DREAM THEATER singer James LaBrie says that he is absolutely against singers who lip sync during their concerts.
In recent years, more and more artists have been given a pass for relying on pre-recorded tracks, drum triggers and other assorted technology that makes concerts more synthetic but also more consistent. For better or worse, pre-recorded tracks are becoming increasingly common for touring artists of all levels and genres and they’re not just used in pop music — many rock artists utilize playback tracks to varying degrees.
LaBrie addressed some rock acts’ reliance on pre-recorded tracks in a Cameo video message requested by the Syncin’ Stanley YouTube channel. Asked for his opinion on singers who use backing tracks for their lead vocals, the drummer said in part (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): “Okay, first of all, yeah, I’ve never lip synced in my entire life, so let’s just get that out of the way. That’s bullshit.
“I don’t agree with anybody lip syncing to their music,” he continued. “I say that if you do it, you should be able to reproduce it live, or at least try to reproduce it live. I mean, every singer has their fricking bad nights, man, for sure. And it’s hard to reproduce or replicate exactly what you did in the studio at times, just because it’s human nature. You get tired, you get sick, you’re worn out, burnt out, whatever. But yeah, so, that is off the board. No lip syncing whatsoever for whomever you are. I think that’s bullshit.
“As far as backing tracks? I think it comes down to when you utilize the studio’s environment to be able to create something within that song that is glorious and multi-layered vocals or instruments that are beyond the core instruments used within that band, I think it’s cool because it can be very enhancing,” he added. “And so when you decide to play those particular songs, you have to either ask yourself, it’s gonna be the bare minimum and it’s gonna be a little more raw than it was in the studio or the studio’s version, or you’re going to wanna give your audience everything that they’ve come to familiarize themselves with while listening to that song. They associate all those other elements that the only way to sometimes reproduce it would be by backtracks. So I think if it’s done intelligently and creatively and artistically, it should be acceptable. I think that if it’s a vice, so that someone isn’t singing what they did in the studio or someone isn’t playing what they did in the studio, that’s a different deal. I don’t agree with that.
“Anyways, so there you go. There’s my opinion on the whole backtracking system that’s out there. And a lot of bands do it, especially the younger-generation bands, the younger demographic — they’re playing tons of backing tracks. It’s unbelievable how much they use.”
Back in March 2022, LaBrie pushed back against allegations that he used pre-recorded vocal tracks during live performances.
The rumor that LaBrie had been relying on pre-recorded backing tracks gained strength in February 2022 after fan videos of DREAM THEATER‘s North American tour were shared on YouTube. Some fans have pointed specifically to the post-chorus of the DREAM THEATER song “Bridges In The Sky” where the alleged lip syncing occurs.
LaBrie finally addressed the Internet chatter during DREAM THEATER‘s concert on March 18, 2022 at Bayou Music Center in Houston, Texas. He told the crowd: “I’m gonna fucking clarify something for you now, okay? People have been saying I’m fucking lip syncing? Fuck you. Fucking, what is wrong with people online?”
He then apologized to the audience for his outburst, noting that he and his DREAM THEATER bandmates launched their current tour more than six weeks ago. “I guess I’m losing my mind because I’m almost at the end of a (tour) leg,” he said.
KISS frontman Paul Stanley, who has been struggling to hit the high notes in many of the band’s classic songs for a number of years, has been accused of singing to a backing tape on KISS‘s ongoing “End Of The Road” tour.
Back in 2015, KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons slammed bands who used backing tapes for not being honest enough to include that fact on their concert tickets.
“I have a problem when you charge $100 to see a live show and the artist uses backing tracks,” Simmons said. “It’s like the ingredients in food. If 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.
“There’s nobody with a synthesizer on our stage, there’s no samples on the drums, there’s nothing,” Gene continued. “There’s very few bands who do that now — AC/DC, METALLICA, us. I can’t even say that about U2 or THE (ROLLING) STONES. There’s very few bands who don’t use (backing) tracks.”
This past March, KISS‘s longtime manager Doc McGhee defended Stanley‘s vocal performance on “End Of The Road”, explaining that the “Star Child” “fully sings to every song” at every concert. He explained: It’s enhanced. It’s just part of the process to make sure that everybody hears the songs the way they should be sang to begin with. Nobody wants to hear people do stuff that’s not real, that’s not what they came to hear.”
When McGhee was asked to clarify if he was “actually saying there are backing tracks that (Paul is) singing to,” Doc said: “He’ll sing to tracks. It’s all part of a process. Because everybody wants to hear everybody sing. But he fully sings to every song.”
In March 2020, SHINEDOWN guitarist Zach Myers said that “90 percent” of rock artists use at least some pre-recorded tracks during their live performances. He told Rock Feed: “It bothers me that it bothers people. I’m, like, ‘Why does this bother you?’ It’s the way it is. People have been doing this since the ’80s. And we want the sound to be the best it can be. Could we go up there, just the four of us, and put on the best rock show ever? Of course. But that’s not how we wanna do it.”
Former SKID ROW singer Sebastian Bach has previously said that he is “one of the last people” who are still not using pre-recorded tracks at their live shows. “I don’t know how much longer I can say to you that I don’t use tapes onstage, because I don’t, and I never have,” he told Consequence Of Sound. “And I still don’t. When I have opening bands, and they’re using tapes, and then I come out and I don’t use tapes… sometimes, it makes me feel stupid, because I’m like, ‘What am I doing, when all these kids half my age can come onstage and do all of my moves, but they don’t have to warm up for an hour before the show, or weeks, before the first show?’ Sometimes, I’m like, ‘Why do I even bother, if the public is so used to this other way?’ It’s becoming very rare to come see a good band that’s actually a real band — that’s not miming or doing silly moves while a tape is running. It just becomes more rare as the years go on.”
In 2019, IRON MAIDEN guitarist Adrian Smith said that he doesn’t “agree” with certain rock artists relying on pre-recorded tracks during their live performances. “I tell you what, I see it with a lot of younger bands, and I don’t think it’s a good thing at all,” he told the New York Post. “I mean, 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.”
One musician who has been open about his band’s use of taped vocals during live performances is MÖTLEY CRÜE bassist Nikki Sixx, who said: “We’ve used technology since ’87.” He added the group employed “sequencers, sub tones, background vox tracks, plus background singers and us. (MÖTLEY CRÜE also taped) stuff we can’t tour with, like cello parts in ballads, etc…. We love it and don’t hide it. It’s a great tool to fill out the sound.”
In a 2014 interview, MÖTLEY CRÜE guitarist Mick Mars admitted that he wasn’t comfortable with the fact that his band used pre-recorded backing vocals in its live shows, claiming that he preferred to watch groups whose performances are delivered entirely live. “I don’t like it,” he said. “I think a band like ours… I have to say ’60s bands were my favorite — ’60s and ’70s bands — because they were real, like, three-piece bands or four-piece bands, and they just got up there and kicked it up. Made a mistake? So what? Sounded a little bit empty here or there? So what? It’s the bigness and the rawness and the people that developed and wrote the songs and made them and presented them. To me, that’s what I really like. I mean, I could put on a MÖTLEY CD and play with it all day long. I don’t wanna do that.”