This is a question that is often asked by people in relation to art in general, and more often than not, in relation to music. Quite why people should ask that is possibly a more interesting question. Maybe it's something to do with the commercialisation of a large number of aspects of our life, including art.
Anyhoo, recently Mr Norman Lamont (yes, the same of "The Wright Brothers" fame), posted on his blog to the effect that he had a thin crowd at one of his "Waveforms" gigs. To those of you who don't know, they consist of instrumental pieces that are played on a guitar, and looped to build layers of sound, with effects added. They're also semi-improvised.
Jim "Hairy Legs" Igoe commented to the effect that he was sorry he'd missed the gig, but that he'd be willing to pay to hear a performance in future. That set me thinking: would I be willing to pay for the same? I came to the conclusion that I wouldn't be. But why?
After pondering it for a while, I had a few realisations. I've listened to Norm's waveforms in two different (free) venues, The Beanscene and St John's Church, at the west end. When I say "listened" in this sense, I mean they provided pleasant background music, and didn't occupy the whole of your attention. Which is perfectly fine, especially in those venues. The vast echo of St John's in particular gave them an epic quality.
But, to cut to the chase, what I really like about Norm's playing is his ability to connect with an audience, to beautifully turn a witty line in one of his songs, the banter with the crowd, the unique way he sings, the whole general emoting. None of that is present in Waveforms with what is, essentially, a guy fiddling with his loop pedals, pleasant and well-executed though that may be. Hell, I could probably do something interesting myself on a loop station and guitar. But there's no way I could do what Norman does when he plays his "normal" set live, as that is unique. And that's why I wouldn't pay for Waveforms, but why I have paid for his live performances and CD's.
But, as I said at the beginning, that doesn't mean that they didn't work in context; they did, and in a way that a more traditional "live" performance may have jarred somewhat.