Monday, March 23, 2020

The Case of the Busker Bandits

Heard  a DJ on a Toronto-based classic Rock station talking about a recent incident on the subway there. Apparently, there was a pair of buskers in the subway and it turned out they were playing to tracks, and there was a subsequent uproar. I find this ironic to say the least. Firstly, isn't the whole situation with busking a "pay what you want to" one? So, if the "act" amused you somehow, what do you care if they were playing or miming? I don't think the Toronto Transit Commission offers a "Truly Live or your Money Back" plan! Also, I imagine the same people that were complaining about the canned buskers performance wouldn't think twice about paying upwards of $100 to see some of the latest Pop phenoms playing to pre-recorded backing vocals, instrumental backing, or complete miming!

Which brings to mind another point. The DJ, who I believe has worked in radio for a long time, claimed that  they wouldn't be able to tell a live performance from a mimed one! This is a major effect from the erosion of Music education in the last 20 years or so! This is yet another example of how people don't even understand what live music sounds like anymore!
Here's some ways to tell if the performance is the real deal of memorex/Milli Vanilli.

1. If it sounds EXACTLY like the recording, it probably is the recording!
Human beings are magical creatures, but they do not possess machine-like consistency. All vocals will have little shifts in inflection and tone colour. For something someone sings to be heard, they need to be very near the microphone. Same goes for instruments. Some notes will pop out more than others. Tempos and keys can be different. I still remember seeing Genesis and they played " I Can't Dance" a tone down ( probably to help Phil Collins' voice) but with it being in A rather than B, it sounded much tougher and bluesier, probably due to the open strings on the guitar and bass.

2. It's really difficult to move around a lot onstage and maintain instrumental/vocal precision. 
Do you really think that band doing something that looks like a gymnastics routine is able to make the gig sound exactly like the recording, including never sounding out of breath, despite doing double duty on vocals and aerobics?

I've mentioned this before, but I think we need to view live performance as a time to take the recording to possibly a new place, or at least a fresh one. Isn't it cool that the performance we're witnessing, even if it's material the artist has played many times, is unique? So, let's all go dig some live music and appreciate it for what it is! :)

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