[Dixielandjazz] FW: Live Musicians or Recorded Music?
jim at kashprod.com
Sat Aug 1 12:18:56 UTC 2009
An article from England following. Interesting, but one thing that is not
addressed in the argument are the economics that have brought us to the
point of "canned" backing tracks, and even to "not everyone in the band is
At a club or restaurant, there is just so much that the joint can charge its
clients. At a theater, people are only going to pay just so much. However,
musicians have to eat & live, and as these costs go up, their salaries will
need to go up. Simple economics demand that the number of musicians will
need to go down as the costs go up, and the income remains the same.
I understand all of this, but still lament, as this man has done, the loss
of the bands/musicians.
The real shame of all of this is that the "general public" doesn't notice
the difference. I have asked my non-musician friends if they have noticed
anything peculiar in the sound of a particular band in a coctail lounge.
No, they say. But, doesn't anyone notice that we're looking at just a
singer & a drummer, but we are listening to a bass, piano, percussion,
strings, brass & backup singers? Nope! There is the real shame!
>From The Times / UK
July 8, 2009
Bring back bands
A Mancunian man has sued a stage show that used a recorded backing track
rather than a real, live band. Good on him
By Richard Morrison
There's a whole category of threats, insults and exhortations that angry
people shout without literally meaning what they say. "Go to hell" is an
obvious example. (Pragmatically speaking, how would that help to resolve a
dispute?) That uncouth American riposte "kiss my ass" is another. I mean,
really? Wouldn't you rather have your rump pecked by someone you actually
And a third is "I'm going to sue under the Trade Descriptions Act". In the
41 years since that piece of legislation came into effect, the phrase must
have been uttered millions of times. The world is full of package holidays,
lap-dancing clubs, hair restoratives, politicians, second-hand car dealers,
dream apartments, religions, train companies and self-improvement manuals
that deliver nothing like what their advertising promised. Livid at being
duped, many of us must have shouted those words at least once in our lives.
But who has the time or knowhow to carry through the threat? I've met some
furious ripped-off punters in my time, but I've never come across any who
did sue under the Trade Descriptions Act, let alone win.
Last week, Manchester County Court was the scene of an extraordinary
victory. A man called Adrian Bradbury had taken his family to see a
professional staging of The Wizard of Oz at the Lowry Theatre in Salford. I
know the Lowry well. It's a superb arts centre and it usually puts on
top-class shows. But The Wizard didn't enchant Mr Bradbury for one simple
reason. It had no live band.
All the songs and dance routines were performed to pre-recorded backing
tracks. Mr Bradbury felt that if you had paid to see what was billed as a
"magical family musical" you were entitled to expect live musicians. So he
sued under the Trade Descriptions Act. And, astonishingly, he won.
The Lowry argued that "133,000 theatregoers have enjoyed The Wizard of Oz
at the Lowry and Mr Bradbury was the only person who expressed any concern
with the lack of live music". But the judge, in effect, said "so what?". He
that Mr Bradbury's personal expectation of hearing real musicians was
and reasonable. So the Lowry must now refund the Â£134.50 that he spent on
You may sense that there's a lot of subtext nestling behind this apparently
simple tale, and you'd be right. Mr Bradbury is no ordinary punter. His
Colin Bradbury, was principal clarinettist of the BBC Symphony Orchestra
for30 years. His brother (who also saw the ill-fated Wizard) is also a
professional clarinettist. He himself is a distinguished cellist. His case
has the enthusiastic backing of the Incorporated Society of Musicians. And
in court he produced an expert statement from none other than Sir Harrison
Birtwistle. Britain's leading avant-garde composer isn't known as a
connoisseur of kitsch Broadway musicals, but he nevertheless declared
helpfully that without an orchestra or musical director "a performance of
The Wizard of Oz is best described as karaoke".
You get the picture. This is more than a bee in one man's bonnet. It's a
backlash by an entire profession. For years jobbing musicians have fumed as
backing tracks replaced them in more and more ballets, musicals, cabarets
and talent contests. The Lowry's Wizard is one of hundreds of band-less
shows round the country. Now, finally, they see a way of stopping the rot.
If it were simply a matter of protecting their own jobs, they wouldn't have
much of a case. After all, advances in computer technology have devastated
thousands of occupations, from telephonists and filing clerks to
printworkers. Musicians deserve no special immunity.
But the issue is really an ethical and aesthetic one. Why do punters pay to
see live entertainment, as opposed to sitting at home and watching the
or playing a DVD? The answer is that they want to see a performance created
afresh before their eyes, not synthetically recycled with minimum effort. A
performance that can vary subtly, or a great deal, from night to night. One
that responds to the changing mood of the audience or the performers. One
that exhibits high theatrical and musical skills. One that requires superb
teamwork if all its elements are to be kept in perfect alignment. One that
might go wrong, unless everyone gives 100 per cent.
Backing tracks remove a large measure of that danger, as well as any
display of instrumental skills. But they also bind singers and dancers to
same speeds, the same interpretations, the same phrasing, for show after
That vital musical ingredient called "rubato" - the flexibility to slow or
quicken the pace on the spur of the moment - is eliminated.
In effect, the audience is being hoodwinked. They are paying to hear live
music - yet spontaneity, the very essence of live performance, is ruled
A county court judgment doesn't set a binding legal precedent, so Bradbury
vs Lowry can't yet be called a landmark ruling. Nevertheless, it opens up
sorts of possibilities. Will Simon Cowell, for instance, be shamed into
using a live band for the rounds and finals of Britain's Got Talent? It's
not as if he doesn't have the spare change. And shouldn't a show that makes
such great play about discovering unknowns who can perform brilliantly live
on stage be using real musicians to back them, rather than (as Birtwistle
would see it) a glorified karaoke machine?
And what about the vexed question of miming? Is it strictly legal for
Britney Spears, Madonna and other luminaries to pass themselves off as live
singers when so many numbers in their stage shows are lip-synched to
pre-recorded tracks (and usually lip-synched rather badly, too)? Granted,
most of their fans don't seem to care. They've paid to see the spectacle,
soak up the atmosphere, or bask in the star's charisma. But what a
deliciously humbling lesson it would be for these multimillionaire
chanteuses if they were forced to print the words "she's miming, you know"
on all the tickets for their supposedly live shows.
Belatedly (since it is now being replaced by new European legislation) I'm
starting to warm to the Trade Descriptions Act. Mind you, when applied to
musical matters it's a dangerously blunt instrument (as it were). Is it
possible, I wonder, that Harry Birtwistle himself could be sued by an
uncomprehending listener for passing off what he writes as music? Now that
would be a fascinating test of semantics, artistic taste and the laws of
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