Who Was the First Band Known for Using Backing Tracks Live?
The subject of backing tracks has been one of the most highly-discussed and controversial topics in rock music over the last year or so.
It seems that nearly every interview that's published features a question about using tracks during a concert, and the answers tend to lean one way or the other, so it's become quite a polarizing conversation. They aren't new in the world of music by any means, but in recent months have they become such a hot topic.
Because of all of the commotion, we were curious who the first band was to have been known for using backing tracks, and when. We're not here to give our opinion on how we feel about them, but rather explore the history of backing tracks and show how long they've been a part of the live music industry.
So, let's dive in.
What Are Backing Tracks?
First things first — let's define what backing tracks are. Backing tracks are pre-recorded bits of audio, which can be music or vocals, that are used to enhance the sound of a live show. Say, for instance, there's a song that features a string section or an orchestra. Even if they used a real string section or orchestra in the studio the record the song, the band likely will not invite an orchestra onstage with them to perform it during every show. That's an example of where backing tracks could come in. Some musicians also use tracks to help them keep the pace of the song steady.
Why Is Everyone Talking About Backing Tracks?
While the debate over backing tracks is likely not entirely new, the incident that really started the discussion back up took place last September when Falling in Reverse pulled out of a festival after their laptops went missing. The band undeniably has electronic components in their music, so the use of tracks is really the only way the songs could be adapted live appropriately.
SiriusXM host Eddie Trunk, however, went on a rant during one of his shows about the use of technology during live performances. "How much longer are fans, promoters, media, just going to accept the epidemic of live rock shows… not really being live?" he said. This, in turn, prompted a response on social media from Falling in Reverse frontman Ronnie Radke, who fired back, "@Eddietrunk you got a podcast? That shit better not have tracks and be all be live and if you aren’t using full analog you’re a poser I wanna see you like this picture if not shut your stupid was up you literal dinosaur."
Radke also mentioned Sebastian Bach during the exchange, so the former Skid Row vocalist got involved, and posted his own series of rants arguing against the use of laptops live. You can check out the rest of the argument at this location, or we'd be here all day quoting their rebuttals.
Falling in Reverse's use of laptops for their music isn't necessarily the same thing as a band relying on tracks to perform the songs. But, ever since that conversation took place, more and more artists have been scrutinized for using tracks live, including KISS and Motley Crue. So the conversation about them has just spread like wildfire.
Who Was the First Band to Use Backing Tracks Live?
The rock band Timbuk 3, which started as a duo between married couple Pat MacDonald and Barbara Kooyman in the '80s, performed with a boom-box that played pre-recorded audio that they had recorded themselves in the studio. According to a 1989 story by Phoenix New Times, the pair started performing on the streets of Austin, Texas after moving from Wisconsin. They played pre-recorded drum machine tracks on a portable cassette deck.
"It's not like Barbara and I will be up on stage with just an acoustic guitar. We hope to stretch the boundaries of that," MacDonald said at the time. ""We plan to put a band together, but we want to do this with just the two of us."
Other members joined the band later on, but they played as a duo throughout the 1980s. Timbuk 3 officially disbanded in 1996.
See a video of one of their performances below.