If you talk to people who don’t know anything about live professional performance, you’re likely to hear an opinion that “real musicians” don’t use backing tracks. But if you know anything at all about live performance, you know that’s just not true. Many of the world’s top performers use backing tracks.
What I can’t figure out is why this is such a taboo for local performers. Victoria and I watched ZZ Top last night, and I couldn’t help but notice that there was occasionally an extra guitar or an extra vocal part. Minor accents that were just enough to help complete the songs. Most people never notice these details, much less object to them. But many musicians think it’s somehow “cheating”.
I disagree. I think it’s the very definition of the word “professional” to do whatever you have to do to give your audience the best experience possible. Now, that’s not to say that I think musicians should lip sync. The performance should be as live as possible. But who really suffers if there are some extra vocal harmonies on a pre-recorded backing track, or a second guitar to add accents?
We’ve been thinking about using backing tracks with Windhaven. Sure, some day we’ll be able to afford to have five or six extra musicians on-stage to help us pull off the songs that we’ve recorded in the studio. But as long as we’re playing small venues for peanuts, we can’t afford that. If we’re going to bring the same level of performance to a small club, we have no choice but to use backing tracks. We were reluctant at first to approach it because so many of the musicians we know heap scorn upon the idea. But what brought us around (or me, at least), was hearing ZZ Top using backing tracks. If they’re good enough for ZZ Top, anyone who thinks there’s shame in it can kiss my ass (and Billy Gibbons’, too).
We haven’t figured out exactly how we’re going to use the backing tracks just yet – whether they’ll be extra vocals or maybe bass lines. But it’s pretty much a given at this point. So far the musicians we’ve most been able to rely upon to be consistent has been ourselves. So I’m excited by the prospects of getting to work more with us. Now we just have to figure out what we want to include in our backing tracks, and how to go about it.
In the end, this feels like a gift. A liberation. I’m looking forward to seeing where we can go with this.