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08:36 AM on 08/30/13
Drew Beringer
Senior Editor - @drewberinger - Locked Groove
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Shane Told Sports Column #1: STEROIDS, BACKING TRACKS, AND THE END OF AN ERAMusic and sports aren’t normally talked about in the same breath, especially in punk rock. Sure, pitcher CJ Wilson used to come out to “Firestorm”, and sometimes Nuno from A Wilhelm Scream will rock a KG jersey, but beyond that it’s two very separate worlds.

However, one similarity is common in sports, music, and life in general - the presence of cheaters. We’ve all done it innocently enough in some facet; exaggerating a high score in Temple Run, comparing results with a friend on a science lab, claiming you caught the ball before it hit the ground when you know you didn’t, or maybe editing a guitar track so the notes are a little cleaner. It happens. But when does it go too far?

Last week 13 Major League Baseball players (including the elusive, and now appealing Alex Rodriguez) were suspended for using performing enhancing drugs (PED’s). This drug problem has been running rampant in the game since the late 1990’s. In the so called “Steroid Era”, longstanding records were broken, especially in home runs, and many people believe these records should be “asterisked”, meaning that in the official records they only sort of count. But finally MLB took a real stand against guys breaking the rules and hopefully moving forward this will help clean up the game and make it more fair to the guys who didn’t feel right about cheating.

Warped Tour also finished last week, and over those 6 weeks I witnessed a similar “Steroid Era” within live music. This isn’t bands taking drugs to play or sing better. This is them not singing or playing at all. In the music business it’s called “backing tracks” and it’s a dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about, and very few bands would ever admit to. How it works is the bands music “tracks” are pre-loaded onto a computer or an iPod, and the drummer will listen to it with headphones and play along. Then the band (or their sound guy or producer) can decide what they want to come out of the speakers. This can be everything from just some subtle keyboard or strings in the background (what some bands will admit to and most people including myself would consider to be respectable) or 100% fake including lead vocals, backing vocals, guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, etc.

Coming from a guy who has never been in a band that has used any backing tracks whatsoever, I find this completely disgusting and dishonest to fans coming out to the shows, and embarrassing for the bands doing this. I’ve heard the arguments - “We don’t have enough people to play it live and we can’t bring additional musicians out on the road”. Sure there’s bands who use tracks tastefully, and as perfectionists want the padding of some studio sounds behind talented vocal and instrumental performances. But in nearly every case I’ve witnessed, this is simply not what is going on. It’s gotten to the point where many bands are basically lip synching. One band (I won’t name names) literally plays nothing except select vocals which they can decide at the time whether will be real or fake. Sometimes screamers don’t do the really low or high stuff. Guitars are often completely fake. Guys break strings and walk off stage only to have the guitar tracks keep going like nothing has happened.

Maybe you don’t care. Maybe it’s fine for you, you’re there to see the band on stage and hear the music, and it doesn’t matter to you if it’s actually connected. Or maybe you’re like me and find this to be a travesty and an insult to the bands that actually take the time to practice, work on their craft, and are there to put on a specifically tailored live show, not just run their iPods and pretend to play along. Either way, the era of critics, fans and real bands passively standing around and not saying anything needs to come to an end. We don’t have a commissioner or a league like MLB governing the rules of live performances, and we never will. However, that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be speaking out about the problem in our scene with backing tracks. I encourage friends of mine to do the same as I’ve done and pledge that they will never use them to fake performances, and will keep their live music honest and real. If not for themselves than for their fans who pay money to see them - and hear them, play their music.

Shane Told, August 2013
08:44 AM on 08/30/13
Drew Beringer
Senior Editor - @drewberinger - Locked Groove
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Cool column. Needs a catchier name though haha.
totally - but we haven't thought of one yet - hopefully the next column has a better name but truth be told it'll probably just stay as it is
09:17 AM on 08/30/13
Drew Beringer
Senior Editor - @drewberinger - Locked Groove
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well looks like we have a title for this feature now haha
02:13 PM on 08/30/13
Drew Beringer
Senior Editor - @drewberinger - Locked Groove
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Yeah, they should have brought a choir on every tour to sing that 15-second snippet

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