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Elvis live recording legacy poorly treated

Mon Nov 21, 2005 12:01 pm

hi,

it's a long time since I've posted anything but the great thread from David Bendeth and everyone who contributed got me thinking again about sound quality (always been a bit of an issue with me). I have re-visited the E1 DVD-A and also several 69 live recordings and the original MSG. I was interested to note that David said he would like to re-mix this in surround sound. I have to say that the DVD-A stereo version is great but I also enjoy the CD version. Whlst it is very loud there are times when that suits the mood. Burning Love is awesome on both versions.

By and large Elvis' studio material is now treated with respect and there are some great recordings out there. However, the live material is another matter all together. I am several months in to a sound recording course at Leeds College of Music so a little knowledge can be dangerous. But I think the recent releases of the 69 live shows sound crap that includes the box set which whilst being slightly better than the two FTD releases is still not a patch on the original mix. They all sound to me like they have not been mixed right as there has been no use of EQ to seperate out the instruments from the mix. As most instruments and vocals via for the same frequency range around the low mid region any recording not properly mixed down will sound muddy as the various instruments/vocals fight for the same range. They sound so bad I can rarely bring myself to listen to them. And yet any sound engineer could easily sort this out (unless there is some flaw with the tapes?).

Feb 70 sounds better as there is more seperation on instruments but both versions of On Stage seem to sound a bit flat and lifeless. Strangely the FTD is better as it sounds much more alive. But why should this get a better mix than the 69 shows?

August 70 is by and large good. The LILV box set being the pick. The FTD release of Opening Night being the weakest as it seems to lack any bottom end. Again why so different from 69/Feb 70 or the full releases?

Feb 72 I think sounds great. It sounds like more effort has been made to mic up the instruments properly. The drums in particular sound like they have far more mics on them - check out how the kick drum really moves some air. Was the the bottom end removed from earlier live recordings? Or was this just an advancement in micking techniques?

April 72. This was a big dissapointment to me. The studio material on this box set sounds great so I had high hopes for the live material. After all it was proffessionally recorded on multi-track with seemingly microphones erywhere on stage. And yet the sound is weak. There is no impact from the kick or bass drums and no bottom end to speak of.

June 72 MSG original. Having re-visited this at the weekend I still prefer this to the afternoon mix. All the instruments are clearly seperated. The drums and JB's lead guitar sound great as does GH piano. I'd prefer a bit more bass throughout but JS bass on PSA is awesome. At times Elvis' vocal sounds a bit distant and too low in the mix but I remember Joan Deary saying she tried to capture the ambience of a large stadium performance. I am sure this could be changed in a re-mix. The afternoon show has Elvis more upfront and it is an exciting listen. But the drums sound unnatural compared to the original - as if someone's messed up on the EQ. But again everything is there is a re-mixed/re-mastered version would work well.

I'll try to draw this to a close. I can't understand why Elvis' live legacy is treated in such a throwaway type fashion. It made a hugh part of his catalogue and his aura. EPE always talk of treating Elvis' music with the respect it deserves and in a way which would have made Elvis proud. E1 and the DVD's last year have achieved this but more must be done on the live material. It isn't expensive to mix tape.

To take MSG as an example. I am sure that a re-mixed/re-mastered version of the original show (with the additional songs from the afternoon show not featured on the evening) in a package containing both DVD-A and CD ala recent REM re-issues could be a commercial success. There is still a big demand for anything connected with Elvis' live legacy - look at how many peple dress up as Elvis at parties etc. If this was promoted with a re-mix of say PSA as per A Little Less Conversation using EOT footage/actual MSG footage mixed in with a modern video, I think it could be a huge success. There seems no reason why this multi track recording couldn't be made to sound fresh and comparable to todays recordings.

So come on BMG/Sony/DPE/Priscilla treat Elvis' live legacy with the respect and commercial drive it deserves!

Mon Nov 21, 2005 12:14 pm

Jamie -

Thanks for that interesting post.

But the definition of a well-mastered/mixed live recording is hard to come by !

What sounds like the ultimate audio to one set of ears will be a disaster to another !

[See umpteen previous threads on the subject !]

You wrote:
There is still a big demand for anything connected with Elvis' live legacy - look at how many peple dress up as Elvis at parties etc.


Not really an accurate guide.

Most of those 'dressing up' haven't even heard Elvis' live stuff, let alone bought anything !

subjective

Mon Nov 21, 2005 1:22 pm

Colin,

I think you are right about the subjective nature of mixing. But to me the 69 recordings on FTD in particular don't even sound mixed. They sound like straight lifts from the original live mix before EQ/pan etc. That just sounds like a cheap no effort option. FTD's are very expensive and we should get some kind of effort on this point. I think any self respecting sound engineer would recognise what does/doesn't make a good basic mix. The choice of where instruments are panned and what is EQ/to what extent is down to choice. But whatever they choose should at least be clear and audible - the 69 FTDs sound completely muddled. It is less of an issue on the other stuff I mentioned and that may come down to personal taste. But there are some consistencies and anomalies e.g. little bottom end or drums sounding distorted on Afternoon in the Garden.

Take your point on people dressing up. Not the best example. But the success of the two live DVD's shows what can be acheived in this area with some foresight and willingness to do things right.

cheers Jamie

Mon Nov 21, 2005 4:38 pm

I never did like the sound of the 69 recordings even the original RCA compilation of 4 shows in 1969. I did not pay as much attention because the performances are for the most part, great! Elvis' mic was not too good sounding especially from 69. And no remixing can fix what was recorded in the first place. But again the great performances help you forget about the sound . Also no live release has been treated with a big budget it seems, last time this was done was for the MSG afternoon show and MEmphis 74 FTD(?). So for the most part we are listening to what could be considered rough mixes with the faders up and sound balanced a bit. Thats what it sounds like anyway.

not expensive

Mon Nov 21, 2005 10:40 pm

JLGB

like Colin said sound mixing can be a subjective matter. I prefer the original sound on In Person because you can here what is there clearly with Elvis, drums and guitars having a nice balance. I agree with you that little effort seems to have been made on some releases since then. And no effort to treat Elvis' live legacy with respect in the mainstream catalogue. It's time this changed and EPE/BMG did something positive about it. It may have been ok 35 years ago to not worry about sound quality. But with every household now having DVD's/CD players and at least a pretty good sound system if not better then the consumer expects more. Particularly, when you consider how expensive FTD's are. It really isn't expensive anymore to work with tape/mixing desks. Just look at how many small sound studios have sprung up. My wifes band hired such a place for a day at a cost of #135 pounds. The resulting 5 song CD sounds far superior to much of the efforts released to date by FTD/BMG. Unless there are problems with the original tape source then I can't see any excuse for letting Elvis down this way. That's how it feels to me.

cheers Jamie

Mon Nov 21, 2005 11:11 pm

Well anything recorded from a little MD or DAT recorder and one mic can make a live audience recording better than most of those soundboards. So its not too fair to compare technology. But I agree with you that those Multi track live shows with more money in mixing/mastering will sound superb almost as if recorded yesterday. But that takes $$$$ and We can't expect that another remastered live Concert from Elvis will sell unless they take a gamble on ads and promotion like E1. Nobody knows...

Tue Nov 22, 2005 7:33 am

Jamie,

Your arguments are very well put. I couldn't agree with you more.

The 1969 recordings were recorded on 8 track reel to reel. When comparing LILV disc 1, to Elvis at the International, and All Shook Up, it's clear that LILV has more bass and the horns and strings are higher in the mix. But as we know, the piano is MIA. Elvis at the International and All Shook Up, have a " quick, rough mix from the session reels" type of feel. They have a cardboard, one-dimensional quality--very thin and anemic. These mixes sound like someone was asleep at the wheel. On "What'd I Say" from Elvis at the International FTD, there are portions where Burton's guitar solo is lower in volume than the "comping" instruments. Like Ferrante feel asleep at his digital workstation.

I can't understand why Ernst won't make DSD transfers of the 69 concerts and let professional audio engineers mix and master them. They could be so much better.

Tue Nov 22, 2005 9:28 am

let kevan do the live mixes!!!!! ferrante's suck!!!

Tue Nov 22, 2005 10:55 am

monkboughtlunch wrote:I can't understand why Ernst won't make DSD transfers of the 69 concerts and let professional audio engineers mix and master them. They could be so much better.


DSD technology is used to transfer original stereo mixes for later digital release, it is not a medium to do any sort of mixing. Most shows are remixed in the PCM realm as that's where the tools are available. Even if they would transfer the original stereo mixes from his live shows to DSD I'm sure there will be a bunch of people on here still complaining about why the show doesn't sound like it was recorded just yesterday.

Most live shows are just so subjective as they are recorded in sub-standard acoustic conditions to begin with and don't allow the recording engineer the same amount of control they would have in a studio. I'd rather see BMG use the latest mastering technology on preserving the original studio recordings than his live material, I mean how many DSD-mastered versions of Elvis doing "Teddy Bear" in the 1970's do we really need?

more Teddy Bear?

Tue Nov 22, 2005 3:44 pm

Thenexte,

not sure I agree with you there. Yes, the studio material is likely to reap greater rewards as the original recording is much more easily managed by the engineers. But I think the quality of the studio material is now very good to excellent with the odd exception. The same cannot be said about the live material. Vegas 69/70 and EOT/MSG 72 are just as important to Elvis legacy as the studio material. Elvis was a performer primarily which is why he so often recorded live in the studio - he played off the other musicians rather than putting down a guide vocal and over-dubbing later. As such his live material should be treated with the same dignity and respect.

I agree that some live material will be difficult to improve (Live in Memphis recorded on portal 4 track is a good example). But the material I refer to was recorded on at least 8 track reels and at each event CD's have come out that show quality and improvements can be made to mixes/mastering acheived so far. For example;

In Person is much clearer and sounds as though the individual instruments and vocals were well recorded. Subsequent releases on FTD in particular do sound like rough mix downs as Monk suggests with no real effort to achieve a professional finish - the Elvis fans are mugs and will buy anything syndrome seems to have prevailed.

The same can be said of Vegas Feb 70, August 70, Feb 72, EOT April 72 and MSG 72. Quality recording equipement was used and there already exists examples of where a good product was possible. With todays technology to clean up the original recordings modern live recordings are possible. Assuming no tape damage.

I think we are been let down on this front and am surprised that EPE/BMG do not think a properly marketed 72 recording complete with re-mix and video would not sell millions worldwide. By the looks of things we will have to await Ernst and the FTD label to release the original live albums again. But I don't look forward to this as the FTD track record on live mixes/mastering is frankly poor IMO. In fact I think no attempt was made to properly mix either the 69 recordings or Aug 70.

cheers Jamie

Tue Nov 22, 2005 4:52 pm

thenexte, If you do just a little bit of research you will find that DSD can be used recording multi tracks TRACK BY TRACK and mixing has been done for some time now.

Tue Nov 22, 2005 10:44 pm

JLGB wrote:thenexte, If you do just a little bit of research you will find that DSD can be used recording multi tracks TRACK BY TRACK and mixing has been done for some time now.


Yes, for new recordings done in DSD multi-channel this is an option (as mostly done in classical music), but transfers from analog tapes is a different story altogether, as most digital workstations are still PCM based today. It technically doesn't make much sense to mix something in DSD if it wasn't recorded in DSD to begin with. If you do a little research yourself you'll find that even the "Dark side of the moon" SACD was entirely transferred and mixed in PCM and only later the finished product was transferred to DSD to comply with the SACD specs.

Tue Nov 22, 2005 10:56 pm

Can it be done or not? That is the question. And the answer is yes. And PCM is also a good option and better than just transferring old mixes that can be IMPROVED. And by the way thenexte what should the record company do with the multi tracks? Let them rot? I think not!