HALESTORM‘s Lzzy Hale has encouraged young musicians to perform live without the aid of backing tracks, calling it “the most real, pure feeling you can get in this life.”
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.
On Friday (February 19), Hale took to her Instagram to write: “To perform a live rock show… no tracks, no click, no lip syncing, no trickery… is the most Real, pure feeling you can get in this life. To hold the moment in your hand, to know in your bones that this could be magic or a train wreck , depending on how you’ve prepared and the risk you take being on stage… and then trusting in your soul to perform.. that is LIVING in its purest form. I encourage every young musician to Expose themselves in this way. Know what it’s like to have the room depend on you to elevate it. Play in front of a room filled with two people and the sound guy… make it sound like u are performing to a stadium instead. It’s the most beautiful way to find yourself as an artist. Because if you can do all these things and then make it to playing to stadiums and major festivals, that FEELING is an intangible void that cannot be filled with anything on this earth. Can’t wait to get back to this very soon!”
This is not the first time Lzzy has spoken out against using backing tracks to enhance her band’s live performances. Last June, she told “Offstage With DWP” about HALESTORM‘s insistence on performing completely live: “We do it more selfishly, not necessarily as a statement. But it has kind of become this interesting statement. We’re very proud of that. But also, just again selfishly, I don’t think I’d enjoy myself. I’ve guested with people — I’ve dueted with people and got up onstage where they have those things and I can hear it in my in-ear monitors — and some of it is, like, ‘Chorus in one, two, three, four…’ I’m, like, ‘Oh my gosh! This would drive me nuts.’ And also, I would rather have us sound imperfect than have somebody figure out that I’m miming, or a shaker goes awry — ‘Where’s the tambourine coming from?’
“I’m not a fan of when I find out my favorite bands do that,” she continued. “And, like I said, I’m not knocking anybody who does it — you do you. But for us, that’s just not our M.O. And there’s nothing more fun that going out on stage and knowing that you’re responsible for either we’re gonna be tight, we’re gonna be loose, something’s gonna go wrong, we’re gonna have to pull the train back onto the tracks, but that’s cause we’re listening to each other.
“And also, if we weren’t actually playing, we would just get worse as musicians,” she added. “We’ve been to shows where somebody’s computer went down — the tracks are no longer there — and then they don’t play anymore. And we’re, like, ‘Can’t you just plug the instruments in?’
“I honestly think you would get so used to kind of like doing a music video and just miming along that maybe you can’t [play live] anymore. So we’ve become better musicians because we challenge ourselves in that way.”
Last March, 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.”