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What's better? Live or recorded music?

Most of us hear a lot more recorded than live music, but the question is, what's better? What moves you more?

There are a million ways to experience music, but for the purpose of this blog let's just break it down to two categories: live and recorded.

I don't know about you, but if I get to hear live music more than twice a month, that's pretty good. Sure, I can look back and remember some great concerts in my life, like the Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden in 1969, Miles Davis in a tiny club in Greenwich Village in the early '70s, and Stevie Ray Vaughan in the '80s. The Pixies in the '90s were definitely a high point.

I recently attended a concert with the Chelsea Symphony at St. Paul's Church in Manhattan. Sitting in the top balcony, the sound was simply awesome; I've never heard anything close to that sound reproduced by even the very best high-end audio systems. The orchestra certainly didn't need amplification; it was definitely loud enough. Not quite rock concert loud, but the Chelsea Symphony's eight percussionists can make a strong impression.

Better yet, the sound never hurt my ears. But the orchestra was far more viscerally dynamic than any rock band, and the sound of strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion filling the acoustic space of the church was a thrill I won't soon forget. That is, you don't so much hear the sound of each instrument, you hear it filling the church. The sound of the entire orchestra floated, like a cloud, above the pews. The sound was beyond what I've ever experienced from an orchestra in a large concert hall.

In those and other experiences, the music connection was stronger than it could ever be from recordings, but for the most part I actually prefer recorded music. First and most obviously because it's a repeatable pleasure I can have any time I want it. Next, recorded music is, after all, perfected and approved by the artist(s)--live music is subject to the vagaries of chance.

Recorded music's production can't necessarily be duplicated in concert. Depending on where you sit, and how good or bad the sound system is, live music is a crap shoot. With a decent hi-fi at home, you can get better sound than most live gigs. Oh, and you can play it at exactly the volume you want.

"Live" recordings fall between the two extremes, and if the band's up for it, may be the best of live and recorded.

There's an intimacy to recorded music, it's just you and the sound. Live is, depending on the venue, far less direct and the goings on around you can be distracting. Then again, when the vibe is just right, the music is that much better because of the atmosphere.

I'm not sure why, but when I've recorded live music I've noted that when playing it back the music almost never matches the feel of the live experience. Recordings and live music are two different things.

But for day-to-day I love listening to my collection; right now I'm on a major Neil Young kick. I've seen Neil in concert twice and was underwhelmed by both shows.

And finally, recorded music allows us to hear music from artists who are no longer with us, but their music lives on.

How about you? Live or recorded, which one rocks your world more?