MUDVAYNE and HELLYEAH singer Chad Gray 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 Syncin’ Stanley YouTube channel, Chad was asked if he would ever rely on pre-recorded tracks. He responded (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): “No, I wouldn’t. We used to do the opening of [HELLYEAH‘s] ‘Human’ that was an actual track, and I sang over that and then it stopped or whatever. But there was no backing vocals. I really wasn’t into it. I had a conversation with Vinnie [Paul Abbott, then-HELLYEAH drummer]. I’m, like, ‘We’re a killer band. We could write a musical part,’ blah, blah, blah, blah. It was an argument I lost.
“I think it’s an epidemic, man,” he continued. “I really do. I think it’s crazy that what’s happened in the past happened in the past, like the MILLI VANILLIs of the world. That band was fucking dead the second they did that. [Editor’s note: MILLI VANILLI was caught lip syncing on stage] Ashlee Simpson, when she did what she did on ‘Saturday Night Live’ [was busted lip syncing on the show], that girl was absolutely lambasted, like she was the goddamn devil and all the things.
“There’s so many huge artists that do it or whatever, and it’s really frustrating, coming from a dude that doesn’t do it. I would never have backing vocals or lead vocals, and I know that people do lead vocals and stuff. I’ve actually toured with bands where I’ve watched their soundcheck and there’s so much goddamn track coming down the pike, it’s like — it sounds like the album. It’s crazy. Vocals, guitars, guitar overdubs, everything. It’s insane. But there’s a part of it, like, I kind of feel like, do you wanna come to a venue, spend good money and listen to my record? You know what I mean? Or do you want to come and listen to the music live? Which means missing notes, you’re not hitting every note, it means dropping lyrics, it means missing guitar notes, it means missing drum beats. It’s the human element. And it’s really frustrating to me because people are paying good money to go and see their favorite bands play songs that they love and they’re not getting that. They’re getting shafted, I think, honestly.
“If you can’t sing your shit and you can’t play your shit, your music, then why the fuck are you onstage?” Gray asked. “You’re not doing anything that anybody else can’t do. There’s nothing special about what you’re doing, and you can do anything in the studio, so… Again, I’ve seen bands where their tape stops and it’s absolutely fucking atrocious. It doesn’t sound even remotely close to anything. And I have some friends that do actually do it, but they do it, again, with musical parts or whatever. It’s not this blatant, you know, backing vocals or lead vocals.
“It’s very frustrating, and I’ve been wanting to speak out on this,” Chad added. “I actually just did an interview last week that I need to edit and get put up. But it’s basically talking about this exact same thing. It’s ridiculous. There’s so many great real bands out there, man. Every band that I am a fan of didn’t do this shit. You think about the METALLICAs, the SLAYERs, the PANTERAs — the old-school PANTERAs with Vinnie and Dime [‘Dimebag’ Darrell Abbott]. [Look at] fucking LAMB OF GOD. They’re real bands doing real shit. But, yeah, I absolutely am sick of it and I think that motherfuckers that don’t play their shit shouldn’t be allowed to play. I don’t think you should be allowed to take someone’s money, ’cause you’re not playing your shit. That’s my two cents.”
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 ongoing “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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