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The Rising Popularity Of Tracks In Live Performances

In recent years, the music industry has experienced a shift as audiences get younger and music fans become more accepting of a wider range of sounds and musical genres. Streaming services and online music stores like iTunes have completely changed the way that we buy and access music by placing the entire history of the artform at our fingertips. We no longer buy the albums that sound like the ones we already own. (After all, who wants to pay $18 for something we might not even like?) Now, we sample everything because it’s extremely easy and cheap to do so. The effect is that, over time, our tastes evolve to let in a larger variety of sounds and styles.

This phenomenon is also true for live music, where the line between live instruments and pre-recorded tracks has blurred the notion of what constitutes a performance. Using pre-recorded tracks used to be synonymous with a lack of musical proficiency, but that idea has changed right along with the attitudes and demands of the live audience.

People Want a Live Experience

People typically like to see live music for three reasons.

  1. They want to be close, even for just a few hours, to the musicians who created the songs that they love.
  2. They want to take part in the larger community who also has a deep connection with that music.
  3. Live audiences are looking for moments of spontaneity that you can’t get by listening to an album. In a live music venue, there is always the possibility that something might occur — be it a mistake or a special guest or an extended jam — that will be special to that singular event.

The main criticism against tracks is that it doesn’t allow for the possibility for any happy accidents. But in reality, tracks simply prevent the wrong kind of accidents from happening. They allow for the simple recreation of musical elements that are simply too elaborate to attempt in a live setting — often on a number of different stages over the course of a tour. Could you imagine if the Who had to lug a finicky synthesizer cabinet on stage every time they wanted to play the intro to “Baba O’Riley”? Ultimately, tracks are the stabilizing backbone to a live performance that gives your favorite band or musician the ability to focus on entertaining you.

Static Tracking is Getting Cheaper

Even just 20 years ago, the use of tracks in a live performance would have required a wealth of technical knowledge to pull off. It would have also required a substantial amount of money. In many ways, the electronic music scene is responsible for a wave of cost efficient hardware and software options that allowed bedroom producers and experimental musicians to incorporate tracks into a live setting.

In the mid ’90s, as computer technology became cheaper and cheaper and the community of independent-minded acts like Radiohead and Moby became household names, the use of tracks during live performances became more and more commonplace. Today, a budding musician can find as much production power in an affordable Lenovo Thinkpad as they would have found in an entire studio just a few years ago. And it’s all portable enough to carry on stage where a single musician can play, create and manipulate enough tracks to fill a symphony.

Some might say that something is lost when live music isn’t truly live, but we shouldn’t forget about all of the amazing sounds we’ve found either.



The Rising Popularity Of Tracks In Live Performances

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