Ever since STP singer Scott Weiland fell off the stage in Ohio last month, much has been postulated about how he managed to keep singing without sounding like a guy falling off a stage.
Was he lip-syncing? Is STP using backing vocal tracks to enhance their live performances? Or is Weiland just such a pro that he was able to carry on without losing his place?
My guesses: (a) Not really; (b) Maybe; (c) Possibly.
Lip-syncing has been a part of live performances for decades. Anyone who’s ever watched the BBC’s Top of the Pops knows that. Today, backing tracks and other forms of vocal assistance are done so slickly that we don’t even notice.
Audiences expect perfection for the money they pay, hence the use of vocal augmentation by an unseen singer offstage (hello, Ozzy!); pre-recorded vocal tracks (Britney, GaGa, etc) so that the performer sounds perfect even as he/she runs through all their dance moves; and real-time pitch correction in the vocals so the singer never sounds flat (just about everybody).
But we can also underestimate how masterful some singers are. I saw U2 play a two-hour set in torrential rain in Moscow last week even though I was right up against the stage, Bono appeared to be singing every word without a croak. Then again, I’ve also heard that large segments of the 360 Tour are “tracked” because of the complexity of the stage show. I’ve also heard stories about AC/DC’s rigid set list. “If they wanted to change the set list,” one insider told me, “they would have had to gone back into the studio.”
And let’s not confuse this with the crimes of Milli Vanilli. That band was fronted by two guys who didn’t sing a note on their own albums. They merely mimed someone else’s performances and tried to keep it secret. Today’s singers are singing along (mostly) with themselves.
Some people don’t care. They want their favourite songs performed perfectly, even though the singer can’t reach the high notes anymore. Then there are those who believe that backing tracks destroy the authenticity of the live performance and the spirit of rock’n’roll.
For the record, Weiland denies he was lip-syncing. And even if he was, this won’t change anything. Backing tracks and other forms of PA trickery are here to stay. Might as well get used to it.
The Ongoing History Of New Music can be heard on stations across Canada. Read more at ongoinghistory.com and exploremusic.com