Faking Performances

If musicians use modern technology, are they faking the performance?

The discussion below is taken from a thread launched by "beachbum" on the Synth Zone General Arranger forum. Click here to go to the original thread.

beachbum
11-26-2002 02:58 PM

Hi Folks,
I thought this interesting and would like to know how you folks feel. With the ability of most boards to play midi files, you can book gigs and fake playing out the Yin yang. Does this upset any of the folks that actually play? However, if you can't sing to save your life or someone you actually care about, thanks to all the vocal effects you can sound like the next American Idol? Is the talent to actually play and sing still viable or do folks depend on the ignorance of the general public?

As for me, vocals, I use no other effect than a bit of reverb. And when playing the keys, I record the performance beforehand and play usually right-handed parts, (Trumpet, string, flute) during performance, after all, I sing much better than I play. However, if everyone can sound good singing with effects, what's the point??? By the way, I use my keyboard for more than this. I like to compose originals, one track at a time. I like to arrange more than play. What do you folks think? Technology is great, but to what end?

trtjazz
11-26-2002 03:11 PM

BB,
IMO, a person who fakes performances, like Millie Vanille (or whoever they were) will meet with the same end. Performance is based on a whole lot more and needs more than playing midi files like a Karaoke machine. A set that relies on this method only won't last very long at all, unless this is the crowd type you are playing to. As an amendment to this I should also add, it really depends on what it is you are trying to achieve as an entertainer and who your audience is. -- Terry

cam8neel
11-26-2002 03:41 PM

Here's my opinion, for what it's worth. I play midi files in my act through my PSR-2000, but remove all the keyboard parts so I can play them live myself. Doing this, I do not feel as if I'm selling out at all. In live situations, I find people are quite impressed with the fact that the song being played sounds "just like the original." Can't quite understand the fuss, but nevertheless, I find it to be the case in almost every live situation. Again, just my opinion . -- Angelo

Jerryghr
11-26-2002 05:48 PM

Just like any job, you have to use the right tools to perform the job. The arranger supplies a vast array of tools. It is up to the performer to pick and choose all the right tools that are available to them. In this case, the tools are free to use. If I wanted to sound the same without midi, I would have to hire 3-6 sidemen to perform the task and I would still only be performing one part of the song.

Using the arranger and some midi arrangements, I can please a larger variety of the audience and keep the price reasonable. The only downside is you put a lot of sidemen out of work. The musicians union used to make us charge extra for a rhythm machine, since it was putting drummers out of work. The extra charge helped level the playing field. Along came the DJ's with their records with no musical ability and put us all out of work. Now we are able to compete with them for jobs we lost.

Regards -- Jerry

Scottyee
11-26-2002 05:55 PM

I've basically stopped "playing along" with midi files all together, except for only a very few songs. Nothing beats playing 100% live in "'arranger mode" because it offers much more excitement & energy when you're playing (the KB with both hands), singing, and triggering multi pad riffs, fills, and instrument setups "on the fly." I find that "playing along" to a midi file really "locks me in a box"; while playing in full arranger mode allows me to be much more spontaneously creative: triggering "on the fly" key modulation, tempo changes, variation changes, chord substitutions, adding additional chorus', etc., etc., etc.

All these skills (to me) separate a talented arranger keyboard performer from a karaoke singer who performs with backup tapes, or someone who "plays along" with a pre-sequenced midi file. I don't want to knock these other performance alternatives, but since this is an "arranger" keyboard forum, I hope to promote arranger keyboard "playing" to the fullest! Being able to play an arranger keyboard is one thing, but to fully utilize its potential in a live interactive manner takes special skill that 'sets it apart' from all other forms of music performance. I hope we all continue to work on furthering our unique arranger playing skills, which in turn will raise the level of respect we get from our fellow traditional musicians, as well as the listening public. - Scott

DonM
11-26-2002 06:56 PM

Well said, Scott.
-- DonM

kbrkr
11-26-2002 07:04 PM

I find this topic very interesting. I give you solo performers all the credit in the world. I don't think it matters whether you play to midi tracks or play with a style. The point is, you are out there by yourself putting it all on the line. I do think most audiences are pretty savvy and can smell out a cheesy performance. If the midi tracks suck or the vocalist sounds like Bill Murray from SNL, they aren't going to buy the performance.

I personally play in an Oldies band doing Temptation, Box Tops, etc. covers with three male singers and four musicians so they cover my airs bigtime if I screw up. My role in the band is to arrange the performances and play the fluff; the intro piano piece, the sax solos, string parts, B3 Hammond solo's, and brass/horn parts. I do this with both a Korg Triton and a Yammy PSR-9000, which I have since sold.

I midi the Korg and the 9000 together so that I can switch between the 9000 as a controller for the Korg samples since I can make ultra swift registration and voice changes with the 9000 and the 76 keys of the Triton to play more larger-range pieces.

I use the 9000 arranger features at home in the studio to rehearse my parts and to fool around with creating and composing, not to mention entertaining family and friends.

To all you solo artists, Rock on!!

Regards, -- Al

beachbum
11-26-2002 07:30 PM

Great stuff guys,
I just thought it would be an interesting topic since the new boards are only going to do more and more. My hat is off to all who can fly by the seat of their pants. I can fly after a twelve pack and an all night jam session, but usually by then I'm missing my pants.

Mosiqaar
11-26-2002 09:13 PM

I agree with Scottyee 100%...
I would not play to a midi file simply because its no fun for me. But even if I wanted to, I could not do so for the type of music and audience I have because I have to go nonstop from one song to another and play a whole set together, in which case I can't do with midi. Moreover, I do improvise a lot (sometimes, I will repeat a verse twice or three times if I am in the mood), so Midi is not good in this case because I would have to follow what has been sequenced already.

Nothing better than being "busier than a pussycat on hot coal."

Uncle Dave
11-27-2002 12:18 AM

I've been performing as a solo artist since way before arrangers or midi were introduced. I played straight piano(Rhodes) first, then added Ma bass (left hand) then a drum machine and finally, when midi was introduced, I layered a synth with a second sound for my right hand "color" sounds while keeping a dedicated keyboard for piano parts. This lasted till the arrangers finally put good sounding drum machines in the keyboards. After that, I slimmed down to just one keyboard, but still played all the bass and piano parts live to the rhythm machine looped patterns.

At first, the idea of using an "boom pa" (arranger) backing was unacceptable to me, but slowly, the patterns got better and better. So I caved in and used a few at a time. I spaced them out and used the arranger sparingly.

With the advent of midi, many players started using sequences to add the hands that they could not provide, and give them a competitive edge with guys like me who could get a party dancing with just my hands. Well, the midi sounds got better and better, and pretty soon, the accepted "norm" in the trenches (clubs and parties) included, at least at some level, midi backing tracks. This was all taking place at the same time that the "K" word was being introduced from Japan. The K-Jays were getting about $300 or more per show to just emcee the night. Made me sad, but I still worked the same schedule -- five and six nights a week and lots of afternoon parties and studio sessions. DJ's only hurt the bad musicians, or bad business people.

If you were a singer or guitarist in the 70's and 80's working clubs and eking out a living, it became almost impossible as the 90's drew near. Bands were downsized to fit the diminishing budgets in the rooms and rising insurance rates due to DUI laws kept the clubs from paying a lot for live music. The returns just weren't there. At least at a "K" show, people came in. Granted - they act like morons, but they do fill the seats.

My point is this: Many fine singers, drummers, guitarists etc. that used to work a lot were out of work all of a sudden due to downsizing. What do you do if you are the piano player in a 5- piece band? You play piano right? Do you play everyone else's parts, too? No. I see nothing wrong with playing your instrument to the capacity you are able, along with accompaniments by either live musicians, midi tracks or arranger patterns.

I see no difference in the validity of the performance.

My people come to see me make a show. I make parties. I set tempos. I pick what to do and when. I get paid to keep the action rolling. I sometimes use arranger patterns, sometimes manual bass and drums, sometimes midi sequences, and sometimes I use custom made audio tracks from my studio with backing vocals and extra instruments. All these tools provide me with a means to an end. They allow me to express my creative talents to make a show.

Pushing fill-ins and selecting variations takes as much time, energy and expertise as it does to play creative, two fisted parts on a keyboard while a sequence plays the rest of the band's parts. Just like we all used to do when we had live playing members in the band. Remember bands??

I miss playing funky clav parts to disco and R&B tunes. It's much more authentic and energetic if I sequence the backing tracks and play my ass off on the D6 or the Rhodes. Even when I play bass, I can manage to get the groove happen' with just those two hands, but it's harder to make a full sound because something is always left out.

I like arrangers. I like sequences. I like simple piano chords. In short, I - Like - Music. I like playing it, and I like the people to like listening and dancing to it. I find that, mostly, senior audiences are the quickest to accept a "canned" arrangement of a song, while the younger crowds definitely respond to the sequences more. I am still working the keys and the crowd ... but in a different way.

My basic rule of thumb is this: If it works, keep doing it.

So many times at weddings you'll hear 4 or 5 fast, modern tunes in a row and only a handful of barefoot, beer-drinking girls are dancing. Then a slow standard comes on and the floor fills up! Does the entertainer follow that with another slow one? Usually, no. They change gears again and lose most of the dance floor. Idiot behavior. Give 'em what they like.

Today's music is getting more and more "signature" specific with certain riffs and catch phrases that make it impossible for an arranger pattern to do justice to the song. If your crowd is over 40 (55 really), you have a shot at acceptance using arranger patterns, but the younger people see it as "hokey" and sophmorish. I tend to agree. In low volume settings, especially. Sequences are lame when played softly. They need the energy from the movement of air, since there is no one sending the energy into the performance at that specific moment.

In many cases, I'd rather play a left-hand bass line and right-hand chords to a drum beat than use a generic, overused pattern that sounds like every other player that owns a PA80. I like that intimate, small-combo sound that only manual bass can provide. There is much more energy and "groove" when the piano and bass are in sync. For bigger sound, the sequence is the winner. The arranger fits somewhere in between the two. (Easy fellas, it's just my views)

To summarize, there is nothing fake about using backing patterns, tracks, sequences, or whatever, as long as you are in control of the performance and you are playing your part along with it. If you want to be a "front person," that's OK, too, just don't fake it on dead keys. Get out in front and sing to the clients. They are very used to that concept. Playing arrangers is a shortcut to a good sound, but it should not be a destination to aspire to. Use these tools to help you learn how to put it all together, then go do it ! The important thing is energy. That comes from hard work Learn the parts !

cam8neel
11-27-2002 05:40 AM

UD,
Thank you. I couldn't have said it any better myself. -- Ang

Pilot
11-27-2002 05:52 AM

What if you don't like the styles on your arranger? You can, with some effort, make your own. But since Yamaha, for instance, don't really encourage you to do that, it gets difficult. So you use Band-in-a-Box or Jammer to generate a few extra styles. Is that cheating? I don't think so, especially not for the solo performer. As Uncle Dave says, we're making music and anything that adds to the performance is always welcome.

tony mads usa
11-27-2002 07:10 AM

We can always count on good insight from the "players" on this board. Good job! I'll add my cent and a half

UD: So many times at weddings you'll hear 4 or 5 fast, modern tunes in a row and only a handful of barefoot, beer-drinking girls are dancing. Then a slow standard comes on and the floor fills up! Does the entertainer follow that with another slow one? Usually no. They change gears again and lose most of the dance floor. Idiot behavior. Give 'em what they like.


Man, were you at our office "holiday" party last Friday night?!? That's exactly what was happening. I have some respect for DJ's because there are some who can really work a crowd. . But these two guys were nothing more than CD spinners, and as long as they kept a certain five young ladies on the floor, nothing else mattered. And when they did play a ballad, or even some of the "older" RnR, the floor was packed. But then,?!?! Back to the "barefoot five."

I see nothing wrong with playing your instrument to the capacity you are able, along with accompaniments by either live musicians, midi tracks or arranger patterns. I see no difference in the validity of the performance.

Again, right on! After working with a "General Business" band for 26 years, and then moving to a different state, I had to take a different approach to playing "gigs" (there's that word UD!!!) In fact, I didn't play out for about seven years. When I started again, I cut down to solo work, playing acoustic piano and using a Roland drum machine as back up to my vocals. Then, in '92, I bought my first arranger, a KN1000. It took me quite a while to accept the fact that the keyboard was providing so much background. I wrestled with the "am I playing or is it the keyboard" thing for some time. And then I came to the realization that people were paying me to entertain!!! Whether I did it with a keyboard, spun discs, stood on my head and played 10 instruments at one time, It Didn't Matter, as long as they were entertained and had a good time.

Scott, I agree that as a performer, playing live, utilizing all our talents and all the facilities of our keyboard creates a lot of energy and excitement. But I think sometimes that is more for the performer than the audience. Don't get me wrong. I think the audience feels and reacts to the energy we create, but can they appreciate what it takes for us to do it?? Especially in larger crowds, I tend to doubt it.

As for midis, I think the arrangement for certain songs is what the crowd is looking for and will respond to, so there are some tunes that I will use midis for. However, in small venues, I have no problem taking an otherwise "highly orchestrated" tune and cutting it down to a trio or quartet style played "on the fly."

Whatever our personal situation, I believe each of us has to feel that, however we do it, we are giving the customer what they are paying for, and take great satisfaction that we are able to do that. And all be Thankful for the talents given to us. Just keep making beautiful music. -- t.

Uncle Dave
11-27-2002 07:26 AM

tony mads usa: in small venues, I have no problem taking an otherwise 'highly orchestrated' tune, and cutting it down to a trio or quartet style, played "on the fly"...

Good point. I also think it's a good idea for sequence users to "thin out" sequences for smaller parties, too. Most of the time, I like to strip the horns and guitar parts, so it's a nice, small combo sound that leaves me plenty of room to comp on the changes. I have some thick ones and some thin ones of the same title -- same arrangement, just smaller files. Makes for a more "logical" approach to a more intimate sound.

Final point - Sequences, arrangers, whatever, they all need the human element to make them shine. To paraphrase another member ....()

Shine on.......

Lou Y
11-27-2002 03:27 PM

There is so much that can be said on this subject. I'll try to point out my own feelings as well as problems. My entire career in music consisted of singing. Yes, the front man I was and loved every minute of it. We opened for many big acts such as Billy Joel to Saturate. Was on the road quite a bit during the 70's and 80's. In the 90's, I started building my own little studio, as bands were too hard to keep together. (As you all know.)

Today I enjoy writing, recording and playing my own material, but I can't play well at all. (Really). Most of the instruments in my studio consist of keyboards and sound modules that create movement, which aid me in my writing. I respect and envy many of my fellow members who can play well, and I know there are many of you.

So, my problem is that I would love to play out, even a very small gig, but the only way I could do that is to utilize midis that I create. I would be able to add some live additions though. So why don't I do it? Well, one reason I feel that I would be selling myself a little short and would not want to be looked at like some out there look at us playing arranger keyboards. Please feel free to voice your thoughts. Regards to all, -- Lou

DonM
11-27-2002 03:34 PM

Lou,
I wouldn't worry about how you are perceived by the public. 95% of them do not know the difference, whether you are playing live, using midi files, or using the arranger functions. Do whatever is necessary for you to do the show, but still inject yourself into it.
-- DonM

Lou Y
11-27-2002 03:52 PM

Don, Thanks for your input. I know your out there and know what they expect. Is it really like that on a small job? -- Lou

Uncle Dave
11-27-2002 10:36 PM

Look at the "American Idol." All they did was sing and someone played them big bucks to do it! The public is comfortable with singers out front. Speech is easy to identify with, but not everyone can play an instrument! Get out there and sing!

Lou Y
11-27-2002 10:49 PM

UD,
Thanks, maybe I should stop worrying about how the crowd would except, and rely on what I feel I have to offer.
-- Lou