Traditionally, a tour has always been a major way for a band to plug their latest record. The party that put up the money to produce said record – often a record label – quite rightly demands that their artists promote their albums and singles by any and all means possible. Merely playing the gigs often won’t be enough to cover the market effectively. The record company will book the band for promotional spots on local television, with only minor regard to the finer details of tour scheduling. Doing a TV show on the same day of an important gig is something that regularly has the road crew tear out their hair in anguish. The PR guy doesn’t really give a monkey’s when it comes to logistical or technical issues – that’s what the band’s road crew is for!
The backline stays put!
Any promo stunts during the course of a tour are a major headache for the band’s crew. The technicians have their hands full getting the show up and running on time, which means the backline has to stay at the venue.
Nobody in their right mind would tear down the group’s equipment and transport it to the other side of town, so the band would be able to play a song or two on TV. It’s too expensive and too stressful, and the results won’t ever be worth the considerable effort. There’s no use in risking a foul up at the gig in the evening; after all, the show (and their loyal fans) is what the band came here for!
Rental backlines for TV?
The record label guy might suggest using rental gear to do the TV promo. This would be very risky. The schedule for the TV appearance is punishing as it is, with set-up during a commercial break and probably only 38 seconds time on air to plug the band’s current hit single. If you do something like this using gear you don’t know inside and out, you risk having your clients sound like bloody amateurs in front of a large TV audience.
Is all promotion really good promotion?
Playing a single song live in a dreary TV studio probably won’t give the audience the best picture of the band and their sound. The whole idea of the TV slot should be to show off the group at their best. But if the sound coming off the TV sets at home is less than decent – due to the less than ideal circumstances in the studio – the promo slot will do the band a disservice.
Usually, it’s the frontman (-woman) of the group who’s the focus of attention at a TV show, meaning he’s also the most exposed. If the monitoring isn’t working as it should, the main vocals can be out of tune. The (potential) fans at home, naturally, have no idea of all the technical stuff going into a TV appearance. To them, out-of-tune vocals equal a bad singer.
Let’s use a playback, the record label guy suggests…
There’s nothing a great live band hates more than doing playback slots. They feel using a playback is cheating your fans, something only cheesy pop acts would do willingly. The record company guy has heard these arguments before, so he suggests a compromise – something called the…
A singback, basically, is a karaoke-style remix of the original studio multitracks, with the main vocals removed. The singer is going on air live, while the rest of the band are miming to the backing track (like they would to a full-blown playback). The problem with a singback situation is that the TV studio vocals often don’t really gel with the backing track. Which is no surprise, considering the care and effort spent on producing a commercial record in a recording studio. Laying a live vocal sung through a tired old dynamic microphone (and bathed in “Hall Reverb: Preset 1”) on top of this, will make the vocals stick out like a sore thumb. “Great band, but a weak-sounding vocalist”, the TV audience will think.
Bring your own “studio live” version
A great way to steer clear of the bane of a dreadful singback vocal sound is to record special “for TV” live versions of the songs you want to promote in the studio. Recording along to a click track, or the additional backing tracks the band uses at their live shows anyway, will make this job relatively fast and easy. Aim for a good take at these sessions, but beware of trying to create a perfect, polished, record-style recording. A little bit of grit will add a live feel to the end result. A “studio live” version will make sure the band can show off their live prowess and live sound in the best possible light with the least risk of technical foul-ups!
Will fans feel cheated?
Even the most hardened fan will give his (or her) stamp of approval: Wow, this isn’t the same version as heard on the record. Thumbs up, the band aren’t miming to a playback, and really rock on TV. The vocals are a little bit rougher than on the released record, but still sit well in the mix and convey all the energy of a live performance. The singer isn’t as dependent on a good monitor mix/level as when performing to a singback. You could even consider recording “safety” live vocals for your band’s live backing tracks, which will come in handy whenever the vocalist has a cold on tour...
Keeping up the illusion
When is cheating really cheating? If you watch your favourite artist or band on TV and the exciting, great-sounding performance makes you hungry for more, the TV promo slot has worked as it should. It’s not so much a question of cheating the audience, as a question of being ready for any eventualities, using modern technology to your advantage. “Studio live” backing tracks (with and without live vocals) are used widely on TV abroad, and some of our most-successful Finnish live acts have already joined the club. Many of our domestic acts still use their single versions to mime on the telly, though – even at high-profile stadium events.
There are lots of studios around – go and record your “studio live” tracks now!
16.7.2014 Kimmo Aroluoma (translated by: Martin Berka)
The author is one of Custom Sounds’ owners, and an incorrigible guitar and gear enthusiast.