JEFF SCOTT SOTO 'Would Rather Retire' Than Lip Sync His Way Through A Concert

March 13, 2023

Acclaimed hard rock vocalist Jeff Scott Soto says that he doesn't see anything wrong with artists enhancing their show by using backing tracks during their concerts but he draws the line at singers lip syncing their entire 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.

Soto, who has toured and recorded with JOURNEY, Yngwie Malmsteen and SONS OF APOLLO, addressed some rock acts' reliance on pre-recorded tracks in a Cameo video message requested by the Syncin' Stanley YouTube channel. Asked for his opinion on singers who use backing tracks for their lead vocals, the singer said in part (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET); "It really is a controversial issue at the moment, and it's really strange that people are paying attention to it now more so than ever when there were way more bands doing it back in the '80s, especially when I was doing my stuff. We actually used a lot of backing tracks with EYES [1990], for instance. Nobody in the band actually had decent enough voices, and when I used to record those backing vocals, it was, like, 30, 40 tracks of backing vocals, and then you get these guys just kind of barely sputtering them out. The songs just sounded horrible without them. So we were doing all that stuff back then as well. We just used them for backing vocals; we never used them for lead vocals.

"I do understand there are a lot of bands that can't quite cut it, and so they use them. But there's also a lot of bands that feel like they wanna give the audience a little more of the experience of what they're expecting to hear if they can't quite sound like they're used to being them heard.

"I, to this day, still use backing tracks, but I use them mainly for keyboard things or horns or special effects or drum loops and tracks like that that kind of add and elaborate on the actual songs," Jeff admitted. "There have been times when we were rehearsing for a tour doing particular songs that have a lot of that stuff, and it just sounds empty — it just sounds like an empty shell. It's like having a Lamborghini car without the wheels and the steering wheel and everything; it's just a shell. So until you put all the bells and whistles in… And I don't like to use it where it's abrasive and too loud. I like to just kind of accentuate the song. So you kind of feel the song moving along without it missing all those pieces that you expect to hear. And if it were up to me, I would love to be afforded the luxury of going out with a 30-piece band — a bunch of background singers and string sections and keyboard players and extra guitar players — but obviously you can't. You can only do what you can. An artist at my level, we go out with three or four or five of us out there and we do the best we can. So I do like to kind of accentuate the tracks a little bit with these kind of missing pieces that we can't do live that we do in the studio.

"So I'm not against it," Soto added. "I know there are a lot of bands that are against it that would never do it. But then there are bands that kind of need it to get through their set. I'm kind of in the middle. I agree it's always best to be as good as you can be. A band like QUEEN, they had massive overdubs on all their songs, on every single song that they ever did back in the day, but they found a way to kind of manipulate it. And QUEEN were kind of two different machines — the live machine was totally different than the studio machine — and you accepted it. You didn't go to a show disappointed, going, 'Oh, where's all those big, luscious backing vocals and all the guitar harmonies that Brian May was doing?' You don't really miss all of that when you're able to kind of find a way to get through the songs without all that stuff.

"So, yeah, it's a personal-opinion thing. I personally am not against it," Jeff repeated. "I'm against it if you're going up there and lip syncing the entire concert and not singing anything; you're going up there basically saying you're gonna Britney Spears the whole show. Which, again, when you have someone like Britney Spears, she's more doing a show; there's more of the movement, the dancing and all that stuff. It's almost impossible to be able to sing and do all of that. So she's more, and a lot of artists are more, about the actual visual more than they are about how great they sound or how bad they might sound doing all that stuff.

"So that's my personal opinion on it. I'm not against it; I use it for my own little bits and pieces. But I would never, ever use backing tracks or like a vocal track to actually fake the fact that I'm not singing. That I'm totally against; I won't do that. I'd rather retire before I get to that."

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."

Last month, 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."

Find more on Journey
  • facebook
  • twitter
  • reddit
  • email

Comments Disclaimer And Information

BLABBERMOUTH.NET uses the Facebook Comments plugin to let people comment on content on the site using their Facebook account. The comments reside on Facebook servers and are not stored on BLABBERMOUTH.NET. To comment on a BLABBERMOUTH.NET story or review, you must be logged in to an active personal account on Facebook. Once you're logged in, you will be able to comment. User comments or postings do not reflect the viewpoint of BLABBERMOUTH.NET and BLABBERMOUTH.NET does not endorse, or guarantee the accuracy of, any user comment. To report spam or any abusive, obscene, defamatory, racist, homophobic or threatening comments, or anything that may violate any applicable laws, use the "Report to Facebook" and "Mark as spam" links that appear next to the comments themselves. To do so, click the downward arrow on the top-right corner of the Facebook comment (the arrow is invisible until you roll over it) and select the appropriate action. You can also send an e-mail to blabbermouthinbox(@) with pertinent details. BLABBERMOUTH.NET reserves the right to "hide" comments that may be considered offensive, illegal or inappropriate and to "ban" users that violate the site's Terms Of Service. Hidden comments will still appear to the user and to the user's Facebook friends. If a new comment is published from a "banned" user or contains a blacklisted word, this comment will automatically have limited visibility (the "banned" user's comments will only be visible to the user and the user's Facebook friends).