^ Gutbucket, while I'll agree with all of that in general terms, I will say it doesn't work for all situations. I'm always recording music with a relatively wide dynamic range, and when there is loud applause between numbers closer to the mics, that interferes with raising the level of the overall concert to where the softer sections are even at a listenable level when the amp level is cranked at output. The applause peaks leave little room for overall level raising through normalization, which is why I almost always need to apply limiting first to knock those areas down, which will then allow me to normalize to the loudest musical peak. In other words, normalization on its own in such a situation does nothing.
Now, to be fair I don't really use a straight hard limiter, which does introduce artifacts as you say - I start with default "hard" limit settings and then soften by ear to where it's still doing its job aggressively enough without audible artifacts. I also try to never apply limiting to the music, and if I do it's on a very narrow stray percussive peak or something like that. Maybe that seems like a cumbersome way to do it, but it works for me.