Can we ever hear what our favorite bands sound like in the studio?

Listening to your favorite band's recordings as if they were live in the room with you seems like a great idea, but is it attainable?

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read

It's an elusive fantasy: hearing music as if you were in the studio with the band. We would love to be there, with our favorite artists, hearing music as it's being created, but few major rock/pop mainstream artists ever just lay down complete, from start to finish tunes anymore. Songs are pieced together from bits and pieces of sound that are later massively tweaked, processed, Auto Tuned, equalized and mixed ad nauseam.


In the Bunker Studio with Aaron Nevezie.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

True, some bands are together enough to lay down complete takes of their tunes, but the vocalist was in a separate "booth" listening to the band over headphones. After a take the band might listen to a playback, but what they hear hasn't yet been mixed and edited, so again, we never get to hear exactly what they heard "in the studio." Some instruments and vocal parts will be overdubbed (replaced), so little of what the band originally played ever makes it to the final mix. Of course, this is done because the band wants to present the best possible version of their music, one that's better than what they originally played.

What I've just described refers mostly to mainstream rock, pop, movie soundtracks or hip hop -- there's less tweaking with jazz, classical and bluegrass - because those sessions typically involve a lot less post-production. However everyone edits and mixes their music, so even with those genres the final result isn't exactly what went down in the studio or concert recording. YouTube concert videos shot by folks in the audience are as close to the unvarnished truth as we ever get.

As for the sound quality the band heard in the studio, you might experience some of that if you bought the same professional studio monitor speakers and amplifiers that your favorite band relies on, but chances are your room's acoustics are very different than the band's studio. So again, hearing exactly what they heard is next to impossible. The resolution of the recording might make a small difference in what you hear, but the overall quality of the recording is the main determining factor.

In the end, all that really matters is that you enjoy your music and sound. It shouldn't be a lot more complicated than that.