Former DOKKEN and current FOREIGNER bassist Jeff Pilson has weighed in on bands who rely heavily on pre-recorded tracks during their live performances.
In recent years, more and more artists have been given a pass for relying on pre-recorded tracks, drum triggers and other assorted technology that makes concerts more synthetic but also more consistent. For better or worse, pre-recorded tracks are becoming increasingly common for touring artists of all levels and genres and they’re not just used in pop music — many rock artists utilize playback tracks to varying degrees.
Speaking to the The Logan Show, Jeff was asked for his opinion on rock bands who use pre-recorded tracks. He responded (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): “Well, the problem about it is that people don’t mind it anymore. Think about just — what? — 30, 34 years ago or whatever, MILLI VANILLI lost their career over it, and I would say one of them probably committed suicide as a result years down the line. So look at how far people have come in the acceptance of it. And that, to me, is — I wouldn’t call it a problem, but it’s an indicator that people have accepted this kind of glamorized version of live music that’s really about replicating a recording than it is about giving you an organic live performance.”
He continued: “And what is my feeling on it? Well, my feeling is I’ve insisted from day one, since I became the musical director of FOREIGNER, no tracks — absolutely no tracks. And I’m really glad we’ve done that, because I do believe that one of the reasons that FOREIGNERhas been successful is that, yeah, we’re a great band, I’ve gotta say, with an amazing catalog of songs. But because we’re real, I think people pick up on that. And that’s why we’ve continued to grow over the last 20 years, and I really feel that’s a lot of it. We have dedicated fans and a lot of times they’ll say, ‘Man, the fact that you guys go up there and do it for real, that’s what’s great.’ So I think there is a market for it. I think it’s a benchmark that bands should shoot for, and I hope they do.”
Pilson added: “I’ve heard some bands very tastefully use tracks. I mean, I have. And it can be done in a way that I think is cool. It’s just that when I wanna see a rock band, I wanna see a rock band — the more dirty and nasty, the better. And tracks, I can hear the record. That’s just my feeling. But, again, I think the fact that FOREIGNER‘s never done that and never will while I’m connected with it, I think that speaks volumes for the integrity that playing live for real gives you. And maybe there will be a backlash on that after a while too. I don’t know. I hope so. I hope there’s a total rebellion to AI, to playing tracks, to all that crap. But it would have to happen… Some young band has gotta come out who is just raw as GUNS N’ ROSES and THE STOOGES or something, something really raw that comes out that’s very real, that’s very anti all that stuff, but they’re amazing writers and they write amazing songs. If that happens, there could be a backlash. So let’s start looking for that band.”
KISS frontman Paul Stanley, who has been struggling to hit the high notes in many of the band’s classic songs for a number of years, has been accused of singing to a backing tape on KISS‘s recently completed “End Of The Road” tour.
Back in 2015, KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons slammed bands who used backing tapes for not being honest enough to include that fact on their concert tickets.
“I have a problem when you charge $100 to see a live show and the artist uses backing tracks,” Simmons said. “It’s like the ingredients in food. If the first ingredient on the label is sugar, that’s at least honest. It should be on every ticket — you’re paying $100, 30 to 50 percent of the show is [on] backing tracks and they’ll sing sometimes, sometimes they’ll lip sync. At least be honest. It’s not about backing tracks, it’s about dishonesty.
“There’s nobody with a synthesizer on our stage, there’s no samples on the drums, there’s nothing,” Gene continued. “There’s very few bands who do that now — AC/DC, METALLICA, us. I can’t even say that about U2 or THE [ROLLING] STONES. There’s very few bands who don’t use [backing] tracks.”
This past March, KISS‘s longtime manager Doc McGhee defended Stanley‘s vocal performance on “End Of The Road”, explaining that the “Star Child” “fully sings to every song” at every concert. He explained: It’s enhanced. It’s just part of the process to make sure that everybody hears the songs the way they should be sang to begin with. Nobody wants to hear people do stuff that’s not real, that’s not what they came to hear.”
When McGhee was asked to clarify if he was “actually saying there are backing tracks that [Paul is] singing to,” Doc said: “He’ll sing to tracks. It’s all part of a process. Because everybody wants to hear everybody sing. But he fully sings to every song.”
In March 2020, SHINEDOWN guitarist Zach Myers said that “90 percent” of rock artists use at least some pre-recorded tracks during their live performances. He told Rock Feed: “It bothers me that it bothers people. I’m, like, ‘Why does this bother you?’ It’s the way it is. People have been doing this since the ’80s. And we want the sound to be the best it can be. Could we go up there, just the four of us, and put on the best rock show ever? Of course. But that’s not how we wanna do it.”
Former SKID ROW singer Sebastian Bach has previously said that he is “one of the last people” who are still not using pre-recorded tracks at their live shows. “I don’t know how much longer I can say to you that I don’t use tapes onstage, because I don’t, and I never have,” he told Consequence Of Sound. “And I still don’t. When I have opening bands, and they’re using tapes, and then I come out and I don’t use tapes… sometimes, it makes me feel stupid, because I’m like, ‘What am I doing, when all these kids half my age can come onstage and do all of my moves, but they don’t have to warm up for an hour before the show, or weeks, before the first show?’ Sometimes, I’m like, ‘Why do I even bother, if the public is so used to this other way?’ It’s becoming very rare to come see a good band that’s actually a real band — that’s not miming or doing silly moves while a tape is running. It just becomes more rare as the years go on.”
In 2019, IRON MAIDEN guitarist Adrian Smith said that he doesn’t “agree” with certain rock artists relying on pre-recorded tracks during their live performances. “I tell you what, I see it with a lot of younger bands, and I don’t think it’s a good thing at all,” he told the New York Post. “I mean, the music is getting too technical now. You have computerized recording systems, which we use, but I think we use them more for convenience than because we need to. We’ve toured with a couple bands that use tapes — it’s not real. You’re supposed to play live; it should be live. I don’t agree with using tapes … I think it’s a real shame.”
One musician who has been open about his band’s use of taped vocals during live performances is MÖTLEY CRÜE bassist Nikki Sixx, who said: “We’ve used technology since ’87.” He added the group employed “sequencers, sub tones, background vox tracks, plus background singers and us. [MÖTLEY CRÜE also taped] stuff we can’t tour with, like cello parts in ballads, etc…. We love it and don’t hide it. It’s a great tool to fill out the sound.”
In a 2014 interview, MÖTLEY CRÜE guitarist Mick Mars admitted that he wasn’t comfortable with the fact that his band used pre-recorded backing vocals in its live shows, claiming that he preferred to watch groups whose performances are delivered entirely live. “I don’t like it,” he said. “I think a band like ours… I have to say ’60s bands were my favorite — ’60s and ’70s bands — because they were real, like, three-piece bands or four-piece bands, and they just got up there and kicked it up. Made a mistake? So what? Sounded a little bit empty here or there? So what? It’s the bigness and the rawness and the people that developed and wrote the songs and made them and presented them. To me, that’s what I really like. I mean, I could put on a MÖTLEY CD and play with it all day long. I don’t wanna do that.”
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