The future of the live musical performance video seems to be at a stand still. Whereas the first documents of live musical performance were less about videography and more about supplying an accompanying visual of the performer to the music, the genre has evolved into one highly driven by visuals. However, the popularity of live musical performance viral videos has preserved the classic interpretation of the genre: no frills, just a musician and his instrument on film. The genre back then, and still today, has the purpose of highlighting the uniqueness of the musician in action and its affect on people.
So where does the genre go from here? Today, both the highly produced and stripped down live musical performance are prominent in the genre. As far as I can see, there are no major foreseeable changes in the live musical performance. Websites like Pitchfork and La Blogotheque have already made their mark on the genre by creating the 3D live musical performance (also previously done by Michael Jackson with Captain EO, but Pitchfork has been making easily distributable 3D videos for the web + I would argue that Captain EO wasn’t exactly live), the interview/live performance, and the improvised live musical performance, but they are minor stylistic flares that do not detract from the original intent of the live musical performance. No matter what, the videos are intended to validate the performer as a musician, and to emphasize the qualities that make the musician endearing to his/her fans. In 50 years, the technology may change, and the presentation format may be different, but live musical performance videos will still maintain this approach, and the person strumming his guitar in front of his 3D webcam will still be as relevant as the musical superstar and his million dollar concert film.
As for my preferred future for the genre, I hope that they revert back to The Lawrence Welk Show-type performances of the early 60’s. I feel like the one thing the genre is missing today is an accompanying skit with the live performance—what I call the live music video. Sure, there are singer/dancers with routines that are highly influenced from these performances, but it doesn’t match the same pomp and stage presence that the old performances had. Although most videos made in this way were exceptionally cheesy, I feel that a revisit to the format after 50+ years of cultural evolution could be fascinating.
Honestly, I am pretty bored with the current format, but that’s probably because watching a concert at home, where you aren’t surrounded by happy and sweaty young people, is kind of depressing anyways. In the future, I’m sure nothing will change. No matter how hard the genre tries to capture this feeling, nothing beats the feeling of actually being there.
The Francis Ford Coppola directed Captain EO starring Michael Jackson. What was wrong with people in the late 80’s?? Why was everyone obsessed with puppets?? Amazing dance number though.
Pitchfork presents “Primitive 3D” by Deerhunter in 3D
Pitchfork presents “The Selector: Riff Raff,” don’t do drugs
Astrud Gilberto & Stan Getz, “Girl From Ipanema” live: great example of the live music video, made especially to be captured on video!
OK Go’s “Here It Goes Again” Music Video, not a live musical performance but it has the right idea: POMP!
The history of the live musical performance video started in 1927, when the first live-action film with sound, The Jazz Singer, was released. Incidentally, the first movie with sound was a musical, which marks the conception of the live musical performance video genre at the birth of sound recordings in film. The Jazz Singer marked the defining moment in feature-length motion pictures, when silent films became obsolete.
Sound was incorporated into film indirectly using the Vitaphone, which was essentially a large phonograph record player. Soundtrack disks were recorded while filming and would be played simultaneously with the film. The main producers of live-action films with Vitaphone sound technology were the major, commercial filmmakers/distributers of the time, including Warner Brothers, who held a monopoly on the Vitaphone until the 1960’s.
Later, analog sound reached beyond film and into television. New sound systems like the stereophonic sound were incorporated in film and television throughout the 40’s, and 50’s. During the 20+ decade span, great live musical performance videos of early jazz bands, swing jazz bands, and orchestras were featured on television. In the 60’s and 70’s, musical live performance television was at its climax of popularity with shows like The Lawrence Welk Show, American Bandstand, and the Ed Sullivan Show.
After the 60’s and 70’s, the live musical performance video has been a way to capture the live spectacle of musical performance. Later, this video genre was used to advertise what is known as music’s most profitable venture: the live performance. Today, in the age of the Internet, touring has become an essential part of the music industry’s revenue after CD and mp3 sales were threatened by music pirating in the 90’s. Live musical performance videos have taken such an essential role to touring success and profitability that musicians are often seen doing the late night circuit, performing on late night television shows like the Late Show with David Letterman and Saturday Night Live to gain publicity. Today, the Internet, Youtube in particular, harbors a lot of live musical performance videos from all decades and genres, allowing them to be easily accessed.
From its conception in late 1920’s movie theaters to the instantly accessible videos on the Internet, the live musical performance video has greatly evolved in format and purpose, but has always kept its priority to highlight the musician and celebrate the fan. Nowadays, with the distributive potential of the Internet (due to increased access to video and audio production technology), the fan can be the musician, as shown through the dramatic increase in amateur/independent live musical performance videos in the 2000’s. It is a step in an interesting direction that live musical performance video viewers will have to watch for.
TIMELINE THROUGH PERFORMANCES:
The Jazz Singer snippet, 1927
Django Reinhardt, 1939
Count Basie, 1941
Johnny Otis Show, late 1950’s
The Lawrence Welk Show, “Annie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” 1962
Famous Beatles debut on the Ed Sullivan Show, 1964
Iggy & the Stooges, 1970 (HE THROWS PEANUT BUTTER AT THE AUDIENCE)
They Might Be Giants on Late Night with David Letterman, 1990
The live musical performance video is any visual recording of musicians performing their work in real time. The genre’s intention is to depict musicians presenting their work without the safeguard of a studio’s post-production to the audience/viewer. By capturing the provocative nature of the musician’s work and its effect on listeners, the live musical performance video is a means of authenticating the musician and celebrating the listener. The following are defining characteristics of the live musical performance genre:
1) There are two distinct subgenres of live musical performance: the candid camera and the professionally shot performance. The candid camera is the lower budget option and is much more common than professionally shot performances. It is usually shot on one camera, uses the video camera recording’s raw audio, often uses a webcam or cell phone to record it, is typically shot on a tripod, and entails little shot variation. For the independent musician trying to get discovered with his Adele cover on Youtube, it is better to stick with a fixed shot, so that the video recording’s audio will not vary in volume as the camera changes distance from the subject. The professionally shot performance, on the other hand, achieves optimal sound by recording, mixing, and mastering the audio of the performance separately from the video. This superior sound recording is synched with visuals documenting the performance, shot from multiple camera angles. Varied camera angles can help the viewer get an idea of what the stage looks like from perspectives of the musician and the audience, as well as highlight certain musicians during a particular part of a song. Professionally shot performances are expensive, which is generally why the more famous/rich musicians have better sound quality and more varied camera angles. Note: Despite the cost of production, however, there is no amount of production that will make an untalented musician better at performing live. Buying multiple high definition cameras and microphones will not make a first year guitar student sound like Eric Clapton.
e.g. Compare Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros’s performance of “Home” vs. the Narvaez family’s cover of “Home” – the professional band has 5 times as many people but much better sound quality and several camera angles:
2) Camera time is based on the band hierarchy. The general hierarchy, based on where the typical action of a live performance is, goes as follows: lead vocals, lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, drummer, bass guitarist, and keyboardist. Musicians may advance in the band hierarchy of camera time for a number of reasons. For example, in cases where the musician is the only female musician in an all male band or vise versa, the musician plays an exotic instrument (e.g. accordion, hurdy gurdy, bass saxophone), the particular song is heavier in one instrument than others, or certain members are more charismatic and/or talented, despite their choice of instrument (e.g. Paul McCartney of The Beatles is a bassist but also does vocals, plays guitar, and writes songs; he is also exceptionally charismatic).
e.g. Radiohead’s performance of “Paranoid Android” shows a more generic band hierarchy…
…whereas Arcade Fire’s performance of “Keep the Car Running” shows a more nuanced camera time hierarchy full of exceptions to the aforementioned rule.
3) Popular shots of band for professionally shot performances: medium shot of lead singer singing, waist-level shot of guitarist/bassist that always includes the neck of the guitar/bass (head and torso may be cut from the frame), behind and to the side of the drummer most likely involving the tap of a snare, the hands of the pianist/keyboardist, horizontally panning across the stage to capture every member of the band.
e.g. Rolling Stones performing “Shattered”
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band performing “Born to Run”
The Strokes performing “Hard to Explain”
4) A producer of the live musical performance must keep in mind that a live musical performance has to give the impression that musicians are playing an instrument and/or have talent. Fans watch live musical performances to validate their admiration for musicians, and in the same way, the live music platform is a right of passage for a musician. It is a way to prove that a musician’s work can still be performed despite the lack of resources that the musician would have in a studio. There is an inherent danger to live performance—the danger of messing up—which adds a greater level of entertainment to the performance, and is even more impressive when executed flawlessly. It explains the popularity of acoustic and acapella performances, which essentially forces a person to rely solely on their inner talents, free from the buffers of instruments and other distractions. Thus, a producer of live musical performance must emphasize the mind-boggling moments of talents that musicians display. *Caveat: it is possible to compensate for those who overly produce their music in the studio and cannot translate their music in a live performance, those who are bad musicians, or both. This is done by emphasizing the aesthetic over the aural—basically, be a shallow producer and speak to the viewer’s impulses. For pop stars, this comes in the form of back-up dancers, drummers wearing sunglasses and/or a fedora, and a live band dressed courtesy of the Gap. For DJs/producers, this means having very colorful equipment (controllers, mixers, lighting), and sometimes wearing masks or being European. Know your audience, whether it be hormonal teenagers in pop music or hormonal young adults on ecstasy in electronic music.
e.g. When capturing live, untreated, and near flawless performances, there isn’t much the producer needs to do.
Same applies with mind-boggling moments like Jimi Hendrix playing a guitar solo with his teeth.
Rap star Kanye West hires an entire orchestra to play the instrumental of his song even though the DJ could have played the entire instrumental for him in order to establish the feeling of a live performance.
Pop star Britney Spears clearly lip synching in her “Womanizer” performance, but it’s okay because she’s dancing and has back-up dancers that apparently escaped from a French circus. It appeals to the audience’s aesthetic sense over their aural sense.
Daft Punk, a staple of the live electronic music genre, have incredibly colorful equipment, wear masks/helmets, and are European—the holy trinity! The visuals compliment the music nicely.
5) The audience is as much a part of the performance as the band. As I mentioned before, the live musical performance is a way to validate a fan’s admiration for a musician. Some of the more common ways of capturing the audience’s confirmed admiration include the sing along shot, where the camera cuts to a fan mouthing the words of the song in synch with the audio, and the panning crowd dance shot, where the camera moves across the crowd, especially the people leaning on the barrier, as the dance to the music. The live musical performance is a dialogue between musician and audience, with the audience serving as a performance barometer for the viewer, and is essential for establishing the performance’s atmosphere.
e.g. The Beatles…the fans’ screaming and crying mean they approve…
Festivals tend to emphasize audience shots, especially the sing along and panning crowd dance shot.
Vincent Moon’s La Blogotheque/Take Away Shows is a beautiful example of a live musical performance video series that emphasize capturing the audience’s reaction.