It feels like pre-recorded backing tracks have always gotten a bad rap. Ever since the Milli Vanilli lip-sync scandal, back in the late 1980’s, performing to tracks has raised eyebrows. I can practically hear the critics yelling out, “Fakers!” “Posers!” “Boo!”…especially in the rock and metal world, but HOLD ON…there’s a lot more to the story than that.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of hiring an act that plays with tracks versus having a fully live band. Hiring a cover band is a personal preference. Are you looking for a rock band? Jazz? R&B? Funk? String Quartet? A Top 40, rock-it-all-night, dance-till-you-drop band with costume changes? The choices are endless. Common among certain genres is that with a specific set of instrumentation, the band is limited to what they can play and still make it sound like the hits that we all know and love.
Like or not, here’s a hard, cold truth. Cover bands are not going to travel with four keyboard players as Lady Gaga has been known to do. Nor will AC/DC use a real church bell whenever they perform Hell’s Bells, it’s most likely going to be a prop. It’s well known that the band RUSH has been using MIDI tracks practically since their invention. Replicating live what was recorded in the studio is what backing tracks were made for!
Cover bands are getting better because they can use the tracks to fill a part of the song that they can’t perform, or lack the musician to play a specialized instrument. Music tracks are meant to enhance and provide a fuller sound. They also add more flexibility to the group’s song repertoire without adding band members. Last, but not least, track bands are also an alternative option for clients that don’t have the budget for a 16-piece band but desire a fuller sound.
A client asked me recently for a good looking young “group” and did not care if they actually played their instruments- they just wanted a look! OK, we can do that…. If that’s what you want. Some track bands are not much more than a DJ using a drummer and a singer playing over karaoke tracks.
All that being said, we are not advocating for acts that lip sync like the said “villains” we’ve mentioned …
There is a time and a place to use backing tracks. In fact there are MANY acts who purposely created themselves using backing tracks, take ROCKESTRA for example!
A client of ours once told us of an experience they had when an act they booked (unbeknownst to her) used vocal backing tracks. When the lead singer turned to say something to another band member, and the client happened to look right at him and could hear his voice singing- when he wasn’t, they flipped out! We can’t blame them… but it was something easily avoided with transparency in the beginning.
In another setting, a different band, had replaced a keyboard player, with someone who was NOT a musician, another time a bass player was faked. We noticed this and believe this is a deceptive practice. Bravo will not recommend certain acts if we know them to be deceptively using tracks.
Done well, tracks enhance the performance experience. The important part is to understand what you are getting when you hire a group.
We suggest that our clients (whenever possible) go out and see a band 3−4 times LIVE before they hire them for a special event or wedding. Why? You can get a good read on the full range of performance, and you will understand when they use a track and when they don’t. No surprises. If you can’t go and see a band live then checking references and looking on line (Facebook, Yelp and not just event-centric websites) for negative comments is a good idea- if you don’t find any after a diligent search that’s a good sign. The best plan is to use an entertainment professional who should be upfront about any act’s use of tracks.
The bottom line is to be sure that you are getting the band experience that you want. If you want to procure the best acts, work with a professional entertainment producer who knows who is great, who is not, who’s for real and who is lip syncing or faking it.
If you’re a music aficionado, perhaps you won’t like a group that uses a lot of tracks, but if you’re looking for a group that can perform a broad range of music and will keep your guests happy dancing then bands with tracks, properly done can be a great option.
So…to track or not to track? My preference is for the band to keep it as real as possible. Yet, only you can answer that question for your next event!
Need some advice about booking a band? Feel free to call BRAVO! anytime!