I find myself compelled to write this at 1AM on a Monday morning after one of my band mates forwarded me a YouTube video with content that seems to be all-too-common these days. If you’re in a modern “active rock” band, then this is directed towards you, whether you’re guilty of this or not. I will not name names in this post, but I will say that if this offends you, then you may need to reevaluate your approach to writing and performing.

I’m talking about tracks. Not click tracks. Not keyboard tracks. Guitar, bass, drum and vocal tracks.

Oh, sure, the singer may be hitting some of the vocal parts, but the 3- or 4-part harmonies? No one is singing those…No one is even making an attempt to look like they’re backing him or her up.

I see one guitarist on stage, but where are all of those guitar harmonies and lead lines coming from? He sure as shit isn’t playing all of those parts himself.

Did…Did the bassist just take both hands off of the instrument in the middle of the song? Odd how I could still clearly hear the bass thumping along with the pocket of the drums.

…Oh, shit…They’re actors. Of course, they may have written the material (or not, but that’s a subject for another time), but they stopped being musicians the moment they stepped on stage and allowed Ableton Live or Logic Pro or Pro Tools to play their parts for them.

Full Discloser: My band uses tracks. Due to the material we play and the type of show we desire and strive to put on, the entire bands plays to a click track via in-ear monitors. We have some keyboards/synth/piano/string stuff that is played back, along with short pieces written to bridge the gap between songs. Of course, we actually play our instruments. We sing the harmonies. We rehearse four straight hours a day, three days a week (we would do more if scheduling would allow it), and beat the hell out of ourselves to make sure we can pull off the live show.

I know a lot of other bands who utilize tracks in the same way, but that isn’t the problem. The problem is all of the new active rock bands who use playback to the point of it being no different than your average pop star or touring EDM artist/DJ. Just hit spacebar and make it look like your hands are going where they should. I’ve seen this on the national level, and I’ve seen it on the local level, and it’s sickening. In the words of one of my closest friends:

“If you can’t even muster the effort to actually play your instrument on the local level, [then] just stop.”

Usually, I would never want to step on someone’s desire to play music as a profession, but these people are making a mockery of those who actually bust their asses. Those who spend more time writing and perfecting their craft than they do touching up that streak of dyed hair on their head and taking sandpaper to their jeans to get that perfect distressed look. I know of bands, big and small, that flat-out don’t play a damned note live; it’s a Pro Tools rig and engineer back stage making sure things don’t crash. They aren’t performing, and you’re paying to stand in a big room while a computer plays over the PA.

If you can’t play the songs you wrote live because you wrote beyond your abilities, or you’ve got one guitarist and need two to play all of the parts, then either: A. Practice your ass off, B. Hire a second guitarist (hey, maybe they can sing some of those backing vocals so it doesn’t sound like your singer is some multi-voiced demon), or C. Pick and choose what you’ll play live, because that’s part of the charm of live shows.

So if you’re in one of these bands, there are a few things you need to know right now:

      1. Your “fans” may not notice that you aren’t actually playing your instruments, but if they were to find out, you can bet your ass they would be incredibly disappointed.

      2. Imperfections make live shows memorable. Get your band to be as great as possible live, but if and when fuckups happen, embrace them. Ya never know, there may be a budding musician in the audience that needs to see that they don’t need to be perfect 100% of the time.

      3. Your peers know you’re doing it. We can hear it and see it a mile away. We lose respect for bands who take the stage knowing full and well that they are deceiving their audience. We don’t want to be seen on stage with you.

      4. The bands who actually play and put time into making it a memorable show instead of playing their album through the PA while dancing to it…Yea, they’re going to wipe the stage with you. No one remembers the people miming their instruments in front of Ye Olde Holy MacBook.

If I offended anyone…Whoops.

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