Are backing tracks killing live music?
August 23, 2013 6:18 AM   Subscribe

So does any of this matter to the most important people in the equation, the audience? Live shows sound great these days, that's for sure. How could they not, with bands of our era being able to play along to studio-quality backing tracks through more powerful and more accurate PA systems than ever before? To me it boils down to what audiences really expect from a live performance. What is the point of seeing a band, or act, live?

J. Willgoose, Esq., of Public Service Broadcasting (previously), writes about the role of backing tracks in live performances.

This was then mangled in The Independent, prompting a more measured response from Sonic Boom Six's Barney Boom.
posted by smcg (91 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
The point of seeing a band live is to stand the whole time making a jiggly video on your smartphone. #getoffmylawn.
posted by birdherder at 6:27 AM on August 23, 2013 [21 favorites]


What is the point of seeing a band, or act, live?

Well, according certain members of the digerati, performing live is the only legitimate way through which a musician should expect to make a living, so I guess you'd want to put your money where your mouth is and take in a few live shows now and then.

As for backing tracks...this is nothing new. Hell, back in the day, Electric Light Orchestra were discovered to have been lip-syncing their entire album onstage during one tour.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:34 AM on August 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


I generally don't go see live shows (I'm short, and find masses of people exhausting), but the last one I did see was Jeff Mangum in 2011. At one point, he climbed offstage with his guitar and we all sat in a circle around him like a bunch of preschoolers while he chatted with and serenaded us.

In my opinion, all live shows should contain a storytelling portion. Otherwise, meh, I could take them or leave them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:44 AM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


A lot of good points made in this article but there's one statement about electronic music that is just weird and wrong:

"One of the reasons I got so frustrated with going to see electronic acts was that - apart from the fact that the visual spectacle on offer quite often descended into man-checking-his-emails-on-stage - you really have no musical engagement with what's going on in front of you."

And, shortly after praising deadmau5 for his candor about the whole thing:

"But deadmau5 is speaking about the world of electronic dance music..." (emphasis mine)

You figure out what you're supposed to be doing at an electronic act yet, buddy? I mean probably not considering the word 'dance' comes up in your entire article once.

I follow the hell out of electronic music. There's a lot of touring artists you can't dance to, so, yeah, maybe there should be some spectacle there (looking at you Luke Vibert, looking at you Squarepusher ca. 2004.) But I feel like this guy isn't talking about IDM or glitch or whatever. He's talking about the EDM equivalents of four guitarists and a drummer; big acts that draw lots of people and lots of energy. And what do you do with that energy? You dance, not stare at a guy twiddling knobs making music for you to dance to.
posted by griphus at 6:45 AM on August 23, 2013 [11 favorites]


The point of seeing a band live is to stand the whole time making a jiggly video on your smartphone

Half joking here, but do you wanna bet the next generation of kids decides this is all a big waste of time and instead of attending "concerts" they just pay for a private mobile video download of the show they want to see? Everyone saves time and money.

I'll check back in twenty years to see if I'm right.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:47 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


...they just pay for a private mobile video download of the show they want to see?

A show I couldn't go -- Sleigh Bells -- to was professionally recorded and sent out live via YouTube. I tuned in for ten minutes of it and it was the most boring thing imaginable. Now I'm no longer as fond of getting into crowds of smelly greasy people to have my eardrums punctured (says the dude who had Death Grips tickets) but man, show footage replacing going to shows is absolute nonsense. The reason for the proliferation of these videos is that so many people are going to shows and actively bothering to record.

And, in fact, I am 100% thankful and grateful for these people. After I see a show I really like, I'll check on YouTube and maybe a week later there's a few videos. And I can re-live a little bit of the show and enjoy how, exactly, the songs were played then and there. And I can show it to my friends. And if YouTube is still around when I have kids of cognizant age who are getting into music, I can pull up a shitty camphone clip of a band who released one album in 2008 and faded forever and say "I was at that show, and their album was great and here, take a listen."
posted by griphus at 6:50 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I. HAVE. OPINIONS!
posted by griphus at 6:50 AM on August 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


The market will already be flooded with poorly framed videos of fireworks by that point.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:50 AM on August 23, 2013


For some bands, backing tracks are a useful part of a live performance. Often triggered by a band member, its as legitimate as hitting a key on a keyboard when it comes to musicality. Hell I saw the White Stripes in 2006 or so and they used sample triggers for sure. If you want to create a particular sound, who cares how you do it as long as it's interesting? The deeper problem is the music being performed, not the way it sounds. Many many indie-pop and rock bands are incredibly lazy and uncreative about song-writing. The bland overproduced backing tracks and clicks are almost a necessity when the music is boring as crap.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:51 AM on August 23, 2013


I remember reading similar hand-wringing back in the 80s when the likes of Howard Jones performed (at least part of) their live sets by simply triggering sequencers on their synthesizers. I am not really a fan of Howard Jones, but I can attest that he, and his button-pushing practices, did not in any way help to kill live music.
posted by fikri at 6:52 AM on August 23, 2013


What is the point of seeing a band, or act, live?

So Voltaire sometimes plays with his whole band and sometimes does solo shows with his acoustic guitar. I went to one such show at the Ball State student union several winters ago. The show was a mess and he went on later than he was supposed to due to other peoples' screwups (I know the guy who put it on and worked door for a few hours, so I know), and two songs in, security comes in and says everybody has to clear out because the building is closed.

Voltaire leans in to the mike and says "Is the parking lot closed?"

Five minutes later, he's up on this raised thing with a steam grate on it, and everybody is gathered around him, and he played the rest of his set with everybody singing along in that cold parking lot, then stuck around to sell CDs and give autographs.

Just listening to the song? It's not the same at all.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:57 AM on August 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've always been afraid to admit--both to others and to myself, because it somehow seems like a failing--that I don't usually enjoy live music. I do enjoy the volume--feeling music in your chest is the greatest thing in the world, and why I find playing bass so satisfying--and there are certain performers (and audiences) who have a way of making the experience worthwhile, but I can't stand crowds, I don't dance, and, generally-speaking, I find live performances inferior to thoughtfully-produced records.

But the notion that playing with--not to--a backing track somehow degrades the experience is lunacy. Do you want to hear the music or not? The people on the stage decided that this is the way it's done. If you don't like that, then--guess what?--maybe their live show isn't for you.

On the other hand, Jesse and the Rippers pulled off possibly the worst lip-sync job in decades on Late Night last month. You might say, but they aren't even a real band!, but that is no excuse. Watch that video and tell me that you still want to buy whatever brand of Greek yogurt John Stamos advertises ever again. You don't.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:03 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Definitely don't want to buy Stamos' yogurt, but I do want to know who painted that portrait of him he has up in his attic.
posted by griphus at 7:05 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The point of seeing a band live is to stand the whole time making a jiggly video on your smartphone.

Vertical format.
posted by Artw at 7:07 AM on August 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


Sometimes, you go to a live show for something unexpected, to see a possibly new take on songs you know. Sometimes you go to hear pre-recorded music played on big effing speakers, the kind of system you couldn't have at home, and to dance with a lot of people you don't know. Sometimes it's a mix of A and B. It sucks when the band mimes along to a song and you notice the disconnect (Moby "playing" what he called "the world's fastest song," only to stop "playing" his keyboard as the song kept going faster, so he could then stand on the keyboard with his arms up-raised), but sometimes the band plays up the fact they're dancing around on stage with fancy costumes and flashy lights.

My favorite tongue-in-cheek performance was Fischerspooner at Coachella, where the "singer" yelled into the mic, in a voice distinctly different from the one heard in the prior song, "Play song 3 on the CD!"

The show was AMAZING, and I danced (and laughed) my ass off.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:10 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Irrelevant Show's skit NHL: The Home Game (click "Listen") contains useful instructions on how to save money by re-creating the experience of a live game / concert at home.
posted by oulipian at 7:12 AM on August 23, 2013


So you can see who's really talented or not? I got duped into listening to Avril Lavigne (she was opening for a much larger show). As soon as she started singing, everyone started giving each other side-eye. Are you hearing what I'm hearing? our puzzled glances asked each other. Is she really that tone deaf? Yes, our nodding heads replied, you are indeed hearing that shout-talking that passes as "singing." Autotune has duped us all.

Otherwise you go for the experience. Man I wish I'd seen Michael Jackson perform in the 80s, but I was just a child. I want to see Gaga for the same reason, go see her before it just becomes a "job" to her, before the magic is gone (and it is already fading). Jay-Z? Beyonce? If only the tickets weren't $300.

Or go because it's your band, they've been your band for 10 or 20 years. Tragically Hip, Sloan I'm looking at you.

That being said, I just don't go often, and it is a money factor. I'm only willing to pay $45 for a ticket, otherwise forget it.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:13 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Vertical format.

Audio: *brurr,buwerbl,mumwhumpph,bwurgle* "WOOOO! DUDE!" *brurr,buwerbl,mumwhumpph,bwurgle* "EXCUSE ME!" *brurr,buwerbl,mumwhumpph,bwurgle* "YOU NEED A BEER?"

&cetera
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:14 AM on August 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


My favorite tongue-in-cheek performance was Fischerspooner at Coachella, where the "singer" yelled into the mic, in a voice distinctly different from the one heard in the prior song, "Play song 3 on the CD!"

YES! I was just about to relate a very similar thing. When I saw them play in Williamsburg back in '02, Casey said "okay, we're doing 'Emerge'. Turn off my mic and hit 'play.'"
posted by griphus at 7:14 AM on August 23, 2013


My favorite tongue-in-cheek performance was Fischerspooner at Coachella, where the "singer" yelled into the mic, in a voice distinctly different from the one heard in the prior song, "Play song 3 on the CD!"

The show was AMAZING, and I danced (and laughed) my ass off.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:10 AM on August 23


OMG, filthy light thief, I was at that show! That was about as much fun as I've ever had at a show. The strategically placed fan to blow back the hair... the costumes... and everyone was dancing.
posted by fikri at 7:18 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Potomac Avenue: For some bands, backing tracks are a useful part of a live performance.

That's a totally fair point. Maybe I didn't make this clear enough with my framing, or perhaps the article itself lacks for clarity, but Public Service Broadcasting are very much one of those bands you're talking about.
posted by smcg at 7:18 AM on August 23, 2013


As a musician (and an Ableton Live user) considering getting back into the fray, this is a question I have struggled with... until I remember back to all the Kraftwerk shows I have been to where I had no idea if they were playing, or doing waveform analysis. I lost it in the 80's when they did an encore standing stock-still next to their mannequins behind their keyboards (?) as "We Are The Robots" played.

It's THE SHOW that I came out for, and as long as they don't go to Madonna-esque lengths to put spectacle over music, I am down with it.

Also: Live is meant to be a "computer instrument" and the name is representative of it's purpose. You can use it to put your entire gig under one button ( a big talking point among Live users) but I prefer to fight with it, like my guitar, feeling that the spontaneity is better than the precision.
posted by djrock3k at 7:23 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also did I just hipster bingo myself up there? Again?
posted by griphus at 7:23 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


The reasons for seeing a live show are different, I think, for each kind of show. For example:

Jazz: You go to see virtuosic players improvise. You can listen to it on a record, but the magic of it happening before your very eyes, the subtle little sparks between the players, the occasional cryptic laughter that bubbles up amongst them, that kind of thing wouldn't be as exciting on video.

Metal: You go to see virtuosic players play...virtuosically. You go to be immersed in the heaviness and the intensity of the music and to marvel at the dude's (usually) fingers flying over the frets like a mad bumblebee. This is my favorite kind of show.

Punk: You go to see minimalist music played by often politcally-engaged people who are also liable to impromptu tirades, unexpected violent acts and otherwise amusing antics.

For me, those kinds of shows merit the entrance fee. I'm not particularly a fan of out-and-out pop music or techno (unless it's violent noise because those people go crazy at their live shows) because I'm not a fan of paying for the privilege of hanging out with a bunch of dancing weirdos. I understand the fun in large expensive shows that are more about the spectacle than the music, and I respect that, it's just usually not for me. Lady Gaga can lip-sync all she wants, I'll never spend any money on watching it (also because she totally ripped off Peaches' thing and Peaches does it like 9000x better). If you have cool samples that augment the experience then I'm all for it. But imho if you can't play it live then just play another song or do a fun live version. I didn't pay $50 for you to play me an mp3, I don't care how good your live system is. Get the hell off my lawn.
posted by Mooseli at 7:24 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


They Might Be Giants used to use backing tracks when it was just the two Johns, touring for Lincoln and Flood. So what if they didn't have a drummer? One could play the glockenspiel while the other played two saxophones AT THE SAME TIME. If you're prepared to put on a good show, great. That can mean all sorts of things. If you're not, do like the Beatles and stop playing live. You don't have to make it sound like it does on the album. The Cocteau Twins on record and live are two totally different experiences that enrich and inform each other.
posted by rikschell at 7:25 AM on August 23, 2013


If you're not, do like the Beatles and stop playing live

But unlike the Beatles, you can't make any money doing that these days. Musicians are supposed to live on shows and merch, and plenty of fans will get very self-righteous about that.

I remember reading similar hand-wringing back in the 80s when the likes of Howard Jones performed (at least part of) their live sets by simply triggering sequencers on their synthesizers. I am not really a fan of Howard Jones, but I can attest that he, and his button-pushing practices, did not in any way help to kill live music.

Oh I dunno about that. One of the most striking shifts that happened in music in the 80s was the decline of live performance. It used to be that touring small venues was what every band did, going to shows was what every teenager did. In the 80s, the musical middle disappeared---we had big stadium acts, and tiny clubs, but the mid-tier clubs, fairs, and venues started replacing live bands with DJs or, in the 90s, playlists. And I think that does have something to do with synthesizers being less fun to watch than analog instruments.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:30 AM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not really a fan of standing concerts (too tall so get in people's way (grumble) or get asked to take photos please...)
I like listening to live music that I don't know but if I know it, all I hear are the differences...so I prefer a backing track.
posted by guy72277 at 7:30 AM on August 23, 2013


Voltaire leans in to the mike and says "Is the parking lot closed?"

At the club level, there is still enough of a human level that occasionally things like this can make for a memorable and enjoyable show. At the stadium level, things can only go wrong badly.

I university I saw a couple of locally semi-famous bands playing at one of our campus pubs, one opening for the other. The opening act played, and it was fine. There was a lengthy gap between acts and ultimately the guitarist from the headliner came out and said, "I'm afraid I have bad news for you guys -- [our singer] has been fighting a case of strep throat all day and despite all our best efforts and all the honeyed tea he can pour down his gullet, he says he is in no shape to sing." There were murmurs of concern from the crowd. He continued: "I'm very sorry, but we cannot go ahead as planned. Refunds are available at the door for anyone who wants them. However, if you guys are okay with it, [singer from the opening act] has offered to sit in with us, so what do you guys think?" Immediate roar of approval. The one-time-only line-up took the stage and they went through the six or eight original songs from the headliner that the replacement singer knew well enough to perform, then they hit a few covers that they rarely performed, and then just went on with any song everyone onstage knew... "My Sharona?" "Sure! In G?"

The show was a blast. However, I have little doubt that if I fork over sixty bucks to see Queen of the Stone Age, say, in Toronto next month, there is about a zero chance that an illness from Josh Homme will result in a vocalist from opening act The Guards taking his place.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:40 AM on August 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Stamos' yogurt

Woo, new band name.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:40 AM on August 23, 2013


Anyway the answer is that you should go see live music just in case the band turns out to be the next Monotonix.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:46 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's where I do feel 100 percent comfortable with our live show, as it genuinely is different every time, in that something different always goes wrong (and it is, almost always, my fault). Our set-up is, I hope, endearingly Heath Robinson-esque, which allows variety and difference by dint of sheer unreliability. We don't seek to recreate perfectly the album performance, rather to make it better, louder, harder, and occasionally wrong-er - but, crucially, different.

That's not good enough. Not even close.

I saw Roger Waters doing his Wall concert in Gothenburg and between the recorded tracks and constant video assault - which I assume is slightly different every time - I didn't get any sense of being at a live concert. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but when I go to a "live" show I want to see musicians playing instruments and singers singing and nothing in-between but clean amplification.
posted by three blind mice at 8:01 AM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't think "old fashioned" is the right word as clean amplification being the inherently correct choice died when the Sonics started purposefuly fucking up their amps back when Jimi Hendrix was a teenager.
posted by griphus at 8:21 AM on August 23, 2013


Backing tracks are one thing. Tracks including the lead vocal are something else altogether.
posted by Ardiril at 8:30 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I generally don't go see live shows (I'm short, and find masses of people exhausting), but the last one I did see was Jeff Mangum in 2011. At one point, he climbed offstage with his guitar and we all sat in a circle around him like a bunch of preschoolers while he chatted with and serenaded us.

Reminds me of when I saw Ozomatli and they came out into the crowd (it was a relatively small venue, the Paradise in Boston) and did the hokey pokey. Really! It happened to be two weeks after 9/11 and the whole show was so joyous and transcendent, exactly what we all needed. That's what live music is for.
posted by lunasol at 8:34 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I actually thought that the most interesting part of the article was the fact that the demise of real revenues from the sale of recordings has created a situation in which these acts need to make most of their real money by touring. If you need to maximize the profitability of your appearances, smaller numbers of employees equals more money in your pocket. Because here's the thing: All these acts could hire a half-dozen or more backing musicians to play synthesizer, fill in extra guitar parts, sing backup vocals, etc. And then all the music would effectively be performed live, even if the strings sounds actually came out of a MIDI keyboard. But those half-dozen guys cost a lot more than one dude and a laptop. As the article notes: "Why blow extra cash on four or five session players (plus their meals, hotels, per diems and transport) when you can have it come off tape, note perfect, night after night?"
posted by slkinsey at 8:40 AM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


The bland overproduced backing tracks and clicks are almost a necessity when the music is boring as crap.

This is an incredibly depressing sentence.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:42 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hot Tuna played before a pack house in Grants Pass. Okay, a small house, an old movie theater, actually, seated about 400 people. The usual crowd was there, sort of. We lined up along the street, waiting for the box office to open. I was sort of put off by the number of old farts in the crowd. We leaned against the walk, or, some of us, on our canes. Still, about a third of the audience seemed to be in their twenties. The crowd chatted among themselves: yeah, I saw them at (X)venue, yeah I was at Monterey that year...and other such stuff. I remarked to RedBud that missing from the scene was the aroma of wacky-weed--last time I'd done this there seemed to be a perpetual joint making its way up and down the line. At one point in the waiting, though, I caught a familiar whiff, but nothing came down the line. Oh well.

Inside we waited briefly until the boyz came out on stage. They sat down and began to play: (WTF?) rewind...okay, yeah, they sat down and began to play. All the old stuff and some things I'd not heard before, Jorma giving out funny, folksy miscellanea between songs. They had a new mandolin/fiddle/guy, who was pretty hot. Papa John's ghost was smiling. Cassidy's cell phone went off during one of Jorma's punch lines. Later on Cassidy mentioned that Jorma had just celebrated his 70th birthday. (WTF?)--oh yeah, sitting down. Uh huh.

The crowd was expert. They were enthused. The band rose to the occasion. Cassidy took the bass break in Hesitation Blues and tore it up big time. It's hard to imagine anybody doing it better.

Yeah, I like Hot Tuna albums. Keep On Truckin' got me interested in ragtime riffs. Some of these bands...well, bless You Tube and their archival magic. Bessie Smith, Handy, Carr, all that. Makes you feel deprived, them being dead now.

BTW--I went to see Rodrico Y Gabriella a few weeks ago--Do you want to dance?, she asked. Hell, by that time she could make a dead man do a jig.. Also Jeff Bridges and his daughter. No comparison, except that live is better. Next month I'm going to see Shimabukuro do his thing.

The good thing is that I'll be gone before folks like this no longer get up in front of the crowd and let it rip.
posted by mule98J at 8:42 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


He's talking about the EDM equivalents of four guitarists and a drummer; big acts that draw lots of people and lots of energy. And what do you do with that energy?

You know there's more kinds of music than "guitar dance music" and "electronic dance music", right?
posted by kenko at 8:42 AM on August 23, 2013


Backing tracks are one thing. Tracks including the lead vocal are something else altogether.

What's so special about singing? Why should pulling five extra guitar parts off a tape be any different than doing the same thing with the lead vocals? If anything, there are very good reasons to do this with the lead vocals that don't exist for instrumentalists: the vocal mechanism is far more delicate and susceptible to fatigue and injury than an instrumentalist's fingers.
posted by slkinsey at 8:43 AM on August 23, 2013


When Jimi Hendrix was a teenager, PA systems were not built to handle the entire band, nor really even singers, but for spoken voice.

"What's so special about singing?" - Why do you think it's called a "backing track"? Just who do you think is being "backed"?
posted by Ardiril at 8:49 AM on August 23, 2013


I saw Roger Waters doing his Wall concert in Gothenburg and between the recorded tracks and constant video assault - which I assume is slightly different every time - I didn't get any sense of being at a live concert. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but when I go to a "live" show I want to see musicians playing instruments and singers singing and nothing in-between but clean amplification.

We've entered Poe's law territory here. You're out rockism-ing the rockists.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:51 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


You know there's more kinds of music than "guitar dance music" and "electronic dance music", right?

I believe there is also swing jazz. But, yeah, those three are it.
posted by griphus at 8:52 AM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I go to concerts to watch Robert Pollard get increasingly drunk as he blasts through 50 half remembered songs.
posted by Jezztek at 9:11 AM on August 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


as he blasts through 50 half remembered songs.

And each one of 'em only a minute and a half long!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:17 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know there's more kinds of music than "guitar dance music" and "electronic dance music", right?

"We got both kinds - Country and Western!"
posted by fikri at 9:24 AM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


What is the point of seeing a band, or act, live?

After about age 27, there is no point.
posted by Rash at 9:35 AM on August 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


"What's so special about singing?" - Why do you think it's called a "backing track"? Just who do you think is being "backed"?

It's backing whoever is actually making sound.
posted by slkinsey at 9:37 AM on August 23, 2013


"What's so special about singing?" - Why do you think it's called a "backing track"? Just who do you think is being "backed"?

I will ask Joe Satriani.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:44 AM on August 23, 2013


I find live performances inferior to thoughtfully-produced records.

I actually agree, in a lot of cases. Hip hop is often better on record than live. In the late 90s/early 2000s I found hip hop shows pretty weak more often than not, although if you go to see more of a party-oriented hip hop act the live show can pretty great (Biz Markie and Beastie Boys were great live and I would love to see Digital Underground sometime).

I think that does have something to do with synthesizers being less fun to watch than analog instruments.

That's probably going to depend on how it's done, but it is definitely tough to get right. I've never been a big fan of "guy rockin' out lead guitarist-style at tiny keyboard" even though I like a lot of music with synthesizer. Off the top of my head, Nine Inch Nails footage I've seen frequently has such a guy, and I always think it would be better to have keyboard headbanger guy a bit more off to the side and less visible.
posted by Hoopo at 9:52 AM on August 23, 2013


I've never been able to stand it when bands reproduce songs on the album (Rush is a prime offender), so backing tracks would probably drive me insane.

I prefer it when a musical act reinterprets their songs when playing live, like Radiohead, or, to take an extreme example, Bob Dylan.

I must be in a minority, because every time after a Bob Dylan concert in an arena, all I hear on the walk back to the parking lot is how everyone wished he would just play the songs like he recorded them 45 years ago.

While I understand that for some bands like Rush, reproducing the complex arrangements of the album in a live setting is a technical challenge, for the rest I wonder if it ever gets boring, reproducing the same songs over and over and over again for 20 or 30 years.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:55 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


After about age 27, there is no point.

Yeah I'm at the point where it needs to be an act of legendary status and there needs to be a place for me to sit down and go to the bathroom and hopefully get a drink or I'm not going because I am old and cranky.

It's me, I am become the scum in the VIP section.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:18 AM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, thank god I am not the only one. I am 28 and while between ages 19 and 27 I would be at every show for any band who I even remotely liked a song off an EP from these days I cannot be bothered to go to certain shows I already have tickets for.

And don't get me started on shitty venues. Unless someone rises from the dead to reunite a band, I am done with warehouses.
posted by griphus at 10:20 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


The main live performing band I'm in these days has a prominent electronic component, and we anguished over exactly how to accomplish it in a live setting. The band consists of live drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, a lead singer and two other live vocals at a time done by other band members, and finally a giant pile of electronic parts. We work out and produce all the electronic parts ahead of time, and there's way more than what one or even five keyboard players could play live all at once - sometimes as many as 15 tracks of electronic parts at a time.

The easiest way to do it would be for our electronic instrumentation guy (what do you call that guy in the band who does the electronic stuff? He's not a DJ or a keyboard player) to just have a fully mixed and mastered recording of all the parts and push play - like a DJ does - and give the rest of us a click through in-ear monitors. And people wouldn't really mind that, probably, since they pay good money to go to EDM shows where they watch a DJ press play, right?

But everyone in the band is a musician who likes actually playing live. And pressing play on a pre-recorded track seemed lame - even when there are real instruments all playing live, as well.

So what we worked out is a sort of crazy hybrid approach. Electronic guy runs Ableton Live on a laptop and has an Ableton Push interface. He has all the tracks separate, running a full multitrack setup, and then he's running Omnisphere, as well. So he hits play on the produced tracks, and then he actually triggers stuff live and plays synth parts live on the Ableton Push. Meanwhile, the drummer is wearing isolation headphones and she is the only one who hears the click. The way stage volume and monitor mixes usually work out, there's really no way for the rest of us to hear the electronic tracks clearly enough to use them as any sort of reliable reference for our own playing - and besides, they drop out at various points, so there's that.

So that means the electronic guy feeds the foundation to the drummer and she, in turn, leads the rest of the band. It's super challenging. And, because the electronic tracks cannot (with our current set-up) be changed on the fly in terms of the arrangement, there is zero room for error as far as hitting cues and whatnot. If the band fails to come in at the right time, misses a cue, or something like that, there's really no recovering from it like there is in a 100% "live" band situation.

The thing is, none of that takes away from the "rock and roll moment" contained in the tension that exists where the band is just one false step away from disaster. I like to be able to play a bit looser, but it's not really a big deal. I lock in with the drummer and we do have those awesome moments. The audience feels the energy, too, and it just works.

There are lots of different kinds of performances, or "shows." For some shows, the creation of the music on the fly is the show. For others, the dancing or the sound system or the video production or something else is the show. You go see Lady Gaga and the show you see is not the music being made live. When her mic is on, her voice is one of hundreds of vocal tracks, and the live vocals are mixed down to close to nothing - except when you're meant to hear her say or shout or sing specific things that make the show seem more "live." Does that take away from the "show?" For most people, it does not.

There's some commentary above about electronic music "shows," with EDM mentioned specifically. Griphus wrote: "You dance, not stare at a guy twiddling knobs making music for you to dance to." But what does that mean? "making music for you to dance to?"

Here's the thing: I know exactly what 99% of big EDM DJs are doing up there. But what I don't understand and what makes me really curious is what, exactly, an EDM show's audience believes the DJ is actually doing up there. And to what extent does the audience's belief about what's happening in that booth affect its perception of the show?

When I'm on stage with my hybrid electronic dance rock/pop band, what does our audience think is going on as far as the electronic stuff? After all, we don't explain to them what, if anything, our electronic guy is actually playing. For all they know, all he's doing is pressing play. The energy and showmanship that come from him actually controlling and playing parts contributes to the show not because the audience understands it, but because the performers derive energy from it and use it to make the show better.

So are backing tracks killing music? Only in those circumstances where they are done in a way that does not make the show better.
posted by The World Famous at 10:30 AM on August 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


We saw Animal Collective this year, and they made heavy use of backing tracks - and we're talking drum tracks, guitar tracks, and backing vocals.

I really wasn't overexpecting - I was anticipating that they'd play their somewhat-catchy and not-particularly-difficult material with energy and verve. Instead, they played their material synched to a click track with pre-recorded tracks at exactly the temp of the album.

The concert poisoned their music for me and my wife, frankly. It was super-lame and my opinion of the band fell dramatically.

In the same week we saw Os Mutantes and Psychic TV. Neither of these bands used the slightest bit of "backing track" - and Psychic TV, which I wasn't particularly hopeful for, won my heart over by dedicating the show to Huw Lloyd Langdon, who had just died that day, then starting their show with Hawkwind's Silver Machine and ending it with "Hurry On Sundown" (and I cried)...

If you have backing tracks, you can't do shit like, "Let's do a new song tonight because someone we care about died". You can't say, "The guitarist is flying, let's let the solo go on," or conversely, "The guitarist hit an amazing peak early, let's move on." You can't say, "Bring the band on down behind me, boys," and talk to the audience about something important, or make up a new verse.

It's BULLSHIT, and it's particularly bullshit exactly because live performance IS such an important revenue source.

> So are backing tracks killing music? Only in those circumstances where they are done in a way that does not make the show better.

Yes, and that is 99% of the time. Of the last hundred shows I saw, only two of them with backing tracks were any good at all, and they were both Kraftwerk (which doesn't count - electronic music is all "backing tracks" in some sense).

Why would you want to hear a live band playing to a metronome? How could that possibly make a show better?

One more story - I saw Seth from Dufus play his farewell New York show. Most of the way through it, the fire alarm went off. I thought, "Well, we had a good show, I guess this isn't a bad ending," but as we filed up onto Ludlow Street, he was already upstairs, with his guitar and the drummer playing on a trash container, playing a song of his called "Mr. Fireman". Absolutely fantastic...!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:46 AM on August 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


Hear hear. I'm with you 100%, lupus_yonderboy.
posted by The World Famous at 11:03 AM on August 23, 2013


> Electronic guy runs Ableton Live on a laptop

As someone with years of experience with Ableton, I think that program has done more harm to music than any other single source. It certainly killed my song-writing almost dead - I deeply regret my decision to move to it and I'm awaiting Bitwig to see whether to move to that or Digital Performer.

The issue is simple - the writers of Ableton have no interest in people actually playing music into it, and I can say this for sure having had numerous conversations with them over the years. Their prime idea of making music is "glueing together loops" and everything is else is thrown away.

Consider this terrible feature - if you record MIDI into the program from an instrument, and then you try to stretch time, it moves the notes - but not the rest of your performance. So if you use pitch bend or breath control, it simply destroys your performance unrecoverably (unless you immediately undo).

This means that you have to do all MIDI recording to Ableton Live with a metronome. You cannot do what I as a player do, which is to play freely into the sequencer and then select my favorite recording and choose the tempo from that (by stretching it so it hits your bar lines).

I've very politely complained to Ableton for years, and once they understood what I meant, their official take on it is that I'm being deliberately difficult by not wanting to have a metronome playing while I record!

Even simple things like "pickups" (i.e. when a song doesn't start on 1) are extremely difficult to do. Or, try to put a program change for your MIDI instrument in the middle of a track... there is NO way to do that, and again, they act as if I'm being deliberately difficult when I want to do that, when (at the time) I was simply trying to recreate what I'd done in Opcode Vision - a program from the 80s!

But the absolutely worst, terrible, horrid thing is that there's no way to make a set list without a huge quantity of work.

On the other sequencers I used in the past, I'd create separate documents, one for each song, and then put them together on a set list. This was dead easy - indeed, I remember deciding to add a song "on the fly" in a show and was able to do it by just loading a song toward the end of the other song.

Unfortunately, Live only allows you to open ONE document at a time. Worse, the load process is very slow, even on my fast laptop - slow enough that if I have to open a new document for each slow, there's a long delay between cuts.

When I looked at what other people do, I was astonished - they spend an hour editing all their songs together to make one master document that contains all the songs in order, and then play that. If, for example, you make a change to one song, you basically have to do it inline, and then if you want to bring it back to the original document, there's another 30 minutes gone.

This is why when you see bands that use Ableton play multiple nights in a row, they nearly always play exactly the same setlist in the same order.

Or try to write a nice smooth accelerando - it's really hard, but worse, there's no way to tweak that accelerando once you have it. There's no way to hit a specific time that way, either...

Don't get me started on that piece of shit program. There's a reason that everything sounds like it came out of the same cookie cutter...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:05 AM on August 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, don't even get me started on how much I hate Ableton. I refuse to even install it, let alone use it myself. But it works for what we're doing in that one band, and allows for electronic guy to actually play parts live himself on the controller, which is a big deal.
posted by The World Famous at 11:11 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


We saw Animal Collective this year.... The concert poisoned their music for me and my wife, frankly. It was super-lame and my opinion of the band fell dramatically.

I had this same experience (minus the wife). I had sort of stopped following them after Merriweather and then their show, to me, was just mind-blowingly bad.

But the good songs from Feels are still perfect and I love them--I went back and checked--so I don't really know what to think.
posted by a birds at 11:16 AM on August 23, 2013


Their prime idea of making music is "glueing together loops" and everything is else is thrown away.

Wow, I feel guilty when I move an errant kick beat in Logic, and all our stuff is written & recorded live on the spot. I think I'm too old.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:19 AM on August 23, 2013


you wanna bet the next generation of kids decides this is all a big waste of time and instead of attending "concerts" they just pay for a private mobile video download of the show they want to see?

I guess that might happen if the next generation of kids all have 10kW PA systems in their bedrooms. In which case I will be one very jealous old man.


when I go to a "live" show I want to see musicians playing instruments and singers singing and nothing in-between but clean amplification.

When I go to a "live" show I want to dance. I want to hear the music and feel it. I want to get caught up in the ecstatic tribal rush that happens when hundreds of people move in time with the same sound. I want that giddy feeling that this is a good life, right here and right now, that this is the best possible place to be at this moment.

The performer's job is to supply a signal to the PA system. I don't care what machines and processes they use to generate that signal so long as the result is a sound worth dancing to, a sound that fits the time and place, a sound that pulls everyone in the room onto the same groove.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:22 AM on August 23, 2013


Most of the time I am not into seeing "live bands" either, especially if they are, well, people I've never freaking heard of. I find that to be a pretty uncomfortable experience. But some people really do live shows well and vary up their music--I can think of one favorite performer of mine who does a LOT more exciting live performances than their formal recordings. I have a lot of downloaded concert recordings of the songs because the dude just livens things up more on stage for whatever reason. Some folks really put on a show--for example, Weird Al does a hell of a lot of costume changes, some of which are really complicated.

YMMV, I guess.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:23 AM on August 23, 2013


I go to live shows to get something that I can't get from listening to the album at home. There are a lot of different things I can get: watching and hearing improvisation, the crowd jamming out and being carried by the music, dancing, etc. But there has to be something.

Personally, I tend to expect that backing tracks will just make that "duplicate the album" experience that I think I might as well have stayed home for more likely. But they're a tool, just like anything else, and Sturgeon's law is going to apply. Which is to say some musicians will use backing tracks well and the majority will use them in a mediocre-to-lousy fashion. The trick is knowing who is who before you buy the ticket, alas.
posted by immlass at 11:50 AM on August 23, 2013


When I go to a "live" show I want to dance. I want to hear the music and feel it. I want to get caught up in the ecstatic tribal rush that happens when hundreds of people move in time with the same sound. I want that giddy feeling that this is a good life, right here and right now, that this is the best possible place to be at this moment.

The performer's job is to supply a signal to the PA system.
I love to go out to dance like that but why is the performer at all necessary in that world? A CD does that job much better than even your best performer.

The reason to see bands live is because someone is actually playing to you, right now, in the moment - they get to make decisions, they get to pull off tricks. They can try new material on you, they can decide that day to do a cover and quickly work it up. They can take risk - and sometimes they even fail, and that can be really exciting too.

Some great bands don't play so well live. Some great live bands aren't that interesting on record.

> I go to live shows to get something that I can't get from listening to the album at home.

To be honest, there is something you can get from hearing a recording played in a club - which is the super-strong bass. In a really good club, the bass will be so strong it's like a physical force, without being particularly loud - I've seen shows where you could have a conversation with someone without raising your voice, while the bass was like someone putting their hand on your chest.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:13 PM on August 23, 2013


If you have backing tracks, you can't do shit like, "Let's do a new song tonight because someone we care about died". You can't say, "The guitarist is flying, let's let the solo go on," or conversely, "The guitarist hit an amazing peak early, let's move on." You can't say, "Bring the band on down behind me, boys," and talk to the audience about something important, or make up a new verse.

Yep.

Think of the seminal performances in rock history that never would have occurred had backing tracks been part of the mix. Sly Stone at Woodstock; Elvis Costello on SNL (Boys, we HAVE to play "Less Than Zero...").

Music is about immediacy, among other things. But to the point of the essay, I'm sure for a good many fans, the immediacy of the music is trumped by their own immediacy, which is to say, they're happy to be at the show, happy to revel in music they enjoy. Whether the performer is actually performing it live, and performing it well, is besides the point in that case.

But for musicians, and fans who appreciate musicianship, that sort of, "It's good enough! Sounds just like the real track!" thing is almost offensive.
posted by kgasmart at 12:29 PM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


The reason to see a live show is that some artists put on amazing live shows. Full stop. Whatever "amazing live show" means to you, some artists do it, and those are the artists you should go see.

For me, an amazing show contains at least one moment where music touches my soul in such a deep, visceral way that it fills my entire consciousness with love and appreciation. If a show contains multiple such moments, that band goes on my Best Ever list. The one thing I will never understand is arena/stadium shows. If you're going to watch them on a screen, why even bother going to the show?

As for backing tracks, yeah, it really does depend on the type of music. A lot of today's pop music is so synthetic anyway, how would you even know if they were lip syncing? It's funny, because the other day I was farting around on the internet and somehow wound up watching a Milli Vanilli video. And you know what? The music wasn't all that bad -- certainly no worse than anything else we listened to in the late 80s. I've always thought they sort of took the fall for today's commoditized music culture. I mean, how different is what they did from what Brittney does?
posted by evil otto at 12:36 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


how different is what they did from what Brittney does?

It really wasn't, but there was still a prejudice against it then - and that's the really interesting part, because at that time, fans still expected a degree of actual musical ability in their pop heroes. Now - do they care? Or are the light shows and synchronized dance moves good enough so long as the technology ensures that the music sounds the way it's supposed to, regardless of whether anyone's actually making it live?
posted by kgasmart at 12:41 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean, how different is what they did from what Brittney does?

At least on the lead vocal tracks, Britney is actually the person singing (at least on the stems I've heard in the studio), whereas Milli Vanilli were lip synching to vocal tracks sung by studio singers. But let's not get started calling out big, famous pop stars whose albums are actually sung by studio singers.
posted by The World Famous at 12:55 PM on August 23, 2013


At least on the lead vocal tracks, Britney is actually the person singing

Albeit autotuned beyond recognition.

But let's not get started calling out big, famous pop stars whose albums are actually sung by studio singers.

Why not? I'm kind of interested in this.

As for Milli Vanilli, their music sounded just fine, and they lip synced live. No doubt their shows had great sound systems and lots of people dancing. By the criteria of many in this thread, their shows could have qualified as "amazing ".

I'm not necessarily trying to discount electronic music or Brittney -- although I do stand behind my defense of Milli Vanilli. (never thought I'd type those words) I'm more reluctantly acknowledging that people expect different things from the concert experience. I totally understand the dismay upthread about rock bands relying heavily on backing tracks. Like it or not, rock music carries a different set of expectations than, say, bubblegum pop or dance music.
posted by evil otto at 1:03 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I went and gardened for a little - and I realized that there's also another big factor, that people aren't as interested in people playing instruments as they were 20 or 40 years ago.

In pop music - who are the great guitarists of today? Who are the great instrumentalists?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:14 PM on August 23, 2013


> As for Milli Vanilli, their music sounded just fine, and they lip synced live.

The point was that they hadn't actually performed on their own albums - they weren't even lip synching to their own voices! Even by today's standards, that's pretty lame...

Still, I felt bad when one of them killed themselves, that's going too far...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:15 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean, don't get me wrong, I understand why it was such a big deal at the time. More to the point, I wonder what the reaction would be if a similar thing happened now. I'm sure people would still be pissed, although perhaps not as surprised.
posted by evil otto at 1:22 PM on August 23, 2013


I've been performing, off and on, for my whole adult life, albeit in weird niches that never go anywhere (which is okay, because fame and fortune would just confuse me), and I've always been interested in playing with what live performances mean.

Most of my spoken word performances are set to composed, recorded backings, largely because I'm essentially a one-man-band and my shows in that mode are not about my (limited) instrumental virtuosity. My ambient electronic work, on the other hand, is all live, because it's on a scale that I can play live, my sound uses a lot of improvisational looping, and I enjoy the absence of stress that comes from not having to remember what to do next. I open up my brain to the sounds that are possible with the equipment I have, trust in my rapport with my machines, and forgive myself the occasional wild decibel spikes when resonances line up unexpectedly (though occasionally the owners of the PA will give me the wild eyes).

There's a point where there's an insincerity to backing tracks, but there are also bands that used the machine in a great way. I always admired the straightforwardness of early O.M.D. and their shadow band member, Winston, a TEAC four-track tape deck that would stand on stage, faithfully playing out the parts of the music that either couldn't be done in real time or for which there weren't enough players. The Cocteau Twins did the same, and I don't think many people in the audience lucky enough to see Frazer trilling out "Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops" live in 1984 were particularly bothered to see their reel-to-reel band member whirling away with pride of place onstage.

Ultimately, it's how you make it work. I can do ambient sets that are completely live and improvised because I'm making improvised music, and have an occasional audience of people who like that. When I have hardly any audience at all, as I did at a gig I played back in June in Baltimore for which literally no one showed up, except for the ninety-two year-old mother of one of the other performers, I could just do my own thing and do a whole set based on manipulating a ten second sample of Sarah Vaughan. Then again, I'm that kind of musician with that kind of audience. Big mainstream pop audiences get angry when the performers don't just do a verbatim rendition of the songs they know intimately from constant repetition, so in that, you either need a James Brown-grade precise backing band or a stack of Mac Pro machines spooling out the familiar noises.

Lately, as I've been working on a revised touring version of my 2005 one-man-show, My Fairy Godmothers Smoke Too Much, I've been completely energized by the introduction of a wonderful tool for doing stage shows—an iOS app called "Go Button," which supersedes all the unreliable sequencers, stacks of cue CDs given to sound guys I've not met until just before the show, and other workarounds. When I'm ready to go on the road, I'll have my mic and stand, script, cables, and an iPod Touch running my show on Go Button (with a duplicate iPod Touch in case of disaster) with a direct box to throw it all to the booth. Best of all worlds, that thing, and the way it's set up means that I can actually be free to improvise and freestyle a bit.
posted by sonascope at 1:23 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why not?

Because the list is too long to fit on Metafilter.

Albeit autotuned beyond recognition.

Surprisingly, Britney's raw vocal stems that I heard in the studio several years ago sounded way better than I expected, even without any autotune or Melodyne pitch correction or anything. I mean yes, they get produced to within an inch of their life, but Britney's vocals do not have anywhere near as much pitch correction as the most recent Michael Buble' thing I heard, for example (which was so ridiculous that I wonder if maybe it was just a computer voice and not even a human).

I mean, don't get me wrong, I understand why it was such a big deal at the time. More to the point, I wonder what the reaction would be if a similar thing happened now. I'm sure people would still be pissed, although perhaps not as surprised.

If the same thing happened now, it would end the career of the artist, just as it did with them. They were not merely exposed as lip synching at their concerts. They were exposed as having absolutely no involvement at all in the creation of their album and having zero vocal ability whatsoever. If, say, Katy Perry was revealed to have zero ability to sing and that another singer was the one who sings every single note on all her albums and her live performances, it would end her career, just as it did for Milli Vanilli.

In pop music - who are the great guitarists of today? Who are the great instrumentalists?

He seems to be a giant douchebag (I assume people are different in real life than in the public eye, so I'll give him some benefit of the doubt), but John Mayer is as great a guitarist as just about anybody who has ever played the thing. And his trio with Pino Palladino and Steve Jordan is as potent an instrumental trio as has ever played on a stage together - right up there with Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and The Police. Seriously, cue this up at 40:22 and then try to deny it.

Nick Zinner is not flashy, but he does amazing things and holds the whole band together with a wall of weird guitar stuff.

Really, there are plenty of amazing guitarists and other instrumentalists out there in today's pop music. Making a list would require defining the term "pop," I think. Have you heard the bass guitar and drums on the latest Daft Punk album? There's no denying that Nathan East, JR Robinson, and Omar Hakim are among the greatest who have ever played their instruments. And Nile Rodgers is all over that album, too. Granted, those guys have all been playing on huge pop records for the last 30 years, so it's not like they're a "new" crop of great pop musicians. But to suggest that there are no great instrumentalists on modern pop records is, I think, inaccurate.
posted by The World Famous at 1:39 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Really, there are plenty of amazing guitarists and other instrumentalists out there in today's pop music.

Absolutely, I wasn't meaning to imply otherwise. It's that people don't care about this so much any more. They don't know who the great instrumentalists are for the most part - at least in pop music.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:46 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Agreed. And on the other side of that same coin, I get the impression that people think artists like Skrillex are actually doing some sort of impressive music creation on stage. We're living in strange times.
posted by The World Famous at 1:53 PM on August 23, 2013


Yeah but I mean... nah. Lupus W. is right. At this point in time, as music becomes less and less individually valuable, as more and more people make it and distribute it for free everywhere, technical virtuosity and innovation are less important than the ability to generate a particular sound. Producers are the great musicians of our time, and Daft Punk are the perfect example of that. It's not about the solo, it's about the groove.

Anyway, here's a reason to go see live music this year. Here's another.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:53 PM on August 23, 2013


If the same thing happened now, it would end the career of the artist, just as it did with them.

Thing is, it didn't just end their career. It was a big huge deal. They had to give back their Grammy. Radio stations had events where they'd destroy stacks of their tapes and records. They even appeared on a commercial where they made fun of the themselves! They became a national joke -- and they still are! Their music was utterly disappeared, as in dropped down the memory hole and incinerated. Think of it, when was the last time you heard one of their tracks, even as part of some kind of retro thing? I can't even find the originals on Spotify, and I can't imagine those licenses would be too expensive.

If the same thing happened to a bubblegum pop act now, I'm sure it would end their career, but I think people would stop giving a crap after a week or so, and probably more than a few people would react with a complete lack of surprise. "This is my shocked face", etc. And I doubt their music would be disappeared in the same way Milli Vanilli's was. I mean, that was like some straight-up Soviet-style revisionism. I wouldn't be surprised if they've since been photoshopped out of pictures. To me, this is the weirdest thing to come out of the whole Milli Vanilli debacle. I mean, clearly, lots of people liked "their" music, and even I have to admit it holds up better than some of the other stuff that was around. Did it stop being good music just because it was made by some fat, middle-aged German dude (who went on to have a moderately successful career)?
posted by evil otto at 1:57 PM on August 23, 2013


Producers are the great musicians of our time, and Daft Punk are the perfect example of that. It's not about the solo, it's about the groove.

I would modify that. The "star" is the musician of our time, regardless of what the star actually does in terms of making the music. "Producer" has all but lost all meaning as a descriptive term. And Daft Punk are the perfect example of that, as the liner notes for Random Access Memories say they didn't do any of the recording, arrangement, editing, mixing, mastering, or playing of instruments. All the liner notes claim they did was some unspecified synth programming and an unspecified amount of co-writing of the songs with bigger songwriters.
posted by The World Famous at 2:34 PM on August 23, 2013


Betteridge's law applies here, though, dunnit? There's tons of live music out there without backing tracks. I've never seen them used in live bluegrass, for instance.
posted by Cookiebastard at 2:37 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


you wanna bet the next generation of kids decides this is all a big waste of time

I'm amazed the previous generation didn't already make this decision.
posted by Rash at 2:53 PM on August 23, 2013


Live version vs. record version: what about the live album? What goes on there? You are listening to a recording of a live show...theoretically the live performance is supposed to sound different the the record version. But what exactly is special about it? Whatever that quality is, it is supposedly being killed.

Meanwhile, Prince.
posted by bonefish at 3:48 PM on August 23, 2013


Live version vs. record version

What about a live studio session? They're all playing together, but it's not to an audience in the traditional sense and it's not blasting out of a giant sound-system. They're playing live, but it's so different it may as well be a completely different "genre" than "recorded" or "live."

Personally, live studio sessions are my favorite type of recordings for a lot of music that doesn't have a serious electronic component.
posted by griphus at 4:14 PM on August 23, 2013


While I understand that for some bands like Rush, reproducing the complex arrangements of the album in a live setting is a technical challenge, for the rest I wonder if it ever gets boring, reproducing the same songs over and over and over again for 20 or 30 years.

From what I have heard from Geddy and Alex, half the fun is the battle to get that complex music played right and brought forth with passion and fury. Though Alex does change things up in some solos, the drum solo can vary, and stuff like Strangiatto can have some bizarre improv. It's a challenge for guys approaching their sixties to bring it like they did 30-40 years ago.

Meanwhile, Prince.

It took that Superbowl appearance to remind everyone but yeah, he can still rip. And needless to say, Bruce performs without a net as well.

I live out in the oil fields of North Dakota and NEVER go to live music because hey, two kinds of music, country and western. One of the things I miss about living in the Twin Cities was the phenomenal amount of live shows I could get to, depending on the funds and time I had. Now I just live on memories, and shows downloaded off Dimeadozen.
posted by Ber at 5:55 PM on August 23, 2013


What is the point of seeing a band, or act, live?

I saw the Swans perform earlier this year. It was at an All Tomorrow's Partys festival, and I'd not heard any of their records before. The festival was at an indoor sports centre - it was 30+ degrees Celsius outside and 45+ inside the venue.

They were so incredibly loud, it felt like they were trying to destroy the audience with an onslaught of sonic aggression. It was transcendent. It probably caused permanent damage to my hearing. I was probably suffering from heat exhaustion as well. It was one of the most amazing performances I'd experienced.

That was day one of the festival. The highlight of day 2 was The Drones, in particular their performance of Kev Carmody's River of Tears.

Some bands just make more sense as a live perfomance.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:43 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


What is the point of seeing a band, or act, live?

Here I always thought that was self-evident - to be part of the chemistry that happens when the performing artist and the audience become one.

Some DJs are performers ... somewhat ... some aren't. Yesterday I saw that a study found that, in classical music at least, people could pick the winners of competitions without hearing the music. This one study (caveat emptor) suggests that the appearance and behavior of the performer have a powerful influence even on highly sophisticated judges of music.

None of this would surprise any successful pop-music performers, going back as far as you'd care to go. Most audiences are not sophisticated listeners to music. They want to participate, somehow, anyhow ... physically. Which explains R&B and even those powerful sub-bass amplifiers.
posted by Twang at 7:04 PM on August 23, 2013


griphus: " But I feel like this guy isn't talking about IDM or glitch or whatever. He's talking about the EDM equivalents of four guitarists and a drummer; big acts that draw lots of people and lots of energy. And what do you do with that energy? You dance, not stare at a guy twiddling knobs making music for you to dance to."

Well they're IDM, but there's a reason Autechre performs in the dark as much as they can. (Yes, yes I did get to shake Sean's hand ;)) Precisely for that reason.

"It's not us - it's the music... LISTEN AND GET INTO IT, DANCE OR NOT. BUT IT'S NOT ABOUT US."
posted by symbioid at 7:11 PM on August 23, 2013


fikri: "I remember reading similar hand-wringing back in the 80s when the likes of Howard Jones performed (at least part of) their live sets by simply triggering sequencers on their synthesizers. I am not really a fan of Howard Jones, but I can attest that he, and his button-pushing practices, did not in any way help to kill live music."

Well I wouldn't say that no-one is ever to blame, even if he isn't. ;)
posted by symbioid at 7:16 PM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I saw the Swans perform earlier this year. It was at an All Tomorrow's Partys festival, and I'd not heard any of their records before. The festival was at an indoor sports centre - it was 30+ degrees Celsius outside and 45+ inside the venue.

They were so incredibly loud, it felt like they were trying to destroy the audience with an onslaught of sonic aggression.


In all honesty, that's pretty much Swans.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:37 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


In all honesty, that's pretty much Swans.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:37 PM on August 23 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


Yep, that's what people have been telling me. I'm kinda sad that I much more than likely will never get a chance to see them perform live again. I bought their new album for a friend who I thought would appreciate them, and it's pretty great kicking back with a good scotch listening to it with him. But it's not quite the same without the feeling that you might be about to pass out from dehydration and heatstroke, or worrying about the permanent damage you're doing to your hearing, and not regretting a single moment. Oh and the loudness. Something happens when sound is no longer just an auditory sensation but rather something deeply proprioceptive.

That's why the point of live shows.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:48 AM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


worrying about the permanent damage you're doing to your hearing, and not regretting a single moment

Keep doing it and the regret will come.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 5:48 PM on August 25, 2013


people in the audience lucky enough to see Frazer trilling out "Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops" live in 1984

Elizabeth Fraser Is 50
posted by homunculus at 3:58 PM on August 29, 2013


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