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Author: Subject: Is it time to proclaim the death of the live album?

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  posted on 10/1/2013 at 08:47 PM
http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20131001-the-live-album-is-it-all-over

ON THE RECORD| 1 October 2013
Is it time to proclaim the death of the live album?
Greg Kot


Live albums used to be big business in the recording industry – but then buyers lost interest. Greg Kot investigates what happened to a once-lucrative format.

This month, Madonna has a new album out and Nine Inch Nails have released their second volume of new material in two months. You might be thinking, ‘Wait, how come I didn’t know about this? Where’s the hype? The in-your-face promotion?’

Or maybe you’re not. But we’re talking about two of the biggest acts of the last three decades with new music to push: Madonna’s two-disc MDNA: World Tour and Nine Inch Nails’ four-track Live 2013 EP. Both are live recordings, and they join a parade of live releases by major acts in recent months: New Order, the Rolling Stones, Megadeth, Jane’s Addiction andthe first Beach Boys album with Brian Wilson in decades.

In the previous century, these might have been landmark events, the type of albums that mark key moments in celebrated careers. But not anymore. Nearly without exception, these albums have trickled into the marketplace barely noticed, except by the artists’ diehard fans. It’s not as though all the albums are unexceptional – the Beach Boys’ solid, two-disc 50th Anniversary Tour documents the 2012 tour that reunited Wilson with his original bandmates. It serves as a fine career overview, touching on not just the obvious hits but deep favourites such as Marcella and All This is That. Yet it barely caused a ripple on the charts and didn’t rate any high-profile reviews. Live albums might still work as souvenirs for some fans, and expedient contract-fulfilling product for some artists, but who’s using the format to make a statement anymore?

At one time, live albums were a big deal. James Brown hit another gear when he documented the greatest show on Earth in Live at the Apollo (1962). DJs would end up playing an entire album side as the songs bled one into the next, building excitement and spreading the gospel of Soul Brother No. 1. Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison (1968) saw the Man in Black walk among hardened convicts and win them over. At a time when psychedelic rock was ascendant, Cash’s no-nonsense songs turned him into a real voice of resilience and rebellion. The Who put Eddie Cochran (Summertime Blues) and Mose Allison (Young Man Blues) through their maximum R&B shredder on Live at Leeds (1970) with revelatory results.

Star vehicle

A more commercial role for the live album emerged in the ‘70s: they served as greatest-hits collections with audience applause. As cynical as that might sound, they often provided a mainstream introduction for relatively underappreciated artists with deep catalogues. The Allman Brothers established their jam-band bona fides on At Fillmore East (1971), and added a catchphrase to the concert lexicon: ‘Whipping Post!’ They were one-upped by their Southern brethren, Lynyrd Skynyrd, whose One More From the Road … (1976) turned the notion of a fan requesting “Free Bird!” into a concert cliché for decades afterward.

Bob Marley’s reputation had been building for years when he and the Wailers released Live! in 1975, which consolidated their best songs into one package, with the singer bringing a rapturous audience from a simmer to a boil. The next year, a journeyman guitarist, Peter Frampton, turned the double-live album into a mega business with Frampton Comes Alive! It sold an improbable six million copies in the US alone. With its sleeve folding out into a poster of the golden-haired singer, Comes Alive rehashed the best of the catchy but innocuous songs on his four previous studio albums, threw in a side-long jam (it was the ‘70s, after all), and mixed in what sounds like canned audience applause.

Other ‘70s road warriors like Bob Seger and Cheap Trick similarly transformed themselves into arena headliners from also-rans with live albums that repackaged their songs and jacked up the energy. Indeed, Cheap Trick is still riding the high provided by the 1979 At Budokan live album; the band is in the midst of preparing a 35th anniversary package. That might be overkill, but the original album not only did wonders for the band’s career when it sold more than three million copies, it also recontextualised its music. On its first three studio albums, Cheap Trick’s biting songs were watered down by conservative production. On At Budokan, the songs bristled, and a band that had been playing hundreds of shows a year for most of the ‘70s finally sounded like itself on record.

In the ‘90s, the MTV Unplugged format gave the live album fresh impetus, and produced key works from Eric Clapton, Nirvana and Jay-Z with the Roots. But it’s tough to come up with any live albums from the last decade that are truly must-owns. They sound like orphans at a time when shaky YouTube videos of just about every song spewed on every stage by every band around the world are just a mouse click away. High-fidelity Blu-Ray discs cater to the finicky home entertainment crowd. So who cares anymore about repackaged music from last summer’s stadium tour?

Greg Kot is the music critic at the Chicago Tribune. His work can be found here

 
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Peach Extraordinaire



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  posted on 10/1/2013 at 08:57 PM
There all past their prime. The one's in the 60's in the 70's were all in their prime.

 

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  posted on 10/1/2013 at 10:26 PM
Bfft. They skipped from 1979 to the '90s and then to the present without discussing anything in between or talking about the enormous change the music industry has gone through in the last decade or so. Those changes, I think, are the reasons those albums aren't getting too much promotion. What a pointless and sloppy article. Live albums were a big thing in the '70s and I guess the release of a live album isn't such a major event today, but aren't there more live releases than ever? Recording technology has improved so much and prices have dropped so much that some bands record and sell every single show they play and make money doing it. How can you write about the history of live albums and not even mention that? It's a huge development! Also: I don't know why Madonna is putting out a live album since spectacle is such a big part of her, I don't know, deal. I'm guessing it's an easy way to make some more money without spending a lot, which doesn't support the author's thesis.

 

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  posted on 10/2/2013 at 11:59 AM
The entire music industry is in serious decline for many years. The CD format itself is as good as dead. So why would live albums escape from this downward spiral? And most artists mentioned in this article are veterans in the music world and all of them have live releases in their back catalogue that were recorded when they were much more popular and still had their "classic" line-up. So only diehard fans will pick up live release nr. ..... while the rest can't be bothered or may decide to download only a handful of the songs from the new release.

 

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  posted on 10/2/2013 at 12:27 PM
i agree, a pretty clueless lazy article. i think thats why i posted it.
 

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  posted on 10/2/2013 at 12:27 PM
It was a good article with that big exception that they missed the trends of the last 20 years. Even 20 years ago, the ABB got some good sales out of Evening With First Set (About 7-8 years ago I was told it had sold over 300K in US).

Since the author used At Fillmore East as an example, the ABB could have also been used as an example of the music world today where the band sells copies of almost every single show right afterward in multiple formats (download, immediate CD, or a better tracked version on CD a few weeks later)...and the operation probably won't make anyone rich, but is clearly profitable or it wouldn't be going on for this many years.

 

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  posted on 10/2/2013 at 12:30 PM
I thought the article made its point!

BTW, Rush continues to churn out live albums, one after another! Whereas, back in the 70s and 80s they used to release a live album after every 4 studio LPs, they seem to do it now after every album & tour...

Rush in Rio (Vapor Trails tour)
R30
Snakes & Arrows Live
Time Machine Tour Live Cleveland
Clockwork Angels live

[Edited on 10/2/2013 by BarrySmith]

 

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  posted on 10/2/2013 at 12:59 PM
I don't know why the article is about the death of the live album when the album itself is pretty much dead. Albums that land at #1 on the charts today wouldn't break the top 15-20 in the 90's for album sales in a week.

It's not the live album, it's just music in general.

There will always be good live albums out there, but in 2013 why promote them?

 

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  posted on 10/2/2013 at 05:14 PM
You know what they have now that they didn't have back in the "golden age" of live albums?

Live concert DVDs. The author more or less completely omits that major factor in the equation.

He does have this one throwaway line at the end...

"High-fidelity Blu-Ray discs cater to the finicky home entertainment crowd."

As if that is a minor thing and doesn't deserve to be mentioned until the next-to-last sentence of the piece.

It's also more than a little bit ridiculous to talk about the "finicky home entertainment crowd" as if people who actually enjoy top-notch audio and video are some tiny niche market. In a world where just about every TV show and movie is available in HD quality, the people who don't care about that sort of thing are the minority, not the other way around.

"So who cares anymore about repackaged music from last summer’s stadium tour?"

The "finicky home entertainment crowd" does, apparently, as long as the audio and video are top notch. I wonder how many Crossroads DVDs Clapton has moved? I honestly don't know, but I'm guessing it's significant.

Other posters have made good points about the fact that for a band like the ABB or Phish or Widespread Panic, EVERY SHOW is available for download, often within hours of the show ending. For the bands/fans who really value the live concert experience, waiting around for an "offical live album" is about as current as driving to work in a horse and buggy.

 
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  posted on 10/2/2013 at 07:38 PM
Well, "LIVE" performing has been replaced by live twerking or whatever the hell that thing is that the teeny-skanks do as opposed to playing music. Add auto tune and out and out lip syncing to the formula.

What about the "instant lives" that so many bands sell after their shows?

Music (to me) is a live thing to begin with. I think there is a shortage of bands with the proper chops (and nerve) to go out and record a live gig.

But what the hell do I know? I'm just an old fan of old music.

 

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  posted on 10/2/2013 at 07:45 PM
There is a decent point in there in that a live album, for a while, could be a real defining event for a band, a real career-maker.

Kiss Alive and Frampton Comes Alive and Cheap Trick at Budokan catapulted those folks from "solid" to "megastardom." When IS the last time alive album did that?

Certain bands' live songs became definitive versions of the song - I mean, "Freebird" is certainly a good example, or McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed." When IS the last time that a studio song got superceded by a live version of that song? or even came close? (I'm thinking of Tom Petty's "Breakdown" as an almost-possibility)

One thing the article does not mention is that certain live albums would NOT just serve as "greatest hits with slightly more energy" - a great album like "Fillmore East" was special because it had some stuff that was not on the studio albums at all (Hot Lanta) or that appeared in an incredibly different form (epic Whipping Post or YDLM etc) on the live album, which made the live album essential to own.

Lastly, it is not just that more and more bands have released an abundance of official live material that makes one live album hard to consider essential (Instant Live vs. the One Way Out album for example), it is ALSO that in the 1970s, the real competition a live album had was bootlegs, and lots of 1970s bootlegs had **** ty sound, certainly **** ty compared to the live album. As a Deep Purple and Rolling Stones fan, I have a ton of audio that is of poor quality, which made/ make "Get Your YaYas" and "Made in Japan" ESSENTIAL.

 

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  posted on 10/2/2013 at 10:11 PM
quote:
You know what they have now that they didn't have back in the "golden age" of live albums?

Live concert DVDs. The author more or less completely omits that major factor in the equation.

He does have this one throwaway line at the end...

"High-fidelity Blu-Ray discs cater to the finicky home entertainment crowd."

As if that is a minor thing and doesn't deserve to be mentioned until the next-to-last sentence of the piece.

It's also more than a little bit ridiculous to talk about the "finicky home entertainment crowd" as if people who actually enjoy top-notch audio and video are some tiny niche market. In a world where just about every TV show and movie is available in HD quality, the people who don't care about that sort of thing are the minority, not the other way around.

"So who cares anymore about repackaged music from last summer’s stadium tour?"

The "finicky home entertainment crowd" does, apparently, as long as the audio and video are top notch. I wonder how many Crossroads DVDs Clapton has moved? I honestly don't know, but I'm guessing it's significant.

Other posters have made good points about the fact that for a band like the ABB or Phish or Widespread Panic, EVERY SHOW is available for download, often within hours of the show ending. For the bands/fans who really value the live concert experience, waiting around for an "offical live album" is about as current as driving to work in a horse and buggy.


Rob, I think the author is not referring to convert video, but rather "High Fidelity" audio burned to DVD media. It's can be higher bit rate or 5.1 sound, but this format requires more capacity than a CD offers. One example of this is the 5th disc of the new Band release "Live at the Academy of Music". Although there are two videos, the rest of this DVD disk contains high def audio.

That certainly is a niche market.

I would guess live albums made up a much smaller part of the market years ago than they do now. If you take into account all the "instant live" sales now, it's probably much higher. But that also makes these live albums much less "special", and a lot of these are just mediocre performances released in a dying market.

The one big advantage of a live album, is there is no studio and very little production cost. Just feed SBD feeds into a multi-track recorder and you're done.

 

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  posted on 10/3/2013 at 05:23 PM
If you're looking solely at live albums, I would say the reason they are "non-events" is that with youtube and bittorrent, bands selling all their live shows, and other prevalent media outlets, people now have many ways to see and hear what the artists sound and look like live. It wasn't always so.

In the 50's and 60's cars weren't even that prevalent. People weren't driving all over to see live shows. radio would broadcast some but AM sound quality was and remains horrible. A record would sound good and you could listen to it whenever you wanted. The 60's were similar but people started to travel more and the music started to expand when rock musicians incorporated improvisation into their shows, stretching and changing the songs often from night to night. The live album documented this and provided a way to dissect the music or just have a good time in your wood-paneled basement with your hi-fi and some friends.

In the 70's came the big bootleg boom as people were able to get shows on tape and trade and sell them. Radio programs like King Biscuit Flower Hour started broadcasting live shows. You'd hear people saying "this band is good but you should hear them live!" The performances often outshined the studio recordings, plus bands did songs that weren't on albums, and they changed and expanded the ones that were. The diversity that was found in live shows was able to be captured on record and enjoyed over and over again. I think the bootlegs fueled the popularity of live albums. People would compare the live albums to the bootlegs like it was competition sport. With the live album you also got the banter between songs, the mid-song adlibs, the quips, the jokes, it was like you were in on something special. Also in the days of vinyl you got the gatefold album sometimes 4 to 5 panels wide, plus posters. There was stuff! You got a souvenir with the live album. There was a visceral reaction to it.

Some of the most popular live albums of the 70's were last-ditch attempts to break the artist which has been mentioned. Albums like At Budokan and KISS Alive didn't just save careers but made them mostly for the reasons I stated above. These bands were good but you should hear them live!

When the 80's came around we started to learn that the live albums weren't necessarily live and I think that's when the record buying public started to turn away from live albums. Now, many things coincided in the 80's like MTV and VHS. You could now see and hear the bands on TV with some regularity. The mystique was fading. The pretty boys were playing the same sets every night for the same 80 minutes with the same song intros and the same corny jokes. Touring was big business and with 4 cylinder cars replacing the gas guzzlers people started driving more. They would go to more shows. Magazines were everywhere. Radio continued to broadcast live concerts but so did MTV. The live album wasn't making careers anymore or giving the fans a taste of the band live. Your video was doing that. There weren't many big live albums in the 80's and many were slammed for being mostly studio retouched shams. Tape trading became the popular past time for the live-music fans. Cassettes were cheap, easy to use, easy to mail and would take a beating rolling around in your K car or Chevette. And the boots weren't fixed in the studio. A music lover has to have principles you know. The excitement of a live album was waning.

The CD didn't help much with its breathtaking 9.5 x 4.75 booklets and quadrupled folded 18" posters (oooh! Aaah!) but it saw reissues and repackages galore and it did spark the nostalgia for the classic live albums and in the 90's bands like Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, & ABB started putting out old live recordings but those were mostly events only to the die-hard fans. With the advent of the internet you can get live shows almost as soon as they are over. there's no need for a live album any more. They just aren't that interesting in the age of youtube, bittorrent, livedownloads.com and abblive etc. You know what the band looks like. They have their own website, you may have gone to a few shows on the last tour, maybe bought the CD at the show. You checked out some clips on line, visited the fan pages, looked at the pictures, read the bios. You already know these bands. The mystique is gone and it will probably never return. you don't have to tune in to Grand Old Opry once a week anymore to hear your favorite singer live, or King Biscuit, or Superstars In Concert. You can watch the videos on your phone. Live album? Not necessary.

Personally, I like live albums and I'll buy them but I always wonder what was fixed in the studio. But business wise, they just aren't necessary anymore. They are for the collectors and diehard live music fans that want the professionally recorded souvenir, especially if the artist doesn't sell their live shows. I don't think they will ever die off, but they will never have the impact they once had because they circumstances will never be there to provide it.

 

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  posted on 10/3/2013 at 09:16 PM
Yep.

Soundboards
Youtube
live streaming

Why would you buy what you can now pretty much get for free or on the cheap. I think phish allows free downloads of every show and all you need is your ticket stub and bands like Widespread Panic are streaming all of their current tour right off the soundboard for free. Bands like Furthur always have fans streaming the shows live for free. There is some merit for it, but for the most part, people have access to this stuff for pretty for free. Even youtube you can find complete concerts of most bands posted that you can watch for free. I would say it is alive and well, they just aren't making any money off of it for the most part. Give it away for free and they will come. Hint, Hint .

 

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