There was a time when live albums were thought of in the same regard as studio albums. A time when every home in America had a copy of Frampton Comes Alive and every self respecting band needed at least one live album. Those days are behind us though as live albums are ever decreasing in popularity. What has sparked this change and will they ever make a comeback?
There are a whole host of reasons why live albums can be problematic. If we’re being completely honest with ourselves no live album can ever truly capture the feeling of being there, not unless someone develops some sort of virtual reality album. For one, most live releases are just a brief snapshot of concerts. Most bands are onstage for around 1-3 hours, of which about 45 minutes of which makes it onto an album. Sometimes you get the whole thing, but usually in the form of expensive box sets which can cost more than actually going to a concert. But that has always been the case, it doesn’t explain the sudden decline in popularity.
The two final nails in the coffin for live albums are advancing technology and changes in genre. These days concerts and people filming them on their phones go hand in hand. As phones get better and better these recordings get higher quality, so why buy a live album when YouTube is littered with concert footage from fellow fans. As for changing genre, most great live albums of the past were from rock and soul artists. Neither are the titans they once were. Modern music is dominated by pop and hip-hop which place less importance on live performances and often rely heavily on autotune and pre-recorded material.
Some big name rock acts like Bruce Springsteen, Rush and Pearl Jam try to fight a war by themselves by releasing more live albums than studio albums. Some bands are even working towards recording every live performance so fans can download the exact concert that they attended. However I think that they are fighting a losing battle. We seem to have entered a kind of self fulfilling prophecy where because we started looking down on live albums, they are no longer given the same attention as studio albums. I don’t think live albums will ever truly die out, but I doubt they’ll ever be as important and influential as they once were.