I used to know someone (let’s call him Martin) who had never been to, or ever planned to go to, a live concert.
His rationale was as follows:
He’d buy the music he liked on record because he believed a 12” piece of vinyl (hey, it was the 70’s) was the most effective medium for a musician to present his or her ‘musical vision’. For said musician to try and present that ‘vision’ live would be both counterproductive and disappointing; the sound would be worse than on record, the performance would (inevitably) contain errors, the audience would prove distracting, cost would be prohibitive and, ultimately, the band probably wouldn’t play the one song he really wanted to hear.
Although Martin was an idiot and used phrases like ‘musical vision’ when referring to ELO, it’s hard to argue against one element of his (misguided) rationale: it’s always important to recognise the most effective medium to deliver a message. Although a record and a live concert are both, technically, ways of presenting music, choosing one to replicate the other is almost always a let-down. Hence, the paucity of truly essential live albums.
In 1966, when The Beatles decided that playing live was stopping them going where they wanted musically, they retreated to the studio. Abbey Road became perfect medium for the delivery of masterpieces like Rubber Soul and The White Album. Penny Lane, Tomorrow Never Knows, A Day in the Life – none of them designed to work live.
However, as they raced away from Candlestick Park, they might have considered that for 65,000 people, seeing The Beatles live had very little to do with the music. It was more about a Pavlovian need to simply see The Beatles.
Some bands work live. Some don’t. The Beatles contemporaries, The Rolling Stones and The Who, took an alternative path; embracing the madness, encouraging it, feeding off it and (depending on your personal preference) deciding to become the world’s greatest rock & roll bands.
Which is a painfully long-winded way of saying some communication initiatives work best live, some don’t.
It’s Everything But The Girl vs. Motorhead. In the blue corner, a band striving to sound the same live as on record, unhampered by a discernable visual identity or anything approaching engagement with their audience. In the red corner, a band whose sole reason for existing remains the need to create an immersive communal experience. Loudly.
The phrase ‘You have to see them live!’ isn’t just PR hype. You really do have to see a band live to truly understand who they are. Jazz on record? It’s OK, but jazz is about the ‘moment’ (how many great jazz albums are live recordings?). It’s about the opportunities improvisation offers. Electronic Dance Music? It ONLY works in a club, a warehouse or a field.
So, why do a live event? Why do a conference, a product launch, a sales meeting or a roadshow?
Great question… why indeed?
As it is, it’ll have to be ‘same place next week’ when we plunge into the maelstrom that is live corporate communications.