by Bob Malkowski | 3,5 / 5,0 | Approximate reading time: 7 Minutes

 ·  Source: Billy Nomates Youtube


Billy Nomates Glastonbury performance received such negativity from social media, she’s pledged never to play live again. We talk to one of the industry’s top playback techs and ask, does using backing tracks live matter? 


Billy Nomates Glastonbury Performance

Glastonbury Festival, held at Worthy Farm in the English countryside, is one of the world’s most famous music festivals. Glastonbury always brings a hugely diverse range of artists of all ages, backgrounds and musical genres. The festival TV footage brings this diversity of artists and their performance styles to a mainstream audience. Unfortunately, this sometimes results in unpleasant, negative reactions…

Hitting the stage on the Friday of 2023s Glastonbury, Billy Nomates (Tor Maries) played in person to a sizeable and appreciative audience. Unfortunately, the comments on her broadcast performance across social media were very much less than appreciative. The wave of personal abuse aimed at Billy Nomates was so great that, at the artist’s request, the BBC removed the performance from social media. Worse than that, Tor Maries has suggested she may never play live again:

I know it’s not for everyone what I do. I know lots of people don’t rate me. But the level of personal abuse on that public page is too much. There will be no more shows after this summer. You wouldn’t stay in a workplace that did this to you. Why should I. – Billy Nomates

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Playback Prejudice

So what is it that caused so many people to target her performance in a negative way? Well, while the abusive comments have been removed, it appears they fell into two camps: Toxic and Misogynistic personal comments and comments aimed at her use of backing tracks and an absence of live musicians.

The use of playback or backing tracks in live music is nothing new and is widely commonplace. However, I think it was Billy Nomates unashamed and obvious use of playback that brought obvious attention. No musicians onstage, no dancers, no flamboyant stage show. Simply an artist performing with a microphone to music.

I’d hope it goes without saying that as musicians and creatives, we would condemn misogyny in our industry. But what about backing tracks? I sought out the opinions and insight of someone who’s worked with backing tracks extensively for 25 years…

Meet my friend, and live industry veteran, Eric Morris. Eric has provided services for artists such as: Lady Gaga, Nicky Minaj, TLC, The Fray, Scissor Sisters… The list of A-Level acts Eric has worked with is long and numerous.

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Audience Expectations

Bob: Hey Eric, welcome to Gearnews! So, the big subject of live playback; something we both have a bit of experience with! Why do you think that playback is such a common part of live music performances and live shows nowadays?

Eric: As live music production values have increased, so have studio productions. Therefore to get a sound close to an album production, it is needed to produce sounds that organic instruments cannot create live; leaving many artists no other option but to rely on the ability to use advanced and modern tools to ensure their creations are reproduced faithfully in a live setting.

Bob: There are other aspects involved here too, right? A large-scale stage show nowadays involves lots of synchronised light and visual elements.

Eric: In one aspect, as live production levels have increased exponentially in the last 2 decades, it is deemed necessary for complete uniformity of lighting and video with the music being performed.

Bob: Right, and because those cues have to happen on time, every time, every night, then the music performance has to be essentially the same every night!

Eric: Going to a live show isn’t merely listening to your favourite musical artist perform their musical work live, but it’s an overall “experience” that one gets from attending a live show with high production aspects.

Financial Considerations

Bob: Considering Billy Nomates’ performance at Glastonbury, it was far from a whizz-bang lights and pyrotechnics kind of show. However, as an “up and coming artist” there must surely be financial and logistical issues involved that make running playback hugely attractive, if not essential.

Eric: As record sales are at all-time lows, artists have no choice but to succumb to revenue streams limited to touring and selling t-shirts and other merch-related items just to be able to survive, let alone be able to pay for a large crew and band. Its an unfortunate fact of the fallout of severely cutting the revenue stream of artists that still have the expectation of bringing a high-caliber show to the masses.

Bob: I think those who perhaps haven’t worked in the industry, simply aren’t aware of the financial implications of touring. Every person added to that tour is another mouth to feed, another bed to find another pay packet to fill. From my perspective, that doesn’t undermine the validity of those professionals’ work. However, as you’ve pointed out, in this era of greatly reduced income, there may simply not be the money available to pay for musicians.

Eric: In their early years, performers such as Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, JLo, and Jessica Simpson, to name a few, fully relied on track only performances as support acts as this was their only way to get out and been seen by the masses.

Smoke and Mirrors

Bob: For me, the Billy Nomates Glastonbury set was a bit of a watershed moment for the use of backing tracks. Up until that point, I feel there’s always been some sort of distraction or “smoke and mirrors” surrounding the use of backing tracks live. There might be someone Djing on stage, or perhaps playing keys to give the illusion of a live music performance. And yet the Billy Nomates performance was just Tor onstage with just her songs, her vocal and her performance to sell the show.

Eric: This really depends on the genre and the fan’s perception. In some cases, bands like The Prodigy, and Chemical Brothers the crowd is fascinated to see so many players and instruments on a stage as they largely understand that most of that music is computer generated and they have no illusions about that fact when they come to see their favorite electronic artists perform live.

Bob; What about genres where electronics and programming might be frowned upon by a traditional fan base?

Eric: In Country Music, for example, there is an expectation to just hit the stage raw and play it just like the record. However, even in country music, there are many “unseen” portions of the performance that help to drive the beat. Drum loops and small organ swells for example are such that give the music a few “lifts” here and there are the norm, yet the performance doesn’t rely on those things for the show to still be strong.

Unfair Criticism

Bob: So what’s your take on the Billy Nomates performance, after having watched a clip of her performing at Glastonbury?

Eric: I find it curious that people have no issue watching their favourite performer sing at sporting events or on a television variety show to just a track, yet they say nothing disappointing about the performance. However, when a favoured artist performs at a festival like Glastonbury, it’s only an issue if they are a threat to those higher up in the food chain, and the press runs amok with their passive-aggressive tactics to make the artist look fraudulent. In fact, most of the artists are doing exactly the same thing, they just have more “diversions and distractions” on the stage to hide that they too, are guilty of exactly what another artist is being torn down from.

Time for a Change in Attitudes?

So there you have it, don’t just take my word for it, it seems Billy Nomates has received her unfair share of abuse. Backing tracks and playback are part of modern live music; you probably just didn’t realise it!

Ultimately, an artist’s use of playback is largely driven by audience expectation and support. Hate the fact that your favourite rock band uses playback and a click track? Well, perhaps you need to be prepared to sacrifice those synchronised visuals and pyrotechnics.

Do you lament how sparse an artist’s live band is, and how much is coming from playback? Well, then perhaps you need to directly support the artist. Buy merchandise, buy physical albums, anything to help pay for the huge financial costs of touring.

What are your views on the use of live backing tracks? Do you feel cheated if you only see a handful of musicians onstage? Drop us a line in the comments, but please, be kind!







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17 responses to “Billy Nomates Glastonbury: Do Live Backing Tracks Matter?”

    spork says:

    imagine thinking of music in terms of “cheating” or not. its extremely pathetic and childish. was she miming?
    her music isnt to my taste but the online backlash she received was a stark reminder of how base the public are.
    to put it simply, she was using her voice -live. there were so many bands with instruments at Glastonbury that also used backing tracks to fill out their songs. if her instrument is her voice, her backing track will support that and just because she didnt have an army of back up dancers and props doesnt fail to validate her performance as a solo artist. in fact, id give her more props to come out in that raw stripped back presentation.
    the really depressing thing here is that this needs to be addressed and explained in 2023 and that the many people complaining seem to have the tolerance and overall attitude of a bitter old man.
    id love to say that an issue like this opens up dialog with people and can be used for change and growth but this is just a bleak display of ignorance and lack of empathy. people like that dont change because they dont like change.

    JJ_Jettflow says:

    I find it funny that in the 70s, bands like Supertramp and Genesis could recreate their music faithfully without resorting to backing tracks or extra musicians. Of course, these bands were made up of real musicians, which is hard to find nowadays.
    As far as money goes, they seemed to be able to pay a crew and make money on the road, so why not now? Especially that the ridiculous prices they charge nowadays.
    This is more about hiding the deficiencies of the artist and maximizing profit at the same time.
    The people who paid about 350 GBP to see Billy Nomates got what amounts to a very expensive karaoke performance.

      JJ_NoMates says:

      Right, blame the musicians instead of the increasingly greedy and parasitic music industry. Clueless.

      CLIVE COUTER says:

      ridiculous comment, £350 wasn’t just for her but for dozens of acts, the people trolling were watching it on TV so didn’t pay anyway. And did you read the article? In the era you are harking back to income for records/CDs merchandise was far greater and that to an extent subsidised and played back into the record sales. Now it’s streaming, so touring is the income, with large associated costs as explained in the article, it’s not rocket science to understand..

      BuckinFoomersMan says:

      You think some up and coming artist who’s got an early slot at a festival has “Genesis in the 70s” money?

      Nobody “paid £350 to see” this artist. They paid for an entire festival. That’s a huge difference.

      Do the best you can with what you have right? Or should people just give up if they can’t hire a 10 piece band off the back of an record they probably made in their bedroom?

    Marc says:

    I thought from the clip she is a fantastic performer.

    Toxic and misogynist comments aside I think that people could have found the use of guitars as the foundation of the music incongruous.

    Audiences somehow have wrapped their heads around backing tracks for rap and synth acts but not guitars. That’s ‘not allowed’.

    Weird though because everyone seems to accept Sleaford Mods exactly as they are and they have some guitar.

    Richard says:

    The most blatant example of backing track use in a live concert show is Freddie Mercury and Queen disappearing off stage completely for over 60 seconds during the middle of Bohemian Rhapsody while the operatic section of that song is played back off tape. Then they all come back on stage and play the ending live, after more than one whole minute of an empty stage and smoke machine.

    Hugo Rodrigues says:

    To me, when it’s an up and coming artist, i don’t think its fair to criticize the use of backing tracks, but when is someone like Ed Sheeran who makes a world tour of soldout stadiums without a backing band…

    DJ Fogethaboutit says:

    DJ’s are super popular and they barely do anything “live”.

    James says:

    I think for the most part all bets are off for a “regular” show in a festival setting. I’m definitely more forgiving in that environment.
    That said, I would not be interested in any show where the artist just performed to a backing track and no other visuals. Just not my thing.
    Not sure I understand all the complaining unless it was advertised as something else. It’s a festival. If you don’t like that performance, go to another one.

    Alex says:

    It’s not whether singing to a backing track is right or wrong but down to personal preference of the paying audience.

    There’s also a massive difference between singing completely to a backing track and using backing tracks to complement the live performance, so that’s a poor comparison IMO. Even sporting events tend to be different (at least from my experience) where it’s just one or two tracks sang. People aren’t paying for the music – they’re there for the sport and/or to support their team.

    I’ve walked away from acts at music festivals because it’s a singer with a backing track. That isn’t live music for me, and I’ve been disappointed at missing a band on another (smaller) stage instead.

    Yes, bands have used backing tracks when playing live for decades, but as I mentioned, that’s generally to complement the live playing, not to replace it.

    Billy Nomates is a strong performer. I haven’t seen comments directly but have seen a couple of quotes and can imagine certain comments made about her are disgusting (and no doubt misogynistic) based on how female musicians generally get treated by many. So I strongly agree that she’ll have received uncalled for abuse. People have come out in overwhelming support of her, and I hope she sees that and continues performing.

    If someone is paying to see live music then it’s about setting the right expectations – Ian Brown was rightly criticised for performing to a backing track with no band, but the expectation was he would have a band. I enjoy Pet Shop Boys recorded but wouldn’t pay to see them live unless they changed it up live and had a backing band. I was disappointed when seeing Billy Nomates live last year when she didn’t have a band, like I have been a few times with others singing fully to backing tracks, although I still appreciated her and enjoyed the individual aspect of her performance.

    There’s something special about live music. It has a spark. I think some of the criticism of Billy Nomates came from the expectations surrounding live rock music. I’ve seen a few pop acts, and they’re always better when singing with a live band (or solo with guitar, piano, looper or whatever) compared to a complete backing track. I go to gigs for the live music experience. I’ve seen a few bands 20+ times each, and every gig is different, largely thanks to those live instruments.

    I sympathise and understand the costs involved in touring and playing live with bands (I’ve done it myself on a small scale), so I’m not going to criticise Billy Nomates or anyone for performing alone to a backing track.

    It’s more a representation of the state of the music industry in general. I feel the arts – live performance included – are essential, and more funding should be available for musicians to perform live in whatever way they see fit. That doesn’t have to be through government funding – like most things in life, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer.

    Alex (another one) says:

    Should have had a guy/girl with laptop, beard/bikini and beer triggering the tracks. Sleaford Mods never had this discussion.

    Diki Ross says:

    Never has so much been charged to attend music festivals. And never has so little been offered for that ticket price.

    It is a simple financial transaction. Nobody goes to a music festival HOPING their favorite artist will sing to tracks.

      Rocdoc says:

      I completely agree,to me,live means LIVE. A couple sweetening tracks I can understand, but don’t go all Mötley Crüe on me, especially for a ridiculous ticket price.

    JP says:

    Years ago I was working on a gig by a very popular boy band, where the front of house engineer had both hands on the console, the left on the faders for the vocal mics, the right on the equivalent number of pre-recorded vocal tracks. Watching him juggle the two was fascinating.

    When I raised my eyebrows he said “Do you honestly believe they can dance and run around like that and not get out of breath?”

    Fortunately, back then Outraged of Social Media Land didn’t exist. Which largely seems to be people who have zero idea about the logistics of live performance in the 21st century, when an audience expects a live show to sound exactly the same as the tracks they’re streaming… but then complains when an artist has to use backing tracks to make up for the 200 extra tracks there are on the studio recording.

    And then when GnR get a poor broadcast mix from Glasto, people complain that the live sound is crap.

    Go figure.

    HC says:

    I like Billy Nomates. She makes great music and did an amazing performance.
    That being said. I would prefer to see live musicians. Not all songs have to be exactly the same as on the album.
    I’m afraid we are not far away from performers playbacking to a backing track saying you can’t possibly expect them to be able to sing and dance at the same time.
    Live music is getting closer and closer to the DJ world, where everything is fake.
    Yes, it is entertaining and you’ll have a good time, but it isn’t a concert anymore.

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