When it comes to rock and metal, few things will get fans quite so rabidly divided as the use of backing tracks live. Being metal's Milli Vanilli isn't exactly a claim to fame any band wants on their CV, but some musicians argue that the sheer complexity of modern metal dictates at least some level of backing tape is required to make some songs live up to their studio counterparts.
At the same time, rock'n'roll isn't built on pristene images and note-perfect reproductions of songs (hell, the greatest live albums of all time actively offer something completely different to their studio counterparts). So its not all too surprising to see metal musicians on both sides of the fence (sometimes occupying both positions) in defending or attacking bands that lip-synch live. Cutting through the chatter, here's what some of rock and metal's most notable names had to say on the topic...
The musicians defending backing tracks
Gene Simmons (Kiss)
Kiss are a bit of a complicated case in the backing track debate, given Gene Simmons has both publicly blasted bands that use tracks, before Kiss were apparently caught in their own lip-synching controversy. But, Simmons drew a fairly firm line when it came to the topic in a 2015 interview, putting the issue down to honesty rather than the use of tracks.
"I have a problem when you charge $100 to see a live show and the artist uses backing tracks. It’s like the ingredients in food – the first ingredient on the label is sugar. That’s at least honest. It should be on every ticket — you're paying $100, 30 to 50 percent of the show is [on] backing tracks, and they'll sing sometimes, sometimes they'll lip sync. At least be honest. It's not about backing tracks; it's about dishonesty."
John Petrucci (Dream Theater)
"It depends on what people are doing because some people don't tour with their whole bands, so they have sound effects and things going on. If they're up there playing their asses off, and they have some sound effects backing that up while they're doing it, that doesn't really bother me.
"Having said that, I think that if anybody's up there faking it or pretending, that's a whole different thing.
"But I think things have changed a lot; you'll have a lot of bands that just go out with two guys now, maybe it's just a guitar player and a drummer, so they need a pre-recorded bass player. If that's the case, then I guess they have to do what they have to do to keep the show going. So, while I am not for people fake playing, it really depends on the situation."
Chris Jericho (Fozzy)
"We use backing tracks for some songs, and everybody does. Unless you're Guns N' Roses — let me rephrase that — if you're in Slash's band... Guns N' Roses has backing tracks. They have a keyboard player. It's just the way of the world right now," Jericho stated.
"It doesn't mean we're not singing and not playing. If you're listening to a record, you go to a Def Leppard gig and you hear 'Pour Some Sugar on Me' that was recorded with 25 tracks of guitars, you can't just go with two guitars on stage and in your right mind think there wasn't something building up the background there."
Blackie Lawless (W.A.S.P.)
“If I’m a fan and I’m coming to a show, I want that thing to sound as good as it can. There are other bands — the Queens of the world — they cannot duplicate 24 vocals at one time. That’s what they do on those records. If you want it to sound like those records, you’ve gotta have some help.
“Now, in defense, I guess maybe what you’re asking, is it fair for a band to go out and use only those? No, that is not fair. When we did the 20th anniversary of the tour, we took the orchestration with us and we went into production rehearsals. And I had never heard it like that before, because the only time I ever heard it with orchestration was the albums.
And I went in there and I stood in the middle of that room and I heard that orchestration with the live band, and it made the hair stand on the back of neck. And I [went], ‘Good God. I’ve never heard this like this before.’ To me, that was a treat. And I don’t give a shit what anybody says; if I’m a fan, that’s what I wanna hear. So, again, if somebody’s trying to bullshit an audience, no, I don’t go along with that at all. You’re out there to do a job; do your job. But to supplement it? Absolutely not. I’d wanna hear it.”
Nita Strauss (Alice Cooper/Solo)
“I’ve used a track for David Draiman’s vocal for Dead Inside since the song came out. We made no secret of it. It wasn’t feasible to pay a singer for a whole tour to only sing one song with us. So in my humble opinion, there are circumstances where [using backing tracks] makes sense.“
Ronnie Radke (Falling In Reverse)
In 2022 Falling In Reverse were at the forefront of a controversy when the band cancelled shows due to a lack of laptops. A Twitter beef broke out between singer Ronnie Radke and podcast host Eddie Trunk, which also brought in ex-Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach. Later that year, Radke confirmed and defended the use of backing tracks in Falling In Reverse's live show.
"We use laptops. I will not go on stage without a laptop. It has a click track to keep the time. It has rap beats that we cannot perform without. Our biggest song, fans will be very let down if we don't play Popular Monster or Voices In My Head. It's just a new mix; it's like a different way to operate. So it is — it's like the engine. Without it, we can't operate. We're the part of the engine, and it helps. I mean, yeah, I can sing a cappella; it's not gonna sound as good. I don't know what they want from me. I think they're just mad. I don't know. They're mad."
The Musicians Against Backing Tapes
Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden)
Iron Maiden are legendary opponents of lip-synching, once causing chaos on a German TV show when asked to mime. Time hasn't changed their stance at all, guitarist Adrian Smith reaffirming his stance in an interview with the New York Post in 2019.
"The music is getting too technical now. You have computerized recording systems, which we use, but I think we use them more for convenience than because we need to. We’ve toured with a couple bands that use tapes - it’s not real. You’re supposed to play live; it should be live. I don’t agree with using tapes … I think it’s a real shame.”
Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters)
"I'd rather sound awful and have the chance to change things at a whim than sound like Linkin Park or Motley Crue because of today's technology. They feel naked when it comes to playing live."
Axl Rose (Guns N' Roses)
When Red Hot Chili Peppers were called out for miming during a 2014 Super Bowl performance, Axl Rose was quick to offer his two cents, with one of the most impressively sarcastic call-outs in the game.
“I enjoyed the show and I’ve no idea what the real story is nor would I want to suggest or imply anyone wasn’t actually performing or that what they were playing wasn’t what we actually heard. That said, I feel it’s important to always look on the positive side of things and to give the benefit of doubt...
“Maybe they all had microchips installed in their asses and not only pick up the frequencies of their instruments but get DirecTV and the Internet too! Like Google Glass… Google Ass! They could be ‘Scientific Pioneers!’ Like Buzz Aldrin and shit! True (pardon the pun) ASS-tro-nots! Or like Super Bowl crash test dummies for bands kinda like those cars that drive themselves!
“And besides… If the band wasn’t really playing or wireless or whatever and Anthony was really singing they may have set a new world record for the largest karaoke audience ever! Awesome!"
Corey Taylor (Slipknot/Stone Sour/Solo)
In a 2023 interview with Loudwire, Taylor decided to set the record straight on his feelings about backing tracks - namely that while he doesn't lambast every band that uses them, he personally won't partake for his solo venture.
“I want to set the record straight. Something I’ve been saying onstage at the solo shows is I’ve been trying to make a point about real live as opposed to tracks and computer live.
“Now, before I say anything, I want to say that I am not saying there is anything wrong with using computers or using tracks. To each his own, it’s fine. If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine. But for me, my proudest moment is that we get up onstage and we do it as a band. If you hear wrong notes, that is live. If you hear wrong chords, that is live. If you hear me mess the words up, that is live. That makes the experience completely individual to the person at the show.”
Dave Mustaine (Megadeth)
Interviewed by Kerrang! Radio at Download 2022, Megadeth's Dave Mustaine had some pretty strong words on the topic.
"If you can play it live and you're being fucking lazy and you're seeing whatever just happened a couple of days ago with one of those big bands, and the singer... the tape started and the drummer wasn't playing or something. You probably heard about that. I can't remember who it was. We don't have vocals that are canned. Usually what we have is a MIDI click track that runs all of our lights and switches all of our solos and stuff."
Winston McCall (Parkway Drive)
“You hear the most amazing record in the world, and you watch them and they can’t even play it live. It’s all recorded guitars. The amount of big bands that we’ve played with that…are pretty much karaoke bands is shocking. The only live sound you hear is the drums and even that’s triggered to hell.
“I’m not going to say names but they know who they are. And the thing is, they watched us laughing at them on stage and looked embarrassed as hell…I watched the mic turned the wrong way and yet the singing coming out absolutely perfect and the guitarist dropping the guitar. You sit on side of stage and think, ‘Why are you even doing this? Are you stoked? Is this fun? Is this creative?’ It’s just bizarre. I don’t know why you’d want to bother.
“That’s where you see that person’s involved in it because they get to ride on a bus and have thousands of people screaming along. But that’s what being a popstar is – go on fucking ‘X Factor’!””
Scott Ian (Anthrax)
“I don’t wanna sound like an old man, but, I mean, come on. Look, I get it — if it’s some kind of giant pop act and giant production, or something like that, or if it’s Pink Floyd doing The Wall and there’s recorded stuff — voiceovers, whatever, things like that… But I hate going to a show and I just instantly know all the backing vocals are [pre-recorded].”
Frank Delgado (Deftones)
"So much music uses click tracks and backing tracks these days, so there's so much perfection, which is a trip for me because there's never been any of that with us. People are so used to seeing a perfect show, they expect things to sound exactly like the record but there's something about a raw, visceral performance with tension that will always speak to some people. Others might say it sounds like shit but in a time when everything sounds and looks so perfect, I think some warts and all are important."
Sebsastian Bach (ex-Skid Row/Solo)
"I'm extremely proud to say that we are a band of real, actual human beings. We don't have any tapes rolling in the back. We're not miming to anything. It's all one hundred percent real music by real human beings. This isn't Mariah Carey on New Year's Eve — this is straight-up, full-on rock'n'roll.
But I don't know how many more years I can tell you that I don't have any tapes rolling, because everybody is doing that these days. And sometimes I feel like, 'Why am I trying so hard, warming up and rehearsing all the time, singing every day?' But that's what it takes to really belt it out on those high notes that people love in 18 And Life and I Remember You. I've gotta do it all the time.
"I also think that's why these shows are selling out, because people are, like, 'Man, I've gotta go see this while it still exists.' Real guys playing, because it takes years and years of doing this to do it right. And I don't think that the younger bands — some of them — are putting in the hours of rehearsing their instruments, like we had to, 'cause we had no other choice. I think it's too easy to fall back on technology, and you lose the heart and the soul of the human being in the process of that. I'm 51 and I'm singing a record I recorded when I was 19. I'm doing it as well as I can. And no complaints — no complaints yet."
Mikkey Dee (Motorhead/Scorpions)
"Lip-syncing sucks big time. I hate it. That's not fun at all. But when it comes to backing tracks, sometimes it's not too bad if you use it in a proper way. Let's say, you could have a rhythm guitar as a backtrack in certain solos. We never had it with Motorhead, ever. And I know a lot of bands that wanna fill up certain parts of a song with some backing tracks — maybe a guitar, a rhythm guitar usually, or maybe some kind of keyboard or something — just to fill up spaces where it's impossible to play.
"And if you recorded something and you dubbed something on there, some little theme or something, I think that's okay; that's not too bad. I can live with that, as long as the rest of the song is being played properly. But lip-syncing — absolutely no. And backing tracks, if you use them properly; if you use them, I would say the way they were intended. But a lot of bands might use backing tracks for the whole musical part of it. And trust me, I hate that — absolutely terrible."