Real or Memorex? Lip Syncing and Backing Tracks

I saw an interview with Paul McCartney and he called out major bands playing live with backing tracks but refused to say which ones. I also saw an article about Motley Crue using pre-recorded tracks to bolster their sound.

McCartney: “To me the concert experience is at the heart of what music is about. You come to a show and you are in the room so it is the real thing.  I have been to concerts where I think, ‘Oh, I really am in the room with Tony Bennett and it is like he is in my living room’. That is a great part of the experience. I then think, ‘Wait a minute, people must think that about me’. When we make mistakes playing live, we always now turn it and say, ‘Tell you what  this proves we are live

McCartney and his band did just that when I saw him. They messed up an intro of a song…Paul laughed and went on.

Before you read the rest…I might be harsher than some people. I didn’t even like it when after 1981… the Stones started to fill up their stage with different musicians to sweeten the sound…and professional backup singers…I would rather hear Keith sing backup. The same applies to the Who… who did the same thing on their 1988-89 tour. That was more because of Townshend’s hearing problems but I would have rather heard the four of them and maybe a keyboardist…BUT at least those bands were not faking it…they didn’t hide anything…they just added more musicians.

Sometimes backing tracks have to be used…Backing tracks are sometimes used when a band cannot have an orchestra or an exotic instrument which I totally get. I’ve seen KISS use it when Peter Criss would sing Beth…I totally get that. I’ve seen The Who use a backing track for Won’t Get Fooled Again and Baba O’Riley which again I totally get. They don’t try to hide it…it’s a part that would be hard to duplicate live and is the main part of the song. That is the reason Keith Moon wore headphones while playing those songs so he would come in on time.

Those tracks are not what I’m talking about. What I’m getting at is when a guitarist, bassist, or vocalist mimes what they were doing and you are NOT hearing it live. You are hearing what they perfected in a studio sometime in the past.

There are places when this has to be done. Many TV studios are not made for rock bands and they have to lip sync to a backing track…most of the bands don’t like doing it but if they want to promote a song they do. In music videos for the most part…they have to lip sync also… so there are times when there is no other choice.

When you are paying $100 for a ticket…I don’t believe lip-syncing or faking should be allowed or they should have to tell you they are doing it. I could take four more bloggers (any volunteers?) and we could mime to Jumpin’ Jack Flash…would anyone want to pay $100 for that? Many acts that dance and jump about…when you hear them sing you hear no panting or breathing hard and you SEE them panting and breathing hard. I’m not a fan but I admire the fact that Lady GaGa actually called some performers out for lip-syncing.

“I don’t think it’s cool to lip-sync, I’m not judging if people do, because it’s everybody’s own style and type of artist they’ve decided to be. But I think that if you pay money for a ticket to see a show then the artist should f**king have some pipes and sing their records for you”I agree with her.

Paul McCartney is 80 and sometimes his voice goes off… not a lot but sometimes…so what? Mick Jagger goes off at times…but that makes them human. I’m old fashion about this…  but I cannot respect anyone that goes out and mimes their greatest hits in a live atmosphere. I’ve been listening to a lot of concerts in the 70s… Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aerosmith, The Who, Led Zeppelin, etc. How did they do it without autotune? How did they do it without an extra Jimmy Page guitar pre-recorded? If they messed up…they messed up…big deal…they are human. Some performers have said since the ticket prices are so high…they want to give a perfect show. No, I don’t want a perfect show…I want a real show warts and all.

What do you think? If you go to see a band live…do you want to hear guitar, vocal, or bass tracks that were recorded earlier? Live music…should be live… right? Am I’m expecting too much? It may not bother many people.

Artists who have been caught lip-syncing include Mariah Carey, Katy Perry, Milli Vanilli, 50 Cent, Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Selena Gomez, Madonna, and more.

Ah…I cannot conclude this post without Miss Ashley Simpson…the poster child for lip-syncing.

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

63 thoughts on “Real or Memorex? Lip Syncing and Backing Tracks”

  1. I’m totally with you, Max. While there are certain situations where artists have to use backing tracks and lip syncing, in general, it just isn’t cool to apply these practices during shows that are billed as “live.”

    I rather have vocalists and musicians make occasional mistakes than essentially listening to a recording. I can do the same at home and save a lot of money.

    If you can’t bring your music live and live up to the occasional slip, then don’t perform live!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “If you can’t bring your music live and live up to the occasional slip, then don’t perform live!”
      That sums it all up right there for me. I don’t care about mess ups…it makes it more enjoyable if the artist handles it right. No one is perfect.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t add anything to what you said. I’d rather hear live-with-flaws than pay for a pricey ticket and travel to a show only to hear the studio recording that’s in my car CD player. Correct that. I’d rather have a live performance flaws-and-all CD in my car player, too. I’m a bit torn on the shows that are a dance performance with singing. If the dance and choreography are as much or more a part of the act as the vocals, well, maybe it’s okay, but make it clear up front what the show is, and isn’t.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The world we live in now…you don’t know if what you are seeing or hearing is real anymore. If I pay for a ticket…yea I want to hear the real thing. I agree with the live recordings also… that is an interesting subject you brought up as well.
      Live recordings that have been doctored so much that they are not live anymore.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I understand in some cases…like on the album Live At Leeds the backup vocals were not audible on the recording…so Pete and John did one take to do redo them…but some bands will correct playing mistakes and basically make a studio album.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think you would want to know…. I think you would agree with this…you being a Grateful Dead fan… when you buy a ticket to a concert you want to hear the band not them miming to their hits.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. No, of course, I need to see it live. It’s what I paid for. If I want a pre-recorded song, then I’ll watch a music video. But oh my god that video of Ashlee I feel it to my core, secondhand embarassment 🙊🙈

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting…yes I agree…I’m not paying for a CD or music video.
      What was also bad about the Ashlee video was that she blamed her band on top of everything.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. When SNL called the guests back up she said it…here it is in this short clip at the end. She said the band started to play the wrong song…which is hilarious.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh no…I should have ran it by you first…tell me if it fits…I wrote one up real quick….if not I can re-use a song…I wrote up Kiss Shout It Out Loud.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I thought it would fit…ok I’m in. I hope to be in more…not every Sunday but more than I was at the end there…I appreciate you inviting me.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Right on. Live should be live. As you said: Warts and all. I recall watching the Beach Boys perform Good Vibrations live on Ed Sullivan and my friends complaining that it didn’t sound like the studio one. I, on the other hand, thought it was fantastic because it gave the song a different sound. And as much as I like to hear variations in live and studio music and singing recordings, I can’t stand it when artists use auto-tune in the studio and when they’re on stage.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Steve! Some bands you dont want to hear it just like the studio. I want a difference in sound like you said.
      I’ve seen The Who live a couple of times and saw Roger Daltrey mess up the words to a song…didn’t bother me at all….he made it entertaining afterward.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. There’s some good concert footage of Rick Astley where he sings with a backup track. You can tell he’s really singing, too, so it’s not like he’s faking it. The audience is really getting into him, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As long as they are really singing I totally get it….it’s when they knowingly lipsync or mime to playing a guitar is where I wouldn’t like it live.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree with you, to a point. Yes. Sing YOUR music, live. If a piece was complicated with orchestral sound and you need assistance to reproduce that song, live, go ahead. Lip-sync or autotune…NO. That alters your voice or presents you as not sounding like YOU in real life.

    One thing I cannot tolerate is changing a song. Sing it like you recorded it, just live. If you alter the song and it doesn’t sound like what I fell in love with, I wasted my money. I am not fond of remixes, alternative versions or re-imaginings. And, for god’s sake, don’t change the damn words. Stevie Nicks is a prime example of this. Her voice has dropped with age and she can’t hit high notes anymore. What does she do? She sings her songs, differently and changes words & inflection. Um…you just screwed up your own music.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yea you never need to bother to go see the Stones or bands like that. I went to see Don Henley before and almost fell asleep because it was like watching a CD player… no spark no life just like the record… I like a little spirit brought in live.

      Some bands that works well with being just like the record but for other bands it doesn’t. I don’t mind if they change things up.

      Like

      1. I think I may have a bit of the Hank Williams Sr. syndrome. When junior, Bocephus, sang his dad’s songs, the crowds didn’t like his version of his dad’s songs. I remember reading about fans screaming “sing it right!” Perhaps, I am too much of a purist…🤔🤨🤓🙃

        Liked by 1 person

      2. NOW…I agree with those fans lol…that is because I think his dad was a genius (just wrote a post on him!) but his son…I never liked. His grandson is much more like Hank Sr.

        Like

  7. Totally agree with you Max on bands becoming Vegas like acts with backing singers, extra musicians which gets silly. The Stones I agree I love those shows from 81-82 when it was the Stones and Stu and a few horns etc and Keiths Marlboro rasp singing all the backing vocals. Same with The Who. I mean imagine going to see em back in 89 and Pete is strumming acoustic lol I get it he blew out his years but c’mon a backing band that employed more people on stage than I have in my own dept. at work lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL… I’m glad you agreed with me on this. Does it get you better quality? Maybe but it loses the spark and the rawness of what you grew to love in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Want to sweeten the sound? Fine, put some local backing singers behind you, pay ’em to sing, everyone wins. Slip on a tape? Everyone, the back up singers, the paying punters, the integrity of the band, all losers. Back in the day, 100 years ago, you went to the Opera house with the big lunged singers, the tavern with the tinkling singer/pianist, the bordello with the organ manipulist, what you saw and heard is what you got. If you pay to go to see the main act sing and play live then dammit, sing it live people. (Are you hearing this Ashlee? Its OK if not we’ll send you a tape!))

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I couldn’t agree with you more, Max. Live music should be live. If a performer can’t make a song sound good in a live performance, don’t do that song!
    Here’s another one for you: how about performers using a teleprompter? I remember seeing a tribute concert on TV a few years back – I think it was for Bob Dylan – and when the camera shot was from behind the stage, you could see the teleprompter with the lyrics scrolling on it. Here were these big name artists performing in tribute to one of the greatest songwriters of all time and they couldn’t be bothered to learn the man’s lyrics! Incredible! And, while I’m on my little rant here, how about all the bar/restaurant musicians these days who sit there reading lyrics and chord changes off of an iPad and call it “performing?” I don’t get it. Learn the music! There. I feel better. Thanks for listening, Max.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly…I don’t want to see a fake show…I don’t mind mess ups…it makes me feel better about my playing…hey we are all human beings.
      Telepromters… I think I know which one you are talking about I think…1993 30th anniversary for Bob?
      I know what you are talking about… That is the first time I ever saw them…I thought well maybe there are a lot of musicians playing that don’t know….it confused me…that situation I thought ok…but still you are right at least take the time to learn!
      Musicians have got lazy period. A lot of people use them now…even young bands. I saw the Who and Daltrey forgot the words to Pictures of Lily…he made a joke and we all laughed…it was completely fine! No one died or left unimpressed…. same with Autotune…come on….sing and be done with it…if you can’t sing…don’t appear on a stage.

      Like

  10. lol and that clip was on Saturday Night LIVE. How ironic. I can’t stand lip synching, whether it’s on a youtube, a tv show, a hologram concert, and especially not a live concert. UGH. It’s not real. Vocaloids aren’t real. None of those who have been caught are any good except maybe Madonna and to hear she lip synched brings her down a notch in my regard. I’m with you on let’s have it be real, warts and all.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So I take it you are not going to volunteer and go on a tour miming to Jumping Jack Flash with me? lol
      Lisa I cannot stand people lip-syncing! When I hear about people dancing etc…well Mick does it! If I pay these crazy prices….I want real.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Again, I don’t mind people having some props to help with the show, but when you are the big ticket full cost Big Cheese then we, the customer, wanna see the Big Block Full Fat Original, not a dollop of Skim Diet.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Interesting post… I think we hold different artists to different standards, rightly or wrongly. You’d be shocked by Paul McCartney miming, but if you pay to see Britney and feel let down that she lip-synced, or at best sang along to her own voice, then you probably should have done your research… lol.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. I remember the uproar when folks found out about Milli Vanilli! It was crazy.

    I guess I’d be ticked off if I payed big bucks to see someone only to find out I was really just listening to their record .. you know?

    Dean Martin was goofing around on stage in a show I have and he says, “You want to hear me be serious, but an album.”. He often rephrased songs in ways that I always liked. Sinatra did it, too. Changing up the tempo or singing a line a different way or maybe singing a harmony note instead of the melody note. I love that

    I was never really a big Elton John fan until I saw him live. He did Your Song in a way that so different, it was an improvement on the song! It was great.

    I’ve also seen artists stop in the middle of songs to point out something in the audience, like a sign or something. It makes the show so much more entertaining.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bob Dylan is the master on redoing a song… sometimes he is half way through Blowing in the Wind before you know what the hell he is doing lol…but I love the reinterpretation.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Good post, Max. Somehow I missed it yesterday. I generally agree with you,though there are different cases and exceptions. In general, you are paying to see and hear the real musicians play it, even if it’s not perfect. The times where I’d say there are reasonable exceptions are like you suggest, if it’s perhaps a four man band and they had a record with a string section on it and they don’t bring along a mini-orchestra for the tour, or where on a few tracks they have double tracked guitars or something that couldn’t be duplicated without an extra player. But for the main vocals and primary bits of the music, I say it should be played live in real time.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I kind of think it’s a little horses for courses – I get bands with heavy studio like Buckingham-era Fleetwood Mac needing extra keyboardists/guitarists to recreate the sound of their records. While it would be totally wrong if The Ramones did it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes for the extra musicians I agree. That is what made me puzzle The Stones doing it…they are on the list of bands that don’t need it… A keyboardist yea…earlier they had Ian Stewart.

      Like

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