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Backing tracks

Discussion in 'Live Sound [BG]' started by jimmyb, Feb 1, 2017.

  1. jimmyb

    jimmyb An Avid Indoorsman Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2003
    Elkton, MD
    I'm leading a classic rock cover band.
    We auditioned a couple drummers. Settled on a slick Los Angeles transplant and started getting to work. As he started to feel comfortable, he suggested we use some backing tracks in our sets. (Horns/keys/backing vocals).
    With some adjustments, I must admit, it does sound good. Really good.
    Using maybe 10 songs out of a 40 song setlist.
    Let's us play songs we couldn't pull off b4 and really opens up lots of possibilities.
    But I'm not gonna lie, it feels like cheating. Guitar player hates em. Says we are a karaoke band.
    Opinions split down the middle.
    I know pro bands use em... But where is the line between adding to ur live sound and being Millie Vanillie?
    What say u?
  2. Daedraziel


    Aug 19, 2013
    Toms River NJ
    Sometimes the tracks are absolutely needed to do certain songs well. Although, being in the cover band scene for years, I can honestly say that it does have a stigma attached to it. When its not done perfectly, it sounds terrible (like a karaoke band as you said) and other musicians hate it on instinct...not that you should give a damn. I'm of the opinion that they should NOT be used to plug the gaps in your bands' abilities. If you need the keys, the sax, the horns, the backup vocals, get the players or find a workaround.

    I did sound for a cellist, drummer, and guitarist original indie rock band not long ago that used backing tracks for most of the show. Bunch of young college kids who did a fantastic job who added only what was needed to the tracks. It was easy to mix as well, but they needed it for their "sound"
    Obese Chess likes this.
  3. Bodeanly


    Mar 20, 2015
    Your average audience member won't care and will probably think it sounds great. Your average musician might agree with the "cheating" part. I am starting to come around. Some songs have that signature sound or sequence that either A, cannot be replicated by an existing instrument or B, is not worth the trouble of hiring another musician to create for just one song (in your case, 10 songs). I draw the line at vocal BT or adding a "guitar" during a lead because the bass can't fill the gaps. To me, the gaps are part of live music.
    FunkyD, Obese Chess and tfer like this.
  4. tfer


    Jan 1, 2014
    Yes. Professional, big name bands do it.

    No. I don't think it's right.

    As a listener, I love live music. If I go and see a band, and a few parts are missing, or need to have different arrangements, I happily accept that as part of the compromise.

    As a bassist, I'd be terrified of the inevitable train wreck. Tape/digital media is as dumb as a rock. It doesn't care that the tempo might be slightly off, or that the singer forgot to sing the bridge, and went directly into the chorus. As a musician, it would take a split second to correct the situation and move forward. The backing track doesn't care about any of that.

    In a perfect situation, it will open any door you like it to. Your instrumentation is unlimited. But they aren't for me.
  5. seamonkey


    Aug 6, 2004
    Naw - for digital, Plugins can follow tempo variations, and all the things a conductor might do can be done, loop again over solos, or skip ahead to the next section, or jump to an ending, vamp on a section until a queue, ... welcome to 2017
  6. tfer


    Jan 1, 2014
    Well. Continue on then!!
  7. Obese Chess

    Obese Chess Spicy Big Dad Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2005
    Portland, OR
    We use them. We have two guitarists but most of our recorded songs have 3-4 guitar parts going at any given time, mostly ambient layers in the background that are very low in the mix. That kind of stuff, sound effects, 808 drops, etc, all goes into a backing track - basically, everything that two guitarists can't physically play at the same time but is ESSENTIAL to the way the song SOUNDS is put in as a backing track. I draw a distinction between "essential to the way the song sounds" and "is part of the record," for what it's worth. Keyboard track that exists for the last 30-40 seconds of one song? Essential to the way the song sounds. Extra rhythm guitar track during dual-guitar solos? Not as essential.

    And we sound REALLY good live IMO.

    If we were using their solos, harmonies, or anything else as a backing track, or any of our vocalist's parts, and mocking like we were playing them, then we'd be in Milli Vanilli territory. To me, backing tracks are only cheating when they're used to cover up gaps in peoples' abilities as musicians or performers and/or when the people on stage are pretending to do/play stuff that's clearly pre-recorded.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2017
    jsolberg likes this.
  8. I used them for several years in a (5) pc Wedding/Corporate Band so we could sound like a (10) pc act.
    No one ever complained, in fact we got tons of compliments,
    The band was extremely tight and the vocals were spot-on.
    To me at least those are much more important factors..

    Bands are in the Entertainment business (at least I think so..)
    If tracks help your act sound better & allow more people to enjoy the show what more is there?..
    ShadowImage, Remyd and Obese Chess like this.
  9. Remyd


    Apr 2, 2014
    St. Louis, MO
    Sub'd - I have been thinking about recording some piano tracks to play bass over so I could expand my solo stuff.
  10. ShadowImage

    ShadowImage Guest

    Jan 12, 2016
    One of my bands performs with backing tracks and one doesn't.
    Last gig without backing tracks, the drummer was drunk and the tempo was all over the place. Listening to the recordings of the gig, it was very disappointing. I prefer the band WITH the backing tracks.
    Backing tracks allow you to focus on perfecting your instrument/voice and not worrying about timing, tempo, or composition. In a perfect world, each musician would have the tempo and comp down and be able to perfect their tone, pitch and technique but we need a little help to get there.
    Personally I'm not watching a live act to see how well they can keep in time, make changes or alternate compositions. I'm interested in their technique and tone and voicing, so backing tracks are great for that.

    As to comments about inevitable disasters, this is why I use only solid state backing track equipment. It's no more prone to disasters than your amp dying mid song or breaking a string. Yes it can happen but you rehearse and use quality gear so it is very unlikely. You also have backups and ensure you can perform without pieces of your gear in the chance it does happen.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2017
    craigie, jsolberg, colantalas and 2 others like this.
  11. Back tracks are fine. Most would agree it's difficult to tour with 30 extra members that play for 15 second pieces in a couple of songs.
    ShadowImage and Obese Chess like this.
  12. Ulf_Hansson


    Apr 15, 2014
    As others have implied, it depends on the band, music and type of gig.

    I would definitely _not_ call it cheating. Using backing tracks requires all to really focus and make sure to follow the form and keep the tempo (whatever 2017 plug-ins there may be to make the computer follow a drunk singer...). In some of the bands I play in we use backing tracks for songs where it really works and on some other songs just a click or subtle percussion loop. I kind of like it. Then on other songs (and with other bands) we might just rock out and go with the flow.

    For some reason the backing track songs tend to be in the middle of the sets. I guess we want to make sure the sound and monitor levels are set before letting the computer join the show. And at the end we like to play the high energy songs where we might want to add a few choruses or having guest appearances etc.
  13. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    i've 'produced' tracks for several bands/productions and they were integral to the performance. the tracks enhanced. they were easy to 'mix in'. i currently play in two horn bands, neither one uses tracks. IMO: it's not cheating (takes a lot of skill to use correctly). i'm of the opinion that it doesn't make any difference one way or the other: when used expertly, tracks can be valuable and they can make a difference. some acts should use them!
  14. Turock


    Apr 30, 2000
    It's cheating.
  15. Jay Corwin

    Jay Corwin Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    Sanborn, NY
    I guess I'm part of the get off my lawn crowd when it comes to this stuff. To me it's on the same level as those pop-star tours where they are just miming to the studio track. If I want to hear pre recorded tracks, I'll play the record.

    If you're doing it in a top 40 cover band, then I guess who cares. In those instances the crowd probably doesn't care, and can't tell the difference. I don't think anyone gets into the cover band game for artistic expression anyway. If everyone is having a good time, what's the harm?

    The big names acts that do it...yeah that's cheating. The technology really has advanced to the point that even if you can barely play or sing, they can polish it up and make it seem as though you are uber talented anyway. For the most part again though, the average public are going to eat whatever they are offered up in the mainstream regardless of its artistic merit.

    There's a great Tom Petty quote he gives in an interview where the topic is about the heartbreakers still live tracking together as a unit in the studio for the majority of the recorded material. The interviewer asks him why he thinks more bands don't do that much anymore, and his is answer is "because they can't play" with a chuckle.

    Give me a live band for what they are worth, worts and all. And get off my lawn.
  16. seamonkey


    Aug 6, 2004
    It was common that for recordings the core members of the band would play all the parts. Recording tracks separately, doing harmony solos, extra vocals ...
    When they played live there was a bunch of musicians on stage or off stage filling in these parts. I don't really care about the other musicians. They got no credit on the recording.
    Now, the core members of the band record backing tracks, and use them live.
    The music is better.
    Obese Chess likes this.
  17. Obese Chess

    Obese Chess Spicy Big Dad Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2005
    Portland, OR
    We seem to be talking about two separate uses of backing tracks and I don't think it's accurate to refer to them all as cheating. For the "it's all cheating" crowd, I totally agree that, when used to cover up flaws in someone's ability, especially when they're mimicking performing the content of the backing track, it's cheating. But to the degree that there are extra parts of a song that can't be played at the same time by the core band members, or using a backing rhythm guitar track to thicken the sound of the band during a guitar solo, adding ambiance or other effects, that sort of thing - how is that cheating?

    I ask this in good faith because I just don't understand the viewpoint that the latter examples are cheating. I don't expect to change my mind but I'm curious as to why y'all feel that way. :)
  18. jimmyb

    jimmyb An Avid Indoorsman Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2003
    Elkton, MD
    I can say this.... I never thought I would be playing live to a recording. And I kind understand my guitar players thinking. Then we go into "sweet emotion" using some of the percussion as well as ambient sounds, and it's really hard to argue against using them. Helps us sound very good
    Afc70 and Obese Chess like this.
  19. s0c9

    s0c9 Supporting Member

    Jan 9, 2014
    1964 Audio artist, Fractal Audio Beta Tester
    yeah, but everyone knows you are using tracks.. ;)
    One band I was in. .I played the sax lead on "Turn the Page" and also the guitar parts - being the only guitar in the band. Did NOT play bass back then.. I often got asked if we used tracks (cheated), because the audience figured out that there wasn't a saxophone on the stage.
    I would politely point to the Roland GR33 on the floor and tell 'em it was magic. :cool:
    Yes, I PLAYED the parts.. on guitar.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2017
    tfer likes this.
  20. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    I would prefer to hear a sparce arrangement than have backing tracks. A keyboard comping is as far as I would go.
    Hoochie Coochie Man and tfer like this.
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