Why You Should Know That “Live” is Pretty Much a Lie

We live in a world of augmented reality where everything is made to look better than it really is. Common food is pictured to look mouthwatering, every travel destination seems to be a dream come true, and supermodels are photoshopped to perfection. But it’s not just the commercial onslaught of perception that we must sift through, it’s the everyday decisions we all make to put our best foot forward. We select only the best pictures to post through social media, add a filter, editing not only our physical features but also our speech. However, when and where is the line crossed between showing our best side and presenting something that isn’t real?

Is it a bad thing that young boys and girls wish they looked like the doctored images of people they see? Is it ok to use someone else’s photo as your own on dating sights because that’s how you wished you looked? Should food that’s bad for you be presented as healthy by an actor pretending to be a doctor? Why does this all matter and what does it have anything to do with worship leading?

The answer is that this need to impress, to live up to what we want people to think, affects the world of worship as well. We all have heroes in the faith, people that we look up to, that inspire us, and those that we aspire to be like. But what if what we are trying so hard to be like is not real? That the methods we believe they are using are actually just smoke and mirrors? Would that bother you and would you want to know?

Specifically this article is talking about worship recordings, something that has been around for quite some time. However, what was quickly realized is that people prefer “live recordings” to studio recordings. This becomes immensely challenging because live recordings are much more difficult to pull off. When you think of a studio, you think of pouring hours and hours into recording and re-recording. Trying new sounds and doing it until you get it right and then editing till it’s perfect. But in a live scenario you only get one shot to get it right…or do you?

What quickly became the standard practice was to record a “live” album and then go back and re-record over any of the mistakes that happened on the night. A practice commonly known as ‘over dubs’. If the guitar player flubbed a lead line, they could go back and do it again. Then just like a studio album they would edit, tune vocals, and massage it to be the best it could be. Still a bit of a stretch to still call it “live” since only some of it is live and part, if not all, of it is studio work. The challenge is that it takes a lot of work to make an album this way and many have the restriction of being timed up to the video they took of the event. But what if there was an even better way to be assured of a quality product that could be synched to video if need be?

The answer is what has sadly become the common practice, which is to pre-record the entire project, practice to the finished recording, and then video them singing along to the music. Or if there is no video involved you just slap on some crowd noise at the beginning and end of the songs. Yes, hard to believe as it may be, most if not all of what is still called a “live album,” is in fact, not live at all. Not even the crowd noise, not even the congregation singing along because that, too, is a group of people in a studio. I have even been personally acquainted with several projects where not a single note, sound, or anything is live, but yet it still says it is on the label.

Also popular now is to make albums, “live in the studio.” Which means that you do the song like you would live, but not live. Or you can be “live” from some foreign location, which only means that’s where you were when you recorded in a studio or shot the videos to go along with the recordings.

So the question is why does that matter, like the title of the article poses, why should you know? Because at the end of pseudo live recording, hopefully the average listener is still worshiping and being inspired. Those are good things. People like to listen to high quality worship that sounds live. So maybe it doesn’t matter that it’s not what it is presented to be? But what challenges me, is that for those of us who are working diligently to replicate the level of perceived excellence in sound and ministry are actually chasing a phantom. We try to play the song like it is on the recording or do things like putting 30 people on stage just like the video, then when it sounds terrible, we wonder why it doesn’t work like on the video. We also assume that what we see is what we hear, that the people pictured on the video are the actual ones we hear on the audio recording, but even this is usually not the case.

Maybe this information helps you not beat yourself up about how your team sounds, maybe it will help you choose a better method to get where you feel God is calling you, or maybe it just depresses you. This understanding has been all of those things to me and I wish that I had a solid universal answer or could even tell you where the line should be drawn. But I do know this, that in all the disseminating that I must do in everyday life to discern fact from fiction, I am hungry for something honest. If you say it’s live, then actually make it live, mistakes and all. If it’s studio, then say it’s studio. It’s the fuzziness of gray in between that we all must choose for ourselves to how to navigate and where to stand, as for myself I have been a part of it before and don’t want to be now.