Live Musical Performance Manifesto

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.