March 14, 2014

Hey bands, put down that backing track!

A treatise on backing tracks

 If you are in a rock band, and you’re playing to backing tracks while playing live… you’re doing it wrong. Way wrong.

This may ruffle some feathers, but this has bothered me for some time now, and is becoming disturbingly more common in the local scene.  If you’ve been to a live show recently, I’m sure you’ve heard it, whether you’re aware of it or not.  How are there 3 sets of vocals coming through, and only one guys singing?  I heard a melodic guitar part, but the guitarists are just playing power chords?  Wha?

How and why did this trend start?  When I hear a backing being played on stage, I immediately think two things: one, this band is not capable (or unwilling to put in the effort) of playing their own music live, two, this song must really stink.

Good songs should be able to stand on their own, without all the studio fluff.  If it can’t, and you really need that harmony part, or that dub-step backing beat, FIGURE OUT HOW TO PLAY IT!  Recompose, add another player, do something…anything.

Backing tracks also kill the spontaneity of a live performance; the best part about music!  I love watching live shows because you never know what’s going to happen.  Will the band screw up?  Will they add something interesting?  Turn that favorite metal song of yours into a soft ballad, pump up that acoustic interlude into something skull crushing?
No no no!

The moment you hit play on that backing track, you’re locked in.  There’s no deviation, there’s no surprises.  I’ve got a better idea, how about you guys just stand on stage and just let the album play from your iPod.  If you’re looking for perfection, it won’t get any more perfect than the studio album right?  Just stand on stage while we, the fans, watch, and listen to those 80 layers of pristine guitar tone with 5 double-double tracked and auto-tuned vocals.

The best musical moments occur when something random happens.  Something that showcases the talent of the musicians on stage, highlighting their ability to adapt and you know…make music.  Music is intended to relay feelings and ideas to the listener and when it becomes mechanical, it just looks so phony and plastic.

“But our music is so complex and layered, all those tracks add to the dynamic!” Go listen to some live Queen performances and get back to me.  Those guys adapted all their songs to sound amazing live (and flawless to boot).

As a fan though, I don’t need perfection; I just want a little effort.

So to answer my first question, who did this trend start?  I don’t know, I’m sure there’s a complex answer there somewhere; about the corporatization of modern music, short attention span of listeners, etc. etc

Meh, the short answer?  I blame Linkin Park.

JR

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