The red light syndrome

This week, the Minster Choir have been braving the cold, snowy York evenings to record their forthcoming Regent Records release. This experience led me to think about the art of recording and the psychology of being a performer in this situation.

While we are always striving to achieve the highest levels of communication with our audience, the very nature of the art means that each is only a moment in time never to be repeated in the same way again. A recording on the other hand preserves a single performance for all eternity, which will inevitably be judged and benchmarked. It is this thought that inhibits performers as they enter the studio. When the red light goes on, the noise is being captured no matter the quality. Of course modern recording techniques mean that recordings are rarely single performances, rather a patchwork of the best bits captured. But still the anxiety remains.

I have found recently however that this thinking can be turned on its head. Rather than being a daunting experience where tension is caused for fear of a bad take, the recording environment can be a space of freedom and experimentation. The ability to retake indefinitely (within the limits of the session) makes the whole experience more comfortable. One begins to relax and perform without inhibitions, and the result is a confident and exciting recording – one which may even inform subsequent live performances.

The lynchpin in any successful recording is always the producer. A great producer knows the capabilities and limits of their performer and encourages them to achieve their very best performance in front of an imagined audience of the future, within the inevitable time constraints imposed when recording. Their expert ears offer practical ways in which the performance can be enhanced, and their instant feedback offers immediate food for thought and often new insight into the music – sometimes to the extent that one feels as though they have been through an intense coaching session. The producer also has the unenviable task of editing the numerous takes together to create one patchwork performance; their impartiality a great asset.

All that remains now is to hear the first edit of this learning experience before its release into the wild.

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