What is the importance of music? People have gone lengths to answer this question. In order to win arguments in favour of their beloved art form, they have researched and presented heavyweight theories that detail music’s social, cultural, political, medicinal roles, to name a few among them. But what about the pleasure of experiencing music? Doesn’t that surpass all of the above? Operating on this simple formula, music has reached milestones and is still making new ones. Transfiguring minds all over the globe, it is, in fact, the inexpressible pleasure of music that has helped it to fulfil the other roles.
Music can be experienced both in isolation and with people. While listening to recorded music offers the first experience, live music offers the second. There are long, tiring debates weighing live music against recorded forms such as CDs, cassettes, singles and albums on streaming platforms. However, a stronger opponent of live music has emerged in recent times, that is the pre-recorded “live” concerts streaming across social media platforms.
There’s no denying the fact that this format has kept us entertained throughout the pandemic. But the real question is, can it be an alternative for actual live music? The answer is no. Although with the advancement of technology we have become more closeted both mentally and physically, the magic of live music is something that cannot be felt sitting in front of flat screens and hence cannot be replaced even if the alternative is just a touch away. Repeating the words of the Polish politician Jacek Andrzej Bukowski, I’ll say, “There’s only one better thing than music-live music.”
There are two perspectives from which this experience can be presented- That of performers and of the audience. So, let’s try and understand the power of live music over the recorded forms from both perspectives.
Recording technology having being invented much later, live performance remains the earliest form of music and is more organic. As Mick Jagger said, “It’s heartening to return to live music…It’s a very traditional thing to return to. It re-validates the original form we fell in love with.” Although recorded forms are vital in the current scenario, live performance is the backbone of music. The very reason it falls under the category of “performing arts” is that the process of learning and practising music is all about the live experience. To begin with, live performances help musicians to conquer the nerves. No matter how much they practice behind closed doors, live presentation demands control over their faculties that can only be mastered by facing the crowd.
Unlike recorded music, there is only one chance to deliver musical pieces in an impactful manner; live performance pushes musicians towards perfection through practice. Not only does it motivate artists to explore more and be better at their job, but also measure their progress with each act. It also teaches a performer accessory skills such as audience interaction, general technical knowledge about sound and light, working with a crew and so on.
For the audience, live music is equally fulfilling as it is for the performers. For starters, it establishes a direct connection between the two parties. Fun fact, this experience feels much more personal than listening to music alone in your room with headphones on. The first-hand experience helps the audience to relate more with the musicians. Without the screen wall in between, the boundless music hits the audience with more intensity engaging them in a cathartic experience. On the other hand, the joy of singing your favourite song along with hundreds or thousands of people, relating to them without any verbal exchanges or smiling at a perfect stranger sensing the same kind of emotions in them that you experience yourself at that moment, is an out of the world feeling. As Kurt Cobain said, “Live music is the most primal form of energy release you can share with other people besides having sex or taking drugs.” There’s this wonderful sense of belonging, where you feel a part of the whole that an isolated experience can never offer.
Witnessing a live performance can be extremely motivating, particularly for practitioners. The raw passion is so infectious that it can inspire one to pick up their old instrument or practice with new vigour and devotion once they get back home. It also offers a glimpse into the hard work of the musicians and the preparations they take in order to make themselves presentable, shattering the myth that talent is enough.
If we turn our focus to technical issues, we’ll find that recorded music doesn’t reach us in its pure form. The post-production work in studios that include mixing and mastering, makes raw recordings flawless to meet the standards. This illudes the listeners to some extent as they cannot assess the potential of musicians properly. Moreover, applications and devices distort sounds in varying degrees. The internet issue above all makes the experience of listening to music a little bumpy. Live music combats all these issues making itself more welcoming.
Although music is a form of entertainment, we should not forget that it is a field of employment as well for many people around the world. The economic aspect of music cannot be overlooked in the course of discussing its aesthetics. Live music reportedly brings about 50% of the revenue mainly from the sales of tickets. Compared to that, all forms of recorded music have a more complicated system of financing. With a middle man being involved, the margins of profit are narrow for the artists. Live concerts, even when organised by brands and institutions, are far more lucrative.
Needless to say, the pandemic has unleashed havoc on the music industries all over the world. With the live shows being cut off, not only the musicians but also the large number of people belonging to different professions associated with this format have been out of employment. From sound engineers to security personnel to event organisers, every sector has suffered a huge loss. To make the situation worse, music streaming has also dropped recording an 11% fall in Spotify streams that too in the world’s largest hits, in April 2020.
Considering the plight, re-establishing live music should be the priority at this moment so that the music industry can make up for the losses it has suffered for almost a year. In any case, live music remains irreplaceable. It reminds us that no matter how much technology advances, it cannot match up to the experience that the physical world offers. As human beings, we will always crave for a warm hug from our loved ones instead of talking to them over a video call. Likewise, we will always prefer the thrill of live music over the processed form of recordings as long as we live and as long as music lives.