Ethics of Patching Recordings

Edited: August 23, 2017, 6:43 AM · Hello everyone! I am Jasmine Ong, a student of School of the Arts, Singapore (SOTA). One of my school projects is called a Reflective Project and requires me to research on an ethical topic in my art form. As such, I am investigating the ethics of patching concert recordings before their release labelled as “live”. Patching refers to the use of a clip not from the concert being edited on to the original track.

I hope to collect different viewpoints from the music community such as audiences, performers and music businesses/businessmen. So I’m opening the discussion floor to you, let me know which category you fall under and what are your thoughts on the issue!

And if you feel like it, here are some questions you could help me tackle!
Is it really an issue? Should we really be discussing it?
Should the word “live” be taken as “actually playing an instrument” or “from a concert”?
What is the purpose of a “live” recording?
Is it possible with current technology for anyone to claim they can accurately reproduce a “live” performance in a recording? If not, do you think we should still attempt to do so to the best of our abilities?
Do you think the practice of patching can be likened to that of photoshopping pictures in magazines? Why or why not? Also, are there any differences in how audiences react to the two practices? Again, why or why not?
What percent of audiences do you think are aware of the practice of patching? Should it matter?

[Feel free to request for anonymity! You can also leave a comment but request that it not be used in my research. Also, use of the responses will only be in my research paper which will not be published.]

Replies (32)

Edited: August 23, 2017, 7:35 AM · I know for a fact that this is often done on professional recordings. I was in the audience for the San Francisco Symphony (and combined choruses) third (and final) performance and recording of their Emmy-winning Mahler 8th Symphony. And immediately after the performance the entire audience was asked to remain in place while they replayed to "patch" a measure or two that had been a problem (coughs, etc.) in all three performances/recordings.

As to whether this is "ethical" or not - you have to ask what is the purpose of the recording (and trying to sell) of a piece of music that involves the performance of about 400 people and an audience of 2,000 people?

August 23, 2017, 7:54 AM · Doesn't it depends on how it's marketed?

I think if a recording is sold as "live" or a "concert" recording then any editing is lying. Not really any different than the many pop "artists" who lip-sync.

August 23, 2017, 8:08 AM · Patching/lying elevated to an art form:

August 23, 2017, 8:49 AM · Ughh internet issues.

OK so.

Why would u buy a live version that's the question.

To hear ppl coughing?
For possible mistakes?

A recording is a recording. I hate background noise.

As for patching i thought of violin soloists and other soloists

What do you gain from getting the live recording. Nothing. Just added stress for everybody.
Let them patch. They are capable of playing it.
So they will.

Randomness is not the joy of music.

August 23, 2017, 9:52 AM · I think that your approach to patching might stem from how you view the product you are buying. Are you buying the music for the performance aspect, or are you looking at it as more of a produced work of art, like a painting? Surely, you wouldn't get mad at a painter for not completing the painting in one go, unless you are interested in watching the painter paint.

Thinking about that allows me to enjoy any recording where the end product is good, but on the other hand, I personally respect the craft of a robust technique that can execute an interpretation in one go. I also find that some recordings are kind of static and lifeless and antiseptic - I wonder if too much patching might really kill any kind of organic flow that really allows the music to catch fire. I wonder what Hyperion does for their recordings, because I find just about all my purchases from that label to be kind of soulless, and I don't really go back to them much.

I honestly don't care that much about little mistakes if the overall narrative is captivating, and not knowing how most recordings are actually produced, I don't have much actual insight into what I am or am not listening to. With that said, I quite like listening to live recordings, or watching them on Youtube - There often seems to be a sort of frisson to them.

Edited: August 23, 2017, 12:03 PM · My understanding is that patching is extensively done in studio recordings to satisfy customers' demand for "perfect performance". My guess is that the "live" recordings go through at least some patching process to beautify the final product. Nobody likes listening to someone's cough during the live performance. Everybody will loathe it if they have to repeatedly listen.

p.s. Glenn Gould is infamous for the advocate of extensive patching. Only if somebody could devise a way to cleanly get rid of his vocal accompaniments...

August 23, 2017, 12:11 PM · XD yeah him singing made me go crazy.
And live recordings ruin my replay of the piece in my head. I don't need to know that ppl coughed after sibelius 1st mov heifetz playing.

You gain nothing from a live performance.
Mics are better in a studio. Everybody more relaxed..

U want live go watch a stream or a concert

August 23, 2017, 12:34 PM · Following on from Jeewon's post, it's worth looking up "Joyce Hatto" on Wikipedia.
Edited: August 23, 2017, 2:40 PM · I think editing is an art form in and of itself. With all of the effects and patching techniques available to us now, the possibilities are endless. However, I think the issue lies in that we haven't come up with a term for recorded music to distinguish it from live music. Just as theater is live acting, while film is recorded acting, and painting is live visual art, while animation is recorded to an extent, we have no such distinction for music, and consider it all to fall under the same umbrella regardless.
Because of this, audiences and musicians alike have become accustomed to the sterility of many recordings edited with the goal of "perfection", and have come to prefer a robotic, yet perfectly clean performance, over one with a few blemishes that is much more interesting. I think we need to acknowledge that live and recorded are two separate art forms when it comes to music, and adjust our perceptions accordingly, rather than trying to make one like the other.

One is not better than the other, and each have their strengths and weaknesses.

August 23, 2017, 3:11 PM · I suspect that one of the reasons that orchestras sometimes make recordings live now is that it's the only way that they can do it -- they do not otherwise have the budget to record. It makes perfect sense for them to do just enough patching there to avoid unfortunate flaws (like an audience-member coughing).
Edited: August 23, 2017, 9:43 PM · In my opinion, a live recording is ideally a video recording, which shows the musicians playing and reacting to the music. Perhaps a video can be patched but not as easily as an audio-only recording.
August 24, 2017, 3:03 AM · To be absolutely ethical, why not label it "Live, patching only when essential"? or even "Live, with 3 absolutely essential patches"?

What would have happened to that famous Flagstad Isolde recording if Schwartzkopf had not been allowed to record that top note for her?

Of course Kreisler's ethics in such matters were famously broad - You can read one example in the discussion "What not to say to a violinist".

One can, of course, say, "Rubbish, it's my performance entirely - just, it's not published in the exact sequence in which I performed it" and forget to say the second part

You may not know, unless I myself retail it to you, that in the earlier days of recording, because recording media were so expensive, most great conductors were not allowed to conduct the final version of their recording - That had to be done by an understudy who had studied his interpretation, and whom the record companies could trust to complete the recording before the media ran out of space (If Boult was disciplined enough to be an exception to this rule, it would explain why his recordings now seem to be the outstanding ones).

This kind of approach wasn't restricted to the performance industry either: The way to make a profit out of your particular piece of light music was to sell it to a well known light music composer to publish as his own composition. At least three very well known pieces of popular/light music published by three different composers are by the same (fourth) person, who also worked as an understudy conductor for recordings.

We have nothing on the 1950s!

But before we go shock horror at the 50s, what about pre-Romantic husbands publishing their wives' compositions as their own (Something Henry VIII was not guilty of, but Bach might have been - Which one of these is more likely to be in Heaven?)?

August 24, 2017, 4:09 AM · I don't have a problem with it but I guess it depends how extensive it is. Patching a soft spot because someone was retching in the front row of the audience or the Principal Second's bridge collapsed (sounds like gunfire, I saw that happen once) just makes sense. Nobody wants to hear those things again and again when they listen to an album.

Maybe in the liner notes they can say "This piece was recorded three times and the soft spot at 4:24 in the third movement was flawed each time by audience noise so we patched that bit. If you want to hear people coughing and retching during the soft bits you'll just have to come to a regular subscription concert."

And by the way, "you" is spelled "you" (not "U") on this site. We typically also don't go for b/c, ppl, XD, WTF, or other texting abbreviations, although I confess I might have written LOL once or twice.

August 24, 2017, 4:15 AM · -_- i don't care :D. I'm young and my English prowess is not the topic here.

Furthermore i write poetry in old English. I've earned the right to type however i want ;) *.

I'm not applying for something.


Edited: August 24, 2017, 4:49 AM · Vladimir Horowitz did it too. It doesn't bother me. From a standpoint of ethics and accuracy it would be ideal to say somewhere on the recording that some patching was done.
Edited: August 24, 2017, 8:21 AM · Ahmed, prithee wilt thou shew us of thy verse in ye olde English tongue?
August 24, 2017, 8:41 AM · I believe most live recordings have, in the liner notes, a statement about what dates the recording was made. There are normally several dates given there, which is a subtle way of indicating that splicing was done.
August 24, 2017, 9:11 AM · I never noticed that, Lydia, now I will start looking. However, if they pulled a complete movement from one day and another complete movement from a different day, I have no problem with that, and we can't really tell the difference between that and patching if they don't say so explicitly. So, they should fully disclose for the sake of musical ethics.
August 24, 2017, 9:30 AM · Can we just work with the premise that all recordings are edited in some way, no matter how small? Even relatively unobtrusive things like normalizing the signal and cleaning up white noise are still considered "editing."

Most folks don't want a raw, unedited, recording. It's unlikely it would resemble in anyway what we would actually hear in a concert situation. Personally the "ambiance" of audience noise doesn't add anything for me...I would just go to a live concert if I wanted that! :P

Edited: August 24, 2017, 10:47 AM · Ethically I think you could do much worse than modify a recording to make it sound better or remove extraneous noises.

I guess at some point you could be sued if the recording were advertised as "live" if it wasn't really live. Or it could be promoted as, " live recording with additional studio work by so and so. I doubt anyone would go to so much trouble to sue over something like that.

If it was recorded live, then you aren't lying by saying it's live, but you might not be telling the whole truth either.

There's a difference between editing to make it appear the musicianship is better and editing for noise reasons. I wouldn't personally rework parts because someone made a slight mistake. I would have no problem applying sound masking technology to remove camera clicks or sneezes though.

It's fairly impossible to put 500 people together and not have those kinds of noises.I personally don't mind it if a few of those noises at low level get into the recording, doesn't bother me personally. Now if you sneeze and snort at 100db that's different.

August 24, 2017, 12:09 PM · There are truly live, unaltered recordings out there -- typically radio broadcast tapes of performances. If you listen to them, at some point in time the mistakes and audio interruptions will probably bother you. They may bother you a lot, over time. My annoyance at these tend to increase the more I hear the recording.
August 24, 2017, 12:37 PM · The ethical issue comes with the assumption that "live recording" also means "un-altered", which isn't necessarily true. Conversely does "studio recording" assumes there were alterations?
August 24, 2017, 1:28 PM · Even for a studio recording, I think there are ethical issues about editing something so much that it makes a better impression than what you can do on a good day.

There's a big difference between listening to a recording and watching a concert, as in the latter more senses are involved which can distract from minor irritations. What live might seem like a small cough, a quiet airplane high above on the way to Newark, or a mildly out-of-tune blip, on a recording might come across as much more distracting. Taking that into account along with mic placements that are much closer than any audience member would ever sit (plus possibly a much drier acoustic than the worst concert hall), I think it's fine (for studio recordings at least) to edit that kind of thing with the goal of achieving something that more approximates the real experience. But some people go a bit past that...

August 24, 2017, 1:28 PM · I don't know. For my money, there is no greater recording of the Bartok 2nd Violin Concerto than the very much live premiere with Zoltan Szekely, the works dedicatee, playing. There are a couple pretty glaring errors, maybe it's just the beauty of Szekely's playing in general, but I think there is a certain magic to it that I doubt you could capture in the studio. I guess I could see the hiss and a few wrong notes turning people off, but if I listen past that, I get a lot of insight. And this is neither here nor there, but it's almost as if he plays it like beautiful music (an example many modern performances would be good to follow, although maybe the pendulum is swinging back a bit).

Edited: August 24, 2017, 1:55 PM · My violin teacher is the violinist in a well-established 4-piece folk band (Spiro), which is no stranger to the recording studio, radio and television.

The band's aim is to replicate in the recording studio a live stage performance. In the studio the band sets itself out exactly as it would on stage, no cubicles, no headphones, just mics in front of them. The mixing desk is not in a separate compartment behind a window, as it often is, but in the same room as the band, a few feet in front of them. In effect the band is playing to an ersatz audience of studio technicians, producer and others, who however do not applaud, cough or sneeze.

The band's preparation is such that they rarely need to do more than one take per track. There is no post-recording editing, just balance adjustment if necessary. I have heard the band a couple of times live on stage in Bristol's St George's Hall, which has one of the best acoustics in the UK, and the performance difference between on-stage and the recording studio is, to my ear, indiscernible.

The band's music, composed by one or more of its members, can be unexpectedly intricate, and each track will have hidden somewhere in it an old British folk tune, perhaps from the English North Country. An unusual feature of the band's sound is that the violinist never uses vibrato. My teacher explained that if she did, it would upset the balance with the other three (non-vibrato) instruments - piano accordion, acoustic guitar and mandolin.

August 25, 2017, 6:35 AM · I met a recording engineer who related that a studio recording of a mediochre band had some success, due to mixed-in audiencd noise and applause from a totally unrelated concert!

Trevor, in my tango days, I would use pleny of vibrato in solos, but none at all when doubling the bandoneon.

August 27, 2017, 3:45 PM · Although even the best musicians can make mistakes, the difference in recording experienced players and those not as experienced is night and day.I should know, I'm in the second category :-) A violin with mediocre tone, A player who's still learning. That's not a good combination.

One rule we follow is we attempt to get a take as good going in as possible. If it's good going in , you won't need to work nearly as hard on it. If it isn't, sometimes no matter what you do it can't be saved or improved on.This is common sense, but sometimes an engineer might be forced to attempt to save less than favorable audio.

If one splice saves the work of many musicians, it seems justified.

Once I was attending a choir concert by a nationally recognized boys choir. We were sitting behind a mic stand that was recording the show that evening. My nephew is in the choir so we were recording it to video. Every time you initiate a recording the recorder makes a little beep noise.I didn't realize it was a serious problem until later in the concert.
Sound engineer, yes, I'm the guy you want to kill. I felt so bad. Even though it wasn't loud, it probably picked up on the mic.

August 29, 2017, 10:15 AM · "But before we go shock horror at the 50s, what about pre-Romantic husbands publishing their wives' compositions as their own (Something Henry VIII was not guilty of, but Bach might have been - Which one of these is more likely to be in Heaven?)?"

I'd have to say Bach. He didn't have his wife's head cut off because she didn't make a son. I would imagine the Good Lord would look down less on plagiarism than murder, but I digress.

OP: I would find that ethically, it would alright to patch. In a lot of regular studio recordings, at least for bands, there are a lot of hired musicians that actually record the music. At least with a live recording you are listening to who you actually want to be listening to and not a paid substitute.

Edited: August 31, 2017, 7:42 AM · In an amateur performance of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, Dido had a marked tendency to sing sharp. This rendered the final aria inaudible, and when I made cassettes for family or friends from the private LP recording, I simply left out the aria.
Of course there is no question of inserting someone else's recording, and the second performance was no better (and in a different acoustic).

I recently tried the Melodyne Editor software, which can correct pitch in a polyphonic context if the voice is sufficiently separate form its accompaniment. With manual adjustments respecting the singer's artistry the result is remarkable. I even corrected my own very slight tendency to vibrate (bleat?!) above the note in the sailor's song.

If I were to go through the entire recording in this way, I could render some embarassing moments more enjoyable, and recover the pleasure we all had in the performance, which had many fine moments.
Cheating, or giving a helping hand?

Edited: August 31, 2017, 8:38 AM · Melodyne is pretty much the industry standard right now. I have had great results with it as well.There are others out there, but none so accurate and feature rich.

In the Melodyne editor window you can make perfect harmonies if you copy a part and paste it in under the original, or you can make two identical tracks and make the second track a harmony track.

You can also do some rather odd things that probably don't apply to recording classical music live, for instance, drag the audio using ARA technology into a midi track and it makes a midi of the audio which can then drive a software instrument.

There's another program I have called Vocalign which takes a second or third vocal and compares it to the main part, then it can align timing differences in pronunciation. If the second singer is a second behind the first, Vocalign will stretch the second part and make it sync with the first part.It does this so well you can't tell it was done.

These applications don't only apply to vocal work, They can be used for instruments as well.

For removing pesky noises iZotope RX is the go to in the advanced version. Often used for audio forensic work.

September 11, 2017, 4:24 PM · Earlier comments about a "retake" after a live performance reminds me of a BBC concert recording where we had to ask the audience to bear with us while we redid a passage due to "technical problems".
In fact, some idiot had come in spare in the concert, and (as usual) I was quite loud!
Edited: September 19, 2017, 11:59 PM · There is a fantastic disc of cellist Jacqueline Dupré playing the Elgar concerto with Barenboim conducting: It is an assembly from two successive live concerts. Her first disc with Barberolli is magical, but here she sounds like Rostropovich!

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