Published on October 27th, 2011 | by Alan Cross5
Bullshit Story of the Day: Van Halen’s (Alleged) Backing Tracks
So Sammy Hagar accuses the recently-resurrected Van Halen of using backing tracks in concert.
My reaction is “So what? Everyone else is.”
This is the dirty secret of today’s concert world. But it’s really not that dirty at all. Here’s why.
In the Olden Days–around the same time “real” musicians refused to use synthesizers or other electronics because “they didn’t take any talent to play”– no one would be caught dead using taped bits to augment difficult arrangements in concert.
I remember the brouhaha that broke out around Queen’s Live Kllers album in 1979. “They couldn’t have reproduced those vocals in concert! They must have used backing tapes! That’s cheating! Worse yet, that’s a fraud perpetrated on the audience! How DARE they?”
Please. Get over it. Backing tracks have been a way of life for touring musicians for ages. And I’m not talking about Britney and Madonna.
(1) Audiences pay a lot of money for concert tickets these days. They expect an appropriate spectacle with good sound, lots of lights and maybe some fire. They also expect the songs to sound just like (or very close to) what they hear on the CD or the download. That not only means backing tracks but all manner of pitch correction hardware.
(2) Yes, you could just hire enough musicians and singers to reproduce all the studio sounds in a live situation, but that’s awfully, awfully expensive. Backing tracks accomplish the same thing at a fraction of the cost.
(3) In the case of older acts, voices are shot. That doesn’t help when your audience is hoping and praying that the performer (and by extension, themselves) still has the same stuff they did when they were much, much younger.
You think Ozzy can still hit those high notes? Hardly. There’s apparently a guy backstage with a mic who helps him through those parts. It’s alleged that AC/DC couldn’t change up the set list of their last world tour because “they’d have to go back into the studio to redo all the tracking.” That’s a quote from someone I know deep within the concert industry. How much of U2’s 360 Tour was tied to programmed material? Yes, they played the vast majority of what we heard, but with a show that big and complicated, backing track assistance is a necessity.
(4) We’re so far into the Age of Sampling that most people don’t even give a second thought to whether portions of a performance are live or recorded. It’s almost assumed that a performer uses that technology as part of his/her bag of tricks. As long as it sounds good, right?
If Van Halen comes around, I’ll go see them. And I don’t care of Eddie’s kid sounds scarily like Michael Anthony. I just want the background vocals to “Runnin’ With the Devil” to sound like it did on the 1984 tour.