DAVID ELLEFSON On Bands Relying On Backing Tracks During Concerts: 'If You Need It For Your Show, Use 'Em'December 18, 2022
Former MEGADETH bassist David Ellefson 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 about some rock acts' reliance on pre-recorded tracks, Ellefson said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "I think most of my friends in the big groups who are out touring are doing the best they can to sing and play to provide a top-level show. I'm not so concerned about friends my age and older who are out playing huge legacy shows, because people wanna hear them [sounding] great. They're paying big money. Same way [when] you go to Las Vegas and see a show, you expect top-notch entertainment, and that's what I think they're doing. What I find really odd is young bands who are playing everything sort of in the box, if you will, with digital processors rather than amplifiers, running backing tracks, in-ears. I find that's a little stranger in a small club, to hear a band that has all their backing tracks. Some bands, they need it, 'cause it's part of their show; it's part of their schtick. But I find it's interesting that younger bands are doing it more than legacy bands. So I think rather than focus on a couple of legacy bands who have come out and said, 'Hey, we're running track so we can make our vocals the best they can be,' hey, God bless 'em. They were forthright. You know what you're getting. They're not hiding anything. But young bands that are doing different theatrical things, running tape, it's not even a bad thing; it's just part of their show. They've set the tone from the beginning, that, 'Hey, we wear costumes. We wear outfits and different things. And we run backing tracks.'"
Ellefson added: "So, that's my opinion on backing tracks. If you need it for your show, use 'em. If you don't, don't use 'em. It's entertainment. It's show business. You're selling a ticket to a customer, a fan who is expecting top-notch entertainment.
"So, there you have it. That's my view."
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 used 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."
KISS lead singer 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."
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