowing how they work in the studio that they do playback.

Same with guitarists or bassists. Recording a solo slower than the real tempo and then speeding it up in post-production is over-done in pop/rock. That's disgusting, sorry, that's my point of view. Your learn to play it, or you don't play it. But don't fake it. All these tricks are like a chef selling his own dessert as if he made it all, but then you discover it was all made by some other chefs in the kitchen. It's like if Picasso were actually a mediocre painter and all his great works were actually made by someone else. Do you think the painting community would consider him a good painter? I tell you, no, indeed everyone would make fun of him.

Recording what you can actually do is also an attitude of respecting other actually great musicians that spent hundreds of hours practicing until they achieved a level that let them play that 24th perfect, or that violin concerto perfect, or that guitar solo perfect.

I don't know why you bring up my personal violin progress. This is not about me. I talk in general terms and what I consider a good musician. Yeah, in violin, I'm an amateur. In violin, not other instruments. I don't impose anything, do I have any power to impose anything? I tell you, no.

If I had the opportunity to record something for a commercial CD, I guarantee you as much as I can guarantee I wouldn't kill anyone that my conditions of recording would be pretty solid: my tracks can't under any circumstances be edited to cover my mistakes or to fix anything related with my performance. If I mess up a violin part, I will repeat again the whole movement or piece until it's as perfect as my skills let it to be. If I can't play a movement without messing up one part, well, then I CAN'T play it, it's that easy. Now taking that hard section, playing it slowly and then speeding it up in post and putting it over the original take would be something I would never, ever do. It's disrespectful to all the violinists that spend hours to master that piece, but over all it's a disrespectful to music, in general.

By the way, I don't consider disgusting the person itself, but the technique used. I hardly believe Paganini would do that. He was a master violin player, and he could play his pieces perfectly fine. Of course, that's what I've heard, didn't have the opportunity to see him live.

I think many have not understood me: I'm OK with retakes, it's totally fine, I don't expect that a great musician must play all the time, at the first try, all the pieces he/she plays perfectly. I understand logical retakes and breaks, like between movements.

February 6, 2017 at 01:54 PM · Tim - I'm not going to beat the analogy thing to death. I'll just say this and then either you get and accept it or you don't. By bringing up live theater you prove my point: a play is like a live concert and a movie is a like a recording. Accept it or not.

In certain situations someone's background and achievements - or lack thereof - does make a difference. Of course, anyone is entitled to like something or not. And to say to someone being critical "could you do it?" doesn't mean that we all have to accept something and like it, especially if we can't do it. BUT - I have found time and again that some of the most outspoken and unrealistic critics have been amateurs who have built an ivory tower for themselves on a questionable foundation. And yes, I was quite serious - no numbers of retakes and editing can make a poor musician sound like a fine musician. They can make a more mistake-prone musician sound like a less mistake-prone musician. Obviously I've "heard of playback". I'm a recording artist and you're not. And from personal experience I know whereof I speak. One thing I will agree with you: when you say "taking that hard section, playing it slowly and then speeding it up in post and putting it over the original take would be something I would never, ever do." - I wouldn't do that either.

As to how much rock and metal music I listen to or not - that is totally irrelevant, though I've actually worked with bigger pop than classical names (Ray Charles, Clay Aiken, Rascall Flatts, Regis Philbin, Tony Bennet). And I teach classical, acoustic violin at 2 schools where rock and metal predominate - for better or worse. But YOUR original question and my original answer was about the CLASSICAL world.

No, we'll never know how Paganini sounded, as he died about 50-60 years before the recording process was invented. One of the earliest great violinists to make some recordings was Joachim - and upon hearing his first playback he cried in anguish. Pag. was a consummate showman and wanted to be as impressive as possible. I can't imagine that if he had access to modern recording technology that he wouldn't have taken advantage of it. But to go out on a slight limb with a simple thought experiment - if we could bring old Pag. back and give him the opportunity to record among other things, all his caprices, and it turned out that he recorded each variation of #24 over and over, and if possible, sections within each variation over and over, how would we feel about him? Or, on the other hand, if he disdained to do so and insisted on recording the caprice all in one shot once or twice, how would we feel about him? My answer is simple: either way would be fine with me. It's up to the composer/performer what he wants to do and how he wants to do it. Now Tim, in the first scenario, how would you feel about Pag - disgust?? When you say "I don't consider disgusting the person itself, but the technique used." - is that kind of like 'don't hate the sinner, hate the sin'? But what if that technique is done at the behest of the player?

Mary Ellen - yes, speaking of stress, for my 2nd CD after my first day - yes, everyone, it took me more than one day, so shoot me! - my producer said to me "by the end of tomorrow you'll feel like a truck ran over you." I said "I ALREADY feel like a truck ran over me!". Once I gave my CD to one friend who was a cellist. She said "oh, how fun! Was it fun to make the CD?" I said "FUN???? No, going to the dentist and having an extraction or root canal without the benefit of Novacain - THAT'S fun (by comparison)!

February 6, 2017 at 02:25 PM · There's a great "Conversations with Nick Canellakis" with the Emerson quartet as guests. They're bantering and Nick goes "Are you saying your recordings are highly edited?" Gene replies "Just enough - every moment of each of our recordings is all one take."

Obviously a joke, but there's a grain of truth in there.

February 6, 2017 at 02:28 PM · Mercifully, we don't have Auto-Tune in the violin world - I most sincerely hope we never do!

A little background about A-T. It arose in the mining industry out of mathematical research into seismic waves, and the engineer, Andy Hildebrand, who did this work realised it could be used to modify the pitch of audio files. It was intended for valid usage in the recording industry, typically to correct a singer's out-of-tune note when the singer wasn't available in time to do a corrective take before the song went out on a single or album. Hildebrand later commented, presumably after it went commercial in audio systems, "My thinking was, ok, I'll put that setting in the [audio] software. But I didn't think anyone in their right mind would ever use it." Sadly, famous last words!

The other day I heard on the BBC News an item about the British singer chosen by popular vote for the Eurovision Song Contest this year, the news item concluding with a clip from her song. Auto-Tune it was from start to finish - painful to hear, let alone to listen to with intent.

February 6, 2017 at 02:53 PM · I think we're talking about different types of editing when we talk about editing mainstream classical versus editing rock.

As far as I know, for instance, no one in the classical violin world uses auto-tune. Similarly, no one in the classical world speeds up recordings of normal repertoire. (Historical speed-ups were generally done in order to fit a particular recording on one side of an LP, not because the group couldn't play at a faster tempo.)

I've been through the recording process with my old community orchestra, which has produced a number of commercial CDs. I assure you that no amount of retakes can make a community orchestra sound like the New York Philharmonic. It can, however, ensure that the recording is an amalgam of the best that everyone can play. Realistically, you have a limited budget, so what you do is a few takes that are hopefully the orchestra playing at its best, and then you go and retake a handful of tricky sections. Maybe some of those tricky sections get redone a lot. We did about two hours of recording session for every 20 minutes or so of music.

Here's samples of the end result: LINK. Think of this as "what the orchestra sounds like on its best day".

February 6, 2017 at 04:25 PM · Raphael, hahaha, I'm sorry but the analogy is not working for me, I can't compare playing music and recording a symphony with playing a role and recording a movie. It's like comparing apples to oranges to me, it's not that I know it but don't want to accept it.

Again, then you have not listen to any pop/rock band if you think editing doesn't make a poor musician a good musician. I've seen it even in a TV show, a random girl from the audience sang a piece of music from Queen I believe, and they recorded her singing in a studio, the raw voice and then edited it, fixed it and mixed it with the backing track. Then, they played the raw voice track, and it was actually sentence by sentence (of the lyrics), several takes each sentence until it was more or less in tune (more or less in tune for a random person of the audience means horribly bad). What do you expect, she didn't know how to sing neither had the skills to do so. Then they played the mix and you could put that in the radio without any problem. That's what I think is disgusting, and a total disrespect to all the singers that work day after day to sing in tune and how it's properly done.

You say you wouldn't do a hard section slower, so they can speed it up and replace that section. Why?

Taking advantage of the actual technology for me is not the same as cheating, doing tricks and faking a performance. Taking advantage of actual technology for me sounds more like using the best available microphone, the best room for acoustics and distribution of the sound, record a concert from several angles with several microphones to use the ones that better recorded the music, etc... Taking advantage of technology will never for me be something like auto-tune a singer that lacks skills and hours of practice, cover my mistakes using software (becoming a robot, basically), speed up my tracks because I'm not good enough to keep up with the tempo I want to record, ilogically split pieces of music in sections that has no sense so you can play the whole thing perfect by joining all the different pieces you recorded like 10 times each...

Trevor, mercifully we don't have auto-tune in violins, yet. You just wait for it. Actually, you can totally auto-tune a violin track to make it perfect pitch all the time, it's even easier to work with a violin instead of human voice that has more variables, like lyrics.

If I ever record something with the violin I want that the people that listen to it could safely say "That's Tim and his violin, all by himself, no tricks, no editing, no overdubs, no fake performance". That's music, and that's how I feel it should be done. I've already recorded myself many things (not with the violin), and I strictly follow all what I'm talking about here because it's how I conceive the music, as a whole, not as a pie that you can split into several pieces.

If I had to put it other way, it's like if your mom, or dad, hahaha (theoretically you love them unconditionally infinite) were a murderer. You love her, but you would also hate her/him for doing that. That's what would happen if I discover for example Heifetz recorded that CD I love so much actually at a much slower tempo because if not, he couldn't keep up the performance so clean.

February 6, 2017 at 05:47 PM · Tim - you say "Again, then you have not listen to any pop/rock band if you think editing doesn't make a poor musician a good musician" And I once again say to you that your original question and post and and thread were about recording CLASSICAL music and I and others have answered it. If you're disappointed with the reality of the answers, well...

And once again, I've actually made videos with Tony Bennett and Rascal Flatts. I've served as Concertmaster for Ray Charles, Clay Aiken and Regis Philbin. I know about pop music from personal experience of doing it. How about you?

And even in the pop field it is true to say that no amount of re-takes or editing will make a poor musician sound like a good musician. They will only make a less accurate musician sound more accurate. Yes, there are all kinds of effects and of course, live, hardly any pop singers have the vocal power that most Opera singers do. But the basic sound, a way of making a phrase that innumerable pop recording artists from Bessie Smith to Sinatra, to Elvis, to Linda Ronstadt, to - the list is innumerable - the heart, the line the spirit, the sound, the essence of who they are - do you think that re-takes and edits do that?

I know what's real and what's fake from the inside out. When I did the video with Tony Bennett, the instrumental track had already been laid down with synthesizer. We fiddlers and harp were mostly window dressing. So much for that. But Bennett in person in the studio sounded like - well, Tony Bennett - quite recognizable. Editing and mixing may have given him reverb and this or that - but it didn't and couldn't give him his "Bennett-ness". That was intrinsically there.

Everyone looks at things a little differently. There are different kinds of "tricks". What about Heifetz and AA Myers recording the Bach double by themselves - some dastardly deed or something to be enjoyed or not, on its own merits? My approach to making a solo CD, re-takes, edits, etc. notwithstanding is to to present, a bit idealized but within the bounds of performing reality, what and how I could more or less conceivably perform live at my very best moments. And sometimes that HAS happened in complete takes and sometimes it hasn't. It would make no sense and have no meaning to me except as a trick for fun, to record say the Paganini "Moto Perpetuo" at a super comfortable moderate speed and then have it brought up to Heifetz' tempo. But if I could perform it and get it in the ballpark live but in a recording take, this and that note was out of tune, a whistle note occurred someplace else or I started to rush in a certain section I sure would want to do it over as needed. Even recording a whole piece or movement or large section many times and choosing a favorite one for a CD is something that some people would consider cheating. You only get one chance at a live performance.

Yes, Heifetz could really play that fast. But even he could have a slip or be dissatisfied with how something sounded to him for whatever reason. The great cellist, Janos Starker told the story that when he was principal of the Chicago Symphony, Heifetz recorded the Brahms with them. He first played the whole concerto from end to end more stunningly than Starker ever heard from anybody. But then he divided it up into small sections and did take after take and later, edit after edit - and for better or worse, that amalgam is what we hear on his recording.

February 6, 2017 at 05:51 PM · This is a very interesting discussion. I remember the pianist Glenn Gould took a lot of criticism back in 70's when his recordings did a lot of technical touch-ups (and his amusing vocal accompaniments).

Personally I don't mind if they do it in the CDs and DVDs because those recordings are meant to be listened to over and over.

A couple of small mistakes here and there in a live performance do not reduce the value because they are one-time glitches. On the other hand, I would rather not be distracted 50 times by the same set of mistakes in the recording.

That's my take.

February 6, 2017 at 06:37 PM · The problem with the quest to make a perfect product is that then products that in fact are not possible are born and set a new standard for what should be achieved. That is the problem with editing as it is a problem with photoshopping.

And if I was a recording artist, which I am certainly not, not even an artist lol, I would use the same methods that everybody uses, for that is what is expected and that sells. But in a way it is a bit sad that everything is a bit unreal. Much better to go to concerts, at least they are genuine in classical music :)

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