Vulfpeck and the Art of Live Recording

Vulfpeck took to the YouTube scene with their recorded music back in 2011. Through their funk music, entertaining performances and magnetic personalities, they eventually used their Spotify and YouTube royalties to fund an admission-free tour. Vulfpeck fans follow them for their fervent love for the art, proven by their adhesion to live recording their songs.

Live recording refers to the meticulous choosing, leveling and placement of microphones for the intent of recording the band and vocals as one entity. While these choices affect recordings of individual voices, they greater dictate live recording. A microphone for the drum set may need to move so as to not pick up the guitar. A vocal mic must pick up clear singing in the midst of other, often louder instruments. The art of live recording has become somewhat lost, not due only to technology, but a pursuit of perfection.

The old and the new

A look at Billie Eilish’s Logic Pro files will reveal that she does not use autotune on her vocals, but instead cuts together the best bits of dozens of takes. Digital recording allows for this method, as rerecording, cutting and splicing tape is too time consuming and expensive. Even from her bedroom, Eilish can do what professional recording studios forty years ago couldn’t. While the convenience of digital allows greater creative freedom, the ability to micromanage a song is a slippery slope. Artists spend weeks in the studio, not in service of musicality, but in recording and rerecording small snippets of songs in order to achieve perfection. This dissection drains the artistry and excitement from the recording resulting in artificial songs.

Although a virtually unlimited number of audio tracks are available in today’s software, the early days of tape only allowed four. In a standard band consisting of lead and backup vocals, drums, bass and guitar, most voices don’t get their own track. This forces engineers to get creative with the arrangement and use of microphones, and also gives the band an opportunity to play their music “for real.” Rather than recording five seconds at a time, the artist can perform, listen to their counterparts and allow the sounds to intertwine. I can’t help but feel this is how music is meant to be recorded.

The magic of performance

During the transition from tape to digital recording, studios were tasked with transferring their databases of original mixes onto hard drives. During the process, engineers sometimes made copies of original tapes, creating a trading community. I had the opportunity to listen to direct copies of a mix from The Beatles. My heart skipped a beat as I heard an isolated track of Paul and John singing alongside the bass. The magic of playing as a whole band from start to finish is captured on a magnetic strip of tape. Their magic lasts today in part due to the masters maintaining that same feeling of bona fide performance.

It is not feasible for all artists to record live, as electronic music is more prevalent than ever. However, any artist can take notes on The Beatles’ efficient use of tracks or Vulfpeck’s beautiful blends of live sounds. Vulfpeck acts as a bridge between the old and the new. They cling to the traditions of recording, while embracing the capabilities of digital. They’ve even built their own digital plugins and compressors. Consider listening to Vulfpeck for a taste of musical passion and authenticity.

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