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Let’s start with live music, the most familiar example of ‘live’:
- The live performance isn’t guaranteed: it might not work, the performance might be sub-par
- It costs more, often a lot more, to attend
- It only happens when the creator decides to make it available
- The audience is part of the process, in many ways co-creating the work
- Amplified live music always lower fidelity than the album
Pre-recorded music is perhaps 500 times more popular than live music, for these and other reasons. Five hundred!
The Grateful Dead made live music. Steely Dan didn’t. The Beatles started very much with live but ended up exclusively with polished, packaged perfection.
Of course, live music is more likely to create something that we talk about, years later. Because it’s scarce and risky.
The questions that are asked and the decisions you make to produce a fabulous live interaction have very little to do with the quality concerns and allocations you’ll make to produce something that scales and lasts. Confusing the two just frustrates all involved.
When you buy an HP printer, you’re buying a product, an industrialized artifact. Visit the Apple Store, and suddenly there’s a live element—one bad genius can ruin your entire experience. Zappos figured out how to turn online shoe-buying into a live performance by encouraging people to call and interact. Twitter is live, an online PDF is not. Every day this blog flies without a net, typos and all.
Consultants do most of their best work live (asking questions, innovating answers) while novelists virtually never do their work live.
For the creator, live carries more than a whiff of danger. For the perfectionist, the luxury of editing and polishing is magical. And for the consumer, the reliability and sheen of the pre-tested product provides a solace that she just can’t get from the dangerous, risky business of consuming it live.
Some non-profits spend their time seeking out the tested, perfect scalable solution–not live. Others do their work in the moment, in the field, live.
The fork in the road is right here. Taking your work live is energizing, invigorating and insanely risky. You give up the legacy of the backlist, the scalability of inventory and the assurance of editing. It’s an entirely different way of being in the world. Scale and impact can certainly come from creating your best work and sharing it in a reliable way. On the other hand, if you’re going to be live, then yes, do it live.
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