Live Bands vs MIDI Backed Bands - There's No Comparison!

The Band on Stage

The girl is singing her heart out. It's a big heart. She's good and generous and works like a trooper, night after night. The boy plays like Clapton (nearly) and is also giving it his everything. These kids have talent. But they're alone on the stage - so why am I hearing a frigging drumkit??

Two Pictures

Laptop & Guitar - what's the difference?
Laptop & Guitar - what's the difference?

Is this progress?

On the left, we have a laptop; on the right, a musical instrument. The laptop can regurgitate almost the entire body of recorded music at the touch of a few keys. The guitar can't issue a single note unless some poor artisan stands there and plays it. A poor sort of instrument indeed!

But I remember many an evening when friends gathered to relax together. When one or two of us would have guitars that anyone (who knew a few chords) could take their turn on. When we made mistakes, and laughed. When we'd try something new, and unfinished. When we were younger, of course, but mainly, when music was live.

Tonight or any night, in this bar or a thousand like it, the beat goes on - and on, and on - and the only way to stop it is to switch off the laptops. Because, we are being conned. These ubiquitous duos and solo performers, however talented they are, are in effect professional karaoke artists. None of this is new of course, except in degree. We've had backing tracks since we've had tape recorders. And drum machines have for decades been clicking away behind all sorts of unlikely line-ups. But now, it's the full Monty. Request some Santana and it will sound like Santana because, to all intents and purposes, it is Santana. Well, what a surprise.

Best joke of all is - nobody's listening! Why? Because it is entirely predictable. It's going to sound exactly like the record, exactly like it did last night. Yes, you like the music but you've heard it all before.

All is not lost

Wait - something's happening. Our boy's just picked up his acoustic guitar, strummed a few chords, tweaked the tuning, and is starting to play Carole King, You've got a Friend . They sing it together, harmony vocals, no accompaniment save for his solo guitar. And you could hear a pin drop in the silences. No-one's talking. Everyone is watching, listening. Not just because it's different, and good, but because it's dangerous. It's live. It could all fall in a heap. But it doesn't. Ain't it good to know you've got a friend , the dying major 7th, and a burst of spontaneous applause, even from the bar staff.

We can't turn back the clock. We are doomed to hear wall to wall music that no-one is playing, to suffer the mind-numbing torrent of pseudo-music from karaoke-bands and club DJs. But I would rate a busker in the subway having an honest stab at The Streets of London higher than the outpourings of every laptop band this side of Khatmandu.

Biased, me? Yes. Keep Music Live!

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Comments 14 comments

ProCW profile image

ProCW 8 years ago from South Carolina

Hello there. I read this article a couple of times and agree with what you have to say about the repetitiveness of what we listen to -- not relaxing -- not having fun -- and not being creative.

I'm 31 years young and have had years of musical training on various instruments, but nothing (musically) beats sitting back (figuratively,) creating new material and having unequivocal fun with it.

... Maybe I should sit back for a moment and play my synthesizer.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi ProCW - thanks for the read & comment. I think one problem is that people who don't play themselves now have a false expectation of what instruments can do. They see a guitarist and expect to hear a band. This is making it harder and harder to present true live music, which is a shame.

tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 7 years ago from South Africa

I'm with you all the way on this one, Para! Live music is absolutely the greatest thing, but not the stuff that passes for music sometimes, like backing tapes and the like.

If you have to play alone, then play alone. having some midi backing is just wrong. Not to mention dishonest.

I had some wonderful times all through my life playing alone in clubs and restaurants, playing with groups of various kinds. Just wish I could do more of that!

Love and peace


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Tony - it's a tough nut to crack though. The venues want the band sound but don't want to shell out for a band. So we get the karaoke hybrids. In this part of the world it's in every venue. The bands are being squeezed out.

prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 7 years ago from US

hi Dave, yes I agree with you, there is nothing compared to live music, thats what technology brought to us, it can have advantage but disadvanatage too, but in terms of music, I still like live, have a ood day always!

thanks for reading my hub and take care always,


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Maita - I know you sing karaoke. Me too sometimes. But have you sung to a band in your time, or even to a 'scratch' band at a party? Much more fun, I think :)

prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 7 years ago from US

Yes i tried that but it is difficult to follow, LOL, I like to hear you sing in karaoke Dave, that will make me smile,,Maita

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

I think, might make you laugh!

James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

Great article. I agree with you all the way. I am horrified to learn that many of the biggest recording artists in the world are using all kinds of phony tracks in "live" performance, including themselves singing. I remember when drum machines came out, and being a professional drummer, I HATED them and the very idea of them. I'm done now. :D

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi James - thanks for finding this oldie! Here in Doha real live music is very hard to find, with the honourable exception of one high quality jazz bar. You'll remember I was delighted with the true live performances in Istanbul not so long ago. You can't beat it. Anyway, this week I'm in Kuala Lumpur. Maybe I'll sniff out a decent venue!

Wheet Whart 5 years ago

Firstly you need to know that to be biased is NOT a virtue.

MIDI is NOT KAREOKE, and to mis-label it as such is either IGNORANT or MALICIOUS or BOTH.

KAREOKE is a music toy for mainly the self entertainment of drunks, complete with words and bouncing ball.

MIDI started as a professional music tool used by firstly PINK FLOYD,..then Duran Duran and others like Frankie Goes To Hollywood,... so go ahead and tell me that Pink Floyd are a "kareoke act".

In fact to follow a MIDI arrangement is in fact "dangerous" (as you put it) and when one loses their place in the arrangement there is no forgiveness,.. no band to compensate and adjust for any error or mistake.

I perform with both bands and MIDI,and the advantage MIDI has over bands are numerous and it's little wonder bands resort to name calling,chinese whispers, and slander when faced with the reality of this technology when it's implemented properly .

Some MIDI acts that I know of are employed over bands and are actually MORE EXPENSIVE. Bands are LOUD, TAKE UP A LOT OF SPACE, and are LIMITED IN REPERTOIRE DUE TO BAND MEMBER LIMITATIONS.

MIDI allows me the freedom to perform whatever song I wish to create,... try pulling that off in any band with all the different ego's and personalities adding their 2 cents worth. Yes it's true that today most midi acts sound like the "Wiggles" are about to come running in through the door to do a show,... but that is due to the phenomenon of mass amatuer "take up" of and attempted implentation of MIDI. MIDI implemented by those with a extensive history in live music performance and a technical understanding of how to correctly use the technology yields a entirely different result .

In this example I'm doing nothing different than if I were performing with a band, I'm still doing all the singing and guitar playing, I've even sacked the lighting guy,...yes that's right the light show is MIDI!

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

No need to be rude by tossing in words like ignorant and malicious in upper case. Quite uncalled for.

I know exactly what MIDI is, from the standpoint of systems engineer, lecturer and musician. I also know that nearly all of the MIDI bands that work the hotel residencies in the Middle and Far East are as I described: Competent or even highly talented guitarist and singers taking the easy way out. Bands don't have to be loud. The problem often is that venues are too small to allow a drummer to play freely, but only if he insists on playing large venue music like heavy metal. Something of a lost art is matching the music to the venue. There's more to it than adjusting the master volume control.

I'd also suggest that it is the interplay of personalities (egos if you insist) within a band that make each band and each performance unique. Midi one-man creations never, in my experience, come close to the excitement that live can generate.

dwayne dwibley 5 years ago

"The venues want the band sound but don't want to shell out for a band .............The bands are being squeezed out."

ITs just a sign of the times. Think - if its in every venue, then its working from a business point of view.

If bands are being squeezed out, it is because people are less discerning about what they listen to. There is an increased accent on being drunk and drugged out now when going to a niteclub and security costs have risen to counter the violence in venues. You cant blame venue owners for trying to reduce costs.

The digital age has bought cheap entertainment for the masses.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

"There is an increased accent on being drunk and drugged out now when going to a niteclub and security costs have risen to counter the violence in venues". - That might be true in the US and UK but it doesn't apply in the Middle and Far East. Fortunately there are still some specialist venues with live jazz, rock or show bands and a few African clubs too. But the music scene across the many hotel lounges is as I described and pretty dismal.

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