We hate to break it to you, but live albums aren’t exactly ‘live’. Not in the strictest sense of the term, anyway. That being a band took to the stage, played their set, and the whole thing was recorded, mixed down, and released for your listening pleasure.
But in reality, only a certain percentage of a live album is actually live, and the rest of what you hear is actually being performed in the studio as an overdub which was later mixed into the live recordings to make it all seamless.
See, the thing about live bands is that they’re human and they can make mistakes – a bum note here or there or even an unavoidable pitfall of performing live like a broken string. It’s part of the live experience, but not always great to listen to on an album.
So bands fix up some of the mistakes or make a few tweaks to improve the experience for the listener. Sometimes they’re simply minor tweaks intended to properly capture the feel of the band’s actual performance, such as enhancing the sound of the crowd.
Opinion amongst fans is somewhat divided about the practice of overdubbing on live recordings. Some fans don’t care, whilst others are totally against it. But you should know that even some of the most famous live albums either include overdubs or are mostly studio-recorded.
Take KISS’s Alive!, for example, one of the most famous and best selling live albums of all time. There’s conflicting reports about just how much of Alive! is actually, y’know alive, and how much was recorded in the studio later on.
According to bassist Gene Simmons, the band’s record label, Casablanca, was so strapped for cash at the time they didn’t have the budget to do extensive overdubbing even if they wanted to. But producer Eddie Kramer and drummer Peter Criss tell a different tale.
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Kramer previously stated that there were overdubs to correct certain mistakes, but later claimed that the only live element on Alive! are Criss’s drum tracks, a claim that Criss himself has made in interviews.
Peter Frampton has also admitted that there was some post-production trickery on his famous Frampton Comes Alive! album, but insists the majority of the album was recorded live, insisting the level of live music on the album was “unheard of at the time”.
Even albums that are completely live are comprised of different takes of songs from different shows. Often recordings will be made across an entire tour and the band will then compile the best recordings together and release that as the live album.
Popular ska outfit Reel Big Fish revealed the magician’s secrets for their own live album, Our Live Album Is Better Than Your Live Album. On the DVD extras for the album, which you can check out below, they took fans behind the scenes to reveal the truth about live albums.